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   Just as things were returning to normal at Camelot a soldier arrived from the coastal fort at Dover. He had ridden nonstop to reach the castle, and he was taken directly to report to Britomart. She in turn decided the news he brought was important enough for the king.
   And so Arthur, Merlin and Brit gathered still again in the king's study. Because of all the damp weather Merlin's arthritis was bothering him. "I hope this is important. Those damned stairs . . ."
   "You won't be disappointed." She smiled. "I think we may have the information we need."
   "About Guenevere?"
   "Quite possibly."
   Arthur had been in a quiet mood, but this perked him up. "We know what she's up to?"
   "We have a good idea now."
   The soldier, whose name was Martin of Cokesbury, made his report, prompted now and then by Brit. "Martin, will you please tell King Arthur and Merlin what you told me?"
   "Well." He drew himself up as tall as he could, hoping it would make him seem authoritative. "You know this storm we just had."
   "Yes, of course." Merlin was impatient. "What of it?"
   "The storm wreaked havoc on the Dover coast. Fishing boats were lost. Houses and other small buildings were toppled by the wind. And several ships ran aground.
   "One of them was foreign—like nothing any of us had seen. So Commander Larkin sent some of us out to investi­ gate.
   "Most of the ship's crew had been washed overboard and presumably drowned. The ones who were still alive spoke some gibberish none of us knew. But after a long while of interrogating them, Commander Larkin found one who speaks French. And it turns out that the ship is from Byzantium."
   Merlin sat up. "Byzantium? It was one of Justinian's ships? They don't trade here, except for occasional tin pur­ chases. And then their ships dock at Cornwall."
   "Yes, sir. Exactly."
   "Did he say what they were doing in our waters?"
   "No, sir. But the sailor seemed to think being from the emperor should give them diplomatic immunity or some such. Commander Larkin wasn't at all sure how to proceed, so he sent me here."
   Arthur spoke. "That is a wise move. It will take months for Justinian to realize there's something wrong and to make a protest. But I wish you had been able to get more out of them."
   "Sorry, Your Highness. All we were able to do was con­ fiscate all the documents in the captain's cabin."
   Merlin leaned forward. "What do they say? About Guenevere?"
   Martin produced a sheaf of documents from his pack and laid them on the table. "Most of these are in French. The rest—well, they are in a foreign code or something. At any rate, none of us can read them."
   "Let me see." Merlin took the documents and riffled through them, squinting; then he took a magnifying lens from his pocket and examined them more closely. "Greek. These are in Greek." He looked at the king. "You know, Arthur—the language you keep telling me I shouldn't be teaching to the young men of the court? The one you say is a waste of time?"
   "Save your sarcasm, Merlin, and tell us what they say."
   From the stack he pulled a large parchment with what appeared to be an imperial seal attached to it. "I imagine this is the important one." He narrowed his eyes, adjusted his lens and read it.
   "For heaven's sake, Merlin, what does it say?"
   He translated:
To our royal cousins Lancelot and Guenevere of
Britain. Greetings.
   
Know by these presents that we are most pleased
at the invitation to the celebration of the queen's
birthday. And we are most delighted that the occasion
will also observe and honor the royal wedding.
   
The court of the Eastern Roman Empire is most
anxious to establish harmonious relations with Brit­
ain, and our Ambassador Plenipotentiary, Podarthes,
shall attend in our name.
   
May the festivities be joyous. And may the rela­
tions established be felicitous for both our courts.
Justinian
   Having finished, Merlin put the document on the table and looked at his companions to see how they were react­ ing. None of them said a word.
   "So." He looked again from one to the next. "Guenevere and Lancelot are presenting themselves as the legitimate rulers of England and attempting to conduct diplomatic negotiations with Byzantium. And Byzantium is complicit with them. Justinian addresses them as his 'royal cousins.' "
   Arthur was quite immobile. Brit squirmed in her chair. "If she can actually make an ally of Justinian it will strengthen her hand immeasurably. He commands the greatest army in Europe."
   "But if she believes she can do that," Merlin said softly, "she is being incredibly foolish. The Byzantine army swallows up cities and provinces the way a swarm of ants swallows vegetation. Justinian's general, Belisa­ rius, is relentless."
   Arthur spoke again, sounding even more tired than he had a moment earlier. "We've been trying to open diplo­ matic relations with Justinian for years. And we've always been rebuffed. He may see Guenevere—a weak monarch, to say the least—as his entrée to England. A simple way to gain access without encountering resistance. And Guenevere just might be desperate enough to permit that. She would be Justinian's puppet, but with his support she would be a ruler."
   "We need to think," Merlin said. "To examine this from every possible angle. Who else might she have invited to this birthday celebration? Who else might she be enlisting as an ally, or trying to?"
   "Her father and some of his French allies, presumably. But the French want England for themselves. They can't be happy about Byzantine involvement." Brit leaned back in her chair and put her feet up on the table. "With Justinian behind her, who else would she need?"
   Merlin didn't respond; it was clear he was thinking furi­ ously. "Suppose this. Suppose we let this 'invitation' stand. Then when this Podarthes arrives for his piece of birthday cake, suppose he finds us securely in charge. Any plans Justinian might have for an easy takeover of England would be brought to a quick halt."
   "And if Podarthes lands with an army?" Arthur asked.
   "Why would he come with an army when he has a com­ pliant Guenevere ready to hand him the country in return for his recognition of her right to rule?"
   "If that is what is really happening here." Brit sounded skeptical. "The Byzantines are too devious for such a straightforward plan."
   "Are they?" Arthur stood and began pacing the room. "I say we should act now. We have waited long enough. We wanted better insight into what Guenevere is up to. Now we have it."
   "I agree." Merlin took a long drink of wine. "The time has come to arrest Guenevere and Lancelot on charges of treason. Have them brought here so we can interrogate them. The threat of imprisonment—or worse—will make them back away from this plan."
   "And if it doesn't?" Brit swirled the wine in her cup.
   "Then we make certain that imprisonment is more than a threat." Arthur sounded resolute for the first time. "If I know my loving helpmate, the mere suggestion that we might torture her or burn her at the stake will do the trick. Not that I would actually do those things," he added weakly. "But Guenevere has always laughed at my hope to build a more just society.
   "So, Brit, assemble a detachment of soldiers. Make sure they are all loyal beyond question. Do not use anyone who might have the remotest interest in seeing Guenevere on the throne of England. Get to Corfe as quickly as possible."
   "A forced march, Arthur?"
   "No. But
move
, and do it fast. Bring the traitors here un­ der heavy guard. Imprison them in the North Tower. We'll let them stew there awhile."
   Merlin turned to Martin. "You still have all of the By­ zantines in custody?"
   "Yes, sir, of course."
   "Excellent. Once we've dealt with Guenevere and Lan­ celot, we can release them. But first let them 'overhear' that Guenevere has arranged their release. That should reassure Justinian that things here are as he believes them to be, or wants them to be."
   They looked at one another blankly.
   "And before you let them go, interrogate them further. Some reliable intelligence would be helpful."
   "I'll have our agents at Corfe find out what they can." Brit drained her wine cup. "I'll send word that we want to know about any mention of Justinian or the Byzantine Em­ pire."
   "Excellent. Meanwhile, we need to give some serious thought to other people we might invite to Guenevere's birthday celebration, potential allies if worse comes to worst. The Byzantines are strong but they are not invincible."
   They all stood to go. But just as Merlin was about to leave, he paused. "Arthur, Brit, I have to ask something."
   The both looked at him, puzzled. "Yes?"
   "How secure are we here? I mean, really?"
   "Camelot is the best-defended castle in England. You know that." Arthur seemed annoyed at the question "I want my wife in jail. Her army can't possibly be strong enough to make much trouble."
   "That is not what I mean."
   "Then . . . ?"
   "We have spies out there. We can't be the only ones. Justinian's network of spies and informers is notorious throughout Europe. How likely is it we can do anything without him knowing?"
   Arthur sulked. Britomart bristled.
   "We all know Justinian's reputation," Merlin continued. "His court is the most ruthless there is. They are not above using murder—er, assassination—to further their ends. We must all give more thought to security, and not merely while they are in the country. Taking them on, even indi­ rectly, puts us all at risk for premature death. Add to that Guenevere's venomous nature . . ."
   And on that grim note the council ended.

Two

It took Britomart three days to assemble the legion she wanted for her mission to the Spider's House. In another four days they were there. She had moved so fast that even if Guenevere had spies—which seemed likely—and knew what to expect, she could hardly have prepared adequately. Brit's soldiers, supplemented by Captain Dalley's men from the Corfe garrison, surrounded the castle quickly and efficiently, and Guenevere and Lancelot were taken without putting up a fight.
   She and Lancelot surrendered quietly, all the while pro­ fessing ignorance of any treasonous plot and insisting that Arthur's intelligence must be mistaken. Her soldiers, badly outnumbered and taken quite by surprise, watched, unable to help her. There was rain on the journey back to Camelot so it took an extra two days. But the party finally reached their destination amid brilliant sunshine.
   Arthur was in the castle courtyard, exercising with some of his knights, when they arrived. Merlin, Nimue and Simon of York were watching and chatting about castle affairs. No carriage had been provided for the queen and her illicit consort; they rode horses like the others in the party, and they were heavily shackled. Guenevere did not attempt to disguise her displeasure at the affront to her royal dignity
   Arthur left his companions and approached her, the very picture of heartiness, accompanied by a half dozen of his knights. "Why, Guenevere, you've come to visit."
   She glared. "Do not waste your irony on me, Arthur. Why have we been brought here?"
   "Goodness, is it so odd for a man to want to see his wife now and then?"
   "Arthur." She had not climbed down from her horse. "I want to know why I—we—have been arrested."
   "Arrested? Why, Guenevere, whatever do you mean? You used to have a pet ape. Didn't you bring it along? Or have you replaced it? Hello, Lancelot." He held out a hand to help Guenevere dismount, but she pulled back from him.
   "I can get down without your help." She jumped to the ground. "In fact, you would be amazed what I can do with­ out your help."
   He put on a wide grin. "As long as you have Daddy?"
   "Arthur, I'm warning you—"
   "Yes?"
   His knights drew their swords. Glumly she said, "Never mind."
   "I'm sorry, Guenevere, I think I must have missed some­ thing. I had the impression you were about to make a threat of some sort."
   "No." She said it softly.
   Arthur looked around the courtyard and signaled to Simon, the majordomo. "What precisely is the nature of your warning, then? Are you going to have your soldiers, the ones who couldn't prevent your capture, come rescue you? Will that awful mother of yours turn me to stone with one of her withering looks? Will your new husband here, or should I say your fellow prisoner, manage to save you somehow?"
   She glared. "I am a queen, Arthur. You would do well to remember it."
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