To read a fun time-traveling story involving Mark and a few Harry Potter characters, go read "A Routine Disturbance" - a story coauthored by my friend, Fox_Murphy. You can find the direct link to the first two chapters on my profile. There's a pretty important twist involving Mark's past, and if you're curious about his story you won't want to miss it!
Chapter Seventeen – Between Berry and London
Nor shall I ever see them [the knights] reunited around my table as before; it is this that hurts me most.
– Holy Grail, Chrétien de Troyes
The door shut quietly behind Arthur. Cars were flying by, but he could see where Mark had gone. Taking a deep breath, he carefully waited until it was clear, and then crossed the street.
The last few hours had been painstakingly slow. Arthur had bound their kidnappers, but none of them had woken before the policemen arrived. It was a matter of documentation then—questions and answers, exacting details. They had followed the police to the morgue, where Charlie's body was being kept. Kate was still inside, trying to find out when they would be allowed to arrange a funeral. Mark had muttered something about getting fresh air, and left.
There was an enclosed park bus stop across the street, and Mark was sitting on the bench. Other than an impatient businessman standing nearby, there was no one around. Arthur moved a pile of trash out of the way, and sat beside Mark.
Mark was staring at the traffic, his face blank. "I could have stopped it," he said, his voice flat and quiet. "If I had thought faster, known more—I could have stopped it."
"Maybe," Arthur admitted. "But we all played a part in what happened. There were a thousand different choices that lead to his death, and most of those choices weren't yours, Mark." Arthur glanced down, and nudged a balled up McDonald's bag with his foot. "We aren't in control of what happens. Sometimes we can't stop something from happening, even if we could."
Shutting his eyes tightly, Mark said, "It happened so fast. I don't even feel anything right now. It's like my brain is on mute and I just hear echoes."
"It will get worse before it gets better," Arthur said quietly.
Mark shuddered, opening his eyes and staring ahead at the road. "It's the worse that I am afraid of."
Cars roared by, and the drone of the street made Arthur feel uneasy. He sensed that he was about to shift again—into another vision, another memory. Trying to ignore it, he told Mark, "It's going to be hard. I won't shame your grief or the severity of this blow by saying it will get easier, or by patronizing you with my pity. Kate and I—we have no idea what you feel, what you will feel. But know something, Mark." He waited until Mark was looking at him before he continued. "You will suffer, and you will go through long and hard days. But you will survive. Someday, you are going to be okay again. Not because this isn't hard, but because you have to do it. You have to live with this, and—as impossible as it feels right now—you will live with it. You are strong, Mark, and you have friends. You are going to be alright."
Mark clenched his jaw, nodding and dropping his eyes. They sat silently for a moment, the rushing in Arthur's ears growing ever louder. Just as he felt himself slipping, someone grabbed his hand. Arthur opened his eyes, and saw Mark pushing a ring onto Arthur's left pinky. "This will help," he said.
A chill and then a fire raced over Arthur, and he remembered. He remembered everything: Guinevere and Lancelot. Gawain's death. Bedievere casting Excalibur into Avalon—Merlin and Morgan. He remembered being turned into a raven.
There were centuries—centuries of history passed while he was a raven, and he remembered it all. An old woman had caught him sometime in 1817, and had taken him on a ship to America. He remembered the years of watching the country change from wilderness to industrial cities. Berry College's campus had felt like one of the few refuges left.
He remembered the Jewel Box, with its cruel reflective glass, and Kate stooping over him. He remembered hearing a voice—Mark—reading something—and then he was toppling out of a tree, and Kate was there.
Blinking, Arthur found himself staring down at the silver ring with an opal stone. "I took it from the man, before the police arrived," Mark said. "I only thought of it at the last moment. But it's yours, and I think—it should heal you."
"There was no ring of history," Arthur said, looking at Mark. "Not in my time. I was bluffing in the room to stall him. The man was wrong—it was all a legend."
"The man was right, actually. Except that it's not a ring," Mark said. He smiled a little.
Kate pulled on her jacket, glancing in the mirror. Two weeks had passed since Charlie's death, and one week had gone by since his funeral. It was Christmas Eve.
She had taken her Christmas budget and used it to buy two cheap hotel rooms for the past couple of weeks. It was cheaper to pay for the rooms than to pay the outrageous Christmas season airfare, and Mark did not seem in the state to travel or to be alone right now. It had not been a very hard decision to make. Traveling to England had always been a dream of hers, and she intended to visit at least one of Jane Austen's houses while she was here. They should be getting back to Georgia after the New Year.
Tucking her hair behind her ear, Kate turned from the mirror and edged her way between the end of the bed and the dresser. Once she was safely through, she went down the hall and knocked softly at Arthur's door. He opened it after a moment, and smiled.
"You guys want to go on a walk?" Kate asked. "I think I can hear carolers outside."
Already reaching for his jacket, Arthur glanced back into the room. Mark was lying on one of the beds, staring up at the TV in the corner. "I'm fine here," he said, without moving. "I think I'll just catch the Doctor Who reruns."
"Alright. We shouldn't be long," Arthur said, stepping out and closing the door behind him. He shrugged in answer to Kate's questioning look, and walked past her into the lobby.
As Kate stepped outside, she paused to take a deep breath of the cold air. "This is so refreshing after the stifling heat in my room," she said, beginning to walk toward a nearby park. Arthur stuck his hands in his pockets, nodding. They walked for some time in silence, listening to distant carolers and the sound of their steps. There was a couple speaking French to each other, and Kate tried to listen in. "I wish I knew what they were saying," she said to Arthur, under her breath. "I took French in college but I don't remember more than a few words."
He shrugged. "It's not a very interesting conversation. The man says, 'Do we have to meet your parents on New Years Eve? Your mother always gives me peaches, and I hate peaches.' The woman says, 'Well, at least my mother doesn't make me go look at cars the way your father does!' And now they're arguing about who has the better parents."
Puzzled, Kate asked, "You speak French?"
He glanced at her and grinned. "Sure. England was invaded by France several times. The language is still quite similar."
"Ah... So…" Kate kicked a pine cone. "You seem to be doing a lot better. I haven't seen you fall into a vision for a while, now that I think about it."
Arthur took his left hand out of his pocket, showing her the signet ring on his pinky. She had noticed that somehow he'd taken it from Jack, but she had not gotten the full story yet. "Mark got this for me, and it's healed my memories. No more visions."
"Is it really history-controlling?" she asked, interested.
Shaking his head, Arthur answered, "No. It's actually not a ring—it's Excalibur." He smiled at her skeptical look. "Mark and I have been brainstorming it. Apparently he can read people, but he can't read objects as easily. Before I was taken to Avalon, Sir Bedievere threw Excalibur into a lake to summon help. Mark thinks that after Merlin helped me, he found Excalibur at the bottom of the lake. He transformed it so that it would not be taken up by an enemy. So in some ways it is history—it's my history. And in some ways, the stories about it being able to change the past are true. I mean, think of all the legends that have risen around my kingdom." He spread his hands toward the tree tops. "I've created my own history in those legends."
Kate laughed a little. "You sound like Dr. Cooper."
Smiling, Arthur scratched the back of his head. "I suppose I do," he said sheepishly. "But it's a safe topic, so Mark and I have been over it several times."
There was a small group of carolers standing at a distance, and Kate paused to watch them. "How do you think Mark is doing?" she asked, glancing out the corner of her eye at Arthur. "He's gotten so hard to read in the last week or so."
"He's as well as he can be, given the circumstances," Arthur answered. "He does not talk much about what happened, but he is making plans for the future. He wants to go back and finish up his degree at Berry. Right now, he's thinking about going to med school after he graduates."
Kate nodded. "He mentioned that the other day. I think it's helping him feel more stable, to have these goals in place." She listened to the singing, her insides twisting at the thought of the next question she wanted to ask. Trying to ignore the nervous knot in her stomach, she turned to Arthur. "What are you going to do next?"
"I'm not sure," he said, his eyes still on the carolers. "Part of me still wishes that I could go back. I will never see my friends again—my knights, and that still is hard to believe." He glanced at her, and shrugged off his homesickness. "I need to get a job, and a house, and settle down somewhere. But I don't have a real education—I can't even read."
"That can be fixed," Kate said. "Besides, I bet Dr. Cooper could find a place for a man with your… interesting credentials."
Arthur laughed. "Knowing him, you're probably right." He paused, twisting the ring on his finger and looking down at her. His blue eyes became serious again, and Kate felt her cheeks grow hot. "Thank you, Kate."
"For what?" she asked, bewildered.
"Helping me so much. You didn't have to. A lot of people would have discarded me as mad, and they probably would have been right." A small smile tilted the corner of his mouth as he touched her hand. "But you did not give up on me."
"I did," Kate admitted. "At first—and for a long time—I thought you were insane." She laced her fingers through his. "Somewhere between Berry and London I realized that as impossible as it was, I had started to believe in you." She shrugged. "It's still a little difficult, when I start thinking about it, but I guess I don't mind anymore. You are Arthur to me, and king or not... you're the same person."
He kissed her forehead. "I am so glad I was given this second chance with you."
Lopping her arms carefully behind his neck, Kate smiled. "I'm glad, too."
He leaned down and brushed his lips against hers. Whatever the legends said, Kate was positive that even Lancelot couldn't have beaten that kiss.
The end! D'awwwww.
Remember that you can check out some more Mark action over at "A Routine Disturbance" (see link in my profile). Over the summer, a new story starring Mark will be coming up as well, and it may or may not involve a certain Type 1 Diabetic Irish girl.
Thanks for joining me on this journey! And be kind to all ravens you see. You never know...