An unholy quest

by ElsieMcC [Reviews - 0]

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  • Teen
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  • Action/Adventure

An Unholy Quest



On a bright morning in March, UNIT Headquarters was buzzing with activity. The crack of gunfire could be heard from the range and the corridors were busy with staff bustling to and fro about their duties. In her office, Brigadier Bambera sat back for a moment and listened, enjoying the sound of her HQ running as it should. A knock at the door brought her back down to earth again.

“Come in.”

The door opened to admit a private, a sheaf of papers in his hand.

“Report for you, Ma’am. Just come through on the fax from Geneva.”

“Thanks, Stow, leave it there.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”
Private Stow deposited the papers in the Brigadier’s in tray. Once the door had closed again, Bambera took up the papers and scowled at them. Reports of the dawn of the ‘paperless office’ had clearly been exaggerated. Brigadier Bambera sighed, and began to scan the report for the important details.
Mysterious theft from museum in Germany … Thieves and stolen object believed to have crossed channel … Strange occurrences reported on route taken by thieves … object referred to as …. GRAIL?

“Oh. No. Not again. Not another one of those.”

The Brigadier got up, still holding the report and opened the door of her office, attracting the attention of a corporal who was passing.

“Have you seen Ancelyn?”

“Yes, Ma’am. He’s in the car park with Sergeant Zbrigniev.”

A screech of brakes outside confirmed this news. It appeared that Zbrigniev was determined to continue with what his commanding officer viewed as an almost suicidally optimistic mission, that of trying to teach Ancelyn to drive. Moments later, the main door was flung open and two men entered. Ancelyn, tall, fair and smiling and Sergeant Zbrigniev, who staggered into the corridor as if he was on the deck of a ship on the high seas. Seeing his colleague’s discomfort, Ancelyn laughed and clapped him on the shoulder, which didn’t improve matters. The Sergeant coughed and staggered away, one hand on the wall, as if he feared the floor might heave up and tip him over. His commanding officer watched him go.

“Shame.”

Ancelyn laughed again.

“He has a greenish hue, but ‘t’will not last. And I will master that machine, however different it may be from my habitual convenance. Though, i’faith, I had rather ride on two wheels than four?”

He looked hopefully at the Brigadier, who shook her head. Ancelyn in a jeep was bad enough. Ancelyn on a motorbike didn’t bear thinking about. The knight’s face fell almost comically, but he brightened again.

“You wish to see me, my lady … er… Ma’am?”

“Yes.” Replied the Brigadier, ignoring the slip, “Something’s come up and I think it’ll be right up your street.”

A bemused Ancelyn followed his commanding officer into her office. Since joining UNIT, his modern vocabulary had increased, but some idioms still puzzled him. However, he gathered that the Brigadier needed him and that would do for the moment. Once inside the office, Bambera gave the report to Ancelyn and sat down behind her desk, watching him as he read it. Despite his UNIT uniform, Ancelyn still had an air of otherworldliness about him. Resigned to abandoning his armour, he had refused point blank to cut his hair, and the Brigadier, wise in picking her battles, hadn’t pressed the point. Central UNIT HQ might have baulked at having a knight in armour about the place, but one soldier in uniform with longer hair was a lot less conspicuous and, the Brigadier thought as she watched him, his brow furrowed as he read the report, still pretty darned cute.
Ancelyn reached the end of the report and sat down, lost in thought. After a moment, the Brigadier cleared her throat. Ancelyn started and remembered where he was.

“A thousand apologies. I fear we face more trouble.”

“Do you know about this … thing?”

“The Grail? Yes, I know of it.”

“I thought the Grail was a cup from the Last Supper? This says it’s (she held out her hand for the report and read from it aloud) ‘a carved stone beaker’?”

“Aye.” Ancelyn seemed about to drift off into his thoughts again but shook himself and sat up, “that which is called the Holy Grail is indeed a cup, and is believed lost without trace. But there are many objects that bear the title and this is such a one.”

“I see. And what makes this one special?”

“It is formed from a stone of power. The substance from which it is made confers strength and life upon those who drink from it.”

“Life? You mean eternal life?”

“Nay, my … er… Ma’am, not eternal, but long and with an excess of youthfulness and strength.”

“I see. Anything else?”

“It is said to have the power of healing.”

“It doesn’t do what the sword did?”

“You speak of Excalibur? No. This grail alone will not open a path between worlds.”

“That’s something to be thankful for I suppose. But it’s been stolen and we need to find it. Hang on a minute, what do you mean ‘alone’?”

“The rejuvenating power of the grail is drawn from the stone from which it is made. The power of the gateways can pass through the stone, but the stone by itself will not cause the gate to open, unless it be used to form a circuit in a place of power. It is a conduit, if you follow my meaning, unlike Excalibur it has no power of its own.”

The Brigadier frowned as she thought of the sword. The Doctor had retrieved it after the battle between UNIT and Morgaine’s warriors, and it now rested in a secure storage facility, together with other alien artefacts and objects amassed by UNIT over the years. If the grail wasn’t as powerful as Excalibur, then why… she put her thoughts into words.

“Who knows about this? Who would want to steal it?”

“I know not. The Holy Grail is well known in all dimensions, but this? It may have borne the name of grail in times past, but would any but a sage or magician know of its true purpose? These thieves. Do we know aught of their origins?”

The Brigadier took back the report and turned some pages.

“Not a lot. Looks like one of them was working at the museum, so it was an inside job, I mean (seeing Ancelyn’s puzzled expression) he used his knowledge of the museum to steal the thing. The museum has closed circuit television, but he knew where the cameras were, so that doesn’t help us much.”

She handed Ancelyn a photograph of two figures in dark trousers and hooded tops, the hoods up and with their backs to the camera.

“The police raided his flat and found nothing to suggest an interest in the occult, but it looks like he had serious debts, so he might have been approached by someone else to steal the … grail … for someone else for money. They are still searching the flat of the bloke they think was his accomplice. The fact that they’ve apparently brought it over here suggests it being stolen to order.”

The Brigadier put down the report.

“That doesn’t get us much further. I’ll get Zbrigniev to contact Interpol and Scotland Yard to see how far the police have got in tracing their movements, but it doesn’t get us any closer to finding out who is pulling the strings.”

“Where were they last seen?”

“It says here they were traced as far as Boulogne, where they stole a motor boat. They haven’t turned up again in France so it was assumed they were heading for England. Scotland Yard should be able to confirm if they’ve been seen landing…”

She looked at Ancelyn, who appeared lost in thought again.

“Ancelyn!”

The knight jumped in his chair, then sprang to his feet.

“Ma’am!”

“Get yourself to Records and try and find out who might want to get hold of this object. There may be some files on likely collectors or mystics or something.”

“Yes, Ma’am.” Ancelyn went to the door, then paused.

“What?” his commander asked.

“I can think of two who would know of this artefact and wish to have its power.”

Their eyes met.

“I hope not." said the Brigadier.

In her cell, in the island fort in which she was confined, Morgaine sat at the table that, with her chair and bed, formed all of the cell’s furniture. A bowl stood on the table, full to the brim with water. Morgaine took a bottle from the pocket of her dress, and poured a stream of dark ink onto the surface, watching the shapes that formed and breathing slowly. Her eyes seemed to glow as she concentrated. For nearly ten minutes she watched, then she straightened in her chair and smiled.

“At last.” She spoke in a whisper. “We shall have power. And we will have revenge.”

Progress at UNIT was slow, but, frustrating though it was, the staff knew that some parts of an investigation simply couldn’t be rushed. It would take time to gather evidence, to trace the movements of the thieves, to follow the money that paid for the theft. Sgt. Zbrigniev was in frequent contact with Interpol and was able to report that the West German police had gained access to the chief suspect’s bank account. Over the last three months, regular large amounts had been deposited. The challenge now, Zbrigniev explained at a briefing that afternoon, was finding where the money had come from.

“The money has passed through numerous companies and accounts. Interpol is following the trail, but it will take time.”

“If nothing else, it proves the payments were fishy,” put in the Brigadier.

“Yes. Has there been news from the coastguard?” the Sergeant looked to Private Stow, who had been in contact with both the coastguard and the Navy.

“Nothing yet. They are watching the ports, but a small boat could easily land along the coast without being seen.”

“Which doesn’t help us much,” commented his commanding officer.

“No, Ma’am. But they will be in contact as soon as they have any news.”

“Right. Ancelyn?”

The knight, who had been lounging against the wall, stood straighter on hearing his name.

“Precious little, alas. Of those who may know of the grail, few have the wherewithal to pay the thieves. Three names remain, once others were discarded,” he consulted his notebook, “Arthur, Lord of Cloverwood, Mistress Joan Hardwicke and the Lord Gilchrist.”

“Right,” said the Brigadier, “and what do we know about them?”

“The Lord of Cloverwood has much interest in history and mythology, but, having amassed a large collection, now seems little interested in acquiring objects for himself. He gives much money to museums and helps them to purchase artefacts of value.”

“Hmm, I think we can cross him off the list then.”

“So think I.”

“And the others?”

“It seems that Mistress Hardwicke has withdrawn from society of late, save for the writing of many tracts and books. She is of the opinion that the isle of Avalon is to be found among the Scottish Isles and has expended much of her fortune on discovering the proof of her surmises.”

“Right, definitely eccentric, keep her on the list, And Lord Gilchrist?”

“A man of some charity, as is my Lord of Cloverwood, But though his money has paid for museums, he shares not his collections, save for that by loaning them, he may be relieved of some of the burden of his taxes.”

“An unwilling altruist then.”

“Even so. Yet he has some urge to comfort the needy, for he visits prisoners on behalf of (Ancelyn checked his notes) ‘The society of humane correction’.”

The Brigadier leaned forward, interested at this. “Does he indeed?”

“Aye. What think you?”

“Only that he’d have the opportunity to meet people with criminal contacts that way. Sergeant?”

“Ma’am?”

“See if you can find out who he’s been seeing lately, and if there’s any link with the two suspects.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“In the meantime… what the heck was that?!”

This exclamation came as the sound of an explosion came from somewhere close at hand and the walls of the office shook. Ancelyn was on his way to the door when it opened and a flustered looking Private put his head through the doorway.

“Sergeant Higgins apologies Ma’am, but he asks if Shou Yuing can have her own laboratory, as he prefers his windows in one piece?”

“Oh. Shame.” The Brigadier got up, assuming she would need to go and look at the damage, “Come with me, Archer, and, Stow, get maintenance to secure the windows.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Meanwhile,” this to Zbrigniev and Ancelyn, who were trying not to look at each other in order to avoid laughing, “Zbrigniev, you get on to this Society and find out who Gilchrist has been visiting lately.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Ancelyn.”

“Yes?”

“Go back to Records and see if you can find out any more about this Miss Hardwicke. It doesn’t sound like she is involved, but we’d better make sure.”

Ancelyn bowed and left the office. Bambera followed him out and then went with Private Archer to smooth the ruffled feathers of her current scientific advisor. The scene in the lab that greeted the Brigadier was bad enough, but, she noted with relief, not quite as bad as she expected. The windows had been blown out and the blinds flapped feebly in the breeze. One of the benches was in fragments and Shou Yuing, clad in a lab coat and an ancient pair of motoring goggles (a gift from Ace) was standing nearby, a surprised but delighted expression on what was visible of her face. Seeing the Brigadier, she removed the goggles and her expression became apologetic, though the excitement clearly still bubbled underneath.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know it would be quite this strong. I’ll use less nitro next time…”

Sergeant Higgins, who was standing by the door, flinched and prepared to speak, but the Brigadier held up her hand.

“Never mind the nitro, I need you to give Ancelyn a hand in Records. And next time you’re cooking something up, take it out to the range, that’s what it’s there for.”

The young explosives enthusiast’s face fell a little, but guessing she had been forgiven, she said “OK,” and sped off to the records department to help Ancelyn in his search. As the door closed behind her, Sergeant Higgins began again.

“Ma’am, I really must protest at this misuse of my equipment, I...”

“Understood, Sergeant. Maintenance’ll be here soon, they will secure the windows and clear the debris away. In the meantime, I suggest you go and get a coffee and then move to Lab B for the rest of the day.”

The Sergeant made as if to speak again, but changed his mind, and went out, shaking his head. Brigadier Bambera sighed. Shou Yuing had talent, there was no doubt, and, on balance, the Brigadier preferred to have her in UNIT, where she could develop her skills relatively safely, so Higgins would just have to put up with things.

A tap at the door heralded the arrival of two maintenance men, who, forewarned by Private Stow, had brought boards to cover the windows. The Brigadier had a quick word with them and then headed back towards her office. Before she could open the door, Her team was working as fast as they could, all she could do now was wait and try and distract herself with everyday paperwork.

It was mid-afternoon when Zbrigniev knocked on the door. In answer to his commanding officer’s “Come in?” he entered, holding a notebook and wearing a worried expression. Seeing his face, the Brigadier asked;

“What have you found?”

“Ma’am, I have spoken to the society. They gave me the names of the prisoners Lord Gilchrist has been visiting. They are not common thieves.”

“Oh? Who then?”

Zbrigniev hesitated.

“Well?”

Morgaine sat on her bed, a faraway look in her eyes. Her gaze sharpened as her cell door was opened. A warder stood in the doorway, handcuffs in her hand.

“Your visitor is here.”

Morgaine rose, then bowed, slowly and with an expression of infinite scorn, then held out her hands. The warder fastened the handcuffs and then stood back to allow her prisoner to go out of the cell ahead of her. Another warder was waiting in the corridor and Morgaine walked between her escorts to the interview room. Waiting inside the room was a short, plump man in a checked suit, a briefcase by his side. He rose from his seat as the prisoner entered. One of the warders closed the door and stood guard in the corridor, the other went to the room next door to monitor the visit through a the mirrored window at the end. The visitor bowed.

“My Lady.”

“My Lord Gilchrist.”

The man waited until Morgaine had seated herself at the table that was intended to separate the prisoners from visitors, then sat down himself. He sighed as he saw her cuffed wrists resting on the table.

“I wish we could dispense with those. It is an unwarrantable indignity. I shall speak to the Governor.”

Morgaine laughed softly.

“I am touched by your concern, my Lord, but these trinkets could not hold me, had I a mind to free myself. I humour them by letting them believe they can contain me. Soon they will learn otherwise.”

She leaned forward, her eyes, once again, seeming to glow.

“You have news? You would not have come, else.”

“Yes.” Lord Gilchrist leaned forward himself, his eyes bright with excitement, “The, er, delivery will arrive tomorrow. Will you be ready?”

A knock on the window reminded him that they were being watched, and he sat back. Morgaine smiled.

“Oh, I shall be ready. Did you bring …?”

“Oh, yes, yes I have it here.”

Gilchrist pulled his briefcase onto his lap and pulled out a large, leather bound book, clearly of great age, which he passed across the table. At this, the monitoring warder signalled to his colleague, who opened the door and came in to the room.

“I’m going to need to check that, Sir.”

“Ah. It is simply a gift for her ladyship, she is surely permitted to read while she is here?”

The warder said nothing, but picked up the book. Gilchrist winced as the prison officer held the volume by one of its boards, letting the pages flap as she passed her hand over them.

“For heaven’s sake! My case went through your metal detector!”

“Just making sure, Sir.”

Satisfied, she put it down again.

“Ok. But next time you’ll need to tell us if you want to bring anything in like this.”

“Oh, very well,” replied his lordship, impatiently.

He pushed the book over to Morgaine, who received it with an inclination of her head towards the warder.

“I thank your Lordship for your kindness. I shall enjoy this welcome distraction.”

“You are most welcome.”

The Warder, feeling that this strange conversation had gone on long enough, coughed. Morgaine smiled again, the slow, creeping smile of a snake.

“Ah, I see our time is at an end. Thank you again, my Lord. Doubt not that you will receive a just reward for your good offices on my behalf.”

Gilchrist flushed with pleasure.

“Your ladyship is too kind.”

Incapable of saying more, he bowed again and backed towards the door, keeping his eyes fixed on Morgaine until he was in the corridor. Morgaine rose, slowly and gathered up the book, holding it close to her chest until she was back in her cell, where she put it down on her bed. Once the handcuffs were removed and the door closed, she sat down on the bed and picked up the book. The cover was intricately tooled and decorated with gilding around an illustration of a knight on horseback. Morgaine smiled ironically at it. Trust a hopeless romantic like Gilchrist to bring his gift in Mallory’s Morte D’Arthur. Pausing, she placed a hand against her forehead which was clammy with sweat. Not for worlds would she have confessed that she was not capable of escaping from the “trinkets” as she had described them. They had been devised by the Doctor, to keep her in check. Sitting on the edge of the bed, she began to feel the energy return to her limbs.

“Curses on you, Merlin. I shall not let you gain the upper hand again.”

She lifted the book, holding it by the cover and opened it wide, until a cracking sound told her that the stitching of the spine had broken. An object slid out of the spine and landed on the bed beside her. It was a knife. Made from a dark, shiny substance, its polished surface glittered in the light from the window. Morgaine picked up the obsidian knife and held the cool surface of the blade against her cheek for a moment. Then she smiled again.

“Morgaine and Mordred?”

Brigadier Bambera had reacted to Zbrigniev’s news in precisely the way he had expected.

“Which fools let him visit them?”

“I don’t know, Ma’am, I suppose money talks, even in this case.”

The Brigadier drew a deep breath.

“Sorry, Sergeant. Took me by surprise. Right, find out when he last visited and, if you can, what they had to say to each other.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

His CO picked up the phone.

“Bambera. I want a call put through to Interpol. Tell them we’ve evidence of a possible paymaster, name Lord Gilchrist. Right, thanks.”

She hung up and thought for a moment, then picked up the phone again.

“Get me Monmouth Fort Prison, quick as you can.”

The warder bringing Morgaine’s meal paused at the door and opened the viewing hatch. She looked through the opening and saw her prisoner, apparently lost in the book she had been brought. The warder closed the hatch again and looked down to find the right key from the ring on her belt. The instant the hatch closed, Morgaine sprang to her feet and ran to the door. She pressed herself against the wall, the black stone knife in her hand. The door opened and the warder entered. She looked up and stopped, staring at the apparently empty room. Then she gasped as she felt the point of the knife at her throat.

“No noise. You understand?”

The warder nodded.

“Good, come in and close the door, but not so that it locks.”

Her hostage obeyed, leaving the door slightly ajar.

“Now. Kneel.”

Morgaine put the knife in her sleeve and placed her fingers on the warder’s temples. A few moments later they left the cell. The warder’s eyes were wide, expressionless. She closed and locked the cell door and the two women walked down the corridor towards the staircase that led to Mordred’s cell.
Mordred sat on his bed, a sulky expression on his face. A beard now fully covered his chin and his long, dark hair was dishevelled. He looked up as he heard the key turn in the door of his cell, then stood up in astonishment as the warder entered, followed by Morgaine.

“Mother?”

“Come, my son, we have work to do.”

“We’re escaping? We shall have revenge?”

“We shall. Stir yourself.”

Mordred came forward at this. Morgaine gestured to the warder, who preceded them out of the cell and then locked the door again.

“Good. Now take us to where our possessions are kept.”

The warder replied, “Yes, my lady,” in a voice as expressionless as her face, and led the way away from the cells. In the communications room, one of her colleagues looked at the cctv monitor.

“Hey, Sarge, Look at this!”

Another officer joined him.

“What is she doing? Why are they out?”

His colleague went to the intercom.

“Alert, alert. Prisoners on landing four, heading for south west stairs. Apprehend and secure with caution, possible hostage situation, Officer White is with them.”

He turned away from the microphone.

“Dave? You stay here, I’m going to secure the armoury. Keep an eye on the cameras and inform the mainland if necessary.”

“Right.”

The Sergeant left, and his subordinate turned back to the monitors. He watched as the prisoners and Officer White descended the stairs and made their way along another corridor. He shook his head. Something was wrong. He was sure of it.

“What’s the matter with you, Jill?”

Jill White and her captors had reached the room where the prisoners possessions were stored. As she turned to unlock the door, two officers came towards the group, guns drawn.

“Keep still!”

Officer White ignored them and continued to unlock the door.

“Officer White? Jill?”

Morgaine stepped forward.

“She cannot hear you, gentlemen.”

The door opened, Officer White stood back. Morgaine drew out her knife and handed it to her erstwhile guard, who at an unspoken command, raised the blade to her own throat. Morgaine turned back to the other officers.

“You see? She is under my influence completely. If you wish her to live, you will lower your weapons. Otherwise, I have only to say the word and…” she left the sentence unfinished.

The officers looked at each other, then, slowly, lowered their weapons.

“Ah, I hoped you would see reason. Place them on the ground.”

The men obeyed. Mordred, who had entered the store room, emerged at this point, his mail shirt thrown on over his prison clothes and his laser gun in his hand.

“Shall I kill them for you, Mother?”

Morgaine smiled at him.

“No, we shall have use for them. Remember, we have not our troops to command. Bid them approach.”

Mordred looked disappointed at this, but raised his gun.

“Approach, curs, and kneel before your Queen.”

The officers looked at each other again, then at White, her face blank, the tip of the stone knife touching her throat. Mordred, seeing them hesitate, shouted;

“You heard me, you dogs! approach the Queen!”

The men walked forward. Morgaine smiled at them, then in a voice that was almost a purr, said;

“Kneel.”

The officers knelt, their legs obeying almost of their own accord. Morgaine’s smile grew broader as she placed a hand on the head of each man.

“Good. Now. Listen.”

In the control room, Dave Croft watched in horror as his colleagues put down their guns and knelt down. He grabbed the microphone and pressed the button for the armoury.

“Sarge? Are you there?”

“Croft? What’s happening?”

“Morgaine has captured White, Higgs and Philip. Mordred is armed, they’ve, (he turned to the screen again), they’ve gone into the storeroom on level 3.”

“Right, call the mainland for backup and stay where you are. I’m coming back to you.”

“Will do.”

Croft let go of the microphone and was about to lift the receiver when the telephone rang, making him jump.

“Monmouth Fort Prison, Officer Croft speaking. Who? Sorry Ma’am, we’ve got a breakout on our hands and … yes. Yes, Ma’am, thank you.”

On the screen behind him, Morgaine and Mordred, dressed in their chain mail and cloaks, emerged from the storeroom and, accompanied by their enthralled guards, walked along the corridor towards the armoury.

At UNIT HQ, the Brigadier had sounded full alert. Troops ran to the garages to get into a truck that would take them to the airfield. Two helicopters stood ready to leave as the Brigadier ran across the tarmac, ducking to avoid the draft from the rotating blades. She got in and put on her earphones, nodding to the pilot as she adjusted the microphone.

“Right, let’s get going.”

The helicopters lifted off, hovered for a few moments, then turned and headed towards the coast.

At the prison, Officer Croft watched the monitors for any sign of activity. It was too quiet, he thought, as he switched the signal from one camera to the other. He had locked the door and his gun was to hand, but he would be very glad when UNIT arrived to take over. A noise outside the door made him turn in his chair. Picking up his gun, Croft moved over to the door intercom.

“Croft. Let me in.”

“Sarge?”

Croft sighed with relief and reached for the lock. Something made him hesitate, though, something in his superior’s voice.

“Sarge? Is everything OK?”

“Yes. Let me in.”

Croft glanced over at the monitor. The camera showed the corridor, with the Sergeant, apparently alone, standing by the door. Suddenly, Croft’s eye was caught by a movement on the edge of the camera’s range. He made up his mind.

“No, Sarge, I can’t do that.”

“Let me in, Croft.”

“No, Sir.”

Footsteps sounded outside the door and Croft drew back. A burst of noise and light and the lock lit up, glowing with heat, then the door burst open and Mordred entered, firing before the officer had a chance to shoot at the intruder. Morgaine followed her son into the room, She looked at the body of the fallen officer and sighed.

“What had I told you?”

“Well, but, Mother, he would not let us enter and he would have fired.”

“Very well. But come, we have little time. The good sergeant, (she gestured to the man, who stood by, staring sightlessly ahead) has informed me that reinforcements have been summoned. We must meet our couriers and away before the troops arrive.”

“Are we not to face them? I would not have us run away.”

Morgaine placed her hand on his arm.

“I understand, my son, but we cannot face them yet. We have not the power. We must face them in a place of our choosing. Meantime, (she looked around the communications room) destroy.”

“With pleasure, Mother.”

Mordred stepped forward and turned his gun on the monitors and radio equipment, firing until the equipment exploded in a shower of hissing sparks. Morgaine nodded, satisfied.

“Good. Now we shall await the arrival of the grail and make good our escape. Come.”

She left the room, followed by Mordred and the others. A moment later, Croft stirred. He gasped and clutched at his side, where Mordred’s shot had hit him. One look at the radio told him that it would be pointless to try and use it. He could only hope that UNIT arrived in time. Crawling, gasping with pain, he edged his way towards the door. Pulling himself up with a final effort, he reached the button for the fire extinguisher release, pressed it and managed to get out of the door and collapse on the corridor floor before the gas released.

As the helicopters thundered their way towards the coast and the sea fort that formed Monmouth Prison, the Brigadier was on the radio.

“Monmouth, come in. Come in Monmouth…”

Silence was the only answer. Bambera turned to look at Zbrigniev, who was seated behind her.

“Nothing. I hope we’re not too late.”

Morgaine and her party were waiting by the jetty as the dingy approached. The occupants of the boat, concentrating on bringing the craft safely alongside the fort, looked up in astonishment when they saw who was waiting for them. Their contact had told them they were to pass on the grail to “a great lady,” but the sight of Morgaine, in mail, cloak and crown, stunned them. Morgaine stepped forward.

“You have the grail?”

“Ah, er, yes.”

One of the men, a short, dark figure in jeans and an anorak, fetched a bundle from underneath the seat and held it out to her. Morgaine leaned forward and took the bundle from his hands. Untying the cloths, she pulled out a smooth beaker of amber coloured stone and held it up to the light. The stone was translucent and the object glowed as she turned it in her hands. Mordred looked on, an expression of awe on his face.

“This is the grail?”

“It is. The one we sought. We shall have great need of the strength it gives.”

Morgaine sighed with satisfaction and tucked the beaker away in a bag made from hide that was slung across her body on a strap.

“I thank you.” Morgaine looked at the men, appraisingly, then said, “you will join us.”

It was not a question. The two men looked at each other, alarmed and confused and had a hurried, whispered conversation in German, then the one who had spoken first cleared his throat.

“Ah, no. We will not. We are paid to deliver the grail. That is our work and it is done.”

“I see.” Morgaine frowned. Then her face cleared. “So be it. We will leave you to collect your just reward.”

She turned to the sergeant and his officers. “Come.” She led the way to the boat that provided emergency access to the mainland for the staff of the prison. The officers boarded and seated themselves, silently, their faces still blank, Morgaine and Mordred remaining on the jetty. The thieves watched, puzzled, then, deciding they had been given leave to depart, undid the painter from the jetty and set about starting the engine. Morgaine whispered to Mordred, then turned and boarded the prison boat. Mordred raised his gun. One of the thieves saw him and shouted;

“No! Are you crazy?”

Mordred smiled and lowered the gun a little, then fired at the dinghy’s hull. The wood split and buckled and water rushed in. Mordred laughed as he watched the thieves flounder, trying to cling to the jetty as their craft sank beneath them. At a word from his mother, he turned and got on board, seating himself next to her. The Sergeant started the engine and they left, leaving the two thieves to pull themselves up onto the jetty, both screaming recriminations at the departing craft and at each other. Mordred laughed again, looking over his shoulder, then turned back to his mother.

“And now, Mother, what is your plan?”

“We set course for Ramston. There, the Lord Gilchrist will have provided us with vehicles. We will then proceed to retake that which is rightfully ours, the key to our dimension.”

“And then? Will we return to our home?”

“Not before we have laid waste to this miserable realm. Once the gate is open we will summon our legions to seal our vengeance on Merlin and this land he holds so dear.”

“Good. And the grail? When?”

“Patience, Mordred. Once we are ashore.”

“Very well, Mother.”

Mordred looked down at his hands to hide his dissatisfaction. Morgaine, watching him, smiled thinly. His impetuous nature had been his undoing before, and probably would be again, but, though she had once threatened to abandon him to the less than tender mercies of the Doctor and Lethbridge Stewart, she would not leave him again. At least, not for now.

The helicopters landed on the roof of the fort and the UNIT troops disembarked and formed up. The Brigadier issued her orders. The prison was to be searched from top to bottom and any wounded personnel assessed and given first aid. The Brigadier’s group would proceed to the communications room and set up there, re-establishing links with the mainland and summoning reinforcements and medical support as necessary. Prisoners were armed and to be considered extremely dangerous. Hypnotised officers were to be apprehended and secured until they could be deprogrammed. Any artefacts found were to be handled with caution placed in protective storage. The Brigadier looked at her troops and drew her gun.

“Right! All clear?”

“Yes, Ma’am!”

“Then let’s get on with it!”

She turned and ran towards the staircase that led from the roof to the interior of the fort. The soldiers followed, the silence that had fallen inside the prison broken by the thunder of their boots and the shouts when they had checked and cleared their sections. They worked their way down the building, checking and securing each part before securing it. The Brigadier and her team had made their way quickly to the communications room. Spotting Officer Croft lying on the floor near the door, Bambera called to one of the privates, who came forward to check for signs of life. As he bent down and put his fingers on the officers neck, he heard a faint groan and felt the flutter of a pulse.

“Ma’am, he’s alive. He’s been shot with ... (the private looked at the scorched clothing and marks on the skin beneath) some kind of heat weapon.”

“Right, do what you can for him, Shawcross, we’ll get him evacuated as soon as we can.”

“Yes…” the Private paused as the officer groaned again, “It’s alright mate, we’re here to help.”

Croft reached out a hand and caught hold of his rescuer’s uniform. The Private gently disengaged the hand and leant forward.

“Yes, what is it?”

“They … took … everyone … else.”

“Right. Do you know where they were going?”

“No,” Croft caught his breath at the pain of speaking. “Zombies. Turned … them into … zombies.”

This last effort was too much and he fainted. Private Shawcross worked quickly, trying to make his patient as comfortable as he could. Brigadier Bambera, having discovered the state of the prisons communication, left Sergeant Zbrigniev to set up a portable radio and went out to the corridor again.

“How is he?” she asked, looking down at Croft.

“Out cold. Best thing for him at the moment, he must be in a lot of pain.”

“Did he say anything?”

“He said ‘they’ took everyone else. That they’d been turned into zombies?”

“Morgaine has hypnotised them. Oh, Shame. We’ll have to hope we can get to them before they get hurt. He didn’t know where they were going?”

“No.”

The Brigadier went back into the room, where Zbrigniev was speaking on the radio. He finished with “Understood, out.” And turned back to his CO.

“Air sea rescue, Ma’am. 20 minutes out.”

“Good. Shawcross can stay with him.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

A voice came over the Brigadier’s radio.

“Brigadier? Sergeant Walsh here.”

“Yes Walsh?”

“Two suspects apprehended on the jetty. Both carrying West German passports.”

“Are they talking?”

“Yes. Morgaine, Mordred and prison officers left about 30 minutes ago in the prison boat, sank the thieves boat when they refused to go with them.”

Private Walsh fought the urge to smile as she looked at the still sodden men in front of her and heard her commanding officer say;

“Oh. Shame.”

“Advise, Ma’am?”

“Secure and bring them up to the helipad, we’ll need to clear to make room for the air ambulance, we’ll take them to HQ.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Walsh let go of her radio and spoke to her colleagues.

“Right, bring them along.”

The two thieves were hauled to their feet and led back into the building. In the communications room, Zbrigniev had relayed the identification number of the prison boat to the coastguard and was waiting for an update from HQ. He looked up as the Brigadier finished her conversation.

“Ma’am?”

“Get ready to clear out Sergeant.” She raised her voice, “Private Shawcross?”

“Ma’am?”

Stay here until the air ambulance arrives and escort this officer to hospital, Stay with him, keep an eye on him and let us know if he has any more information.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“Good man. Ready Sergeant?”

“Yes Ma’am.” The Sergeant gave a final update to HQ, telling them that the squad would be on the move again shortly and stood up.

“Then let’s go.”

Leaving Shawcross with his patient, the two officers made their way quickly back to the helipad, where the rest of the squad was waiting with their two prisoners, who were wrapped in blankets and looking thoroughly sorry for themselves. At a word from the Brigadier, the prisoners were taken to one of the helicopters and the troops loaded back in. As they took off, Bambera spoke to Walsh in the other helicopter.

“If they’ve got a 30 minute head start they could be on land by now, but keep your eyes peeled as we cross.”

“Yes Ma’am.”

The prison boat, with the sergeant at the helm, moved slowly into an inlet along the coast from the port town of Ramston. Officer Higgs jumped ashore and embedded the anchor as deeply as he could. That done, the others disembarked and made their way to the nearby road. Morgaine led the way to a patch of hard standing under some trees, where a jeep was parked. At her word, the officers got into the back, the sergeant taking his place at the wheel. Mordred climbed into the back and moved so he was sitting behind his Mother. Morgaine showed a map to the Sergeant, who nodded and started the engine. As the jeep pulled away, Morgaine reached down to where a bottle had been tucked into the footwell. She took the beaker from her bag and passed it to Mordred, then undid the bottle and poured a little of the contents into the stone cup. Mordred looked at her, breathless with excitement.

“Now, Mother?”

“Now.”

Mordred raised the beaker to his lips and drank. He coughed, wiped his mouth and handed the beaker back to Morgaine. As the power carried in the stone began to do its work, his figure, while remaining the same shape and build, seemed to thicken, as if it was, somehow, coming into the foreground without moving.

“And what of these others?”

His voice had changed too, it seemed deeper, yet still at the same pitch, and there was the impression of an echo after his words. Morgaine shook her head.

“No. This is also a healing grail. I would not have them healed of my influence.”

“Ah, no.”

The Sergeant spoke;

“My lady, we are nearly there.”

“Good. You know the plan, all of you.”

It was not a question, Morgaine had instructed her followers on their way across from the fort, nevertheless they answered as one;

“Yes, My Lady.”

“Excellent. And you, my Son?”

“Yes, Mother. I feel I could fell all our enemies with one stroke of my sword.”

“You will not need to do that yet. But have patience. The time will come.”

The jeep slowed, approaching an area enclosed by a high fence, topped with barbed wire. At the entrance stood a sentry box, and an armed guard was visible, watching the road. By the side of the entrance was a sign that read;
SECURE SITE
STRICTLY NO ENTRY
And, underneath in smaller letters: U.N.I.T.

As the jeep drew up at the gate, the sentry stepped forward:

“This is a secure site, identify yourselves and state your business.”

Morgaine looked at him, as if considering her answer. Finally, she said:

“I am Queen Morgaine and I have come to claim that which was stolen from me by the wizard Merlin, known to you as the Doctor. You will not be harmed, provided you obey.”

The sentry looked incredulous. Who was this woman? Although the location of the storage facility was not widely known, these things had a habit of getting about and he’d had to deal with his fair share of eccentrics coming to unmask giant conspiracies or rescue the Ark of the Covenant, or whatever it was they thought was kept there. Presumably this was another. Yet something in her tone and the look in her eyes made him step back and raise his rifle.

“I can’t let you come in without proper clearance. Turn your vehicle around, please.”

Morgaine smiled and nodded. The sentry relaxed, then froze as he felt a gun barrel against his neck. Officer Philip had slipped out of the back of the jeep and now stood by the sentry, one hand holding the gun, the other over the man’s mouth. At a sign from Morgaine, he drew his captive back into the sentry box and, after a brief scuffle, emerged again to raise the bar that blocked the entrance.

“Good,” said Morgaine, “remain here. Let none pass until we return.”

“Yes, My Lady.”

Morgaine looked to the Sergeant and he started the engine again and drove slowly up towards the building.

In the helicopter, the Brigadier was receiving a message from HQ.

“Police reports boat found abandoned near Ramston.”

“Understood, any sign of Morgaine?”

“Not yet. However local police had reports of a jeep parked not far from where the boat was found, apparently abandoned, but when they arrived to check on it, it had gone. Resident had taken registration, alert now out for vehicle.”

“Good, keep me updated, we’ll be landing in about 5 minutes.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

The Brigadier thought rapidly. Ramston? There were plenty of other places closer by that they could have put in. And if the jeep was connected to the fugitives, and it looked like it must be, then Morgaine had arranged with her conspirator to land there. Why Ramston? What was…?” A sudden, terrible thought occurred to the Brigadier and she called back to HQ.

“Ma’am?”

“Call the Ramsbridge storage site. Tell them there’s a chance that Morgaine may be coming their way and they are to be on full alert. Get reinforcements over there as soon as you can, local police if you have to, we’ll plan to go straight there from the airfield unless we hear from you.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

The UNIT staff member didn’t ask any further questions, but switched the radio to call the storage facility.

“Ramsbridge site, come in please, Ramsbridge site, come in, HQ calling…”


At Morgaine’s command, the jeep was parked alongside the storage building, near the entrance. She and the rest of her followers got out and keeping close to the wall, approached the entrance. The officer at the reception desk looked up as the door opened and was surprised to see a woman in a prison officers uniform enter, a gun held in one hand.

“I, who are you?”

“That is not important.” Jill White looked around, then walked calmly across to the other side of the foyer and used the butt of her gun to smash the glass of the fire alarm panel and activate the alarm. The astonished reception guard stood up and reached for his gun, but he was forestalled by Morgaine, who had entered the building while he was distracted. She held her knife against his neck and hissed, “No.” Officer White walked calmly back to the desk, ignoring the clamour of the alarm and the staff of the storage site exiting the building, some not quite as calmly as their fire drill dictated. White took the arm of the guard, pulling him down behind the desk. Morgaine crouched beside them. Once she was certain that the building had been cleared, she stood up. Jill pulled the, now very frightened, guard to his feet and back over to his chair.

“Sit,” she said quietly.

Feeling that he had no other choice, the man sat down. Morgaine moved behind him and put her fingers, very lightly, on his temples.

“Now,” she said, “you will tell me where to find Excalibur.”

The man flinched, then his eyes glazed, as if looking into the far distance.

“I do not know this name.”

“The sword,” Morgaine leaned close to his ear, her voice once again a hiss, “Where is the sword?”

The guard’s hands moved to the keyboard of his computer. He typed, then waited while the search completed. Then he said;

“Aisle 54, shelf 7.”

Mordred and the officers had entered during the melee and were standing ready. Morgaine spoke to the guard again.

“Show them.”

The guard stood up and led the way into the facility. The group followed him through the aisles, only Mordred looking at the crates and containers as they passed. Eventually the guard stopped and said;

“Here. Box EX86”

Mordred seized the crates that stood on top of the box and threw them aside as if they were empty cardboard boxes. Box EX86 was a long, narrow, rectangular container, sealed with padlocks. Mordred gripped the padlocks and tore them away, followed by the lid. Inside the container, wrapped in a quilted cloth, was a sword. Mordred pulled away the wrapping and lifted the weapon from its bed. He held it by the hilt, watching the light play on the blade. His eyes glittered as he looked at the sword, then, recalled to his mission, he nodded and said abruptly to the others;

“Come.”

He turned and walked back through the aisles, followed by his hypnotised companions. Morgaine and White were waiting by the door. Mordred held out the sword to his Mother. She smiled, grimly, but did not take it from his hand.

“We have little time. The alarm will be investigated, We must go now.”

Slightly deflated, Mordred said, “Yes, Mother,” and followed her out to the jeep.

The Sergeant started the engine and the jeep roared away at speed, past the bemused staff, who were still waiting outside the building. Pausing at the gate to pick up Officer Philip, they sped along the road, swerving to avoid a fire engine which had been summoned automatically by the alarm.

Shou Yuing pulled her gaze away from the screen in the records department and sighed. When she had joined UNIT, following her adventures with the Doctor, Ace and the two Brigadiers, she had hoped for something a bit more exciting than checking the background of what she described as “some fishy rich bloke,” but here she was. She looked back at the screen. According to his file, Lord Gilchrist was involved in all kinds of committees and public bodies. Apart from the Society of Humane Correction, he sat on the boards of a number of museums, was a non-executive director of a bank, blah, blah, blah…and was a member of the House of Lord’s committee on national security. That might be useful. Shou Yuing made a note and went in search of the Brigadier. Finding that the CO hadn’t yet got back, she looked in on the communications room, where Private Stow was repeating, “Ramsbridge site, come in please.”
The Private looked round as his young colleague appeared in the doorway.

“Oh, thank God. I’m trying to raise Ramsbridge but there’s no answer. The CO reckons that might be Morgaine’s target. Can you keep on trying while I update her?”

“Sure.”

“Thanks, something’s going on there.”

He removed his headphones and slid his chair across to another radio set. Selecting the channel, he began to call the Brigadier’s call sign. Eventually the familiar voice crackled back into his ears.

“Receiving you. Report.”

“Unable to raise Ramsbridge, local emergency services report fire alarm, two appliances on route.”

“Understood. On our way from airfield, ETA 15 minutes.”

“Understood.”

At that moment, he heard that a conversation had begun behind him.

“One moment Ma’am.”

He turned back with a questioning expression.

Yuing put her hand over the microphone and leaned over.

“They’ve had a fire alarm, but there wasn’t a fire. The gate sentry was found tied up in his hut, and one of the staff was found inside, wandering round like a zombie.”

She returned to her contact at the site and said,

“Sorry, yes, please repeat… Thank you. Yes. Will report to CO, await further instructions, Out,” then turned back. “A jeep was spotted leaving at speed. They haven’t been able to get any sense out of the zombified one yet, but they found him close to an empty box marked EX86. was stored. Whoever it was, they’ve got Excalibur.”

The Private relayed this information to the Brigadier, who told him, and by extension, Yuing, to “Sit tight.”

Private Stow replied in the affirmative and cut the connection. He looked at his younger colleague, who asked;

“So what do we do now?”

“What she said. Sit tight.”

They hadn’t long to wait. Just ten minutes later, the truck carrying the Brigadier, her squad and their prisoners drew up outside the main entrance. On entering the building, she ordered that the prisoners be taken to the cells and given food and dry clothes, then swept Zbrigniev, Stow, Yuing and Ancelyn into her office.

“Right,” she said, standing behind her desk, her hands flat on the surface, “what do we know?”

Zbrigniev spoke first. “Morgaine and Mordred escaped, most likely with the assistance of Lord Gilchrist. Transport had been arranged for them when they reached land and they knew the location of the secure storage site.”

“How could they have found that out?”

Shou Yuing had a sudden inspiration. “I know! Gilchrist is on the House of Lord’s security committee. Could he have found out about it and told them?”

“Yes!” The Brigadier tried to hide her relief at this explanation. The possibility of a UNIT agent working against the team, though not unheard of, was one she had not wanted to consider. Seeing that the others were looking at her expectantly, she went on. “That must be it. So Gilchrist provided the intelligence and the transport. The thieves delivered the grail and got more than they bargained for. So where are Morgaine and Mordred going now they’ve got the sword and the grail? Ancelyn?”

Ancelyn had been sitting quietly while the others spoke, his head on one side, his brows drawn with thought. Hearing his name, he sat up in his chair.

“Ma’am?”

“Any ideas where Morgaine is making for?”

The knight spoke slowly at first, as if still gathering his thoughts.

“If she has taken Excalibur, she must wish to open a gate between our dimensions again. She will need a place of power to do this. That at Lake Vortigern was destroyed … she will seek another.”

“And are there any near at hand?” asked the Brigadier, while thinking that Ancelyn’s speech patterns must be catching.

“Have we a map? Ah, my thanks, "(as the Brigadier fished in a drawer and then passed an OS map of the area including Ramston and Rambridge across the desk. Ancelyn unfolded it and pondered it in silence for a moment, before putting his finger on a point about 40 miles inland from Ramston.

“Here.”

The Brigadier leaned over the map. Ancelyn was pointing to what looked like a clearing in a wooded area, named on the map as Harolde Forest. The clearing was marked with the symbol denoting an ancient monument.

“What’s special about that place?”

“It has the shape of a sacred grove, used in ancient times by druids. I do not understand this symbol, but if it is, as I believe it to be, a standing stone, then Morgaine can place Excalibur within it and open the gateway to our realm.”

“Can we stop her?”

“If she is there before us, I doubt t’were possible. It may be that the stone could be destroyed, but such places are built of strong stuff and bounded with power. It would take a mighty explosion…” Ancelyn’s voice faded as he realised what he had just said. The company in the office turned to look at Yuing, who was trying hard not to look too excited.

“Well,” said the Brigadier, drily, “I think we can provide one of those, if we can get there in time.”

She looked at the map. “Morgaine has a head start, but we are closer from here than she is, so we might just do it. Right, pack your stuff and meet me out the front in ten minutes. Sergeant?”

“Ma’am?”

“Brief the squad. Two jeeps, fully armed.”

“Yes, Ma’am.”

Zbrigniev and Shou Yuing left to make their preparations. Ancelyn remained behind, his eyes still fixed on the map. The Brigadier went back and joined him at the desk.

“What’s on your mind?”

“I was thinking. What of the grail? Morgaine would not have acquired it without some purpose.”

“Yes, I thought that too, but we can’t wait around and work it all out now.”

The knight straightened his back and smiled.

“Indeed not. With your permission I will gather my effects.”

“If you can do it in ten minutes, be my guest. But be outside in ten minutes or we’ll go without you.”

“Ma’am.”

Ancelyn bowed and departed. Leaving the Brigadier to check her gun and make her way outside to where the Sergeant had gathered his troops. A few minutes later, Shou Yuing appeared, burdened with a bulging rucksack and with a roll of wire tucked under one arm. Ancelyn was the last to arrive, as the Brigadier had suspected, he had gone to change into his mail shirt and collect his sword. He brought with him Private Stow, who had an update from the storage facility.

“They still can’t get the reception guard out of his trance, but they’ve inspected the area where the sword was stored. None of the lifting equipment seems to have been touched, it looks like the crates were thrown. By hand.”

The Brigadier thanked him for the update and dismissed him back to his post, then looked at Ancelyn.

“The grail?”

“It must be so. One of them has drunk from it and absorbed its power. I would hazard Mordred.”

“How long will it last?”

“I have not seen it set down how long the effect endures. It is not permanent, I think, but…”

“Well, we can’t do anything to change that now, we’ll just have to hope it’s started to wear off by the time we see them.”

“Indeed, My Lady.”

Ancelyn inclined his head and went to get into the second jeep. The Brigadier, concerned as she was with the immediate situation, missed his reply completely, but merely nodded and took her place in the front jeep. As they drove, a further update came from the police. Morgaine’s jeep had been spotted heading west from Ramsbridge. This confirmed Ancelyn’s suspicions, and Brigadier Bambera hoped they would be able to reach the woodland before their adversaries, if they couldn’t head them off en route.

The jeeps stopped at the edge of the woods, and were parked in a field behind a hedge, to give as much cover as possible. Gathering their arms and equipment, the squad set off. As ordered, they fanned out through the trees, treading as lightly as possible, aiming to converge on the clearing. Ancelyn walked with the Brigadier, his sword drawn, his ears and eyes alert to the slightest movement. His companion was equally on her guard as they made their way towards the clearing. Sergeant Zbrigniev and Shou Yuing were to their right making steady progress.

After about fifteen minutes, the UNIT squad arrived at the clearing. The standing stone, a blunt, roughly pyramidal form about three feet tall, stood in the centre. The Brigadier looked to her left and then to her right, and held up a closed fist. The squad stopped in their tracks. She lowered her arm and they began to advance again, with even more caution than before. They stopped on the edge of the clearing, the soldiers concealing themselves behind trees and bushes and Yuing taking up station behind a fallen tree trunk which would give her space to prepare her explosives unseen. The Sergeant stayed with her, keeping watch. The Brigadier and Ancelyn circled the clearing, staying within the tree line. All seemed quiet. Brigadier Bambera sighed and took a step towards the grassy surface. At that moment a hand landed on her shoulder. She turned and struggled but she couldn’t free herself. A yell from Ancelyn showed that he had also been caught. Twisting in his captor’s grip he gasped, “Mordred!”

“Yes,” said Morgaine, emerging seemingly from nowhere, “my son has the strength of ten and is capable of breaking your bones without a thought. I would counsel you to not to resist. Step forward.”

At this the knight and the Brigadier stopped struggling. Mordred laughed.

“Come. Obey your Queen.”

Unable to resist, the captives were propelled into the clearing. Morgaine approached the central stone, Excalibur in her hand. She looked around the clearing, then raised her voice.

“Soldiers of UNIT, should you wish your commander to live, put down your arms and show yourselves.”

There was a rattling, rustling noise from the trees as the squad obeyed, laying down their guns and standing with their hands raised. Yuing looked at Zbrigniev, who shook his head, and they ducked further down behind the tree trunk. Morgaine looked at the soldiers, then at the Brigadier.

“Is this all?”

“Yes,” replied the Brigadier, coldly.

“Such a small force, to take on our might? Well, we shall see. Now.”

She leaned the sword against the standing stone and placed her hands on opposite sides near the top. Morgaine pressed the stone with her fingers. Suddenly, the top of the monument moved, shifting sideways to reveal an opening edged with metal.

“Ah,” Morgaine sighed with satisfaction. “Now we will see if your little force can withstand my legions, who have been standing ready all this time awaiting my return.”

The Brigadier looked over towards the fallen tree that she knew concealed the last two members of her team. Suddenly, as she looked, she saw the flutter of a scarf over the top of the trunk. Once, twice, it flapped, then disappeared. That was it, the signal for “ready.” She caught Ancelyn’s eye and looked back to the tree. He gave a tiny nod in response. Morgaine raised the sword. With one movement she inserted it into the opening in the stone. Immediately there was a crackle of sparks. Under the turf at the edge of the clearing, lights glowed and the ground shook. Behind Morgaine a glowing line appeared, as if the air was being torn in two, spreading until it formed an opening large enough for a person to step through. On the other side of the opening, indistinct shapes could be seen moving, a mass of shifting colours. Mordred looked at the gate that had opened and laughed.

“Call them forth, Mother!”

Ancelyn looked at the Brigadier. A change had come over Mordred’s voice. It hadn’t the same depth as it had had moments ago. The Brigadier nodded and changed her stance slightly. Mordred felt the movement and laughed again.

“You may struggle all you wish, you will not withstand the power of the grail and the might of our forces.”

“Maybe not,” replied Brigadier Bambera, suddenly reminded of something her predecessor had told her, “We just do the best we can. And, (she paused and looked at Ancelyn again), we do it with some style!”

As she spoke the last word, she and Ancelyn turned and drove their elbows into Mordred’s midriff. Bereft of the power of the grail, he gasped and doubled up, to receive a blow on the jaw from Ancelyn that sent him reeling backwards through the opening. Morgaine screamed and ran towards them, her knife raised, her face contorted with rage. The Brigadier sidestepped and caught her arm, bending it until the knife dropped to the ground. Morgaine twisted in her captor’s grip, turning this way and that, kicking at the Brigadier’s legs. With a final twist she managed to throw her opponent to the ground and, still bent over, crawled towards the gate. Ancelyn was in pursuit but he was too slow and Morgaine vanished as her son had done. The Brigadier and Ancelyn ran for the trees, the Brigadier shouting “NOW!”. Shou Yuing stood up and threw a flask of explosive into the clearing, ducking back down immediately to avoid the blast. A shuddering roar came from the clearing, the trees shook and the ground moved under the soldier’s feet. Caught by the force of the explosion, Ancelyn felt himself lifted and thrown into the air. Time seemed to slow around him as he fell. On one side, he saw the Brigadier flung against a tree, and opened his mouth to shout, but then a jumble of roots and earth came rushing towards him and everything went dark. Clods of earth and fragments of stone rained down on the clearing, which had become a shallow crater. The stone, the sword had vanished, save for a few shards. The gateway had also vanished, as if it had never existed. The UNIT troops got to their feet and began to pick up their kit, which had been scattered in their rush to take cover. Ancelyn and the Brigadier lay where they had fallen and Zbrigniev hurried over to them, shouting for one of the others to radio for an ambulance.

Ancelyn opened his eyes, blinked in the light, then closed them again. His whole body ached, though, after a moment or two, the pain seemed to be localised in his head and one of his shoulders. He groaned and opened his eyes again. The face of Sergeant Zbrigniev swam into view, slightly fuzzy, but, nonetheless, recognisable. “

“Ancelyn, can you speak?”

“I, yes.” His voice seemed to come from a long way away, as if someone else had spoken.

“Good man. You’ve hit your head and I think your collar bone is broken and possibly some ribs. Help is on the way, but try not to move too much.”

Ancelyn smiled, wanly. “I can manage that much, my friend.”

Zbrigniev made as if to clap him on the shoulder, but stopped himself just in time. Ancelyn’s mind had caught up. He turned his head, wincing and asked;

“And? Is..?”

The Sergeant knew what he was being asked. He said, gently, “she is alive, but still unconscious. We must wait for the ambulance and the doctors, but I think she has also broken some ribs, and possibly one arm.”

Ancelyn closed his eyes again. He didn’t know how much time had passed, but the sound of voices called him back to full consciousness. A man in a uniform he didn’t recognise was asking him where he had pain, and to look at a torch and follow it with his eyes, and if he could stand. Ancelyn answered the questions in a daze. His right arm was put in a sling and he was helped to his feet, Yuing coming forward and tucking herself under his other arm so he could lean on her to walk to the ambulance. As he walked he saw the Brigadier being lifted onto a stretcher. One of her arms had been splinted and her eyes were closed. The stretcher was lifted and carried back through the woods to the road, followed by Ancelyn, Yuing, and Zbringniev, the rest of the squad remaining behind to make sure the area was secure. The three waited while the stretcher was lifted into the ambulance, then the Sergeant helped Ancelyn up the step and watched while the crew closed the door. Then he turned to his young colleague and putting an arm around her shoulders, led her back towards the rest of the squad.

In the days that followed, the final threads of the case were drawn together. Scotland Yard and Interpol were able to link Lord Gilchrist to the thieves and to the prison escape. When he was arrested, the plutocrat angrily protested his innocence and threatened to report the arresting officers to his many friends in high places. When, however, he was told of Morgaine’s disappearance, he crumbled. Morgaine had tempted him with a promise of a crown, to rule with her after her victory, and he had fallen completely under her spell, without any need for hypnosis. Her apparent abandonment cut him deeply and he confessed to arranging and funding the theft of the grail. He had obtained a list of the museum’s staff through his involvement in a cultural committee and had employed a private detective to investigate potential targets among them for bribery and blackmail. All the transactions had been undertaken by intermediaries, so the thieves were never aware who they had been hired by. The thieves themselves, after their ducking at the fort, were only too glad to turn on their paymasters. They described in detail how they had been approached and how the plan had been devised and carried out, together with the journey to Monmouth Prison. The inspector leading the case nodded in satisfaction as the interviews were concluded and the prisoners were taken back to the cells to await their extradition to West Germany. The grail was listed as “unaccounted for.” No fragments had been found after the explosion, so it was assumed, by UNIT at least, that Morgaine had it in her possession when she passed through the gate. The prison staff had been found near the edge of the woods, wondering bemusedly how they had got there, Morgaine’s influence over them having ended when she had left this dimension. After discussions between Scotland Yard and UNIT, it was decided that the precise nature of Morgaine and Mordreds’ disappearance should not be widely broadcast and a suitable official version was drafted which, it was hoped, would satisfy some of the curiosity of the press and public.

At the hospital, Ancelyn sat by Brigadier Bambera’s bed. Dressed in a shirt and jeans that had been brought over from HQ, he looked, and felt, bruised and tired. The room was quiet. A faint breeze through the window moved the curtains that had been drawn to keep the sun off the patient’s face. The Brigadier had regained consciousness shortly after her arrival and a scan had showed no serious damage to her brain, to the relief of the doctors and her UNIT colleagues. Her broken left arm had been put in plaster, a wound on her face stitched and her cracked ribs taped, and she had been given pain relief and a mild sedative to help her rest. Ancelyn shifted in his chair and adjusted the sling that held his arm and broken collarbone in place. The Brigadier’s eyelids fluttered. She blinked in the dim light and looked around without moving her head and her free hand gripped the bedclothes as the memory of where she was and how she had come to be there came back to her. Ancelyn stood up, wincing.

“My Lady? Winifred?”

The Brigadier turned her head, slowly and cautiously, to face him.

“Ancelyn.”

“Yes?”

Brigadier Bambera looked at Ancelyn, seeing the sling and the bruises on his face and the shadows under his eyes.

“Morgaine?”

“She is gone and Mordred with her. The gateway is destroyed, as is the sword. The Lord Gilchrist has admitted his crimes, as have the thieves.”

“Good. How long have we been here?”

“A day and a night. They say I may leave this afternoon. You, alas, must stay a while longer.”

“Right. Come and say goodbye before you go.”

“Go? Nay, I would rather stay. When I saw you fall, I thought you lost and I...”

A tiny smile crossed the Brigadier’s lips.

“Ancelyn,” she said, with the familiar note of authority in her voice.

“Ma’am?”

“Oh, just kiss me, you silly man.”

Ancelyn obeyed.

THE END