After the Doctor's announcement that Ginny was his daughter, the great hall of Camelot became very quiet. Harry took the opportunity to step next to Ginny and take her hand in his, letting the rest of the knights know where their relationship stood. That simple display of public affection did more to cement Harry's reputation as being recklessly brave than any story Sirius might have told.
King Arthur shook his head in amusement and glanced over at Hermione. She looked just slightly older than the ginger girl Merlin had claimed as his daughter. After doing some quick math, he glanced at Guinevere who just shrugged her shoulders slightly. Arthur sighed loudly and then looked over at his old friend. "Merlin, it seems much has transpired since you were last here. You can fill me in on all of the details while everyone else prepares for a feast tonight," he told him. Arthur looked around the great hall, making eye contact with as many people as possible. "A feast to welcome home two old friends," he stated while gesturing towards the Doctor and Hermione. "And to welcome new friends into our home," he proclaimed, gesturing towards the rest of the newcomers.
The Doctor walked past Arthur to stand next to Ginny. "Yes... yes, Arthur, that will be fine. However now that we have a free moment, I need to retrieve my TARDIS," he said.
Hermione followed the Doctor to Ginny's side. "How do you plan on doing that?" she inquired, curious to see how the Doctor was going to pull off this stunt.
The Doctor pointed towards Ginny's wrist. "Simple really," he stated. "I'll just borrow Ginny's Vortex manipulator, hop forward a little over 1,000 years, pick up the TARDIS, and hop right back to just after I left," he explained.
Hermione crossed her arms over her chest as Ginny took off her Manipulator and handed it to her father. "I know how well you 'drive'," Hermione reminded the Doctor. "No offense to the King or Queen, but I don't feel like spending six months to a year stuck in the tenth century," she told him.
The Doctor looked hurt by her words. He would have said something to defend himself if she hadn't been completely accurate in her assessment. He pointed to the Manipulator after he attached it to his wrist. "The Vortex Manipulators store the exact temporal coordinates of their last three jumps," he stated. "All I have to do is plug this into the old girl and she'll be able to land me within a second of when I left," he said. "Trust me. This will be the easiest trip I've ever made since the TARDIS and I stole each other so very long ago," he stated, trying to reassure his girlfriend. "Trust me. Not even I can mess up a plan this simple," he said with a wink before pressing the activation switch on the Vortex Manipulator. The Doctor disappeared with a loud crackle and a bit of sulfuric smelling smoke.
Jack sighed wearily. "I hate it when he says stuff like that," he muttered. The young Founders ignored Jack and just stared at where Merlin had been standing. Even at their young age, they knew that powerful transportation spells like that needed the help of a wand. Merlin had just demonstrated that not only he could do such a spell without one, but he didn't even need to speak an incantation.
A second loud crackle filled the great hall as the Doctor reappeared. His expression spoke of a great deal of frustration. "Does anyone remember where we parked?" he inquired sheepishly.
Laughter and music filled the great hall of Camelot as dozens of people sat at the tables that had been brought in for the banquet in Merlin's honor. The tables formed a ring around the center which had been left clear for the various entertainers looking to impress the King. Most of the people in the hall ignored the large blue box sitting in the corner of the room behind the King's throne. Those few who could actually see it knew it was Merlin's private abode.
Hermione excused herself from the head table when she saw Queen Guinevere step away and motion for her to follow. Guinevere led her to the fireplace where she kept her needlework. Picking up a very special one, she handed it to Hermione. The distinct outline of the TARDIS was stitched into the cloth with blue thread. Hermione turned the frame around in her hand as she had seen Guinevere do and saw that several different portraits were etched into the wood. She continued to turn the frame until she found the etching of her boyfriend. "Thank you for letting me borrow your diary," Guinevere told Hermione. "It's made identifying Merlin much easier," she stated.
Hermione handed the Queen back the needlework frame. "Diary? What diary?" she wondered aloud.
Guinevere did a double take and then looked closer at Hermione. "I just assumed you could alter your age just as Merlin does," she said. "It never occurred to me that you might actually be younger than the last time we met," she chuckled. "Have you two had your picnic at Asgard yet?" she politely asked, trying to figure out when this version of her friend was from.
"Asgard? As in home of the Norse gods?" Hermione replied, confused.
Guinevere let out a soft chuckle. "That early on... interesting," the Queen stated. She laughed again. "There is so much I want to tell you, Lady of the Lake, but as you say... spoilers," she told the young woman with a wink.
The older man with dark hair who had spoken to Jack earlier walked up to the women who were arguably the two most powerful women in Camelot. "What are two up to?" he pondered aloud. "I hope it isn't a restructuring of the court, but if it is, I have a few suggestions for proper clothing to be worn," he said suggestively.
Guinevere rolled her eyes playfully and swatted the handsome knight on his rather firm backside. "I already know what your suggestions would be and I still say that the castle is too drafty to be wearing so little," she laughed. Guinevere put her hand on the knight's butt once again and shoved him in the direction of the other knights who were each trying to impress Harry and Ginny with stories of their exploits. "Off with you, Lancelot. We women folk have important things to discuss," she told him with mock seriousness. Lancelot bowed first to Guinevere and then to Hermione with equal levels of respect before walking back to the other knights.
Hermione fought to control her expressions. She had grown up on the legend of King Arthur and Camelot. She knew of the great love that Arthur and Guinevere shared, but also knew how Guinevere and the King's closest friend betrayed him by having an affair behind his back. Hermione hadn't kept as good of a hold on her expressions as she would have liked, because Guinevere started to laugh again.
"From the look on your face, it would seem that my affair with Lancelot is still widely known," she stated in a matter of fact way. Hermione looked down at the floor, not sure of what she should say. Guinevere put her hand on Hermione's shoulder and leaned in to the other woman's ear. "It's not what you think. The whole rumor of Lancelot and I sleeping together was Arthur's idea in the first place," she admitted.
"What?" Hermione gasped.
Guinevere moved her body so others wouldn't be able to read her lips. "The only thing the people love more than their King is a good scandal," she tried to explain. "Arthur came up with the idea as a way to protect his friend. He is willing to let his honor be sullied to protect Lancelot," she told Hermione. She glanced over her shoulder and saw Lancelot had wondered over to the equally handsome Captain Harkness. "While most of the knights accept Lancelot for who he is. There are many other members of court who wouldn't, no matter how brave and loyal he is," she sighed. She saw Hermione's brows wrinkle in confusion. "I don't know how things are where and when you come from, but around here, men who prefer the company of other men in their beds are not treated well," she whispered.
Hermione's eyes grew wide in shock. "You have got to be joking?" she blurted out. Glancing over Guinevere's shoulder, she added, "I feel sorry for the ladies of the court, a handsome man like that forever out of their reach."
Guinevere turned to look at Lancelot as well. "There are several of the younger maids who have eyes only for him," she chuckled. "Should we warn your dashing Captain?" she asked Hermione. The Queen was looking at her with some concern due to Lancelot finally making it to Jack's side. "I don't want there to be any bad feelings between your man and ours," she stated.
Hermione took in a startled gasp when she realized what was probably going to happen. "Oh god, I'll never be able to read those stories again the same way," she muttered. Hermione blushed at the thoughts that crept unbidden into her mind. "Um... no. I think Jack and Lancelot will get along very well," she told Guinevere, leaving the older woman to make the inference on her own.
Guinevere was silent for a moment and then a conspiratorial smile spread across her face. "To be a fly on that wall..." she said with a naughty tone.
The Queen's smile was infectious and Hermione leaned in towards her. "Guinevere..." she chided.
Guinevere winked at Hermione, the Lady of the Lake. "Just because they're into men, doesn't change the fact that they're both very handsome specimens," she replied. Hermione laughed and the Queen led her back to the main table where the Doctor and Arthur were deep in conversation.
"When did these uprisings start?" the Doctor inquired.
Arthur leaned back in his chair and thought for a moment. "There have always been small disturbances between the magical and the non-magical, but they have always been isolated incidents," he replied. "It has only been since I made the proclamation giving magical people and intelligent, magical creatures equal rights that the real problems started," he explained. "We have tried to find a common link between the villages that have rebelled - an instigator or trouble maker, but my spies have turned up nothing," he sighed wearily.
The Doctor looked over at the young Founders and watched them try dish after dish with wide eyes. He figured that it had been the first time in quite a while they had the opportunity to eat a full meal. "I don't like this, Arthur," he told his friend. "With your permission, I would like to visit Bretton and see what I can find out," he requested.
Arthur's shoulders visibly relaxed. "Thank you, Merlin," he sighed. "With you going to Bretton that will free up some of my knights to investigate the problems with our neighbors in the forests to the North," he stated. When Arthur saw the questioning look in the Doctor's eyes, he went on. "We have received reports of raiding parties from the villages striking at the non-human residents there," he explained.
The Doctor frowned deeply. On one hand, he desperately wanted to investigate what was going on in the village. On the other, it sounded like the forest dwellers could use his help as well. His frown faded when he saw the knights rolling with laughter at something Harry had said. "If you are dealing with magical creatures, it might be best to just send a magical contingent to the forest," he suggested. "I think Sirius, Harry, and Ginny can handle just about anything they find there," he said.
Arthur looked at Ginny. "Merlin, there is likely to be fighting in the forest. It's no place for a lady," he warned.
The Doctor chuckled and then yelled across the room, "Ginny, would you come here for a moment?"
Ginny excused herself from the knights' table and walked over to the Doctor. "What's up, Dad?" she inquired.
The Doctor jerked his head towards Arthur. "The King is worried about you traveling to the forest tomorrow because there might be fighting. I was wondering if you might like to give him a demonstration to show why you should go," he suggested.
Ginny smiled at the Doctor and then looked calmly at Arthur. "Your highness, if it pleases you," she said, her tone much like a pool shark reeling in a mark.
"Do you need anything for this 'demonstration'?" the King asked. He had the nagging feeling that he was missing something in this conversation.
Ginny looked to the clear area in the center of the room and shooed the musicians away. "If you would be so kind, your highness, I would ask that you pick three of your best knights and have them meet me here in the center," she requested. Almost as an afterthought she added, "They may bring their weapons if they choose."
As three of the younger knights found themselves pushed into the center of the room, the Doctor told Ginny, "Now remember, these are our friends. No permanent injuries, please." Ginny nodded with a sweet smile and then walked into the exact center of the room. She shook her head in disgust when she saw only one of them had taken her up on her offer and brought a weapon. He had grabbed a staff from a weapons rack.
Ginny slowly turned around and looked at the young knights. The one with the staff was standing opposite of the other two who were just smirking. "Ready when you are, lads," she taunted. When none of them moved, she rolled her eyes and then ran at the smirking knight on the left. Ginny came within an arm's reach of the knight before he registered she had moved. He was completely unprepared for her dropping to the ground and spinning around, her rear leg extended. The knight fell to the ground with a crash. Ginny stood up slowly and gave the other smirking knight a smile that spoke of carefully delivered pain and mayhem.
The standing, unarmed knight held out his hand behind him and snapped his fingers. His squire tossed him his sword over the crowd. The knight was forced to glance away from Ginny to catch his sword. He was relieved when the expected blows never landed. Instead, Merlin's daughter simply winked at him and then did a series of backflips toward the knight armed with the staff. On the last flip, Ginny turned her body so she was facing the poor soul on the other side of the improvised ring. The knight held out the staff in front of him, horizontal to the floor in an attempt to push Ginny away in case she continued flipping. Ginny was counting on this move and brought her right leg up in a graceful out-to-in crescent kick that turned into a dropping axe kick at its highest point. Her heal came down on the staff and drove through it, splitting it in two.
The knight facing Ginny stared down at his broken staff in disbelief. He never even saw the punch that broke his nose, stunning him even more. Ginny used his distraction to strip both pieces of wood out of his hands. She casually spun around and tapped the young knight behind the ear with the wood in her left hand. He dropped like a ragdoll, mercifully unconscious. Ginny completed her revolution and faced the remaining knight who swallowed hard.
The last knight took the offensive and ran at Ginny, bellowing a war cry that bounced off the stone walls. Ginny met him in the center and effortlessly parried his sword the side with her left stick and brought right one down hard on his sword arm, striking the medial nerve and causing his hand to go numb. Ginny brought her left stick back around and easily knocked the sword out of his lifeless hand. She followed through by stepping past him and hooking her right stick behind his knees and pulling back and upwards. The knight flew into the air and landed on his back. He blinked to clear the stars from his vision and found the jagged tip of one of the broken pieces of the staff resting against his Adam's apple.
Arthur slowly turned his head towards the Doctor, trying to keep his eyes on the young vessel of destruction his wizard had brought to Camelot. "Objection withdrawn, Merlin," he stated.
The Doctor and his companions met in the courtyard of Camelot just after dawn had broken over the eastern wall. Sirius had chosen to wear a shiny suit of black leather armor instead of his usual plate metal. In contrast to his friend, Lancelot was wearing his full suit of plate armor with his crest embroidered onto the tabard he wore over the armor. Harry, the Doctor, and Jack were dressed as they usually were. The last two to arrive were Hermione and Ginny. Ginny was dressed in an emerald green gown. A pair of young men's leggings just barely showed from underneath the hem of the dress. Hermione was dressed in a bright white dress with a crown of woven flowers sitting in her hair. Both of the young women looked a little embarrassed. Ginny broke away from Hermione and followed Sirius and Harry to a shed on the far side of the courtyard.
Hermione walked over to where a groom held a light brown mare ready for her. After she allowed herself to be helped into the saddle, she looked over at the Doctor who couldn't tear his eyes off of her.
Hermione gestured towards her dress with her free hand. "Last night Rowena and Helga informed Ginny and I that they had decided to become our ladies in waiting. Apparently, we didn't have a choice in the matter," she informed the Doctor. "Just like Rowena gave me no choice in what I was wearing today," she laughed. "She told me that as Merlin's Lady, I needed to dress to fit my station," she chuckled. The thought of being some sort of noble in King Arthur's court was too strange for her to really grasp.
The Doctor rode his horse next to hers, still staring at her. "You look absolutely beautiful, Hermione," he whispered, his voice suddenly hoarse. Hermione felt her heart flutter at the Doctor's words. She leaned over towards him to steal a quick kiss, but the Doctor suddenly turned his horse and trotted off towards the gate. Hermione wasn't sure, but she thought she saw a mixture of fear and confusion in her boyfriend's eyes. She shrugged her shoulders and pulled her horse up next to Sir Lancelot's since Jack had maneuvered his horse next to the Doctor's.
The company rode in silence with a large gap between the lead horses and the ones Hermione and Lancelot rode. Jack couldn't stand the unnatural strain he felt between Hermione and the Doctor and decided to do something about it. "So Doc, aren't you going to ask me how my night was?" he suggested.
The Doctor turned his head to look at Jack, clearly horrified. "No… definitely not," he swore.
Jack ignored the Doctor and told him anyway. "I've got to tell you, Doc… Lancelot really lives up to his name," he said suggestively. The Doctor groaned at the horrible sexual pun. Jack leaned closer to the Doctor so only his friend could hear him. "So, how was your night with Hermione?" he inquired.
The Doctor cocked his head to the side, slightly put off by the question. "She went to the chambers Arthur and Guinevere had set up for her and I worked on some projects in the TARDIS," he stated.
Jack gave the Doctor an incredulous look. "You mean to tell me that you two didn't… you know…," he said suggestively.
The Doctor stared straight ahead, not looking at Jack. "That's none of your business, Jack," he replied angrily. His tone softened a bit and he added, "Besides, I want our first time to be special and I... um... might be, sort of out of practice."
Jack turned in his saddle and pointed back the way he came. "We… were… in… Camelot! Camelot for crying out loud! It doesn't get any more special than that, Doc!" he argued. Jack watched the Doctor seem to sag in on himself. "Doctor, I'm going to be straight with you… well, metaphorically speaking anyway… and I don't believe that's the real reason you two haven't done the horizontal TARDIS tango," he told his old friend.
The Doctor looked over his shoulder at Hermione for just an instant. He turned to look ahead again when she tried to meet his eyes. "You're right, Jack. There is more to it than that," he sighed. They rode on silently for a few moments before the Doctor spoke again. "A slip by one of my previous Companions has dropped the ultimate spoiler on me," he confided. Before Jack could ask what it was the Doctor whispered, "I know when and where I'm going to die."
Jack chuckled a bit. "And you're afraid the next version might not be into women, huh?" he teased playfully. His merriment fled when he saw the sad look in the Doctor's eyes.
"No, Jack. It's when I die for good- no regeneration, no cheating Death. It's during this current regeneration… and… River is there to see it," he said softly. Jack rocked back like he had been slapped. It had never occurred to him that there might be a time when the Doctor wasn't a part of the Universe. "I'm afraid if I get any closer to Hermione, it will only hurt her that much more when I die," he tried explain.
Jack's eyes narrowed in anger. "Not going to happen, Doctor!" he swore. "I don't care how many times I have to die. I'll get to whomever it is that is going to kill you and kill them first," he promised.
The Doctor gave Jack a half-hearted smile. "No you won't," he said simply. "In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if you didn't end up helping the person who does the actual killing," he added cryptically.
Jack shook his head dismissively. He loved the Doctor and would never do anything to hurt his best friend in all of Time and Space. He thought about what the Doctor had said and decided to try another approach. "You know… there was a time when I was really depressed after the death of Ianto and my grandson, Steven. Lucky for me, my best friend showed up in the nick of time to remind me that there were still things worth living for," he reminded the Doctor. The previous version of the Doctor had said his goodbyes to Jack by setting him up with a young space officer by the name of Alonso Frame.
The Doctor smiled at him. "I remember," he replied.
"It was only after I started to heal that I was able to look back on my relationship with Ianto," Jack told him. "The thing I regret most isn't the time I spent with him, it's all the time I wasted pushing him away," he stated. "I know River and therefore I know Hermione. I know she would feel the same way," he said. "Do you want her memories of you to be happy, or tainted with the fact that there could have been more of them if you hadn't been so afraid of getting her or you hurt?" he asked. "Doctor, that's what love is. It's opening yourself to another knowing they can hurt you more than anyone else and doing it anyway," he tried to explain.
The Doctor looked Jack in the yes. "I thought I was supposed to be the wise, ancient alien," he said.
Jack chuckled and shook his head. "In matters of love... not a chance. You need to leave that to the experts," he joked.
The Doctor reined his horse in a bit as he asked, "Will you excuse me, Jack?" Jack made eye contact with Lancelot and the knight broke his horse into a trot to switch places with the Doctor.
When the Doctor brought his horse up next to Hermione's he saw she was frowning. "Have I done something wrong?" she asked, desperately wanting to know.
Instead of speaking right away, the Doctor reached over, cupped the back of her head, and pulled her in for a passionate snog. When they finally came up for air, Hermione's mood was much improved. "The only thing you've done wrong is fall in love with a daft, old alien," the Doctor finally replied. Hermione let him know what she thought about that statement by kissing him again.
Jack and Lancelot made it a point to not look behind them as they rode the rest of the way to Bretton. The sly smiles the two men shared on occasion told the other they were thinking along the same lines. When they finally reached the village, the peasants made way for the King's right hand man, a young Lady, and two oddly dressed men. The Doctor and Hermione rode up closer to the other two, sensing danger.
"Any idea of what we should be looking for, Merlin," Lancelot asked the court wizard. The Doctor's silence unnerved the knight and forced him to turn around to look at him.
"Unfortunately, yes," the Doctor whispered. He was staring down a side street and pulling out a grease marker from his jacket. Acting like he was scratching his hand, the Doctor made a single tally mark. Jack was also staring down the side street, concern written all over his face. Suddenly the Doctor blinked and shook slightly, like he was waking up from a dream.
"What are we looking for, Merlin?" Lancelot repeated.
The Doctor shrugged his shoulders. "I haven't the foggiest notion, but I suspect we'll know it when we see it," he responded.
Lancelot was quite confused. "You just told me you knew what we were looking for… right before you started drawing on yourself," he stated, pointing at the Doctor's hand.
The Doctor's eyes darted down to the single black mark on his skin. "This is very not good," he complained. Before the Doctor could go on, Jack said something that came as a complete shock to the Doctor.
Jack pointed at the now empty side street. "What the hell was that ugly son-of-a-bitch?" he inquired.