Tristan: A Modern Bedtime Story

By Hope Janes


Once upon a time there lived a handsome accountant named Tristan. He could add numbers faster than any man alive, and not even the IRS dared to challenge him. Tristan's parents had died when he was young, so Tristan lived with his Uncle Billy, who was the President of the United States. All day Tristan would keep track of his uncle's financial accounts, and then he would give a status report at the end of the day.

One evening as Tristan was reporting to his uncle, Billy interrupted him. "How would you like to take a little trip, Tristan? I need someone to check on my affairs in Arkansas. You'll only be gone a few days, and I'll let you take Air Force One."

Naturally, Tristan jumped at the chance to get away from the White House for a few days, so he accepted the President's offer. Tristan flew to Arkansas and made sure that his Uncle Billy's financial affairs there were in order. He was just about to fly back to Washington D.C. when he came across a beauty pageant taking place. He got there just in time to see Iseult Fairview crowned Miss Arkansas, Princess of the Ozarks. During the whole flight back to the White House, all Tristan could think of was the beautiful Princess Iseult.

After Tristan had been home for a few weeks, President Billy called him to the Oval Office. "Tristan," said Billy, "I know how much you loved your Aunt Hilda. She was as much a mother to you as I am a father to you. I was heartbroken when Hilda drowned while whitewater rafting, but I must move on. I think it's time for me to remarry; this country needs a first lady. After all the good things you've had to say about her, I think I'll take Iseult Fairview as my wife. Not only is she from my home state, but she's beautiful. I want you to go and get her for me."

So the fastest accountant in the U.S. once again boarded Air Force One and headed towards Arkansas. It wasn't very difficult for Tristan to pursuade Iseult to marry his Uncle Billy, so soon the two were soaring above the clouds back to the Capitol.

During the flight Tristan - who was always a gentleman - asked Iseult if she would like a cappuccino. Iseult said she would like one, so Tristan asked the flight attendant to bring them two cappuccinos.

This particular flight attendant happened to be a radical feminist who had not only worshipped Hilda, the President's dead wife, but couldn't bear the thought of the President marrying some beauty queen floozy. So, in an attempt to thwart the impending wedding, the flight attendant
slipped a powerful aphrodisiacal narcotic into Tristan and Iseult's drinks.

Ignorant of the drug lacing their coffee, the accountant and the Azark Princess sipped their drinks. Suddenly the two were overcome with such intense desire for one another that they gave into their passion while Air Force One was still in the sky.

Despite her love for Tristan, Iseult felt that she couldn't go back on her promise, so Billy and Iseult were married.

Since Tristan was still his uncle's accountant, it was inevitable that Tristan and Iseult would see each other in the White House. Being so close, yet unable to be together was such agony to the two people that they soon overcame their misgivings and began an affair. Thrilled by their reunion, the two would meet in secluded roms and storage closets whenever they could. For a while, the lovers' relationship was secret, and Billy, Tristan, and Iseult were all content.

Unfortunately this state of bliss could not last. Gordred, the Vice-President, had an idea that Tristan and Iseult might be lovers. Frightened that Billy might support Tristan in running for president next election rather than himself, Gordred was looking for any way in which he might defame the President's nephew. This possible affair between Tristan and the First Lady looked like the perfect opportunity.

One day Gordred approached the President. He hinted that there might be something unseemly going on between the President's wife and nephew. Gordred suggested that the President look in Tristan's bedroom after lunch that afternoon, for that was when Tristan and Iseult usually met.

That afternoon, after he had eaten his lunch, President Billy went to Tristan's bedroom and quietly opened the door. On the bed Tristan and Iseult were laying side by side, fast asleep; and seperating the two, Tristan's calculator lay between them.

Bravely trying to believe the best, Billy took the seperating calculator to mean that Tristan and Iseult shared an unconsummated love.

Rumors of this incident quickly spread, so Tristan, realizing that he could no longer jeopardize his uncle's, Iseult's, or his own reputation, decided to leave the White House.

Tristan moved to New York and got a job on Wall Street. Hoping to alleviate his grief over losing Iseult Fairview, Tristan married a woman named Iseult White. However, after marrying Miss White, Tristan realized that no one could ever replace his beloved Ozark Princess, and his marriage was one in name only.

The years passed, and one day as Tristan was working at the New York Stock Exchange, a stockborker suddenly couldn't cope with the stress, and he pulled out a gun, randomly firing. One of the bullets hit Tristan, seriously wounding him, and he was rushed to the hospital.

As he lay in the hospital bed, Tristan asked one of his best friends to go and get Iseult Fairview. If when he returned Iseult was with him, Tristan told his friend to drive to the hospital in his white Porshe. If Iseult was not with him, his friend was to drive the black BMW.

Tristan's wife was sitting by his bed when the friend returned to the hospital. "Iseult," Tristan whispered to his wife, "is he driving the Porshe or the BMW?"

Iseult, who had never lost her hatred for Iseult Fairview, the woman Tristan loved instead of her, smiled maliciously and said, "Why dear, he's driving the black BMW."

Heartbroken that his darling Iseult wouldn't come to him, Tristan closed his eyes and breathed his last breath.

Tristan's friend had not been driving the BMW, however. When the white Porshe stopped at the hospital's entrance, Iseult, Princess of the Ozarks, ran out to see her beloved Tristan. When she saw that she was too late, she too died of a broken heart.

The lovers, united in death, were flown back to the Capitol and buried in the White House gardens. From the grave of Tristan grew a vine and from that of Iseult a rose. The two met and became entwined so that the accountant and his princess were never again separated.


In Arthur's Land

By Rachel Kubinski


There was a time so long ago
When chivalry was proud
And armor-clad the knights would fight
For ladies in the crowd.

A time where honor was at stake
Each dual the knights pursued
To protect the land of the king
Fierce battles did ensue.

For time it seemed there'd be no king
For whom the knights could fight
But Merlin's tricks produced a heir
Through unwed passion's plight.

King Pendragon who ruled England
On Cornwall declared war
And took Igraine to be his wife
Not knowing what's in store.

Arthur was born of Queen Igraine
To few it was made clear
Uther promised him to Merlin
Until the given year.

Then Merlin whisked the boy away
To live in Ector's home
He lived without nobility
And in the woods did roam.

They called him "Wart" when he was young
Great Merlin was his guide
Made Wart a hawk, a swan, an ant
And a small fish beside.

Wart learned about so many things
From every creature's view
So for life's many mysteries
He'd know just what to do.

Merlin's magic was quite a sight
The future he could see
He lived his life from back to front
And knew what Wart would be.

Wart was the "Once and Future King"
Some found that rather queer
'Til from the stone he pulled the sword
And silenced all their jeers.

He would become so great a man
(Of England he was head)
So changed his name from boyish Wart
To King Arthur instead.

After time Arthur took a wife
Guienevere was her name
Her beauty known throughout the land
Made her a queen of fame.

Her skin was soft and smooth like silk
Her hands were milky tone
Perhaps her heart was not content
To sit by Arthur's throne.

Was this a union out of love
Or for convenience sake?
Since history did never tell--
The choice we each must make.

An inspiration Arthur had
A table he would make
No head, nor foot--it would be round
No hearts would he then break.

And at this table he would seat
The knights that he loved best
And they would boast the night away
About their many quests.

For questing was their lot in life
(Life never was a bore)
And some would search for years on end
Like Great King Pellinore.

He quested for the questing beast
Like the Pellinores of past
But the beast would always escape
Hence forth the quest would last.

It truly was a comic sight
A king chasing a beast
So devoted was Pellinore
He seldom paused to feast.

And then one day he was convinced
To stop the silly trick
Until the beast heard the sad news
And became very sick.

And so the King continued quest
(The questing beast healed fast)
Inspiring knights to never quit
And finish every task.

Among the knights in Arthur's charge
Were loyal brothers four
The sons of the lady Morgause
Who was vile to the core.

Gawaine, Gareth and Gaheris
Proved faithful to their King
But deception marred Agravaine
And trouble he'd soon bring.

Gaheris was the quiet one
In silence he did serve
But Gawaine's words were seldom few
He was a man of nerve.

He fought a knight the color green
A loathful lady wed
His tasks were not desirable
Some choosing death instead.

The King became his all in all
His loyalty was strong
He fought for Arthur 'til he died
In battles right or wrong.

Gareth, too, never backed away
When odds weren't stacked his way
A kitchen knight who longed to quest
"I will fight," he would say.

One day he was given a chance
And to a castle rode
There killed three knights and victory won
Or so the story's told.

But then his killing days were done
Less violent means were sought
His victims must bow to the king
Allegiance then was taught.

Now enters the most famous knight
The Frenchman--Lancelot
He brought fear to men with his skill
And his love Jenny sought.

His strength was found in his courage
No greater could be found
His skill was boasted near and far
Few challenged all around

Yet, he was not a perfect knight
His eyes got in the way
Instead of seeing Arthur's wife
He longed her love each day.

How Lancelot loved the fair Queen
It made Elaine quite sad
She disguised herself as his love
And soon bore Galahad.

Decades past and Galahad grew
So far was he from frail
He left Camelot on a quest
Searching the Holy Grail.

Unlike his father Lancelot
Galahad was still pure
In word and deed he was ideal
Of that we can be sure.

No other knight could pass the test
Their lives were smudged with sin
The worthy one was Galahad
Who gladly entered in.

So Galahad obtained the grail
To end the holy quest
But the round table soon would crack
Disbanding all the best.

Now, here we glimpse into the past
Where trickery did brew
The sister of this mighty king
Had planned just what to do.

She made him lie in bed with her
And there conceived a child
What then could our King Arthur do?
His life had been defiled.

With outraged cries he left the room
With a blow to his pride
For now this witch would keep her child
For now peace would reside.

Mordred was raised with hateful spite
No mercy he was shown
His goal the kingdom to destroy
And as "King" he'd be known.

And now we meet Arthur's lost son
With evil in his eyes
He sought to capture Lance and Gwen
With several eager spies.

One fateful night Mordred took place
Behind Guienevere's door
And when Sir Lancelot went in
Mordred could wait no more.

With Agravaine's help, they were caught
News flew fast of their shame
And at that moment Arthur knew
His land was not the same.

The King did what he had to do
And sentenced his own queen
Gawaine was set to rescue her
For Lance could not be seen.

Though Gawaine knew the Queen was wrong
Her name he must restore
He'd fight all those who would oppose
Like he'd done oft' before.

He armed himself with spear and shield
Soon as the sun did rise
There rose a shout from the large crowd
Then came a great surprise.

From the shadows came Lancelot
Rescued Gwen from the fire
Then carried her off to the woods
She was his one desire.

The King was glad she was not dead
But mourned his loss of power
He sent his men into the woods
To search in every tower.

On Lancelot he declared war
But then it was too late
He lost his love and kingdom, too
Into the hands of fate.

The sharpened swords clashed through the sky
And found each armor's flaw
The men chose sides--there was no peace
Anger was all they saw.

Try as they may they could not grasp
That right shan't equal might
Yet, Arthur's vision had a flaw
Might can't insure a right.

In the fight many knights were killed
And sorrow filled the air
Comrades were changed to enemies
Death's scent hung everywhere.

And Gwen--what was become of her?
A convent her new place.
Her childish ways came to an end
And filled her with disgrace.

"Well, what of Merlin?" you might ask
"Where were his good decrees?"
Aye, he was trapped by love's strong hold
And locked into a tree.

And mighty Arthur--what of him?
The hero we admire
The king who could not lose a war
Had lost his one desire.

A perfect land with perfect knights
Where love would be one's tool
Where chivalry would reign supreme
And trust would be the rule.

Even great men stumble and fall
Their aspirations halt
Not one instance was there to blame
For many were at fault.

Arthur received his final blow
At the hand of his son
He laid in pain awaiting death
For now his time had come.

So now you've heard this story grim
The major points of plot
But what is there to learn my friends?
Read on, you will find out.

True love had been confused with lust
With jealousy and pride
In past it did not mean a thing
To carry home a bride.

Because treachery was plenty
Knights lost their bonds of trust
Strife soon was a prevalent force
And pointless jousts were musts.

The dream that once spurred Arthur on
Was held on for too long
For few new knights came in and out
Who knew chivalry's song.

So now I warn, take this advice
To all things be ye true
Try not to be engrossed in power
Morals should not be few.

Teach the young, so they will know right
And will avoid the pain
Of dreams that die like Arthur's court
Of lives filled with much shame.

A Short Fictitious story about Myrddin,
Crimmal, and Arthur

By Andrew J. Laughlin


After the rain, and after the wind,
And after our forefathers' 4000 sins,
Here is the wet, and here the rebirth.

Nine hundred years spent flying the skies
Under this spell when nobody dies,
For nine hundred years, exploring the earth.

Days turn to months, and months into spheres,
Cycles of life turned in his ears,
Cycles of death would soon burst forth.

Such was the spell put under the children of Llyr, to live as swans for nine hundred years, with no company save themselves and their songs. After those years had passed, their feathery coats fell off, and they became three withered old men with aching bones and muscles. The three brothers fell into great sickness, and two of them died that same day. The third, Myrddin, continued to live, though not through any strength of his own. You might say he was chosen to live, but that would not be entirely accurate either. Nobody knew how or why he lived, and indeed the spell was so harsh that death was certainly intended by the speller. It seemed he was getting stronger as the years went by, but that might just be fancy. The gods are funny that way: what seem to us to be most pertinent matters, we ask these questions, but they seem to shut up and quickly silence their obligation to answer us. Some even claim to hear them laughing at us through that curtain of wisdom, but it may just be their own foolishness. Either way, Myrddin was indeed getting stronger each year. He began to gain his reason and strength, and the flush of youth tinged his brow. With his reason came his wisdom, and with his wisdom, his humor. He began to wonder why he was regaining all this after the death of his two brothers. Fate works wonders if you stop to think about it. Until this part of his life, he never had to think about it. It's awfully hard thinking human thoughts while living the life of a swan. It even seemed, sometimes, the rough, sleepless nights, that he longed to live the life of the swan again. But isn't that just like humans? Once we have to start something new in our lives, we cower in it's immensity, and dream of the olden days, even if those olden days were spent pining to be human again, and even then only to die within the hour. It's the fate of everyman to cling to the very thing that gives him his misery, and when the chance comes to rid himself of that misery, he fails, and goes on living miserably content lives.

The spell was put upon him by the Queen of the Isle. She held a grudge against Llyr, but when he died, she put the spell onto his children. Myrddin wasn't meant to survive, but it hardly matters now. "That was in another country, and besides, the wench is dead."

So Myrddin grew younger, and stronger, and wiser still. He was in a new land, and he became a wanderer. His relationship to the gods grew as well. They recognized his wisdom when they noticed his keen acceptance of their strange doings. Myrddin learned not to question them, and they rewarded him for this. They gave him powers above human comprehension, indeed above his own. His practice of these powers made him happy, and thus he wandered, through the fields of Britain, growing ever wiser and ever more sensed with humor. He was not amused at the strange doings of men, for even he was under that affliction. He laughed at the almost inappropriate doings of the gods, but it was not a laugh of scorn. It was the laugh of acceptance, the strange obedience of the wise to the wiser, the acceptance that those things above us are indeed above us, and the realization that questioning them is futile.

One of his closest companions was a young man named Crimmal. He liked Myrddin a great deal, because he knew he was wiser than most men, wise enough to listen intently to. He took Myrddin seriously, as long as he did not try to tell Crimmal what to do. Myrddin knew this, and accepted this as well, though he knew the day would come when he must try Crimmal.

That day came sooner than Myrddin had expected. Crimmal, you see, was a fierce but honorable warrior, and had it in his mind to one day join the army of Arthur and his men. This army was a band of men, bound to an oath of loyalty to each other and to all men, wandering (though they would call it hunting) through all the land in search of injustice, to the wrongs, and make happy the lives of men.

Myrddin and Crimmal had come upon this army rather unexpectedly. He had lots still to teach the young man, but unexpectancies occur, even to the best of us. Myrddin always considered this a great honor, bestowed upon us by the gods of humor. But this day was not a good day for the gods to be playing around, and Myrddin became frenzied and anxious. He tried to condense his future lessons into a few minutes of last conversation with Crimmal, because he know the young man would be leaving him shortly to join the army of Arthur and his men.

He told Crimmal of the future, and tried to impress upon him the fact that since he was such a good warrior, the future of the army largely depended on him. Myrddin spoke the truth, but even he didn't know to what extent. Crimmal, in the glory of the moment to join the army, and the sadness of leaving behind his mentor and friend found it difficult to understand what Myrddin was talking about. Myrddin, in the sadness of leaving behind his pupil, and in the glory that shone in Crimmal's face, found it hard to see how much of all this Crimmal was taking in.

Within minutes, Arthur the leader was approaching Crimmal, for he heard from around the country about this young man and his bravery and skill, and was anxious to have him join in his army of men. Crimmal, having heard of Arthur and his army from Myrddin, was anxious to join the army, and the two men were acting as though they had been lifelong friends within seconds of their conversation, so fluid was their joy to finally be in each other's company.

*

"Be careful of what I've been telling you, Crimmal," said Myrddin.

"I shall, my lord," replied the young man, and with the embrace of two friends parting for the first time in many summers, they rode off.

*

Somehow, Myrddin knew what would come of all this, and he didn't much like it. But he rode off as well, into his once again lonely habitation. Confusion swirled in his mind like never before, and thoughts were conjured up that he never dreamed possible. Somehow, he thought that a few extra weeks or even days might prevent Crimmal from proceeding to the inevitable. Myrddin knew what would happen soon enough, and he felt responsible. In a few years, the world would drastically change, and those last few moments with Crimmal and Arthur seemed the shadiest he ever lived through. He asked the gods for help, but in their own silent way, they never replied.

Crimmal and Arthur became the best of friends, just as Crimmal had always suspected. He taught Arthur and the rest of the men all he knew of fighting, and in turn those men taught him all they knew. It was soon obvious to them all that Crimmal was the new master of warriors among them, while Arthur remained their leader. That is, it was obvious to all but Crimmal, and this was perhaps his downfall. He never knew just how much clout he had in the decisions of the army, and he took for granted the fact that his way was always carried out by Arthur.

As the months went by, and Crimmal's skill increased, so his wisdom fell. He soon forgot most of what Myrddin had taught him of self-control and patience. He grew haughty and arrogant, doing things that later, chivalric times would consider unnecessary, and in most cases dishonorable. No one had the courage to tell Crimmal of this. Some even began to follow in his actions. Many men grew weary with confusion, including Arthur. He knew his sense of right and wrong was being distorted by his warriors actions, and he knew this had an effect on the overall army. He began to feel the foundations of his army start to crumble. It seemed they all forgot their original purpose in forming this band of men. It started as a chance to do good, and spread morals and peace throughout the land. Since the arrival of Crimmal, it was becoming more of a game: who was the best warrior among them? who could fight the longest? They used to go into these battles versus oppression with a sense of right, and if they died, they'd die in honor trying to create something good. Low, however, they entered each battle with a snarling grin on their faces; they knew they wouldn't die, because they were the best fighters in the land, and if they did die, they usually weren't alive long enough to realize their fault.

Many of them died miserably content men, with what they thought was a sense of accomplishment. They never knew they wasted their lives, until they laid on the ground with a dagger in their chests, breathing their last few puffs of air.

Arthur grew weary as he saw some of his best men die horrible, unmotivated deaths. Perhaps they had what was coming to them, but this made it no easier for Arthur. He seemed to have no consolation save his own solitude, and in this he began to weep the tears of disillusion.

All we create we soon destroy
From boyhood dreams to more stately ploys.

The day that Crimmal died was especially hard on Arthur. His mixed feeling seemed to take control of himself, and for a long time he felt the pangs of insanity creeping upon him. After these faded, his mourning started. It was the grief of losing an old friend mixed with the relief that perhaps this band of misguided men was finally finished. With half his men gone, and the other half near hypocrisy, he decided to wander alone for a while. Starting northward, he traveled till dusk. He came upon a small village at the corner of two connecting rivers, and asked for food and shelter. The villagers recognized his name, and without hesitation, closed and barred their doors against him. He tried to explain their misunderstandings, but it was no use. The once valiant warrior who strove for good and honesty was now a confused wanderer, thought by all the people as the "man who turned against men." Everywhere he traveled, men turned away, and women shielded their children. He who was once revered, was now misunderstood for a villain, through no fault of his own. He considered Crimmal, and the other men: were his feelings towards good not strong enough to affect them all? his speeches not loud enough to convince them all to embrace peace and honesty? Maybe he was at fault after all. But no, he had gone through all this in his mind already. It was Crimmal and the greediness of the other men. But not Arthur! He tried to do god, but it ended wrong. Why did he even want to do good? Were they selfish reasons, just so that one day he could walk into any village and be granted food and shelter the first place he asked, just because they all knew his name, and associated that name with the good spread throughout the land? It was the reverse now, and his thoughts turned again to his army:

But all men kill the thing they love,
By all let this be heard
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

"All things end in tragedy," said the young looking man named Myrddin to the now aging Arthur. They had met along the way, between two western villages. Myrddin now looked a quarter the age of Arthur, with twice as much wisdom. "All things end in tragedy," he said again, trying to console himself as well as Arthur. Myrddin knew this fact well enough. The life of his father, the spells of the old queen, his two brothers, and his former pupil, Crimmal. Arthur knew this well enough too: the band of men, once glorious and victorious, and the fall of these men by the greatest warrior of them all. They both sat on that hill, looking over their land, now taken over by ruin. Hope was born in the minds of some other men, but these feelings have left Myrddin and Arthur a long time ago. They knew where these "noble" thoughts led, and mourned for the loss of their men, their ideas and hopes, and with the invasions of foreign armies, their solitude.

Myrddin laughed again, "With age comes wisdom, and with wisdom comes despair." He was reminded of the legend of the wisest man in the world, an Israelite named Solomon, who asked the gods for wisdom and they granted it to him. He gained the knowledge of the world, and with that knowledge came his despair. "All is Vanity," Myrddin remembered reading.

What advantage does man have in all his work
Which he does under the Sun?...
The eye is not satisfied in seeing
Nor is the ear filled with hearing....

"Because in much wisdom there is much grief, and increasing knowledge results in increasing pain." Arthur took all this in, resting alongside Myrddin on that lonely day in mid-August.

It seems there is nothing else to do in these times than sit away from all the world. Myrddin did this many times before, and he sang a song he learned in a different land, long ago:

I love the stillness of the wood; I love the music of the rill
I love to couch in pensive mood upon some silent hill.

Here from the world I win release, nor scorn of men nor footsteps rude
Break in to mar the holy peace of this great solitude.

Here may the silent tears I weep lull the vexed spirit into rest
As infants sob themselves to sleep upon a mothers breast.

But when the bitter hour is gone and the keen throbbing pangs are still,
Oh sweetest then to couch alone upon some silent hill....

"This is truth," cried Arthur. All of their deeds, all of their doings, indeed their while lives ended this way. There were a few years of happiness, but "all that is intense is brief."
They had no intentions to start anything new. They could do nothing by themselves, and men were too fickle to trust anymore. The wise few could never rule the land. All men are ruled over by many fools, and it only takes a few fools to ruin a once great land.

The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!

The Knight and the Dwarf

By Melissa Meyer

The girl known as Aliena sat in the garden idly watching a spider spin its web and picking at the lace which lined the sleeves of her gown. Rebecca's voice drifting across her consciousness. "...and then King Arthur ordered the girl to try the cloak on...and she burned to cinders!"

There was a general outburst of surprise and titillation. "No!" "By the blessed saints." "That wicked Morgan." "Poor girl." The last was from Aliena, and she knew it was a mistake before the word passed her lips.

The eyes of the girls swiveled toward her with one movement. "Poor girl?" Rebecca asked. "You can't say that you feel sorry for Morgan Le Fey?"

Aliena bit her lip. "Not Morgan," she explained, "the serving girl. She probably had nothing to do with the whole plot, but she's the only one who ended up getting hurt."

Rebecca dismissed the girl with a wave of the hand. "She was a serving girl. But poor Arthur, to have such a wicked sister!" As the other girls returned to sighing over the fate of the king, Aliena rose quietly and slipped away. The ladies would not miss her odd notions, and she in turn would not miss such thoughtless conversation.

The garden, in joyous celebration of the arrival of summer, had turned itself out in brilliant color. Aliena had paced along the patterned walkways until the voices of the other girls faded in the distance when a bright voice interrupted her reverie. "Ye look as though ye need some cheer, m'lady." It was Darin, the dwarf with a flat nose and a broad mouth. "Have ye heerd the one about why the dragon crossed the road?" Then his face became more serious. "What's bothering ye? Ye seem to have a restless spirit lately."

"Oh, Darin," Aliena smiled slightly, "I so distressed about that poor girl. I wonder if she was married, or if there's anyone at all who misses her. And I wonder why I'm the only one who seems to think of her at all." Aliena was grateful for the dwarf's presence, knowing that he would listen to her with sympathy and understanding.

Darin put a comforting hand on her shoulder. "Ye wonder because ye have a good heart. Ye care about those of us who take care of ye nobility. Why, ye've been my friend since we were children, though I doubt the rest of those chickens know me name." He glanced over Aliena's shoulder as a clatter of footsteps indicated an approaching knight. "An here comes one of the chickens now," he muttered, and ducked down a different path.

"Wait!" Aliena called after him.

The dwarf's voice drifted back. "Nay, ye'll want to see yer long departed lover first. I'll see ye soon enough."

Aliena turned even as the new arrival shouted her name in greeting. "Hey-o, Ali!" Sir Erik paused to grin at her. " I've been looking for you. The girls said you'd wandered off somewhere." Aliena crossed the remaining steps to the knight and took his hand in her own. He was handsome, with wavy black hair, dark eyes, and a face which had just enough scars to have lost its boyishness, without losing its attractiveness. His movements were still supple, for he had not yet acquired enough old wounds to stiffen his joints. Sir Erik was the object of the infatuation of almost every girl in the palace, but Aliena knew gossip most frequently linked his name with hers, and she was flattered by his attention.

Aliena smiled at him with genuine pleasure. "You're back! How was your quest?"

"It was smashing, Ali. I'll tell you all about it." Erik took her elbow, and the two young people stepped down the garden path together. "I rode due north from the castle gates for several days, when I encountered a knight encamped at a well..." Erik's tale continued, with enough jousts, and mysterious knights and brast shields to satisfy even Rebecca.

As they walked down the twisted ways, the scent of horse and sweat and iron reached Aliena's nostrils, and the summer afternoon air became laden with Erik's voice. Aliena interrupted the knight in mid-battle. "Erik, why do they do that?"

"What?" was the eloquent reply. Erik's mind was still half absorbed in the scene he had been describing.

"Why do the knights hang around at wells and fight each other? They could get hurt or killed--so could you. So why do they do it?"

Erik assumed a lofty expression. "You couldn't understand, Ali. You're not a knight." And the one who was a knight resumed the interrupted tale.

*

The next day dawned warm and golden as freshly buttered bread, and the occupants of the castle decided to celebrate Erik's return with a picnic in the fields nearby. The ladies picked flowers while the young men drank spiced wine and tired to out-boast each other. The children engaged in a rough and lawless game of barrel-ball, and there was singing and laughing and plenty of food. Aliena sat a bit apart from the others, glad for the respite from the castle walls. Darin, ever perceptive of her feelings, had been right when he said she had been restless lately. She no longer felt as though she belonged to the castle or its routine, and that thought had put her in a melancholy mood.

As if her musings had summoned him, Darin crossed the field and sat at her elbow. "Why do ye not make a garland for yer hair, as the other ladies be doing?"

Aliena brushed the yellow petals with her fingertips. "It seems cruel. To destroy them for mere ornamentation, I mean."

"Ah, but if they be ornaments in yer hair, me thinks the wee blossoms would consider it a compliment."

"Why Darin!" laughed Aliena, "you have the soul of a poet."

"Ye bring out the best in me." The dwarf replied. For a space of time there was silence between them, and then Darin cleared his throat. "Me lady. There's something I be wanting to tell ye," he began uncertainly.

Aliena turned to her old friend. Something in his voice was very serious, and she gave him her full attention. Then Erik strode up, and his voice broke the moment. "Ali, come over here. We're having a toast in my honor."

Aliena reluctantly stood. "Erik, I..."

"Come on, they're waiting."

"Don't you even care what she has to say." The low-voiced interruption came from Darin, who had risen by Aliena's side.

Erik looked as astonished an if a dog had spoken to him. "What do you mean, Dwarf?" he asked.

"Ai, you really are all brawn and no brains, aren't ye?" The dwarf took Aliena's hands urgently. "Come with me Aliena. I know yer not happy in this castle, but ye and me, we can be happy. I understand ye."

Erik looked completely bewildered. "Is this a joke? If so it's in bad taste, Dwarf. If you persist in this I'll have you turned out of the castle."

"An I were a knight i'd be for smashin that pretty face of yourn." Aliena struggled to come to grips with the fact that the two men were close to blows over her. The usually level headed dwarf seemed completely incensed at Erik's comments, and Erik himself had turned bright red with fury.

"I will fight you, Dwarf. Arm yourself and meet me an hour hence at the cross, and we two will settle this."

"Done!" cried Darin. The two assailants marched off in opposite directions leaving a dumbfounded Aliena still standing in the meadow.

*

The hour passed quickly, and at the appointed time Aliena found herself stumbling toward the crossroads. Her mind and emotions were a tumult. She was outraged that she should be fought over like a prize at a carnival, yet she was also reluctantly flattered. She was worried about the two people who were to fight, and she was confused about the revelation that Darin had made. They had always been friends, but this was something more. The court, of course, found the whole situation vastly amusing. They were fully expecting Sir Erik to return and regale them with the tale of his fight with a dwarf. Aliena did not believe that the battle would be so one sided. Darin would not have agreed to it if he did not think he stood some chance. Unless he was more infatuated with her than she thought...

The distinctive clash of swords reached Aliena's ears and she ran the last few steps to the clearing by the crossroads. The fight had already been joined. Both combatants had dismounted, leaving their horses standing patiently at the end of the clearing. Sir Erik had entered the battle as confident as anyone in the castle that he would win, but the two seemed to be fairly evenly matched. Sir Erik had the advantage of being a knight, and highly trained, but he was not accustomed to fighting someone Darin's height, while Darin had always trained against men who were taller than he. Aliena watched the two exchange blows, feeling strangely entranced by the rhythmic movement. Then something slipped, a step in the strange deadly dance was mis-taken, and Erik's sword whistled toward Darin. Darin somehow threw himself from the blade's path, and the moment of danger was past.

Freed at last from her paralysis, Aliena ran forward. "Stop it! Stop, you two, or I'll never speak to either of you again."

It took a while for her threats to penetrate to the two fighters, but Darin finally put up his sword. "Well," panted Erik, "what shall we do now?"

The air was filled with silent tension as the two rivals glared at each other. Darin finally shifted his gaze to Aliena, who was watching the proceedings with a sick stomach. "Let's ask yonder knight. I'll abide by his decision, if ye will." he proposed.

Aliena, turning toward the crossroads, noticed the other knight for the first time. He was calmly sitting his horse with a young lady mounted up behind him. "What, am I to be passed around at the whim of a stranger!" she exclaimed indignantly.

Darin voice was rough with fatigue and emotion. "Lass, it's the only way to solve this thing without a fight. An I think yonder knight bears the shield of a certain of King Arthur's knights known as Sir Gawain. His reputation be a good one."

*

Erik was somewhat reluctant to leave off fighting, but he finally agreed when he knew the identity of the strange knight. The three walked over to the place where Sir Gawain still sat his horse and explained the situation as well as they could. "You will all abide by my decision?" Sir Gawain asked when they had finished. When all had indicated that they would, he continued. "Damsel, I leave you to stand betwixt these two and make the decision yourself. You are best qualified to choose."

The whole mess was right back in Aliena's hands. She stood between Sir Erik and Darin, knowing the course of her entire life would be determined by the next few moments. First she looked to Erik. He she had been intended for since her earliest childhood. Handsome, self-assured, generally courteous, he was in every way a perfect knight.

Then she looked at Darin. He was short, and he had a flat nose and a broad mouth. But he had always been a friend. She and Darin understood each other as she and Erik never could. Darin reached up and wiped a small trickle of blood from his brow, and Aliena remembered the moment of shear terror she had felt when she thought Erik's sword might strike home, and she knew her decision. One step, then another, and she was at Darin's side. "Goodbye Erik," she whispered and knew she would never regret her decision.

Sir Gawain remained at the crossroads for some time after the three had departed, Erik mourning, but Darin singing for joy, until the lady who rode behind him urged him to move on. "That old knight was right," he mused, "The adventures in this valley are indeed 'marvelous.' "

The Cottage of Lost Play

By Noelle Pedersen

Today was June 19, Guinevere's tenth birthday, and like so many other children she was up before dawn preparing for the day ahead of her. She began by sneaking into the kitchens to pack a small sack with bread, cheese and whatever else seemed handy. Next she stealthily crept back to her large, drafty bedroom which was situated in the tower and consequently far away from anywhere her father might be found. Back in her room she quickly pulled on one of her plain dresses, looked around to make sure she hadn't forgotten anything, and darted out the door. In the hallway she once again became cautious. Guinevere knew that no one would stop her from leaving the castle, but still she wanted it to be a secret. As she passed the outer wall of the castle she glimpsed a servant, wearing the unrelieved black all people of the castle wore by order of the king, entering the castle by another gate. Guinevere looked back at the castle, she saw the ivy that covered almost all of the outer walls and the neglected battlements beginning to fall down stone by stone. It was the only home she had ever known, but even to her unprejudiced inner eye it appeared desolate and uninhabited. In fact only four people lived in the castle, Guinevere, her father, and two servants. The rest of the servants choose to live in their own homes away from the oppressive atmosphere of the castle. After this quick study of the outer castle wall Guinevere made her way into the forest which surrounded most of the castle.

In the forest Guinevere knew exactly where she was going, she followed many faint, twisting paths that seemed to wander rather than go anywhere but presently arrived in a small clearing near the heart of the great forest. This clearing, being about ten feet in diameter, was darkened by the dense foliage above. Most people who entered the clearing did not stay to rest, the clearing had a presence that couldn't be accounted for by the weakness of the sunshine or the stillness of the forest animals near it. To Guenevere this clearing was home.

Guenevere wasted no time but immediately began with her household duties. She hung the sack of food on a tree branch and began to inspect the clumsy thatching of a small lean to shelter she affectionately called her cottage. She would have all day to spend in her favorite spot so she decided to do the heavy repair first. It may seem odd that a child, a princess, should be spending her birthday secretly in a lonely forest clearing but it made perfect sense to Guenevere that she should not be missed on the anniversary of her mother's death. In fact the servants of the castle would only feel relief that she wouldn't be around to further remind her father of his loss on that day ten years ago. Since Guenevere's birth she had been neglected by her father, it was too painful for him to accept the fact that his beloved wife had died giving birth to his only child, but now that she had grown into the unmistakable image of her mother her father tried to avoid her altogether. Growing up ignored by her father and consequently by the few servants who still worked in the castle Guinevere didn't feel neglected. Children are very impressionable creatures and although they may realize something is missing in their life they rarely name that missing something or even acknowledge its existence. Guinevere knew that her life wasn't complete, but instead of naming it and worrying over it, she merely felt it and accepted it as fate. Fate, though, can only explain a small piece of her life, the small clearing in the woods held the key to the rest.

The clearing was Guinevere's true home, not a home in the traditional sense but a home for the heart and the closest to happiness Guinevere would ever know. The happiness she felt was the happiness of absolute control. There, far away from the chance encounter with her father or the callous disregard of the servants, she could live any life she wanted. A perfect place where she was the revered princess, center of all attention, and beloved foster child of the fairy queen. Imagination ruled there and so did she. Guinevere always went to the clearing by herself, it never occurred to her to seek out a real playmate to share her world with. For she knew that to share her secret would surely break the spell of the fairies. The lack for the longing of companionship may seem unnatural but to Guinevere it came from experience. Many people fear being alone in life, but to those who have known nothing else solitude becomes the natural state of being. The social aspect of life, natural to other people, is supplanted by a longing for isolation, for the quiet of contemplation. The boisterous chattering and constant company of people is an alien, unnatural concept that doesn't seem pleasant. So Guinevere continued to fix her shelter alone and live in her dream world.


Chapter 13

How a strange knight came to the court and what his name was, and how Arthur waxed wroth and of his quest

By Craig Van Ens


Then unto Arthur's court came a heretofore unknown knight of strange manner and dress. And stood he in the middle of the great hall for all to look upon.

Then said he unto King Arthur, 'Your majesty, I have traveled a great distance on horseback and quite frankly my bottom is sore. I have been in this armor all day and I am quite tired. Basically, all I want is some food and a nice bed to stay in for the night. Is that too much to ask, or what?'

At this outburst, all mirth and merrymaking in the great hall was no more, and all within eyed the strange knight with wonder at the magical and musical speech he used.

'Forsooth,' spake the King, 'know you not, strange knight, language that is deemed customary in a court such as this?'

At this, the knight was befuddled and his eyes waxed confused, 'Listen,' stumbled the knight, 'I really do not understand what your beef is with me, but if there is a problem then I wish you would just out and say it instead of beating around the bush.'

Hearing these strange words, some thought themselves to be in the presence of magic, but Arthur thought differently, 'Strange knight, methinks that thou art not from my realm and therefore are not familiar with speech becoming of a knight. Forsooth, you speakest in a tongue that usest not thee, thou, or thus, and you takest not time enough to arrive at your point.'

Even as the king spake to the strange knight, about the side table moved several knights from a sitting to a standing position and when Arthur finished his speech, as was customary, Sir Onesyllable bellowed, 'Aye,' then Sir Twosyllable bellowed, 'Aye, aye,' followed by Sir Threesyllable who bellowed, 'Aye, aye, aye.'

The king was much pleased at the following of the custom and looked upon the three knights with gratitude, but upon the strange knight he waxed wroth as the knight spoke, 'King, I do not see what is wrong with the way I speak. All I want is three hots and a cot. C'mon, be a pal and let me stay.'

But Arthur's wroth was not so easily abated and Arthur looked upon his falcon, who viewed the strange knight with a suspicious and wandering eye, and then was made to understand. Unto the knight spake Arthur, 'Pray you to tell me your hight, strange knight.'

'I don't really see what my height has to do with anything,' began the knight, 'but if you must know I am listed at six foot, but I am in reality only about five ten.'

'Mewonder if it 'tis the dungeon that thou desire,' roared Arthur, 'Or perhaps meguess that a joust would suit you well.'

Confusion reigned as chairs were thrown asunder and tables cleaved in two in anticipation of a mighty battle.

From his throne arose Arthur in all his might and he growled in such a way as one might think to perceive thirty hounds spring from his belly, 'Squires, bringest unto me my armor and shield and sword for meanticipatest a battle betwixt yonder fool and myself. He will come to know heretofore, how to speak in the valiant tongue to which all are accustomed.'

So for the next two hours, squires and pages scurried to and fro bringing Arthur his armor, then helping him to secure the leather bindings to his body. Soon finished the fanfare and Arthur once again addressed the strange knight, 'Sir, you have defiled the court with your speech and now thou shouldst defend yourself against my mighty and wondrous blows.'

The strange knight awoke with a start, seeing that he slumbered during the king's armament, and spoke to the king, 'Hold up there, your majesty, I do not understand what is going on here but I do not want to fight with you. My name is Sir Slang and I am from a distant kingdom on the edge of your territory. Perhaps I do not know how to speak valiantly, but I am sure I could learn.'

To Arthur, the sound of Sir Slang's words bespoke less than the babble of a gaggle of geese and he mistook the words for a challenge. 'You have met your match, Sir Slang,' blurted Arthur, knowing not whether there was to be a joust or not, 'and now thou wilt perish, as thou canst not speak in a manner which be satisfactory unto me.'

Sir Slang knew not what to do so he looked at the king's falcon, who eyed him with a look of both guile and wroth, and suddenly he was made to understand. With the grace of a hart, Sir Slang leapt up upon the throne pedestal and easily alit in a place behind Arthur. Then with the force of a mighty oak of the forest, Sir Slang pushed the king, causing him to lose balance and tumble to the floor of the great hall. Then Sir Slang easily avoided the king and leapt upon him and slapped the ground ten times with an open palm and yelled, 'You're pinned.'

Seeing their king befuddled so, the knights of the great hall deemed it time to rush Sir Slang and put him through with a great spear. But Sir Slang waxed wroth and did great feats of arms and smote on the left and on the right and he had passing good hands and was a passing good knight. And all looked on him with a wondrous eye and on that day Sir Slang smote down thirty passing good knights so that he was also called a passing good knight, for which Sir Slang was ever the more full of cheer and so made good cheer. But soon, Sir Slang understood that never could he speak in court but that he could use a valiant tongue.

So, as the story sayeth, Sir Slang alit before the King and of him asked a request, 'Sir King, I have been at your court for many days now and still no one understands me. Please send me on a quest, great king, a quest to discover valiant language.'

And the king made good cheer and had much mirth at the desires of Sir Slang so sayeth he unto Sir Slang, 'You have spoken well and your quest shall be yours. You shall journey out of the great hall and alight unto the great passage way which then will lead you to the great staircase which, if you can pass for it is indeed perilous, you will discover the great library. Unto this library you will go and in it are many volumes, the like of which contain the secret of valiant language. '

Hearing this, Sir Slang sat down to his meat and ate ravenously, knowing that the great kitchen lay at the opposite end of the great passage way from the great library. When Sir Slang finished his meat in such a way that gave pleasure to himself and also Arthur, be bade the King farewell and left the great hall, entering unto the great passage way leading to the great staircase. And when Sir Slang reached the great staircase he espied that it was indeed perilous as each step seemed to be more coated with ice than the next as far up as the eye could see. Sir Slang also espied that in an much as he could use it to steady his way along the staircase perilous, there existed no hand rail that could be grasped. Cursing his parentage, Sir Slang looked towards the king's falcon, who eyed him with patience and calm serenity, and was made to understand.

And so with great fortitude, Sir Slang reached for a torch and used it to melt the ice perilous on the first step of the staircase perilous and upon that step the foot of Sir Slang rang with a solid clang that much pleased the king's falcon, who looked upon Sir Slang with envy and greed. Then upon higher steps, Sir Slang repeated his valiant feat until he alit atop the staircase and found himself afore the great library.

Upon reaching the entrance to the great library, Sir Slang espied a dwarf and a damosel and a hermit and afore them was a sign which read 'Great and purposeful knight, if also ye be valiant, choose one to be your guide amongst the many volumes of this, the great library.' And so Sir Slang was much afeared that his quest would fail for lack of insight in choosing the right guide and so he lay his head upon the floor of the great library and slumbered. And when the morning came he broke his fast and seized upon a way that his quest might not fail. Then came unto Sir Slang the king's falcon, with cord in his mouth, and delivered the prize to Sir Slang, all the while eyeing him with wondrous mirth which waxed to tomfoolery. Taking the cord, Sir Slang alit upon the dwarf, damosel, and hermit and tied them together so that none could pull them asunder and with his plan he was mightily pleased.

Seeing that all three must be his guide, the dwarf, damosel, and hermit chanted in unison, 'Looketh you to the fifth shelf from the window and upon that enchanted bookcase you shall find the object of your quest.'

After hearing the unison chant, Sir Slang erupted with a hearty, 'Gramercy!!' and moved to the afore mentioned shelf to retrieve the book.

Upon that shelf, Sir Slang espied a volume which seemed to glow with the fire of a thousand suns. Sir Slang thought to himself, 'Although this tome is extremely painful to mine eyes, I still feel a certain awe for it and I know it is the object of my quest.' And so it was, for as Sir Slang watched the book, it floated up into the air and moved about the room banging into other book shelves and also the walls.

'Forsooth,' exclaimed Sir Slang, 'Though the book may be enchanted in such a way as to float about the room, it is indeed a poor pilot, for an enchanted book has not eyes with which to see.'

As Sir Slang finished his exclamation he waxed full with great cheer and displayed that cheer outwardly as he realized that he spake now in language that was truly valiant. And as the enchanted tome passed by his countenance, Sir Slang espied that upon the cover was scrawled, 'Thee, Thou, Thus - Valiant Language for Mastery by Valet-Valet.' Indeed, Sir Slang had completed his quest and now had but to return to Arthur to tell his tale.

And so Sir Slang returned from whence he came. When he came upon the dwarf, damosel, and hermit still bound in the cord as when he left, he understood that the damosel was passing fair, and seeing as he was a knight with passing fair hands he believed himself to be of great service to the damosel. Sir Slang loosed the damosel and after it was said that never did the damosel deny Sir Slang to be of passing fair hands.

So Sir Slang returned to the great hall with the damosel at his side and told the king of the things afore mentioned in this tale.

And the king displayed great mirth, as did the falcon who eyed Sir Slang with a wary and coy facade, and said unto him, 'Methinks, Sir Slang, that thou art ready to be made in the likeness of others within this great hall and take on the oath of one who is of the table round.'

Sir Slang was much indebted but also waxed wroth as he grumbled, 'Sir Slang is but a name given unto a knave and only will the knave accept such a name if he be unable to use the head upon his shoulders and the ears upon his skull and I, being neither of the former, will not deem to be called by such a title, even were I to live for many years and see many of my kin grow old and die. And thus, I will not be heretofore called Sir Slang, but will take upon myself to hight Sir Valiant de Langue.'

With this the king was much pleased and he said unto Sir Valiant de Langue, 'You speak well, Sir Valiant de Langue, for your language is now valiant and ye took the sufficient time to arrive at your point. Truly, you are a knight of the table round.'

Then in the by and by, Sir Valiant de Langue, who became known to the ladies as the Knight of the Passing Fair Hands, married the damosel and betook her unto his castle as was want to happen during that time. And all the while the king's falcon looked upon the Knight of the Passing Fair Hands with a longing and, as it got older, wandering eye.

Camelot

By Katie VanderMolen


Arthur Pendragon leaned back in the rickety old chair, nearly crashing through the window behind him. He pressed record on his dictation tape player, "Elaine, order me a new chair please--ASAP." He sighed. That was one more expense that this company could barely afford. For as long as he could remember, his dream was to put together a company that would specialize in adventures. It didn't matter what kind or where they took place. He would hire the best mountain climbers, deep sea divers, and everyone in between, and clients would pay for the adventure. Unfortunately, things were not going as planned. He was having trouble attracting those geniuses to his foundling company named Camelot. At the present, his best friend and business partner, Merlin De'Arbol, was out trying to get another loan to make it easier to get those men on his side. Just then, a knock at his office door shook him out of his revelry. "Come in", he called. A young man stepped in.

"Mr. Pendragon? I'm Balin Northumberland. I'm here for the interview."

Arthur nodded. "Yes of course, come in please. I have to be honest, I've read your resume and am very impressed. Would you be interested in leading a rock climbing expedition?"

Balin smiled. "I have always dreamed of being paid to be outdoors. Of course I would love to give people the chance to see the world from a 150-foot rock!"

Arthur grinned. "Good, well, you know the details in the contract. Um, we can't afford to pay you a high salary at first, but if you make money for us, then I can promise that you will see that in your paycheck."

Balin nodded. "I understand the terms and agree to them." Then he picked up a pen. "Where do I sign?"

* * *

Two weeks later by some Heavenly Help, Arthur had ten more adventurers on his payroll. He also hired two women to lead adventures; after all, Camelot was an equal opportunity employer. But even with the new arrivals and the promise of even more coming, Arthur still felt uneasy. The adventure business attracted all kinds of people--some not always honest. He wanted to be the best there was out there, but to do that, he had to figure out ways of making it all happen faster and easier.

Merlin knocked once, then came in without waiting for an answer. He threw several manila folders down on Arthur's desk.

"Those are the profiles on the best men the world has to offer. I am still not sure why you won't stay American."

"Merlin, who knows the African Savannah better than Africans? What about the rain forest? Brazilians. Besides, I don't want to limit this company to just Americans. I want the whole world to call Camelot Adventures when they get hungry for excitement."

"That does cost money, Arthur."

Arthur looked up at Merlin. "Money that three of our employees are out earning for us right now." Balin Northumberland, Tor Aries, and Gawain LeFay were all out leading adventures in the western part of the United States. The groups included only about six people each, but they did pay the fee, so no one complained for very long.

Merlin tapped his pencil against the side of his leg. "When do you want to stop hiring?"

"When do we get to move into that new building in Excaliber Plaza?"

Merlin referred to another file in his hand. "six months--supposedly. But you know how accurate that can be. I mean with all the problems the contractors are having, the delay with the foundation..."

Arthur put up his hand to silence Merlin's lament. "Lets see if we can hire fifteen more by then. Twenty-seven hearty adventurers for all parts of the world should be a good start. Did you get that connection at the travel agency?"

Merlin grinned. "I had to pull a few strings, but yeah, I got it. Discounts for every person, and when we get the money, we can buy the place out, use it exclusively for Camelot Adventures clients."

"Good," Arthur looked at his watch. "I have to go, I promised to take Guinevere out for dinner tonight. She says I have been working too much lately." He stood up and started putting on his jacket. "See if you can get those two brothers from Kenya...What's their names?"

"Lancelot and Galahad du Lake. I'm working on that right now. I have a proposal all ready to fax over. Have fun, Wart."

Arthur smiled at his old friend use of Arthur's childhood nickname. "Thanks, I will."

* * *

The restaurant was packed tonight, but Arthur and Guinevere walked right through the crowd to the Maitre'D.

"Ah, Mr. Pendragon, right this way."

Arthur smiled. The owner of this place just got back from a mountain biking adventure and loved it. He had special preference for Arthur now and most importantly, he recommended Camelot Adventures to anyone who set foot in his restaurant. As soon as they sat down, Guinevere started up.

"So, have you hired any more women for Camelot?" she asked. Guinevere Camelerd Pendragon was a big fan of the women's movements and used every opportunity to push it with Arthur.

"Yes, Love, I did. Three more in fact. Very qualified women. I was very pleased with their work."

"Good. Oh, Arthur, stop looking like I was going to drag you to court if you didn't hire them. I know you are a very fair man. It's just when you get going on something you know how hard it is for you to be flexible about changes." She reached over and squeezed his hand.

"I know, Jenny, but this thing is just proving a little harder to put together than I thought. I never knew that adventurers had such big egos. I thought they communed with nature enough to be mellow. I don't know. The whole thing just makes me testy that's all."

Guinevere smiled softly. "Things will get easier, Love." She took a sip of her wine and went on. "Did you look into hiring Lancelot Du Lake and his brother yet? They would be really valuable for you."

Arthur bit into his bread, famished by the long day's work. "Yep. Merlin is faxing over an offer to them right now. So he was that good, huh?"

Guinevere looked up startled, then relaxed slightly. "Oh yes," she answered quickly, "he really knew his way around the savannah. I never had so much fun on a safari!"

Arthur shook his head. "I still can't believe that you even agreed to get your hands dirty, let alone spend ten days camping in Africa, but I really appreciate it."

Guinevere looked at her husband. "I told you I would help you in whatever way I could, and this was a way. Now, I would like to make a toast." She raised her glass.

Arthur raised his and waited, the hint of a smile on his lips.

"To Camelot, " she said softly, " May it make all your dreams come true."

"To Camelot."

They clinked glasses and looked deep into each others eyes, enjoying this quiet time together, dreaming of the future.

* * *

Five years later, Arthur looked around with pride at his thirty-five adventurers. He had done it. Some of the world's bravest men and women sat before him and they all worked for him. Camelot Adventures survived the financial setbacks, and the broken contracts. He was even impressed with the decorating of the room. Guinevere had come up with the idea of having a round table as their main meeting table. She said no adventurer should feel more or less important than any other on the slim chance that they might start to argue about seating being arranged by how much money they make. Arthur smiled to himself, as he listened to Hervis de Revel give the financial report. Business was booming, just as he and Merlin had hoped. People all over were taking advantage of the opportunity and calling 1-800 CAMELOT for their wildest adventure. They didn't have to know which one they wanted to go on either. All they had to do was answer a few questions, and the operators could place them with the appropriate one.

Merlin walked into the board room and handed Arthur a slip of paper before sitting down with a grin on his face. Arthur glanced down at it, then cleared his throat as Hervis finished. "Thank you, Hervis. Any other business?" When no one stood up, he continued. "With the coming of the new year, Merlin will no longer be with us. It seems, our wise man is to be married and retire to a nice little cottage by the lake." The room exploded in applause and smiles all around for Merlin. At 65, he had almost given up on love, until he met Nimue, that is. Now he was ready to dedicate his life to something other than Arthur and his lofty dreams.

Arthur put his hand up for silence. "Also, ladies and gentlemen, I was just informed that we have just been officially recognized by National Geographic as the premiere adventure company in the world. Congratulations!!"

The round table whooped it up. Hugs and handshakes were given all around. This is what they had been working toward all along. Guinevere glanced over at Lancelot and blushed excitedly as she found him looking at her. She quickly looked at Arthur, who was smiling down at her. "Meeting is adjourned. The celebration is at our house this evening at 7," he finished. "See you all there."

As the room cleared, Arthur pulled Lancelot aside. "Lance, when Merlin is gone, I won't have anyone to help me run Camelot. You have been my friend ever since you got here and you are a great business man and adventurer. Merlin and I discussed it and, well, I am offering you the partnership."

Lancelot grinned. "Arthur! Thank you! I accept gladly! You know Camelot means as much to me as it does to you."

Arthur stuck out his hand. "I know my friend, I know. That's why we offered it to you. Truthfully, I am not sure what I would have done if you hadn't accepted. But you did and for that I am glad and grateful. We can take care of the details next week in a meeting with the three of us."

Lance nodded in agreement as he shook Arthur's hand. Then bowing to Guinevere and Arthur, he walked out of the room. "See you at the party."

Arthur kissed the top of his wife's head. "So what do you think of all this?"

Guinevere glanced at the door after Lancelot once more, then looked up at Arthur. "I think that you couldn't be happier. You did it, Arthur! You created the perfect adventure company and all your dreams came true. Good old Camelot."

"Good old Camelot," Arthur repeated quietly. "This is where I belong, with my family of adventurers." Arthur looked out the window at the setting sun. "Yes, we all belong here at Camelot."