A Paradox in Time by Ness Ayton
Okay, explanations over, now for the story itself.
"A paradox, a paradox, a most ingenious paradox,
Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, a paradox" - W S Gilbert.
Surprised by the suddenness and ferocity of the explosion, the Brigadier and Lieutenant nosedived over the pile of earth and rolled down the slope, landing in a pool of wet mud at the bottom. After she had regained her breath the Brigadier sat up and glared at the man beside her.
"Yes, my la...sir."
"What do you call that?"
"What the hell did you put in it?"
"Only the usual." The Lieutenant sat up at this point and surveyed the mud in disgust, just as a pair of heavily armoured boots appeared at the top of the slope. The Brigadier spotted them first.
"Look up there. You're from another dimension, what is it?"
The blond man looked upwards, and then leapt to his feet.
"My lord," he whispered, bowing low.
"Ancelyn?" queried the newcomer.
"In truth my liege," Ancelyn replied, pulling the Brigadier to her feet. "Bow," he whispered in her ear.
"What?" she demanded.
"Bow," Ancelyn repeated. "'Tis the King."
"Arthur? You mean that thing you found crumbling at the bottom of the lake?"
"Yes, no, I'm not sure."
"Ancelyn......" She left the threat hanging and bowed as the newcomer approached and she felt the strength of his presence.
Arthur glanced at the two bowed heads and smiled.
"Welcome back Ancelyn, it is good to see thy face again, and it is good to see thy lady also."
Bambera raised her head and looked up at the King.
"My name is Winifred, sire. Please call me that."
Beside her Ancelyn gasped at her audacity and he looked up at his liege lord to see his reaction. Arthur's broad grin put them both at ease as he eyed them critically.
"You are wearing strange apparel, Ancelyn."
"Strange for here perhaps my Lord, but where we have been this is the uniform of warriors."
"Not much use against lasguns or swords," Arthur pointed out."
"No probably not," Ancelyn grinned.
"Come then and we will find thee something more suitable for here." Arthur offered his hand to Winifred who accepted it awkwardly. Ancelyn followed them up the mud heap, shaking his head in mild disbelief.
A sphere full of pure light hung motionless in the air. Red hair framed an evil face as a woman of indeterminate age peered into it intently, a small smile on her lips. She was aware of the dark man entering the room behind her but refused to allow him the satisfaction of her acknowledgement.
"Welcome Morgaine, dark sister of the Fey. It has been a long time."
"It has indeed Simon," the woman replied, turning at last to regard him solemnly. "My son, Mordred," she continued, indicating a shadowy figure in the corner. A young man emerged into the half light of the chamber. Tall and dark, he might have been considered handsome had his face not been suffused with the same evil light that lit up the faces of the others.
"Excalibur is being taken care of," Morgaine said, with barely a glance at her son, as she continued to watch the sphere. Simon de Belleme looked at the scene being enacted across the eons and dimensions.
"Albion is in this time and dimension," he informed her.
"And Morgwyn, leader of our sisterhood in this place, how fares she?" Morgaine continued almost as if she had not heard him.
"Morgwyn is dead," he informed her unconcernedly.
"Dead!?" Morgaine blanched for a moment and then rallied herself. "By whose hands?"
"Robin-in-the-Hood's," Belleme answered.
"Then I shall have his blood," the Fey snarled. "Show me his face."
A red cloud appeared in the middle of the chamber which, when it dissipated, leftﾐ a smoky image. The face they could see was young and handsome with a dreamy expression in the eyes. Morgaine's lip curled in contempt.
"He's nothing special. He'll be easy to deal with. Mordred go, find and kill this Robin-in-the-Hood."
"Yes mother," Mordred murmured and left the room.
"Don't underestimate him," Belleme warned the woman in front of him.
"Does he scare you?" she sneered, sensing unease in the Baron.
"Of course not," he snapped back, "but don't say I didn't warn you."
The great hall of Camelot towered high above their heads as they walked through it. Marble pillars rose majestically up to meet the rose quartz ceiling, and gold hangings fluttered in the breeze that whispered in from the balmy day outside. Winifred felt that they should be tiptoeing across the highly polished wooden floor or perhaps removing their footwear altogether as their army-issue boots thundered along.
"Ancelyn!" The musical voice made the Knight General turn around. From one of the hall's many alcoves a young man emerged into the bright sunlight. He was dressed in the chainmail and armour of the court.
"Bedwyr!" Ancelyn's delight was undeniable as he ran across the hall and flung his arms around his brother-in-arms. Blond curls mingled as they greeted each other.
"Ancelyn I never thought to see thee again," Bedwyr began, holding the other at arms' length. "When you left I was afraid...."
"I would never return? But I had to return, my friend. It was my destiny, surely you knew that? Though I had not anticipated it being at this time or in such a manner." Ancelyn indicated his incongruous clothing. The other smiled.
"Strange apparel indeed," he agreed, resting his arm lightly across the Knight General's shoulders as they re-crossed the hall.
"Bedwyr, Ancelyn and his lady are in need of new apparel. Please instruct Beaumains accordingly," Arthur told the young man.
"Yes my lord," Bedwyr replied as Ancelyn drew Winifred to one side.
"Please say nothing about the events at Lake Vortigern," he murmured in her ear. "It is not for Arthur to know or Bedwyr."
"Who is Bedwyr?" Winifred hissed back. "I always thought that he was Arthur's Knight General, so to speak."
"In a way I suppose he is," Ancelyn acknowledged. "He is the King's friend and brother. They plan everything together and then he conveys my orders to me. I command the men themselves."
"A fine dividing line," Bambera mused as they all continued up the hall together.
As they reached the dais at the head of the hall, upon which a round table sat, a strange humming sound filled the air.
"Excalibur welcomes you also," Arthur smiled, approaching the sword which lay on the table, the ruby in its pommel pulsating gently. Reverently the King picked up Excalibur.
"Feel," he said, holding the sword out to them. "Excalibur is alive."
Full of curiosity and wonder Winifred tentatively stretched out her hand and touched the metal which felt strangely warm to her fingers. Ancelyn and Bedwyr placed their hands firmly on the blade in memory of their oath of allegiance.
"Ha! Now I have you brother!" Morgaine snarled at the scene in the crystal sphere. Swiftly she moved to stand between two luminous globes that were raised on poles on either side of an earthen mound. Resting one of her hands lightly on one of the globes she began to chant.
"Here is the convocation. This we make the meeting place; the point between two worlds, two dimensions, two realities." As she finished Morgaine brought her other hand to rest on the second of the globes. At once the area around the mound of earth burst into flame. With a smile playing round her lips she bent to pick up the sword that lay at her feet and raised it above her head.
"By this sword, brother to Excalibur, I part the curtain of night. Across the abyss ﾐ life calls to life, biomass to biomass, energy to energy." Flinging her arms wide she continued. "To Avalion I summon thee from beyond the confines of this universe."
As she finished Morgaine drove the point of the sword into the soft earth and lightning flashed between the two globes as she stepped from the circle. Fire burst out around the sword and she laughed harshly. Green light emanated from the circle, filling the chamber and pouring from the windows until the whole ruin became enveloped, whilst the lightning played around the crumbling towers.
Camelot's great hall was suddenly swathed in a vivid and eerie green light.
"What's happening?" Winifred cried out in alarm, grasping Excalibur tightly, unaware of the blade cutting into her palm. Ancelyn put an arm about her shoulders as darkness fell around them.
"Hold the sword," he whispered in her ear. "Excalibur will protect you."
Through the gloom Excalibur continued to glow, the light ebbing and flowing as ifﾐ some titanic battle was being waged within the sword itself. All at once a great swirl of wind engulfed them and it seemed as if the sword itself screamed as a banshee-like wail filled the air.
"Keep hold," Ancelyn cried out above the noise.
Unaware of any movement other than the dragging of the wind, they were surprised, when the darkness eventually lifted, to find themselves in a leafy glade where the sun cast dappled shadows on the gently swirling waters of the stream that flowed past them.
"Where are we?" Bedwyr gasped, letting go of Excalibur and taking a cautious step backwards.
"I don't know," Ancelyn replied as the four warriors cast around for any sign of danger.
It was one of those days when nothing moved, let alone happened, in Sherwood Forest. For once the outlaws were sitting peacefully unoccupied, contemplating the scenery and their growling stomachs. Birds sang overhead and bees hummed - well, they didn't know the words - amongst the flowers whose heady scent filled the glade in which they sat. Suddenly Robin, who had been lying flat on his back, head resting in Marion's lap, sat bolt upright and shivered.
"What's the matter?" Marion asked drowsily, yet with concern for the day was warm.
"Belleme," Loxley whispered.
"Wha'?" Will demanded, glowering at his leader.
"But he's dead," John added.
"No," Robin replied slowly. "I did not kill him, and I am fairly sure that Herne did not."
"So, he's probably still alive." Tuck crossed himself at the thought.
"Quite likely," Robin assured them, "and up to something. Can you not feel it?"
"Feel what?" Will asked as Loxley got slowly to his feet. Even as he did so the gold pommel on Albion began to throb gently and a golden light mingled with the green of the glade.
Suddenly Robin gasped, his knees buckling under him, and he would have fallen had not John caught him. At the same time Albion let out a low wail which echoed through the trees and flowed away to the distant hills.
"What is it?" Marion cried in alarm as Loxley raised glazed eyes to her.
"A cry in the dark," he replied, shaking his head to try and clear the darkness thatﾐ swam before his eyes. "Albion heard it."
"Swords can't 'ear!" Scarlet snapped, worry making him angry.
Robin pushed himself away from John and grasped Albion where it stood proudly embedded in the turf. Drawing, wiping and sheathing the sword helped him gain a degree of composure before he turned to the others.
"I must go and see Herne," he told them quietly.
"We're comin' with you," Will replied in a voice that brooked no argument and Robin wisely agreed to their company.
"But what about Much?" Marion asked suddenly.
"If we go now we'll be back before him," John said soothingly. "Or you could stay here."
"No, I'm coming too," she replied, and they all set off after Robin who had already started along the path.
Lightning flashed and thunder rolled all around the castle at Nottingham sending soldiers scurrying for shelter. Guy dived into the main hall, water pouring from his cloak, and snatched a goblet of steaming mead from the nearest serving girl. De Rainault turned from where he stood at the window and regarded the dripping figure sourly.
"An unnatural storm, this," he commented to Gisburne, waving his own goblet at the eerie green light that hung over the distant hills.
"Yes, my liege," Guy agreed.
The scream that rent the air caused all faces in the hall to pale and de Rainault staggered to his chair.
"Belleme," he whispered in horror. "It can only be Belleme."
"What's going on, Professor?" Ace demanded as the TARDIS' lights flickered.
"I don't know," the Doctor snapped, rapping his assistant's knuckles as sheﾐ reached for a control. "It sounds like Excalibur."
He ignored her totally.
"Not just Excalibur though," he mused to himself. "It's almost as if...... Ah, we've arrived."
"England. Twelfth century. Sherwood Forest to be precise."
"Wizard. Perhaps we'll meet Robin Hood." Ace could hardly contain her excitement.
"Well, shall we go and see what's out there?"
The blue door swung softly open and they found that they had materialised in the middle of a small glade. As they vacated the TARDIS they were unaware of the large stag which was standing in the shade of the trees.
Belleme entered the underground chamber and watched as Morgaine's laughter died away.
"Well?" he sneered. "Where is it? Where is Excalibur?"
"I'm not sure," Morgaine replied slowly. "They were coming through. I was using Ancelyn as a reference point, but something got in the way."
"Something or someone called to Excalibur in a voice that is louder than my magic."
"Perhaps." She ran a finger caressingly over one of her globes. "Only one of Excalibur's own could do that. Albion is in this time and dimension, I remember you saying, so it is possible that it did call. Who wields Albion by the way?"
"Robin-in-the-Hood," Belleme replied coolly.
"What?! Why did you not reveal this knowledge before?" She spun round on him in fury.
"You didn't ask," he shrugged.
"I hope Mordred recognises the sword when he kills this Robin-in-the-Hood then, for your sake as well as his."
The threat left the Baron unruffled as he crossed over to the fiery circle. At theﾐ contemptuous snap of his fingers the flames died. Morgaine raised an eyebrow in surprise.
"Your powers have grown since we were last together."
"Azael has taught me things beyond your wildest imaginings Morgaine."
"The Dark Lord of this dimension."
"I should have known. You have always followed, Simon; that's the difference between you and I."
"Pah! You do not know of what you speak, Morgaine. I have powers now that are beyond even your knowledge."
"And yet you sought my help?" The voice was silkily smooth.
"Because you know of Excalibur and are attuned to its magic. Besides I thought you might like the idea of the world domination that the swords can bring us."
"Most magnanimous I'm sure," Morgaine smiled. "And, er, how did you know of the swords' collective power?"
"Azael revealed it to me."
"This Azael will have to be dealt with," Morgaine murmured, turning away from the ﾐ Baron so that he could not hear.
"Where is Excalibur now?" Belleme queried, changing the subject.
"Somewhere in Sherwood," she replied, almost dismissively.
"If Robin-in-the-Hood should find it...." Belleme warned.
"Mordred is there. He will prevent that."
"You have great faith in your son; a faith which I do not share at the moment, for I know Robin-in-the-Hood and you do not."
"What is a peasant to me? I shall crush him in my hand," Morgaine sneered.
"We shall see," Belleme murmured. "But, until both Albion and Excalibur are in our hands we are vulnerable."
The plea in the voice made the young outlaw slide to a halt. Putting out a hand to steady himself against a tree trunk he turned to face the others.
"What is it Will?"
"Couldn't go a bit slower, could you?"
"I'm in a hurry."
"We'd noticed, but some of us can't keep up!"
"Stay here then," Robin suggested quietly.
"No, we're coming with you, but go a bit slower or I'll knobble you," John growled.
"All right," Robin sighed, giving in as graciously as possible. "Come on then."
"Here we go again," Tuck panted as he only just caught them up.
They set off once more at a slower pace which was comfortable to all though Robin chafed at the speed that he was forced to go. Albion's scream still rung in his head and there was a dull ache throbbing through his body, a constant reminder that something was terribly wrong.
Suddenly Robin skidded to a halt again.
"What's wrong?" demanded John.
"We are being watched," came the reply.
"By who?" Will asked, casting around for some sign. Before Robin could answerﾐ again five grey figures stepped from the trees in front of them. Dressed in what was obviously armour, though none that the outlaws were familiar with, they stood in a menacing line across the woodland path.
"Who are you?" demanded Robin.
"I don't answer to peasants," one of them snarled, the plumes on his helmet moving gently in the forest breeze.
"Peasants are we?" growled Will, drawing his sword. The grey knights drew theirs in reply whilst behind him Nasir unsheathed his twin blades.
"We wish you no harm. Let us pass," Robin urged the knights gently.
"No harm Robin-in-the-Hood? No harm when you have killed our sister Morgwyn?" the knight who had spoken before spat at him.
"She deserved to die," Marion remonstrated. "Anyway, it was her own followers, her hounds, who killed her, not us!"
"A warrior maid." The grey leader turned to look at her. "There is some hope in this forsaken country after all."
Uncomfortable at his scrutiny Marion sidled behind Robin who eyed the knightﾐ with extreme loathing. Drawing Albion he advanced on the grey line.
"Perhaps we can persuade you to let us pass," he smiled silkily.
"We'll see," the knight growled, rising to the challenge and leading the attack.
Both sides were evenly matched and the fight was fast and furious with neither side gaining any real advantage over the other. Finally Marion's arrows, with which she had been holding the grey knights at bay, ran out and their leader managed to duck under Albion and grab her, holding his sword against her throat.
"Lay down your weapons!"
Robin spun round and, seeing Marion held captive, dropped Albion at once. The others followed suit as the grey knight's grip on Marion tightened.
"Who are you?" Robin hissed.
"Mordred ap Arthur," the knight replied proudly, lifting his visor.
"You're no son of mine!"
"Hiding behind a woman's skirts again, Mordred?"
Two voices spoke together and a sword blade rested lightly against Mordred's throat.
"Ancelyn, by all the gods!"
"The very same. Let her go, Mordred."
Knowing that his adversary would not think twice about killing him Mordred released his hold on Marion. Immediately Robin stretched out and pulled her to his side. Snatching up Albion he advanced on the grey knights.
"I think you had better leave Sherwood now," he told them through clenched teeth.
"Why don't we kill 'em?" Will muttered.
"Not in cold blood, Will," Robin said firmly as the grey knights slunk away into the trees.
"An interesting thought," Arthur observed, eyeing the young outlaw with interest.
"Heart rules his head," John commented.
"Not a bad thing sometimes," Arthur told the surprised man.
"An' 'o are you anyway?" Will challenged them.
"I am Ancelyn ap Gwalchmai, Knight General of the Britons under the command of Bedwyr, Captain to the King. This is the Lady Winifred, whilst this is the King."
Silence - well it makes a change from rain - fell on the forest as Robin, Marion and the other outlaws regarded the dark-haired stranger thoughtfully.
"Well," Robin ventured at last. "He is not King Richard, so is he the King of Scotland perhaps?"
"No," Ancelyn replied, surprised at their ignorance. "He isn't. This is King Arthur; called the Once and Future King by generation after generation."
"Oh," Robin murmured as there seemed to be nothing else to say,
The silence was broken by Excalibur which began to hum softly to itself. Arthur laughed, the golden tones persuading the outlaws, as nothing else could, that these people were their friends in the same fight against the powers of darkness.
"Excalibur greets you," the King said.
"And Albion greets you also," Robin replied feeling the sword quicken in his hand.
"And you are?" Arthur continued. Loxley quickly named the outlaws and himself. The King eyed him up with a friendly smile,
"Methought thy name was Frederic," he chuckled.
"Wha'?!" interjected Will.
"And you are the pirate king, I suppose," Robin smirked.
"No he isn't," Bedwyr murmured to no one in particular, while everyone else stood dumbfounded at the banter between their two leaders.
"So, Albion and your sword both know each other?" Marion asked at last.
"Albion and Excalibur were both wrought by Wayland," Robin explained, putting an arm round his wife.
"As was Mordred's sword, Rubilaxe," Arthur added.
"So." John decided it was time that he said something. "Supposing you are who you say you are, what are you doing here in Sherwood?"
"Somebody summoned Excalibur here and they had to come," Robin said with conviction.
"Yes that was it," Ancelyn agreed in surprise.
"Belleme?" asked Nasir.
"More than Belleme," Robin replied.
"Morgaine," Ancelyn added.
"'O's she?" demanded Will.
"My half-sister," Arthur admitted.
"Not her again?!" Winifred groaned, fingering her gun.
"And where did you two come from?" Marion asked, noticing for the first time that the Brigadier and Knight General were dressed differently from the other two.
"From the future," Bambera replied, "and don't ask me to explain because I can't. I don't think any of us can, really."
"Where were you all going?" Arthur asked Robin.
"To see Herne and find out what is going on," Loxley replied. "I felt the summoning of Excalibur through Albion, you see."
"And it must be because of Albion that Excalibur is not in Morgaine's hands now," Bedwyr said.
"Can someone please tell me what's going on?" Tuck pleaded.
"I have no answers for you - yet."
The voice made them all spin round. Deep in the shadows Herne stood watching them, looking as if he had been there since time began. Arthur and Ancelyn exchanged glances, sensing a familiarity about the figure that they could not quite place.
"Herne!" exclaimed Robin, cutting across their thoughts.
"What is going on?" Will demanded.
"I don't know," Herne admitted, a little sharply.
"You don't know?! Then 'ow the 'ell are we supposed to?!"
"Quiet Will," Loxley hissed, though he was wondering the exact same thing.
At that moment a giant stag galloped up and stopped beside the old man. Sniffing the air delicately, it regarded the outlaws and warriors with equal disdain before snuffling in Herne's ear. With a look of surprise Herne dismissed the stag and turned to the group.
"Go back Robin-in-the-Hood. I will summon thee when I have something to impart." And with that Herne turned and melted away into the trees.
"What do we do now?" Bedwyr asked.
"Go back to camp I suppose," Robin replied with a sigh. "There's no arguing with Herne when he is like that. Anyway, Much will be wondering where we are."
"Oh poor Much," gasped Marion. "He'll be so worried about us."
"Who's Much?" Winifred asked quietly as they set off.
"Robin's brother," Marion replied, falling into step with the Brigadier.
"I don't want to see another blackberry as long as I live," Much declared, dumping his dark load on the ground at Marion's feet. He nearly added a nice Saxon expletive but remembered just in time how not only Marion but Robin as well had told him off the last time he had used it.
"But Will uses it," he had muttered sullenly.
"Will's different," Robin had explained patiently. "I can't tell him but I am telling you."
Just then Much realised that there were strangers standing with Robin and the others and he smiled shyly at them. More introductions took place – why can't they all watch the right television programmes? – and then silence descended on the forest yet again. Finally Robin turned to Arthur.
"What are you going to do now?" he asked the King.
"I'm not really sure," Arthur replied slowly. "I don't know what we are doing here and I don't know how we are going to get back; so I suppose that, until a solution suggests itself, we will have to stay here."
The outlaws turned and gaped at him while Ancelyn and Bedwyr exchanged long suffering looks.
"Sire," Robin ventured at last, "Are you sure you want to stay in Sherwood with us? Surely a castle would be more suitable? Life in a forest can be awfully rough."
"Rough!" the outlaws murmured behind his back. Robin ignored them.
"My lord," he continued, "I'm only thinking of your comfort. As a king you will find life here very rough."
"Rough, rough!" echoed the outlaws again. This time Loxley turned and glared at them.
"Rough!" he barked back and his men fell about in hysterical laughter. A smile spread over Robin's face as he saw the funny side of things.
"It's all right Robin," Arthur assured the young man. "Soldiers are used to sleeping where they can and I wasn't always a king you know."
While the outlaws set to work preparing the camp for their unexpected guests Ancelyn drew Arthur to one side.
"My liege, Herne. Did he seem familiar to you?"
"Now you mention it – yes he did. He had the air of Merlin about him."
"I thought so too," the Knight General confessed. "Another of his countenances but no ship of time."
"No, but if we stay here we may learn the answer to this riddle."
"Not if Merlin is involved," Ancelyn grinned.
"Truly spoken my Knight General," Arthur agreed.
The Sheriff of Nottingham surveyed the great hall of his castle. Everyone seemed to be going about their normal everyday business but even so he felt uneasy, as if something dreadful were about to happen.
"Guy!" he snapped suddenly, and unusually.
"Yes my lord?" two voices replied. Gisburne approached the dais from the floor below and one of the soldiers leaning against a wall took a step forward.
"Gisburne!" the Sheriff instantly corrected himself and the soldier retired back to the wall in confusion, continuing to prop up that crumbling part of the castle.
As Gisburne approached de Rainault the Sheriff began to speak, but he had hardly uttered the first word when a voice announced,
"That's two thousand gold crowns."
"What?!" De Rainault looked all around in stunned astonishment.
"Two thousand gold crowns is the fine for an extra speaking."
"Two thousand gold crowns!" the Sheriff squeaked, glaring at the soldier who had spoken. "This is your fault. Well, I'm not paying."
"And I can't because you don't pay us enough," the soldier, whose name also happened to be Guy just in case you hadn't guessed, said.
"Well, someone will have to pay or the story can't go on."
"All right, all right," de Rainault snarled, "I'll pay - as long as I win this time."
"No promises, you'll just have to wait and see how it all unfolds."
"Yes, well, I..... Oh, take the money then!"
From one of the money chests deep in the castle two thousand gold crowns disappeared noiselessly.
"Thank you," the voice said.
"And thank you," soldier Guy added.
De Rainault sank into his chair muttering dark thoughts to himself while Guy stood, stupefied, behind him. They had just started to relax when the door of the great hall swung open and a familiar figure entered.
"Belleme," the Sheriff whispered trying, without success, to burrow even deeper into his chair.
"The Baron!" Gisburne gasped in horror.
"So I see, Gisburne," de Rainault snapped in a tone that was only a shadow of its normal self. "And, er, who is your charming companion, Baron?"
"Morgaine, dark sister of the Fey," Belleme answered.
"Your servant, my lady," the Sheriff smirked.
"Ah, a man of breeding in this uncivilised pigsty," Morgaine purred. The Sheriff was unimpressed, however, something telling him that Morgaine was not to be trusted and that if she and Belleme had joined forces then there was serious trouble ahead which, he decided, he could perfectly well do without.
Servants scuttled from the hall and soldiers flattened themselves against the walls as Belleme and Morgaine slowly approached the dais. The Sheriff signalled for wine to be brought and a timid serving boy was pushed forward with a flagon. Almost dropping it on the table he scurried off the dais as the two visitors ascended the steps on the other side.
"Gisburne, pour," De Rainault commanded, glaring at the unfortunate child. As the Captain of the Guard performed this menial task with bad grace the Sheriff turned to his unwanted guests.
"Well Baron, and what can I do for you and your friend?"
"What a terrific forest, Professor," Ace muttered as they pushed their way through yet more ferns and brambles. "You know, I'm sure we've passed that tree before," she continued.
"Nonsense Ace, I know exactly where we are."
"Well I'm glad someone does." She kicked fretfully at a fallen tree trunk.
"Ssh," the Doctor hissed suddenly, putting a hand out to stop his assistant in her tracks.
"What now?" Ace demanded crossly.
Just then Ace too caught the sound of feet - armoured feet – crashing through the undergrowth, and she disappeared behind the nearest tree. Suddenly the grey knights hove into sight and she pressed herself hard against the rough bark until they had passed out of her line of vision.
"Mordred and his boys, Professor. What are they doing here?"
"I don't know, Ace." The Doctor tapped his chin with the handle of his umbrella. "But I think we'd better find out. Ah, there's the TARDIS."
"So we have walked round in a circle!"
"Nonsense. We went for a short stroll."
Amongst the shadows of the trees the stag continued to watch them.
"So, you are here for Albion." The Sheriff summed up Belleme's explanation succinctly. "And what makes you think that I will help you?"
"For the power," Morgaine reasoned; but for once de Rainault was unsure that he wanted power. It would, he felt, be an uneasy alliance with the other two, and he was sure that he would have to constantly watch his back and that sort of power he could do without.
"I won't stand in your way," he told them at last, "but I cannot commit the king's soldiers to your plan." A sigh of relief whispered through the hall.
"No," Belleme agreed, "I didn't really think you would. However, we will still manage without you."
"I'm sure you will."
"But, do not get in our way......" The Baron left the threat hanging.
"Mother!" The word cut across the hall like a knife.
"Mordred, my son," Morgaine gloated as the young man made his way up the hall to her side. Both Gisburne and the Sheriff eyed him curiously.
"Her son?" Guy muttered in de Rainault's ear. The Sheriff silenced him with a small gesture of his hand as Morgaine turned towards Mordred and placed her hands on his shoulders.
"You have killed this Robin-in-the-Hood?" she asked. Gisburne started violently at the question and glared at Mordred.
"No," Mordred answered. "Ancelyn showed up and took us by surprise."
"So he is here, and Arthur and Excalibur. We are in luck, although I had hoped that Albion would be ours by now."
"Robin Hood is mine," Guy interjected at this point. Mordred glared balefully at him.
"I'm not sure that it will be as simple as that, Mother," the young man continued, eyeing Gisburne with loathing over the Fey's shoulder, "Robin-in-the-Hood is protected by.."
"Albion," she finished for him. "But he is only a peasant who cannot possibly know the sword's power. Get Albion and the wielder of the sword is yours."
"Robin Hood is mine," Guy pressed on stubbornly, ignoring the Sheriff's warningﾐ glare. Mordred took a step forward, hand resting on sword hilt. Morgaine eyed the situation up with a contemptuous smile.
"Leave him be, my son," she cooed. "It is unseemly to pick a quarrel with such a fool as he."
For a fleeting moment Gisburne looked as if he might have apoplexy, but then he leapt off the dais towards the two visitors leaving a powerless and irate Sheriff behind. Abruptly he was thrown backwards amongst the straw and dirt on the floor. Looking up he saw Mordred grinning broadly and Morgaine standing with her hand raised. As soon as she saw that he had been felled she turned on her heel and swept from the hall closely followed by her son, and, at a more leisurely pace, by Belleme.
"Get up Gisburne, you idiot," the Sheriff raged at his unfortunate Captain of the Guard. "Why do you always have to make such an ass of yourself?!"
Crestfallen, Gisburne scrambled to his feet and brushed the dirt from his cloak.
"What are we going to do about them?" he growled.
"Keep out of their way," de Rainault snapped. "I'd have thought that was obvious even to someone of your limited intelligence, Gisburne."
"But what about Robin Hood?"
"What about him? So long as someone gets rid of him do you really think it matters who it is?"
"But me no buts, Gisburne, and get ready for tomorrow's tithe collection from Wickham."
"Yes my lord."
The next day dawned bright and clear. Outlaws and warriors unwound themselves from their cloaks, removed acorns from their ribs and rubbed their stiff limbs trying to revive some feeling of life into them. Tuck quickly had the fire blazing and Nasir produced thick slabs of venison from their store. John filled the flagons with mead whilst Marion tossed pancakes - sorry, warmed up the coarse rye bread that was the staple part of their diet.
As they sat down to eat, the first of many strange things happened. Three small women shuffled into view. Their faces were faintly yellowish in hue and their eyes were almond shaped. Looking all around them, they lifted their tightly wrapped robes off the leafy forest floor and scuttled across the glade.
"He is not here," one whispered to the others as they disappeared out of sight.
"'O?" demanded Will.
"I don't know," Robin replied slowly, "But I think it has something to do with Excalibur being brought here."
"I think you're right," Arthur supported him. "Strange forces are at work here in your Sherwood."
"Well that does it," Will declared suddenly, thumping his fist on the turf beside him and making everyone jump. "We've gotta find 'Erne."
"I agree," Marion replied with a sigh. "Let's hope he has some answers for us this time."
So, once the meal was finished and everything tidied away, Tuck smoored the fire against prying eyes and they set off once again through the fiery autumnal glades of the forest. They had just crossed one of the numerous streams that gurgled its way through the trees when a strange group of people came into view. Dressed in bright green they stood out clearly amongst the autumn foliage. A flaxen haired young lady stopped suddenly, hands on hips, and turned to face the others. A dwarf, a Rastafarian and a good looking young man all bumped into each other as they came to a halt.
"Where's he gone, Robin?" the girl demanded.
"I don't know. You told him to get lost," the young man replied peevishly.
"Oh honestly, and I suppose if I told him to take a long walk off a short pier he would."
"You know Rabies," the Rasta commented.
"Oh come on," she snapped and led them off into the trees calling at the top of her lungs for their missing number.
Everyone stared after her and then turned to look at each other.
"Wha' the...?" Will began just as two more strange people emerged from the trees.
"What is this Professor?" the girl demanded. "A pantomime?"
"I don't think so Ace. Ancelyn, who are these people?"
Taken by surprise the Knight General quickly introduced the startled company.
"And this," he finished, a little warily after the outlaws' reaction, "is the King."
"The pirate king?" the Doctor asked with a smile.
"No," everybody chorused, "King Arthur, the Once and Future King."
"What Arthur the freeze-dried?"
The Doctor turned back to the warriors from Camelot and bowed slightly.
"Merlin, you are welcome," Arthur greeted him.
"Merlin again," Ace groaned in his ear. "Hi Ancelyn! Hi Brigadier!"
"Greetings Merlin, Ace." Ancelyn smiled at them delightedly while Winifred shook them warmly by the hand.
"Am I to understand that you all know each other?" Arthur queried.
"Yes my Lord," Ancelyn replied. "From that other time that I spoke of where I met my betrothed."
"Betrothed?" squeaked Ace. "You mean you two are getting hitched?"
"Hitched is a term with which I am not familiar, but we are to become man and wife," the Knight General answered earnestly.
"Congratulations," bubbled Ace while Winifred, looking decidedly uncomfortable, tried to blend in with the trees. The outlaws meanwhile looked on in stupefication until Will managed to open his mouth.
"Whose side are you two on?" he demanded.
"Yours I should think," the Doctor replied with a smile.
"'Ow do we know that?"
"Because we do," Robin interjected.
"I suppose 'Erne told you!"
"No, I just know."
"Mad, completely mad," Will sighed.
"So where are we all going then?" the Doctor asked companionably, falling into step with Arthur and Ancelyn.
"To see Herne," Ancelyn replied. "Although with you here, Merlin...." He was stopped mid-sentence by Ace.
"Who's Herne?" she demanded.
"An ancient woodland god," the Doctor answered. "Used to lead the Wild Hunt and tends to think he's a stag."
"Way out!" she murmured while Robin glanced round at the large group that wasﾐ now moving through the forest, thinking that it would not be too hard even for Gisburne to trace their tracks.
"I think some of us ought to stay behind," he ventured at last. "A large group like this is as conspicuous as..."
"....A herd of elephants," the Doctor finished for him.
"What's an elephant?" John murmured in Tuck's ear. The friar shrugged helplessly in reply as Robin glared at the Doctor.
A sudden exhalation of air behind them caused the group to turn.
"Belleme," Robin stated at the exact same moment that Nasir hissed the name through clenched teeth.
"Who's Belleme?" bubbled Ace.
"You don't want to know," Marion assured her as they emerged from under the eaves of the forest and found themselves once again face to face with the grey knights.
"Arthur, well met," Morgaine purred as the faces of the knights from Camelot drained of colour. Morgaine beckoned one of her knights forward.
"Mordred, look, both Albion and Excalibur are here for the taking."
"Yes, mother." The young knight smiled wolfishly as both Arthur and Robin grasped their sword-hilts tightly. Then, from behind the grey knights, a second group of soldiers emerged dressed all in black, and Belleme stepped from their midst.
"So Robin-in-the-Hood, I think you may have met your match at last," he smirked. Robin glanced round at the motley group with him and acknowledged that for once Belleme could be right.
"I think we're in for a fight," Ancelyn murmured. "And one I doubt we can win," Robin muttered back. Ancelyn glanced at him and saw that the young outlaw was deadly serious.
"In that case we'd better get the women out of the way," the Knight General said.
"But how?" Loxley asked.
At this point fate took a hand in the proceedings as a large white metallic bird swooped low over the forest shooting bursts of red fire. Taking advantage of the lapse in concentration that this brought Robin and Ancelyn turned to their respective partners.
"Get Much out of here," they hissed simultaneously. "Now!" they added as both Marion and Winifred looked ready to argue. The two women glanced at each other, grabbed Much by an arm each and melted away into the trees. At the same time the Doctor pulled Ace into the shadows to remove her from the fighting, knowing how she would want to get involved given half a chance.
The white bird soared up into the blue sky and, with a wave of its blue and yellowﾐ tail feathers, disappeared. Morgaine's head snapped back to her adversaries.
"We're wasting time, Mordred," she snarled.
"Yes, mother," the youth replied, drawing his sword. "Charge!" Behind him the grey knights drew their swords and followed him into the breach. The outlaws and warriors rapidly responded to the challenge even as Belleme signalled to his men to engage in the fight.
Battle commenced in and around the trees of Sherwood, and things were not looking too good for Robin and his friends when a guardian angel arrived in the guise of Guy of Gisburne. On his journey to Wickham to collect the tithes he had spotted the skirmish in the forest and, on seeing that Robin and his men were heavily outnumbered and in imminent danger of being captured by Morgaine and her son, Guy bravely led his men into the fray. The fact that this was an ideal opportunity to catch Robin Hood himself did not once occur to him in carrying out this noble deed. And so it was that, for once, Robin and Guy found themselves fighting on the same side - sort of, anyway.
So unexpected was the Normans' onslaught that Tuck and John found themselves cut off from the other outlaws. The portly friar was soon captured by two of Guy's soldiers who took both him and themselves out of the fighting; whilst John received a stunning blow to the side of the head from one of the soldiers' pikes and, whenﾐ heﾐ came to, found himself bound and gagged alongside Tuck and away from the battle.
Guy's men were just enough to tip the balance in Robin and Arthur's favour although it was a close thing, and the grey knights were forced to retreat sullenly with their three irate commanders. As the Normans pushed their enemies back the outlaws drew their new friends into the shadows of the trees so that, when Guy turned to deal with them, the battleground was empty.
Suddenly the Brigadier staggered towards them through the undergrowth and grabbed Ancelyn's arm.
"The soldiers have got Much and Marion," she gasped. "I tried to stop them but there were too many." Even as she spoke Tuck and John were brought before Gisburne and a second group of soldiers dragged Marion and Much from under the eaves of the forest.
Robin watched in dismay as the four outlaws were led away towards Nottingham, but his natural caution told him that he could nothing - yet. The fact that the soldiers had saved them from the clutches of Belleme was something to be grateful for but, even as he sank to the ground, his head in his hands, he knew that there were forces at work in the forest which, if not dealt with quickly, would mean the destruction of all they knew and loved. Belleme and his strange new accomplices had to be vanquished before any rescue could be thought about. He hoped Marion would understand and be able to explain to the others.
"We'll get 'em out tonight," Will said suddenly, cutting across Robin's thoughts.
"No Will, we won't," Loxley replied softly.
"But 'e's got 'em," Scarlet remonstrated. "'E's got Marion."
"I know," Robin ground out. "But there are other things to be done first."
"Like wot? 'E might kill 'em."
"Iﾐ know." The anguish in Robin's voice was unmistakable. "But if we do not deal with Belleme and Morgaine first there will be nothing to rescue them for."
"He's right," the Doctor said quietly. Arthur and Ancelyn nodded their agreement.
"Don't you think I want to get them out Will?" Robin asked suddenly. "I'd have gone straight away if I'd thought it would do any good; but I know we are doing the right thing."
Will watched his leader solemnly, seeing his eyes shining bright with unshed tears. He walked across to Robin and put his hand awkwardly on the younger man's shoulder.
"I'm with you," he assured Loxley quietly. "You know that."
"Thank you Will," Robin whispered and headed from the glade. All averted their eyes from the pain that showed so clearly, except Will who watched as the young outlaw hit a tree hard with his fist, seemingly unaware that he bloodied his knuckles.
The Doctor took Ace's arm and pulled her gently away from the sorrowing group.
"Come on, we have a visit to make," he whispered.
"Where?" Ace asked as she trotted obediently after him.
"Herne," he replied tersely as they wove their way through the trees.
They had just reached yet another clearing when an unkempt and unshaven man, dressed in leather with a bullwhip slung over his shoulder, came into view. He stopped when he saw them and waited.
"Professor," he started as they reached him. "I'm searching for El Dorado, can you help?"
Ignoring Ace's wide grin the Doctor eyed the man thoughtfully.
"You could try that path," he suggested, indicating one that led from the clearing.
"My thanks, Professor," the man said, and ran off down the indicated path.
"Quick Ace, before he finds out that he's on a wild goose chase," the Doctor cried, clasping his hat firmly to his head and continuing on his way at a speed approaching a run.
Not long after that the two of them came across a large lake.
"Lake Vortigern!" Ace exclaimed in surprise.
"Of course," the Doctor snapped. "Which other lake would it be?"
"Don't know," she shrugged as he scrabbled amongst the reeds and bulrushes. At last he beckoned to her and together they pulled a small boat out onto the still waters.
Herne was waiting for them when they finally managed to stop rowing in circles and arrived at the rocky ledge outside his cave. Ace sprang out lightly, followed more slowly by the Doctor. For a few strained moments he and Herne regarded each other and then Ace broke the ice.
"Interesting hat," she observed to Herne. He gave a short laugh.
"I'd all but forgotten your sense of humour, Ace."
"You know my name?" the girl gasped.
"Well I am the last regeneration so I should."
"Remind me to tell you about it some time," the Doctor told her, looking all around him. "So, where's your travelling companion?" he continued.
"Returned them to their own century," Herne explained, "and then found a little surprise left on board."
"You were left holding the baby?" his other self surmised.
"Correct; but I soon solved that problem. I left the little blond darling at a castle gate - as an orphan."
"When you say `orphan' do you mean orphan, a person who has lost their parents; or `orphan' frequently?"
"You know perfectly well which I mean," Herne snapped. "Was my sense of humour really that bad?"
"And at which castle did you leave the bundle of joy?" the Doctor asked, ignoring Herne's last remark.
"Huntingdon, I believe," Herne replied, beginning to lose interest in the conversation. "I'm waiting around for another companion to join me. I rather like it here - nice and quiet."
"Could somebody please explain what's going on?" Ace asked plaintively.
"No!" the Doctor and Herne replied together.
As the door closed behind them Marion reflected that at least they had not been put down the hole with the ancient and his rat. The room was small and cramped with the four of them in it but clean and dry. Situated in one of the towers it had a breathtaking view of the countryside and a deep drop to the ground below. On their way there they had passed a number of strong oak doors all locked and barred and Marion surmised that this was the overflow from the dungeons.
The soldier who locked them away seemed, to her, to be unhappy to be doing so and had been about to say something when his colleagues had called him away. As the great door crashed shut behind them Much darted into a corner and sat down, cradling his knees and rocking himself gently to and fro. John crossed over to the window-seat and, under pretence of looking at the view, fell asleep. Tuck settled himself comfortably on the floor watching Marion's every move. After a few moments of stillness she crossed over to Much and put her arm round his shoulders, murmuring words of comfort to him.
Having tried to reassure Much, Marion sank down in a corner of her own and listened to the sounds of the castle. Gradually she became aware of a rich baritone voice quietly singing, the words echoing down the stone passageways.
"Close every door to me; hide all the world from me; bar all the windows and shut out the night."
"Nice song," she called out. "Really hopeful."
"Truthful, not hopeful," the voice replied. "Want to hear the rest?"
"I bet you're a barrel of laughs at a party," she observed, "but yes, we might as well. We're not going anywhere - yet."
"Do what you want with me, hate me and laugh at me; darken my daytime and torture my night."
"Torture?!" wailed Much. "Oh tell him to stop, Marion, please."
"Ssh Much, it's only a song," Marion whispered.
"Have I upset the boy? I am sorry," the voice apologised.
"Don't worry," she called back.
There was silence for a while.
"Why are you here?" Marion pursued at last.
"I interpreted the dreams of the people in my village."
"An interpreter of dreams?" John woke up at that. "We could do with you in the forest. One of our number has trouble with dreams."
"Robin-in-the-Hood doesn't need my help," the voice answered.
"Were you any good?" Marion wanted to know.
"Yes, and that's why I'm here."
Silence fell again; each of the outlaws lost in their own thoughts. Then, through the gathering gloom, the song came once more.
"If my life were important I would ask will I live or die but I know the answers lie far from this world."
"Please, no more," Much moaned softly.
"Would you prefer `Jailhouse Rock'?" the voice inquired gently.
"No just silence," Marion told him.
"Very well," the prisoner agreed.
Gisburne sat in the main hall of the castle, a goblet of warm mead cupped in his hands, reflecting on his day. It had been quite a good one for him. Wickham had offered up its tithes like a lamb to the slaughter for once, and half the outlaws were now languishing in prison. True he had not yet caught their leader and that rankled, but he knew that with both Marion and Much in his hands it was only a matter of time before Loxley effected a rescue. Visions of Robin's capture danced through his head like sugar plums, although if he had been aware of what had occurred in the forest, after his departure, he might have been less confident.
The rest of the day passed pretty uneventfully all things considered so we shall skip over it and pass on to the next morning which dawned bright and clear – for want of a better description. The only cloud on the horizon was the one hanging over the Sheriff's head. He had tossed and turned all night, disturbed by bad dreams, and was making sure that the whole castle knew about it.
After a long time spent listening to de Rainault's ranting and raving one of the soldiers pushed himself away from the hall wall and tentatively approached the dais.
"If I may make a suggestion, my Lord," he ventured.
"Oh I suppose you may, after all I have paid your Equity fees. Suggest on."
"Thank you, my Lord. My Lord, there is a man in one of your prisons who is an interpreter of dreams."
"There is? Well, what are you waiting for? Fetch him here."
"Yes, my Lord."
The soldier who was, of course, Guy was soon back with the prisoner in tow. Despite the weight of the chains bowing him down it was easy to see that the prisoner, though not exactly tall, was striking in appearance. Dark hair straggled over his shoulders, dark beard emphasised the leanness of his face and piercing blue eyes took in every inch of his surroundings. He followed Guy Mark 2 across the hall and up to where the Sheriff and Gisburne were sitting.
"The Dream Interpreter," the soldier announced and backed away quickly to the security of his wall.
"So, what do you want?" the prisoner asked with a reverence that bore just a hint of impudence.
"I've had a dream," the Sheriff stated coldly.
"Haven't we all?" the prisoner interjected. "And you want me to tell you what it means."
"Yes," de Rainault snapped. "Will you do it?" For answer the prisoner looked mournfully down at his chains.
"Gisburne, release him," the Sheriff ordered.
"But my Lord..."
"Just do it, Gisburne."
With a sigh the Captain of the Guard summoned the blacksmith who made short work of freeing the prisoner.
"Service to the Sheriff has begun. Tell me your problems, mighty one." And so saying the prisoner sprang lightly on to the table and settled himself cross-legged, disconcertingly close to de Rainault.
"Yes, well, er, um I was wandering along the banks of the river when seven fat cows came out of the Nile, a-ha, ha."
"Bap shu wa du wa bap bap shu wa du wa." All the people in the hall joined in the narrative.
As the Sheriff began to speak the prisoner grabbed his chains up from where they lay on the table and started swinging them round in a rhythmical manner, nearly braining Gisburne in the process. Suddenly a perplexed expression crossed his face.
"Excuse me, but this is someone else's dream," he interrupted before the whole thing started getting completely out of hand. "How about you telling me your dream?"
"I was in a sarcophagus," de Rainault began again, making everyone dive for their umbrellas, "when a wolf and a bear wandered in arm in arm. They had just sat down when three big, black, horrible crows flew in and tore them to pieces."
"Urgh!" shivered all the girls in the hall.
"So, Mister Interpreter of Dreams, what does it mean?" the Sheriff finished.
"Oh that's easy," the prisoner complained. "I thought it was going to be something really difficult."
"Well explain it then," the Sheriff snapped at him.
"All right, keep your 'air on," the prisoner responded calmly, slipping into a strong cockney accent. "Let's see. The wolf is Robin-in-the-'Ood and the bear is Arthur, the Once and Future King. At the moment they are both in Sherwood and while they are safe all will be well in England. The three crows, however, will upset the peace unless they can be stopped."
"And who are these three crows?" the Sheriff asked unbelievingly.
"Morgaine, Mordred and Belleme," he was told; and the fact that the prisoner knew the names convinced de Rainault, as nothing else could have, that the interpretation of the dream was a true one.
"So what are we to do?" he asked.
"Join forces with them," the prisoner answered. "Together they may still fall prey to evil, but with your 'elp they will prevail."
"Work with Robin-in-the-Hood?" The Sheriff repeated the idea.
"It is the only way."
"I'm not working with Robin Hood," Gisburne interposed angrily.
"You don't have to," de Rainault snapped, his patience finally at an end. "Guy!"
"Yes, my Lord," the soldier replied, leaping onto the dais with alacrity.
"You will lead my soldiers to the aid of Robin Hood."
"Yes, my Lord." Guy's delight was undeniable. "Thank you, my Lord."
"Wait a minute." A familiar voice boomed through the hall.
"What do you want now?" de Rainault demanded.
"The fine was for speaking and minor action. It certainly did not cover a major role in this story."
"No I won't my Lord."
"The story will finish here if he continues to refuse."
"Gisburne you have a choice - lead the men or lose your head."
"Well which is it to be, Gisburne?"
"I'll lead the men." The Captain of the Guard gave in very ungraciously.
Soldier Guy was careful to hide his disappointment as he and his fellow soldiers went to prepare for the journey to Sherwood.
"You will show them the way to Robin Hood," the Sheriff informed the prisoner.
"Very good, my Lord."
The walk to Sherwood was as long and hard as usual. Someone had thoughtfully provided the prisoner with an over-large tunic, wrinkled leggings and tight boots so that by the time they reached the forest he was cold and his feet were chafing.
"Wish we could've jaunted," he muttered to no one in particular.
"Or used a transporter," a soldier muttered back just as Gisburne held up his hand to halt them. Looking around nervously the soldiers found themselves in a small clearing with a bright blue box in it. After staring at the box for some time Guy summoned the prisoner to his stirrup.
"Where now?" he asked.
"What does that sign say?" the man responded.
"What the one no one can see?"
"It says - THIS WAY."
"Then this way it is." And without further ado the over-large tunic led them down one of the woodland paths just as a group of seven small men tumbled into the clearing.
"We must find Prince John of Moldavia. We must find Prince John of Moldavia," they shouted to each other as they picked themselves up, brushed themselves down and ran into the trees. As this was rather painful, and resulted in bruises and headaches, they set off again more cautiously.
The soldiers had just reached another clearing, whose floor was strewn with autumnal leaves, when a clear voice ordered them to stop. Coming to an abrupt halt the group looked around nervously for a second time but could see no one.
"Why are you here?"
"The Sheriff has ordered us to come and help you in your fight against Belleme and Morgaine," Gisburne called back.
"An' why should we believe you?" Scarlet cut in.
"We come in peace," the prisoner assured the outlaw, taking a step forward, while behind him someone murmured "Shoot to kill, shoot to kill."
There was a rustling from amongst the trees and Robin dropped down in front of them. He smiled at the prisoner.
"Welcome to Sherwood," he said, extending his hand.
"Thank you," the prisoner replied, clasping the hand tightly.
"Is your name Frederic?" Arthur inquired, wandering into view.
"Not at the moment," the prisoner replied, acknowledging the appearance of the other outlaws and warriors. Gisburne and his soldiers fingered their swords apprehensively.
"So, why is the Sheriff worried?" Robin asked, turning upon Guy suddenly. The Sheriff's Captain of the Guard swung down from his horse and stood face to face with the young outlaw.
"They are here to take control of Albion and Excalibur," he explained, "and with the two swords they plan to take over England. At least, that's what the Sheriff says."
"World," the Doctor corrected.
"What?" Guy stared at him.
"The world," the Doctor repeated. "It's world domination they want and the two swords, along with Mordred's, would give it to them. How clever of you and your Sheriff to realise the threat and want to do something about it."
Gisburne visibly preened at the Doctor's praise and smirked at his soldiers who shuffled their feet and tried to look anywhere but at their captain.
While Robin scrutinised the Norman closely, wondering if he really could trust the soldier, a low buzz sounded above the trees. They all looked up at the strange winged contraption flying overhead.
"Ah," Ancelyn said suddenly, "ze famous Biggles."
"'O's Biggles?" Will demanded.
"World War One flying ace," Ace observed delightedly. "Wonder if he'll land."
"Probably making his way to Germany," the Doctor said.
They watched as the bi-plane flew up and into a bank of cloud, the droning noise gradually dying away. Gisburne's attention, however, had been drawn to Ancelyn when the Knight General spoke and, as the plane disappeared, he turned to the Arthurian knight with a puzzled frown.
"Don't I know you from somewhere?" he asked.
"Don't think so," Ancelyn replied without even thinking about it. "I'm sure I would remember if we'd met." Guy glared at him for a minute and then turned back to Robin.
"So, what do we do? Attack Castle Belleme?"
"An' get ourselves killed?" Will snapped. "No thanks."
"I think this calls for a little subtlety," the Doctor advised gently. "But first, dinner."
Everyone had to admit that food sounded like a good idea, and so Ace, Will and Nasir were dispatched to fetch some rations from the outlaws' stores. Over the meal they discussed the problem at hand and their options. It was quickly decided that Albion and Excalibur should be apart as much as possible and, in order to effect this, Arthur and his followers elected to move into Herne's cave.
"Wonder wha' 'Erne'll think of that?" Will mused quietly to Robin.
"I expect we'll soon find out," his leader laughed.
"It's a good idea," Herne himself observed from the shadows of the trees. "And I've come to take you there."
"That's just as well," Ace commented irreverently. "It's very easy to get lost in this forest." Robin glanced across at her with raised eyebrow.
"Am I to understand that you have already met Herne?"
"The walking hat-stand? Yes I have."
"Hat-stand," mused Robin, a small smile playing round his mouth.
"If you dare to call me that I'll wash my hands of you," Herne threatened.
"Seems like a good description," Robin countered.
"I am the Lord of the Trees. My will is done, so beware young Robin-in-the-Hood." There was just the sufficient hint of a cold threat in the voice to make Robin stop and look hard at his forest mentor before he replied,
The Lord of the Trees scowled at his young follower then turned on his heel and beckoned to the warriors to accompany him.
"Keep Albion safe," Arthur adjured Robin. "We'll keep in touch with you through Herne."
"Make it so," Loxley agreed whilst Ancelyn and Winifred said their goodbyes to theﾐ Doctor and Ace. As the Arthurian contingent followed Herne from the clearing both Robin and Gisburne muttered to those nearest to them,
"I'm sure I recognise that Ancelyn." Guy was totally ignored by his soldiers whilst Will informed Robin that he was dreaming again.
On the edge of Sherwood, Mordred was pacing back and forth ranting furiously at the Captain of the Grey Knights, when he heard his mother speaking to him.
"The fools! They are splitting up. I never thought they would. Excalibur has little protection now. It is ours for the taking, my son."
Listening hard to Morgaine's voice whispering in his head Mordred led his knights through the maze of trees, just managing to avoid running headlong into a group of strange white armoured beings who were also careering through the forest, before catching up with the Arthurian warriors. With a blood-curdling yell he led his grey knights to the attack.
With a horrified glance at each other Arthur and Ancelyn drew their swords to defend themselves. Winifred unholstered her gun and winged a couple of the knights whilst Bedwyr somehow managed to stab himself in the boot with his sword. Hopping around, arms flailing, desperately trying to remove the sword, he was quickly overpowered and bound.
The other three fought bravely but there were too many grey knights and they were all soon held captive. Mordred wrested Excalibur from Arthur's grasp with a harsh laugh.
"Finally Excalibur is ours," he mocked the king, "as are you. What does it feel like to be my prisoner?"
"Herne help us," `Arthur pleaded turning to the horned deity.
"Herne?" the figure queried, removing the antlers and changing the features of his face.
"Who are you?" Ancelyn gasped.
"I am the Baron de Belleme." The figure introduced himself to them with a sneer.
"The other enemy," Winifred whispered as the Baron crossed over to Mordred.
"Take them to your mother," Belleme ordered the young knight who scowled but was too unsure of his standing with the older man to say anything, so he contented himself by prodding his four captives forward with the point of Excalibur.
This walk through Sherwood was not nearly as pleasant as other walks had been. All four searched for a means to escape but they were hemmed in too tightly by Mordred's men and, although only Bedwyr was bound with ropes, they knew they would not get far. At last the trees gave way to common ground where cows and sheep grazed the poor pasture and they had all but given up hope of either rescue or escape when a large, low silver machine purred past them. Before reaching the trees it executed a neat U-turn and came back to run alongside the group. Silently a portion of the side lifted up revealing a dim interior with multi-coloured lights running hither and thither.
"Quick Marty," a strange accented voice called out. "Get them in here."
A small figure leapt from the darkness and raced across to the startled group.
"Come on," he hissed urgently. "We're here to rescue you." With barely a glance at each other, and without any thought as to the wisdom of their course, Winifred and Ancelyn headed for the strange machine and squeezed into the minute space inside. Arthur hesitated, but seeing that Bedwyr could not follow, called out,
"We'll be back."
The small figure grabbed the king by the arm and hustled him across the ground and into the contraption even as the grey knights were waking to the fact that three of their prisoners had gone. The figure threw himself in on top of the jumble of bodies already inside.
"Let's go, Doc," he called. The side of the machine closed back into place and the whole thing lifted off the ground and turned back towards Sherwood.
"Where do you want dropping off?" the elderly grey haired man who was steering asked.
"Somewhere deep in the forest," Winifred answered, understanding the question better than her two companions.
"Hold tight." The command came none too soon as the machine banked steeply and dived towards the trees. It brushed the topmost branches sending flurries of leaves to the ground below before disappearing through the canopy and coming to rest in a small glade. The side of the craft opened and Arthur, Ancelyn and Winifred almost fell out onto the leaf mould.
"Our thanks," Arthur said turning to the two strangers.
"Pleasure, pleasure," the man assured them. "Can't abide cruelty. Now, stand back please."
The side of the machine banged shut and the craft lifted off the ground, rose way above the trees and disappeared from view in a shower of sparks.
"Who were they?" Ancelyn asked.
"Does it matter?" Winifred interrupted. "At least we're safe."
"Yes," Arthur agreed, "we're safe, but Morgaine now has Excalibur."
"I think we'd better find Robin again." Ancelyn's suggestion met with approval and so the three of them set off through the trees desperately seeking Robin and his men in their secret hideaway.
The atmosphere in the council chamber at Castle Belleme was so thick it couldﾐ have been cut by a hunting knife. Morgaine paced up and down the room, displeasure displayed in every line of her body. Mordred cringed at her feet having to endure the tirade of wrath spilling from her lips.
"You lost Arthur?!" she screamed at him. "Once again you have failed me, my son, I am most displeased with you."
"It wasn't my fault, mother," the knight pleaded. "The machine was unknown to me."
"This is Merlin's doing," the Fey continued. "I must meet him." She swept from the room leaving a badly shaken Mordred behind.
The knight scrambled to his feet and grabbed the end of Bedwyr's rope.
"Come," he snarled and, venting his frustration on the hapless warrior, dragged him to the dungeons in the bowels of the castle.
The dungeon was dark and dank. Water dripped from the walls and green slime oozed out of the nooks and crannies in the stonework. Bedwyr blinked rapidly as he stumbled down the steps and landed on his knees in he knew not what. The door above screeched shut and he heard a long low sigh from the other end of the hole.
"I thought they had come for me," a voice said.
"No, it seems I am to be your companion in this gloomy place," Bedwyr replied glancing round. Slowly his eyes adjusted to the lack of light until he could just make out a blond youth squatting against the wall.
"Who are you?" the warrior asked.
"My name is Robert of Huntingdon," the youth replied. "My crime is curiosity. I came to see what was happening here and got caught. Who are you?"
"I am Bedwyr, friend and brother-in-arms to King Arthur."
"Oh," the youth murmured with complete lack of interest.
"And why are you here?"
"I got captured by Mordred and his followers," Bedwyr replied.
"And who's Mordred?"
"Son of Morgaine who even at this moment is conspiring with Belleme for world domination."
"Do you think that is sufficient explanation?" Robert asked wearily.
"Yes, quite sufficient," Bedwyr answered and found himself a reasonably dry patch of straw to sit in and await further developments.
"Excalibur taken?" Robin could hardly believe his ears, the warriors had seemed so infallible.
"I'm afraid so," Arthur admitted.
"This is not good," the Doctor observed, tapping his chin with the handle of his umbrella.
"You don't say," Ace muttered to Ancelyn.
"Now she has two swords of power Morgaine can start her world domination," the Doctor continued, ignoring his young assistant.
"Then why hasn't she?" Bambera asked.
"Why hasn't she started?" Winifred repeated. "If she can do it magically through the two swords why hasn't it begun?"
"I must admit I don't know," the Doctor had to tell the assembled group. "She must have her reasons. The two swords together are more than enough power for anyone I would have thought."
"Morgwyn needed seven," Robin put in at this point.
"Did she?" The Doctor's face brightened. "So, perhaps Morgaine needs more as well. Anyway, I'll have my chance to find out. She's asking for a meeting - face-to-face – her and I alone."
"You won't go will you Doctor?" Ace pleaded.
"It's the only way to find out what's going on," he replied. "Don't worry I'll be all right, Ace. She won't hurt Merlin."
Taking tight hold of his umbrella the Doctor set off resolutely through Sherwood to his rendezvous with Morgaine. He reached the low rocky tor on the outskirts of the forest fairly quickly and was sitting there, quietly waiting for the enchantress to arrive, when eleven young men in long robes ran up.
"Have you seen Joseph?" the eldest demanded. "We didn't really mean to harm him and father's so upset. We must find him."
"I'm sorry," the Doctor told them, "but I have no idea of your brother's whereabouts."
"Thank you anyway," they muttered and hurried off down the other side of the tor just as Morgaine arrived at the foot of the rocks.
"An ideal place for such a meeting," she commented. "Your Robin-in-the-Hood will love it." The Doctor's face clouded momentarily.
"We are not here to discuss his future," he told her tersely. They stood looking at each other for a long time, both wondering how to continue the conversation.
"Morgaine," the Doctor said at last, his voice deeply sorrowful. "All this bending of time and space has brought about some unhappy paradoxes you know."
"I do not wish to hear all that, Merlin," the Fey sneered.
"But you must hear," he pressed her. "For the sake of all those who haven't understood the story so far, you must hear."
"Oh very well," Morgaine sighed, seating herself as comfortably as she could on a nearby rock. The Doctor started to pace up and down in front of her.
"For a start eleven of Jacob's sons are searching for their brother Joseph who is probably languishing in a prison somewhere without his amazing technicolour dreamcoat. There are three Japanese schoolgirls wandering aimlessly through the trees looking for the Lord High Executioner of Titipu. A strange man with a bullwhip is terrorising the wildlife; white armoured troopers, that aren't even from this dimension, are clanking all over the place and a strange spaceship is parked over the forest.
"We have an alternative Robin Hood running around somewhere as well as a Delorean car that should never have been invented let alone transported here. And, for all I know, the Pirates of Penzance may well be desperately seeking their king and apprentice; whilst the sailors from HMS Pinafore may be awaiting the return of the Lord of the Admiralty. Now what do you have to say to that, dear lady?"
"How sad," Morgaine observed, not sounding in the least bit upset. "But why are you telling me all this?"
"Because I think you know how to iron out these little wrinkles, don't you?" Theﾐ Doctor put his face close to his arch-enemy's.
"Bring me Albion," Morgaine wheedled, "and all will be well, I promise you."
"So, that's it. You do need Albion as well as Excalibur."
"Nonsense, of course I don't. But with three swords it will be easier, and quicker, to put all things right," she told him.
"And if I refuse?"
"They will all die and this world will be crushed."
"I see," the Doctor mused to himself. "Well, thank you for your help."
"But what is your answer, Merlin?" Morgaine asked with a glare.
"Oh, I'll be in touch with you," the Doctor replied glibly, picking his way carefully over the rocks. At the foot of the tor he waved cheerily to her before continuing on his way back to the forest. Furiously Morgaine got to her feet and made her way back to Castle Belleme.
As the Doctor appeared in the hideaway Ace and Winifred almost threw themselves on him.
"You're back," Ace gasped.
"Of course I am," he muttered, pushing her away, "and I have some good news. Morgaine does need Albion to carry out her plan."
"So it's stalemate," Winifred observed.
"Perhaps not," the Doctor replied thoughtfully. "Ancelyn, how would you like your very own sword of power?"
"Like Excalibur?" the Knight General gasped.
"That's what he said, Shakespeare," Ace interjected.
"I'd like that very much," Ancelyn admitted.
"Good. Right, here's the plan. With two swords of power in our hands we can attempt to rescue Excalibur and then with three swords we can set everything to rights."
"Good plan," Ace observed, "but how do we get another sword of power?"
"We'll get Wayland to forge us one."
"And 'ow do you propose to ask Wayland?" Scarlet snapped.
"In this time - yes. But we can go back to his time."
"Stop asking questions," Robin advised his friend, "and just let it happen."
"I'm not taking you all," the Doctor told them. "Robin, Ancelyn, Arthur, Winifred and Ace you may all come. The rest of you stay here and guard the camp."
"I ain't staying with 'im," Will remonstrated, indicating Gisburne who was feeling extremely left out of all the plans.
"Oh yes you are," Robin instructed him firmly. He dropped his voice so that only Scarlet could hear. "Besides which Will, I need someone here to keep an eye on him."
"You mean you don't trust 'im?" Will whispered back.
"Would you?" Robin countered.
"No I wouldn't. All right I'll stay - for you."
"Thanks Will." Loxley turned to the others. "Well I'm ready. Lead on, Doctor."
The small group made their way carefully through the trees - again. Only too aware that they must not be followed, they took a circuitous path back to the TARDIS, but even this did not stop them from coming across a group of strangely clad people. Dressed in navy and white suits with little hats on their heads they stood around listlessly surveying the trees. As the Doctor entered their line of vision they smiled.
"You haven't seen the Right Honourable Sir Joseph Porter KCB, perchance?" one of the men asked.
"Sorry, can't help you," the Doctor replied. "I was only joking," he continued, lifting his eyes heavenward.
"What?" Ace was beginning to wonder if the Doctor was finally losing his sanity.
"Oh never mind," he smiled. "Come on."
The blue box was a surprise to nobody except Robin who stood in awe of it.
"It's all right. It doesn't bite," Ace chuckled. The Doctor got the door open and ushered everyone inside. Arthur motioned to Winifred.
"After you, my lady," he said politely.
"Oh don't you start," Winifred groaned. "I've only just cured Ancelyn of that habit! With all due respect, your majesty, if you call me `my lady' once again I'll break your nose." Ancelyn looked aghast at her audacity, but Arthur grinned.
"I'll try to remember, my.......Winifred."
Once everybody was safely inside the TARDIS the Doctor made a few calculations, adjusted a few knobs, said a quick prayer and they were off spinning back through time.
"So, we are no further on than we were this morning," Belleme reminded Morgaine.
"They will come to rescue Bedwyr and Excalibur," she said. "They must; and then we will capture Albion. The day is not yet over, sweet coz."
"Azael will help," the Baron said silkily.
"I don't want his help," Morgaine snapped. "Since Merlin defeated the Destroyer I no longer trust in demons. Fate is what we make of it."
"A strange point of view," Belleme admitted. "I will, however, open the gateway so that he can be here if we need him."
"Very well, do what you wish," she answered with a yawn.
Belleme set to work with his foul smelling potions and evil incantations. In the main Morgaine ignored him until Mordred drew her attention to the portal that was opening up and through which they could see the TARDIS turning in a vortex.
"What is Merlin up to?" she mused. "I don't like it. Mordred we must be prepared for anything."
"Yes, mother," the young knight acquiesced.
"May it help you in your fight against Morgaine." Wayland handed the sword over to Ancelyn who accepted it with all the respect due a sword of power. In its pommel a blue stone pulsated gently, the light ebbing and flowing as they watched.
"It's name is Earendil," the smith told the young knight.
"A beautiful name for a beautiful sword," Arthur observed.
"Yes isn't it." Wayland agreed. "And you now have all the four elements in your time, or rather in Robin's time, for Excalibur is the sword of fire; Albion, the sword of air; Rubilaxe, the sword of earth and Earendil is the sword of water. All four together are invincible for they make up the universe. However, even one on its own can create a rift in the fabric of time and space."
"We know," Robin told him fervently.
"Well, I won't delay you any longer. Take care and I hope you fulfil your mission."
"Thank you," Arthur and Robin said in unison as they all climber aboard the TARDIS once again.
When they returned they found Sherwood in turmoil for, in the short time they had been away, the prisoner, despite his over-large tunic, wrinkled leggings and tight boots, had managed to escape and Gisburne was most upset about it.
"Good for 'im," Scarlet commented in Robin's ear.
"Ssh, Will, Gisburne might hear you and we need him in the fight against Castle Belleme."
"So what now?" Winifred asked.
"We plan our attack against Morgaine and Belleme," Robin said and Arthur nodded his agreement.
"Yes now is the time. If we wait they will conjure up all sorts of sorceries."
"Take the silver arrow with you, Robin." Herne had appeared unnoticed beside his son. "You may have need of it."
The young outlaw took the arrow reverently and placed it in his quiver. He glanced across at Winifred who was staring at the deity with loathing.
"This is the true Herne," he assured her quietly.
"How can you be sure?" she asked.
"The false Herne would never give me the silver arrow," Robin answered quietly.
They sat down then and quietly made their plans. Nothing too ostentatious, they decided, just a plain straightforward rescue; but they soon discovered it was not going to be as easy as all that. Herne looked thoughtful.
"The problem with something as complicated as this," he said, "is the timing. What time is it anyway?" Three heads turned to look at the sun.
"Three minutes to noon," three voices answered together. Ace and Winifred consulted their watches.
"Five minutes to noon," they corrected.
"I think your sun's fast," Ace added helpfully. Herne glanced skywards and fervently wished that he hadn't asked.
"Actually, under the circumstances, I'd have thought time was rather irrelevant," Winifred commented carefully, not at all sure how the time lords would react to the idea.
"Of course it is," the Doctor agreed, much to her surprise, "but one does like to hold onto familiar things. After all, it helps us keep a grasp on reality."
"Well, personally, I think reality is slipping," Ace told him, "but, since you didn't ask my opinion, I'll keep quiet."
"Thank you, Ace."
Robin and Gisburne looked all round the clearing.
"If we're all ready I think we ought to go," Gisburne suggested cautiously.
"Right oh!" the Doctor agreed.
Castle Belleme stood perched on its outcrop of rock as it had for centuries; its dark, forbidding shadow flooding the fields in which nothing thrived. Even sunlight could not lighten its features. It sat there brooding over the countryside, like a vulture over its prey. It had not always been so. There had been times in days long gone when its rooms were filled with light, warmth and love, but those days were spoken of in hushed whispers by those who did live near and few believed the tales for the castle had been darkness itself for so long.
The Sheriff of Nottingham reflected on the tales as he led his men along the dirt track whose one destination was the castle. Alone in his room he had had time to reflect on his dream and its meaning and had decided that if Robin and Arthur were to fail in their quest that he would probably perish too. Always one for taking the easy road de Rainault had finally found something to believe in and was determined to stand up and be counted - oh come on, how else was I going to get him here?!
Belleme, they soon discovered, had moved a large number of the guard to the front of the castle leaving only one poor, easily overpowered little man. The Sheriff led his men through the tumbledown wall at the back and up some rickety old stairs into the cobwebby upper chambers.
"We won't be much use up here," his captain pointed out.
"Yes, but neither can we use the main stairs or we'll be cut to ribbons."
"So what are we doing up here then?"
"My dear Victor," the Sheriff replied, twisting his finger in his hair, "has it never occurred to you that Castle Belleme has too few windows for its height?"
"Well, no, actually it hasn't, and my name's not Victor."
"Well, it has. Too few windows that is; therefore, there must be a secret passageﾐ somewhere which will help us surprise Belleme. Now, where there's a secret passage there must be a trapdoor."
De Rainault fell to his knees in the dust and started banging the floor with the palm of his hand.
"Niet," he muttered to himself and moved on to another area.
"Niet," he muttered again, followed by "niet, niet, niet." Then, all of a sudden, there was a hollow response to his knocking.
"Captain, it's here." He indicated the general area to the man. "Prise the trap up."
"Very well," the soldier sighed, tired of the game.
Meanwhile outside the front of the castle the spiky thorn bushes were alive with outlaws, Norman soldiers and sundry other people who are starring in this story. All were eyeing up the castle nervously looking for a safe way in.
"Explosives, Professor?" Ace suggested.
"Not now, Ace, we don't really want to introduce gunpowder into the twelfth century."
"So what are we going to do? Pole vault?"
As they continued to stand and consider they gradually became aware of approaching feet down the road and hoarse voices calling out to each other. On turning to look back the way they had come they saw a band of bearded, colourfully dressed men.
The Doctor looked skywards.
"I really was only joking," he remonstrated as the band drew nearer and nearer.
"It can't be," Robin protested as he saw them in greater detail.
"But it is," Arthur assured him.
"That's my prisoner," Gisburne announced suddenly. "But what on earth is he wearing?"
"Leave him be," Robin counselled the soldier as they stared at the man who was now wearing tight black trousers, frilly white top open to the waist and a purple headband.
A cooling shower of rain fell at this point - well the weather's been horrendously good up to now - but it didn't seem to dampen the newcomers' ardour, and at last the watchers could make out just what it was they were saying.
"We seek a penalty fifty fold," the pirates stated openly.
"They seek a penalty fifty fold," the soldiers murmured, echo-like.
"We seek a penalty fifty fold from Belleme and Morgaine's army," the pirates finished.
"Don't they ever do anything quietly?" Robin groaned in Arthur's ear. The King shrugged helplessly, although he was wearing an amused grin on his face.
"Ssh," the prisoner-cum-pirate-leader admonished his men at the top of his voice. "We're here to help," he continued by way of explanation.
"Er, thank you." Robin, for once, was lost for words and it was left to Ancelyn to explain the situation and the plan.
"Right ho," one of the pirates shouted at him.
"And quietly," Arthur managed to hiss at them.
Silently Arthur and Ancelyn led their troops forward but they were stopped in their tracks by the pirates who seemed determined to rouse everyone between there and John o'Groats. It was almost a battle-cry, but at a very inappropriate time. Instinctively they all let the pirates go on ahead.
"With cat-like tread upon our prey we steal. In silence dread our cautious way we feel. No sound at all, we never speak a word. A fly's footfall would be distinctly heard," they announced at the tops of their voices as they crept towards the castle. Arthur and Robin exchanged looks but knew there was nothing they could do. They moved off again as the pirates began to scale the castle walls.
The scaling of the walls was just the distraction Arthur and his followers needed for, in going to rebuff that attack, the outer gate was left unguarded and it took Nasir all of two seconds to knife the guards on the inner. Outlaws, warriors, time lords and soldiers spilled into the courtyard through the gates. Pirates dropped like flies from the battlements while grey knights and Belleme's men poured out of the castle buildings. As if that chaos wasn't enough the floor in the secret passage suddenly gave way depositing the Sheriff and his men on the sloping ground just outside the keep.
The battle was fast and furious, but I'm not very good at writing about fighting, besides which I've always found that sort of description boring, so we'll take the whole thing as read, if you don't mind, and pass quickly on to the rescue side of the mission.
At some point in the fighting, though no one was ever quite sure how, Arthur and Robin, along with the Doctor, Ace and Ancelyn ended up in the sorcery chamber facing Morgaine and Belleme.
"So you brought me Albion after all," the Fey observed.
"I did?" the Doctor responded. "Actually I think you're mistaken, my dear lady. We are here to retrieve Excalibur from you."
"And how do you propose to do that?" she asked.
"By asking nicely?"
"It'll never work," Ace offered.
"Mordred get down here, now," Morgaine snarled into the air.
"I don't think we'll wait for Rubilaxe to get here," Arthur said, holding out his hand. The sword stuck in the earth pile in the centre of the room trembled, feeling the warmth of its rightful wielder. Slowly it began working itself free, the ruby pulsating violently in the pommel.
Suddenly there was a shower of green sparks as Rubilaxe flew down the stairs and hit Excalibur across the length of its blade. The sword shivered and fell with a clatter on the floor, the light dying in the pommel. At the same time Robin felt Albion move reluctantly in his grip and he realised, with horror, that Morgaine was summoning the sword to her side. With Excalibur effectively neutralised it looked as if nothing could stop her gaining Herne's sword as well.
Standing quietly on the edge of the proceedings Ancelyn watched the cosmic battle taking place between the swords. Not surprisingly Rubilaxe was helping Morgaine. Green tendrils of light wrapped themselves around Albion, trying to draw the sword away from its bearer; but Robin was strong and was fighting the power which threatened to engulf him. A warm feel in the palm of Ancelyn's hand caused him to look down and he remembered, with a start, that he too held a sword of power.
Lifting Earendil high above his head Ancelyn leapt forward with a blood-curdling cry. Taken unawares Morgaine and Rubilaxe froze and Ancelyn brought his sword crashing down onto the green one. Sparks flew from it as it tried to rally and then Albion was there. Between them Earendil and Albion pushed Mordred's sword back until the young knight was forced to drop it with a clatter. Immediately Ace scooped up the fallen sword, as Mordred cradled a burnt hand. Robin and Ancelyn turned their swords towards Excalibur and placed their blades along its cold length. At once the ruby began to throb gently and the Knight General pulled the sword from the earth.
"Excalibur, my liege."
"Thank you Ancelyn," Arthur answered, receiving his sword and wiping it lovingly on his robe before levelling it at Morgaine.
"Ooh, I do love happy endings," Ace announced to the room in general. "What are we going to do with this sword?"
"It has been corrupted to evil so it must be destroyed," Arthur told her.
"Oh, you mean it's turned to the dark side of the force," she laughed. "But how do you destroy a sword?"
"Watch," the Doctor advised, pulling her to one side.
Arthur placed Rubilaxe on the pile of earth while Morgaine watched in frustration as her magic was turned against her.
"With these three swords of power we condemn thee, Rubilaxe, sword of earth, to your doom; for as air, fire and water can destroy earth, so we can destroy thee," Arthur intoned, pointing Excalibur at the earth and indicating that Robin and Ancelyn should do likewise. As soon as all three blades were in position the earth began to smoulder and the blade grew red-hot.
Mordred watched in horror as his sword turned white with the heat, leaping forward to try and pull it from the jaws of its destruction. As quick as a flash the Doctor caught the knight's arm with his umbrella and managed to hold him fast until Rubilaxe had dissolved in a molten pool of metal and permeated through the earth.
"Mother!" the young man screamed, but her white face told him that there was nothing even she could do.
At the back of the room, standing aloof from the battle of power being played out in his castle, Belleme smiled and made a small gesture with his hand. In the darkest corner of the room a shadow moved and opened out to reveal a door through which a cold grey light fell. Ace saw the door first.
"Professor..." she began.
"Not now, Ace," the Doctor muttered watching Arthur closely. Seeing the King'sﾐ resolve weaken he encouraged him gently.
"It has to be done."
"But my own sister..."
"Doctor, what's that?" Ace's quiet, fear-filled voice reached him that time and he turned.
"So you didn't think we'd need Azael's help," the Baron whispered across the space between him and Morgaine.
"What have you done?" she screamed at him.
"Destroyed you all," he replied quietly. "Lay down the swords for they are mine now," he continued as the horned Azael materialised in front of them.
"Never," Ancelyn declared bravely. Azael raised a hand and green light felled the young knight.
"Ancelyn!" Ace cried, dropping to her knees at his side. Robin turned to them.
"Is he?" the outlaw asked.
"Not quite," she replied miserably.
"You reckoned without one thing, Belleme," Robin told the man coldly.
"And what's that?" he sneered.
"The silver arrow!" No sooner were the words past his lips than Robin had seized the arrow and thrown it into the dark seething mass that was the Baron's god. With an eldritch shriek the creature disappeared leaving a foul stench in the small room. Stooping to pick up the fallen arrow Loxley passed it across Ancelyn's brow. To everyone's astonishment the knight scrambled to his feet and looked round at them all in a dazed manner.
"Now," Arthur commanded and the three swords resumed their positions round the pile of earth which was still smouldering. At a word from the King it burst in to flame.
"With Excalibur I part the curtain of darkest night. Across the abyss life calls toﾐ life, biomass to biomass, energy to energy. From Avalion I send thee to beyond the confines of this universe." As he finished Arthur lifted Excalibur which was now on fire and pointed the flaming brand at Mordred, Belleme and Morgaine.
A low moan filled the room followed by the sound of rushing wind. Cloaks fluttered in the gale that swept the chamber. The Doctor grabbed hold of Ace's arm and made her hold on to the stout oak door. The three swords of power glowed amongst the earth and leaves that were being whirled around. A vortex formed in the moving air and slowly crossed over to Morgaine.
"Arthur, no! I beg you. Mercy," she pleaded.
"Would you have shown me mercy?" he countered. "Be gone evil one back to where you belong."
The woman was picked up in the twisting winds and spun around helplessly as they collected Belleme and Mordred in their grip. Up and up they rose, seemingly through the stone ceiling, dragging their prisoners with them. There was a dreadful rending sound that made Ace close her eyes. Pieces of stone fell to the floor and when she opened her eyes again it was to discover that their enemies had gone and that sunlight was now pouring into the room, cleansing it of its evil.
"Is it all over?" she queried nervously.
"Bar the shouting," the Doctor replied, gently removing her fingers from where they had frozen to the door.
"Let's go and see how the battle is getting on," Ancelyn suggested.
When they finally found their way back to the courtyard, for the wind had deposited great mounds of earth and stone all over the place, it was to discover that the battle was over and that the Sheriff and Gisburne were rounding up the prisoners. Not surprisingly, in all the post-battle chaos, the pirates had disappeared along with their king, but it was some time before Guy noticed.
As Arthur and Ancelyn wandered around talking to the soldiers and captured knights Bambera and soldier Guy appeared helping two blond men over the rubble.
"Look what we've found," Winifred announced proudly.
"Bedwyr, am I glad to see you," Arthur exclaimed, throwing his arms around the knight. Ancelyn grinned his welcome while others eyed up the second young man curiously.
"My dear boy," the Doctor said suddenly, "so good to see you again. We met on Varos remember? Glad you escaped."
The young man looked extremely dazed.
"I'm Robert of Huntingdon," he said woodenly. Herne swung round at the sound of his voice.
"Pity you had to rescue him," he murmured to Winifred.
"Why?" she asked in surprise.
"Because now events will have to take their course. I had hoped there would be a way out."
"I'm afraid I don't understand," she said.
"Don't worry no one does really."
It took some time for everything to be cleared up. Belleme's army renounced their pagan ways and de Rainault resolved to call in his brother Hugo to baptise them all. It was just the sort of thing the abbot enjoyed. The grey knights were tied together and would be kept so until they too repented. The outlaws flowed into the background and back to the forest before Gisburne could catch them, whilst the Doctor, Ace and the Arthurian warriors made sure that all the prisoners had been freed and then made their way back to Sherwood as well.
It was only when they were all back in their safe clearing, sipping mead, that Robin said,
"And now for Marion and the others."
"I'd almost forgotten them," Will admitted with a gasp. "Is it safe to rescue them now?"
"Perfectly safe," Loxley replied. "Morgaine and Belleme have been defeated and sent back to their own dimension. Albion will protect us now. Our only enemy is the usual one - the Sheriff and Gisburne - and I think with our increase in numbers we can rescue them before everyone returns to their own time." He looked round at their guests who nodded their agreement.
"Yes you can help, Ace," the Doctor muttered wearily.
"Wizard, Professor, we can blow up some of those tinheads."
"Ace, those "tinheads", as you call them, are people - Normans."
"They can't all be called Norman, Professor," Ace remonstrated with a grin. The Doctor smiled back at her.
"Very funny, Ace, but no, I've already told you, explosives are strictly taboo."
"I don't know what "explosives" are," Will interjected. "But anything that gets rid of 'em bastards 'as to be good."
"Will!" Robin exclaimed in mock horror. "And after they helped us too!" Everyone laughed.
"Have you got a plan?" Arthur asked the young outlaw.
"Yes I have. Listen."
For some time all that could be heard was the sound of - you've guessed it - birds singing and bees humming and then the Doctor stood up and stretched his legs.
"I think it's time we started," he announced. "After all there's no time like the present." He looked down at Will who was reclining lazily against a tree trunk.
"All right, all right, I'm goin'," Scarlet growled.
"But you don't go," Ace pointed out brightly.
"I'm goin', I'm goin'," he snapped, stalking out of the clearing and straight into the arms of soldier Guy.
"Whatcha doin' here?" he snarled at the unfortunate soldier.
"I'm here to help you," Guy explained. "I'm tired of working for the Sheriff so I'm going to help you and then get going."
"Where?" Nasir asked curiously.
"Back to his own time," Robin replied for the young man.
"That's right," Guy agreed. "Now if you'll just stay here I'll go and get your friends out of prison."
"Not the old man," Scarlet interjected swiftly. "'E won't leave Arfur."
"I have no intention of clearing the dungeons," Guy told the outlaw. "I have to be careful that I don't violate the Prime Directive, but I can get your friends out."
"What on earth are you talkin' about?" Will wanted to know.
"You wouldn't understand," the soldier grinned. "Now just wait."
Soldier Guy took a few steps into the dark undergrowth of the forest which hid him from prying outlaw eyes. In a few minutes he stepped back into the sunlit clearing followed by a dazed Marion, Much, Tuck and John. Robin and Marion's joy at being reunited were all the thanks the soldier needed, in fact they were all the thanks he got!
That evening the woodland creatures crept from their holes to witness the strangest of goings-on. The wildest celebrations they had ever seen were taking place in the forest as Robin and his friends gave thanks for their deliverance. Herne was there to bless them all and if there was a hint of sadness in his voice only Robin heard it.
Above the trees strange shaped machines shot bright sparks into the night sky. Cascades of light fell to the earth causing delight amongst the assembled group. From the darkest parts of the forest, where all feared to tread, the sound of drums could be heard accompanying strange voices that were singing a victory song in an unknown language. Only Robin saw the small furry creatures creeping close to the outlaws' fire and he smiled. Time had still not been mended.
The next morning was misty when they all awoke.
"It's time for us all to go," the Doctor said sadly.
"But how are they all going to get home?" Ace asked. "Will the swords take them?"
"The use of magic would be a little dicey with so many," he replied thoughtfully. "I think we'll take them home."
"What? Use the TARDIS as an inter-dimensional taxi cab?" Ace chuckled. "Now, that's dicey if you like."
"Nonsense, Ace. The TARDIS will get them home quite safely. We've just got to get everyone assembled."
"If you'll excuse me I'm going home in my own way," soldier Guy interjected.
"Thank you for your help," Robin said, turning to the young man and wishing that he could be paid to do more than just prop up the scenery.
"My pleasure," Guy grinned back. "Beam me up, O'Brien." A strange shimmering appeared in the air around the soldier and when it disappeared so had Guy.
"I'm sorry he had to go," Marion said. "He was really so nice to us."
"How about the rest of you?" the Doctor asked.
"The ship of time it is," Arthur said. "Goodbye young Robin-in-the-Hood. May our paths cross again one day."
"Farewell, my liege," Loxley replied, dropping to one knee and kissing the royal hand. Arthur smiled down at the young man. "The Blessed Isles await thee," he whispered.
As the door of the TARDIS swung open all the strange beings who had been wandering the forest appeared and filed into the blue box.
"Two by two by two by two," Ace whispered under her breath.
"I suppose it is a bit like Noah's ark," the Doctor said with a chuckle. "Could you wind your bullwhip up tightly please, sir, and don't frighten the seven dwarves. Ladies, there are some chairs in one of the rooms just down the hall if you'd like to find them. And, no, you can't bring that tree in here! I don't care if it is called Susan, I'm not having it in the TARDIS!!"
Not one of the travellers took any notice of his instructions and it was left to Arthur, Ancelyn and Winifred to get things under control. Finally, when they were just about to leave, the prisoner-cum-pirate-king strolled up with his rollicking band of pirates.
"Before you enter I think you'd better decide who you are," the Doctor told him. "There are a lot of people looking for you."
"I know," he grinned cheekily, "but I'm 'appy as I am now, so let's get this ship under sail."
Robin stood with his arm round Marion's waist, watching the mass exodus of friends and strangers. Life would be quieter without them but, he wondered, was that necessarily a good thing.
An unusual noise filled the clearing and the box dissolved away into nothingness leaving the outlaws alone. As it went a strange rippling ran through the trees and out of the forest; wave upon wave flowed around Nottingham and a calm finally descended upon Sherwood.
"The fabric of time and space has been mended," Herne observed quietly from the shadows of the trees. The great stag at his side bowed its head and Robin smiled. He could feel the wholeness of time again and was glad that things were as they should be. He watched as the Lord of the Trees and the stag walked into the cool depths of the forest before turning back to his friends.