For those who are true to my methods, I am never far.
The Maryland Renaissance Festival sits on the edge of the woods, straddling the worlds of sunshine and shadow. In the sun lie the tourney grounds, where knights compete in feats of skill and kings are crowned. A short walk will take you under the shade of an old wood, where baubles and magic are for sale to dreamers, children, and fools.
The day broke hot, sunshine blazing down onto the jousting field. I tried to focus on the task at hand as the sound of crowds began to grow. The sizzle of fried fair food teased my ears with the promise of something wonderful to feast upon. But as the people wandered into the glade there on the edge of sun and shadow, I felt something else fill my belly: anticipation.
They came in trickles at first, eager seekers of magic and wonderment. Some wore costumes, others shorts and t-shirts, but everyone’s eyes sparkled, and their lips told the same tale: the king was coming soon!
Trumpets agreed with them. The fanfare pierced the bustle of the morning, and people surged to the stands that surrounded the jousting field. The king would ride in and be crowned right here in front of them!
The thirteen men on horseback arrived with solemn confidence. Arthur rode on a charger of the purest white, his head held high as his glittering armor dazzled all who gazed upon him. Just behind him rode someone who could only be Lancelot, young and powerful. Then Sir Kay, and Galahad, and Bors… Arthur and a dozen knights rode slowly down onto the jousting field, eyes fixed high onto the grandstand at the opposite end. The man who would be king reined in his horse, and his knights fanned out in a semicircle behind him.
The trumpets faded, and the crowd sank into a hush of whispers. Something white fluttered down from the stands, and Arthur reached up a hand to catch it. He waved the favor in the air, back at the woman who’d flung it. “Guinevere,” came the whispers, and my skin crawled. I did not know her as Guinevere. Beneath the frills and ruffles was someone who would rather spend a weekend naked in the back yard, painted in camouflage.
Robin. They’d gotten to Robin. She was their new Guinevere. Her eyes were glassy; her smile, plastic. The machine. Vivian had stolen it, but then they'd used it on Robin. The two women were supposed to link up after the Black Velvet Lounge. Apparently, Vivian had come packing... ready to make Camelot complete once more.
It turns out that your friend Vivian...
Robin was a Persona, and from what I understood from Moriarty, she’d still have all of Robin Hood’s abilities. She was atop the grandstand, with a great view of everything. Two seconds and she could kill anyone here. There’d been a movie out a while back in which Guinevere knew how to use a bow, so it wouldn’t even break concordance for her to put an arrow through my eye as soon as I made an appearance.
And the sick thing was, with the machine, she didn’t even have to be Guinevere for long. She wasn’t an ideal candidate: too close to Arthur’s own age to be his young paramour. It would be too easy for a more suitable candidate to arise, and New Camelot didn't take well to surprises. Robin would be yesterday's Guinevere in a week's time.
... is really my friend Vivian.
Guinevere wasn’t important today, though: Robin was just here as a bodyguard. She was such a non-character in all of Camelot’s drama - except for the part of it that had to do with Lancelot - that no one would remember tomorrow if Arthur showed up with a different blonde. A few more minutes in the machine, and Robin Cowl could just wake up with a splitting headache and no memory of the last few days.
True to form, it wasn’t Robin who everyone followed with their eyes as she slid her way down the stairs from the grandstand. Her dress was green, like a viper. She had dark hair and pale lips, moving with sensual purpose. The mistress of Avalon. She who would bestow a sword upon the king. Sometimes her name was Nimue.
Sometimes it was Vivian.
She stopped in front of an object near the end of the field, covered in a sheet. Looking slowly around the crowd, she reached out a hand, letting it hover dramatically over the shrouded monument. As her gaze swept across the the stands, silent anticipation caught even the throats of whispering children.
Her lips curled into a smile. It wasn’t a happy smile. It was… satisfied. Things were correct.
Vivian inhaled deeply, breathing in the power as she grew closer to the story of the Lady of the Lake, and flung back the sheet to reveal a massive granite block. Sticking straight out of it was a sword.
“Come forth, whoever is worthy!” she proclaimed. “Who here is righteous enough to wear the crown of Camelot?”
Purposefully, Arthur dismounted. He stood for a moment, legs spread wide, the wind tousling the dragon crest on his tunic as the universe seemed to rotate around his axis. Before proceeding toward his destiny, he turned to the people in the stands.
“Good people!” he cried. “My name is Arthur Drake. I think you’ve heard of me. For decades now, I have defended you in the shadows. Now I have come forth into the light… but with this sword, I will defend you today, and for all our tomorrows!”
The crowd roared.
“I am here as King Arthur today, but I don’t plan to hide away in a castle. Here in America, we don’t bestow titles of nobility. My name is Arthur Drake, and I am one of you.
“My name is Arthur Drake, and I am running for President!”
The stands erupted, people on their feet, howling and clapping and shouting. Arthur pumped his hands up a few times, working the crowd. He flourished “Guinevere’s” charm, and blew her a kiss. He bowed to the crowd, and then held up his hands for silence.
“Too many who have come before me have sought the office for their own ends. They were politicians. I’m a warrior. And I will serve you as the defender of the free world!” The audience roared again.
“Am I worthy?” Arthur asked them. They shouted in answer. “Am I worthy? Am I worthy?”
“Yes!” the people cried. “Yes, yes, yes!”
They were eating out of his hand. Shouts, cheers, clapping. He was soaking it up. He let it go on for a solid minute before raising his hand to the people in a salute. Then, with a definitive motion, he turned his back on them. He faced his destiny.
He began to walk toward the sword in the stone. The world rotated around his axis. The universe held its breath.
From nowhere in the empty sky, somehow there came a cloud to blot out the sun. A cool breeze swept through the stands, stirring up dust at Arthur’s feet. He looked down, and then frowned up at the sky. His eyes narrowed. Then he felt it, and they got wide.
Something was moving under the earth. The ground stirred in front of him, and Arthur checked his stride, hand moving instinctively to the sword at his hip. People leaned forward in their seats. They'd come to see a coronation, and were getting a President… what was this?
A hand clad in black mail clawed its way up from the ground. Its armored fingers sank into the earth at Arthur's feet, and he hopped quickly back, eyes flickering to Vivian.
Another hand surged forth, and a black helm followed it. Out of the soil rose a knight whose face was fully covered by a giant, ebony helmet. He was huge, strangely-proportioned, terrifying. His armor was covered in spikes and skulls. As he stood fully erect, he drew forth a black sword easily six inches wide, inlaid with the insignia of death. He pushed its tip into the earth and rested his hands on its pommel. When he spoke, his voice boomed out as if from the grave.
"None shall pass." The knight stood between Arthur and the stone.
“What the hell is this?” Arthur hissed. “Is this someone else you and that robot have brainwashed?”
From behind the hulking figure, Vivian whispered back, “Gwen sent him! This has her all over it. But this is a knight: I can’t do anything, or it’ll break concordance. Go with it or you’ll lose everything!”
The curse back on the bridge told me that Vivian knew some spells, but the Lady of the Lake couldn’t best the Black Knight for Arthur. Neither could Guinevere the archer. He had to do it himself, or else he wasn’t following the story. And now of all times, Arthur Drake had to be the most Arthurian King Arthur the there ever was. This was his coronation.
So this was Arthur’s fight.
He squinted warily at his opponent, who betrayed nothing. He nodded, accepting. This was happening, and while he expected treachery, by god, he was King Arthur. He would face this foe, just one of many, and he would emerge victorious. It was written.
Arthur raised his voice so that all could hear. “It seems that the trials begin early today! Stand aside, Black Knight. I mean to draw that sword from the stone behind you.”
The other did not move. It looked down upon Arthur and repeated, “None shall pass!”
“I have no quarrel with you, good Sir Knight. But I must reach that stone.”
The unspoken threat hung in the air. For three, four full breaths, the Black Knight did not respond. The air was electric; no one so much as whispered. Finally, the sepulchral voice boomed forth again: “Then you shall die.”
Arthur was getting frustrated. “I command you: stand aside!”
The knight did not so much as shift. “I move for no man.”
“Have it your way.” Arthur gritted his teeth, and tore his blade free from the scabbard in a lightning swing toward the knight’s head. Every bit as fast, the dark-clad warrior raised his enormous sword, holding the blade with one hand and the hilt in the other to deflect Arthur’s strike with ease. As the smaller man’s blow rebounded harmlessly, the Black Knight drove forward with a stab toward Arthur’s chest. Arthur spun out of the way like a cat falling through the air, and whipped fully around with another mighty hack. Again the Black Knight parried, and the two opponents began to circle. The Black Knight kept himself carefully between Arthur and the stone.
They pressed back and forth, evenly matched. Both were fast and deadly, and the grim look on Arthur’s face showed that he knew that his enemy’s words were no empty threat. As he sidestepped a ferocious overhead swing that should have left the larger opponent stumbling past him, Arthur caught a gauntleted backhand to the face that knocked him to the ground. He rolled instinctively away from the blow he knew would follow, regaining his feet with a warrior’s practiced ease.
Arthur redoubled his attack with a furious stream of blows that the Black Knight only barely evaded. Things had changed with that strike: first blood may have gone to the Black Knight, but no man bloodied King Arthur and lived. The fury of the Pendragon was on him. He knocked the larger man’s blade aside with a two-handed sweep that left him wide open.
With a mighty slash, Arthur took the Black Knight’s left arm off at the shoulder. The crowd gasped. The Black Knight staggered back, staring in disbelief at the stump.
Gasping for breath, Arthur leveled his sword. “Now… stand aside!”
The Black Knight straightened immediately, almost farcically fast. It was as if his surprise and pain had just been to deliver a punchline. “’Tis but a scratch!” he cried.
“What the- your arm’s off!”
The Black Knight’s deep voice had become small and whiny. “No it isn’t!”
Arthur sputtered, “Well, what’s that, then?” This was not going according to the program.
The knight looked down at the arm on the ground. He looked back up at Arthur. “I’ve had worse.”
Arthur just goggled. The two stared at each other for a minute, until someone yelled, “Liar!”
The Black Knight hefted his improbable sword one-handed. “Come on, you pansy!”
His swing was wild, uncontrolled. The exchange was brief and one-sided. Arthur took his other arm with ease.
Someone in the crowd started to laugh. Puzzled, Arthur turned his back on his disarmed opponent. The Black Knight ran around to his front, apparently in no pain whatsoever, and began kicking Arthur in his armored shins.
“Come on, then! Have at you!”
“What the-?” Arthur stumbled back, limping slightly, and leveled his sword.
“Oooh, had enough, eh?” The words came not from the Black Knight, but from the stands. There was more laughter.
Arthur was bewildered. “What the fuck is going on?” he hissed.
“Oh god… it’s Monty Python,” Vivian whispered back. “She’s… she’s changing your concordance! You’re King Arthur from the silliest movie in history! You don’t want to be King of the Britons. Whatever you do, don’t-” she began, but she was drowned out by shouts coming from the stands. Dozens of people, all at once: “Look, you stupid bastard, you’ve got no arms left!”
The Black Knight shouted back to the chorus. “Yes I have!”
Now it was the Black Knight’s turn to work the crowd. With no arms, this was something of a feat, but he gyrated his body and gestured with his head, dancing maniacally and hopping around, until he leaped down into a wide stance and bellowed along with the crowd.
“It’s just a flesh wound!”
The knight ran forward, kicking Arthur slowly in the ass. It was almost in pantomime, not anything meant to hurt, just to annoy.
“Stop that!” Arthur snapped, swatting at the offending foot.
“Chicken! Chicken!” the knight taunted.
The crowd was roaring now, but it was with laughter. Through the hubbub, a new sound clip-clopped through the air. It was coming from Arthur’s horse. With a flourish, the small man standing beneath the horse stood up, showing the whole horse to have been an elaborate costume that he tossed casually to the ground. In his hands, he held a pair of coconuts. Despite the enormous backpack he wore, Puck pranced toward Arthur and the Black Knight, banging the coconuts together in imitation of the sound of a horse’s hooves.
“You’re using coconuts!” someone in the crowd hollered, and it was all over.
Puck tossed the coconuts high into the air, and took bow after bow. The Black Knight pulled two un-severed arms out from within his spooky armor, and joined in, bowing and waving to the crowd.
“Take a bow, King of the Britons,” Puck whispered to Arthur. “They’re loving this.”
“I… I…” Arthur looked wildly around, uncertain.
“This is your chance,” Puck hissed. “You and your men abducted an eighteen-year-old girl in the name of Camelot. Took her clothes. Fucking tortured her! What happened to Might for Right? You’re not the Arthur anyone needs. Let this happen, and you can still be the silly old Arthur that they’ll love.”
“Arthur?” Vivian asked, desperation in her voice. “Arthur, you can’t… there’s no Lady in that story! We can’t let… do something!”
Arthur was struggling. His eyes swept the stands for an answer, because for once he didn’t have one. The aura of authority that always poured off of him had vanished. He couldn’t have been more confused if someone had asked him about the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.
“Take a bow, Arthur,” Puck prodded.
A strange noise vibrated through the air, tantalizingly out of reach. It was almost a taste, more than a sound. Most people couldn’t make anything more of it than that.
But I knew what it was. Watson was here. And Daddy Dearest was broadcasting subsonics that could straighten Arthur out… and bring the crowd right with him.
Arthur straightened. He picked his sword back up, and leveled its tip at the Black Knight. Puck and the knight froze.
“I bow… to no man,” he growled. He looked strong again. Fierce. Regal.
I tore the Black Knight’s oversize helmet off of my head, taking the padded shoulders that Puck had rigged up alongside it. The costume had been ridiculous, letting me see almost nothing, and was near-impossible to move in. If Arthur’s narrative hadn’t demanded that the fight with the Black Knight be dramatic, there’s no way I’d have been able to hold my own under all that weight.
But we obeyed the laws of narrative causality because that’s who we were, and I’d done my part until now. Shedding the dark breastplate and greaves I’d worn, I peeled myself out of Arthur’s chivalric myth. My arms were bare and almost pink, like a newborn’s. I stood in a sports bra and yoga pants, facing down a crown with an empty scabbard and the steel of my wits. Inside me, I could hear the rumbling of horse’s hooves across the planes of the Riddermark.
It was time to tell my story.
“I am no man,” I answered. I took a deep breath, and a woman who had stared down a ghost king steeled me with her courage. She didn’t ride in my skin like others had before her. She stood with me. And together, we charged him.
The sword slid through my belly with an impact that felt strangely like a punch to the gut. It scraped along my spine as it tore out my back, dripping blood and gore across the earth. My knees threatened to buckle, but I forced myself forward, pushing myself along its length, feeling it tear my intestines with every step. I drew myself in close to him, hands on the blade as I tugged it into myself. My blood washed over us both as I came in close to him, teeth bared. I wrapped a bloody hand around the back of his head, and with every word, red-flecked spittle sprayed over his handsome beard.
“How does it feel… to murder children… face to face?”
He let go of the sword in shock. “Gwen… oh god… I didn’t mean… I never…”
He staggered back. He shook his head as if to clear it, or to deny the work of his own hands. I waited for him to come back to himself, and then pulled his sword slowly out of my body.
It hurt. God, did it hurt. It hurt worse than when he’d taken my arms off. The warrior maiden inside me leant me her strength, and it was all that both of us could do to get the last few inches out. But the wound closed up immediately after the tip of the blade came free.
The blood remained, though.
“My scabbard,” he whispered. “You’ve got Excalibur’s scabbard, that protects you from blades.”
“You should be more careful around lakes,” I answered, leveling his own sword at him with the sure hand of a woman who’d trained with it from birth. “And you should yield.”
There was still enough of King Arthur left that he bristled at the command. His eyes flickered left. We’d wound up almost where we’d started this little dance, but our positions were reversed: he was now between me and the sword in the stone. He flung himself at it, tearing furiously at the hilt to pull the blade from the rock.
“No!” Vivian cried. Too late, she’d seen my plan. All the pieces were falling into place: marginalize Arthur by jarring him out of concordance with the traditional story and aligning him with a farce. Weakened, confused, he’d try to re-establish concordance with perhaps the most iconic moment of King Arthur’s existence: the drawing of the sword from the stone.
It didn’t budge. We’d rigged it, of course.
If Arthur Drake had been worthy, it might not have mattered. Narrative causality and all that: if he’d been the King Arthur that he was supposed to be, noble and righteous and the savior of mankind, I doubted that the magic of the Personae would have allowed our feeble restraints to hold. But worthy he was not, and the sword held fast.
Arthur roared in surprise and fury. He pulled and strained and struggled, but the blade moved not an inch. Watching, Vivian sagged to her knees.
“Oh, Gwen, you don’t understand…” she murmured. “He’s going to kill you.”
“Nobody dies today,” I answered, “except a story whose time was up centuries ago.”
I raised my voice. “Stand down, Arthur. You’re not worthy. King Arthur isn’t worthy. Your paternalistic, ‘divinely-mandated ruler knows best’ time is done. We don’t need a dictator anymore. We can do better.”
Arthur stopped struggling with the sword, but he didn’t turn back to me. “Do you people know who King Arthur is, today?” I called to the stands. “His skin looks like mine. He lives someplace sandy and dry. He wears sunglasses and a military uniform, or maybe flowing robes and a head scarf. He’s uniting the tribes at the point of the sword, bringing Islam - divinely mandated rule - along with him. He outlaws other religions, because that’s what you do when you think God is speaking to you. America probably sells him weapons. Think about the Arthur story!
“Have any of you ever cheated on a boyfriend or girlfriend?” I shouted to the crowd. I waited for a long moment while some of them squirmed, then jerked a thumb over my shoulder at Arthur. “You’d better be glad you weren’t dating this guy! You know what he does when he finds out his wife is cheating? He tries to murder her by charging her with treason, as if her vagina had betrayed the whole country! And then starts a war with the people loyal to his best friend! If his name were Mahmud and he was in charge of an African country, we’d be calling for UN sanctions!”
I waited. People were looking around uncomfortably.
“He’s not even worthy in his own story!” I tried again. “God tells him to go get the Grail, but he’s not up for the task, so he sends his thugs. When the biggest religious nutjob among them does find it, that guy decides that Arthur and his whole country aren’t worthy of the Grail, either! As soon as he gets it out of Britain, God proves that He agrees and whisks the thing up to Heaven! His people don’t trust him. The deity he kills for says he’s not worthy! Arthur tried, and maybe ‘Might for Right’ was better than ‘Might Makes Right’, but it’s still a failure! He’s still a failure!”
I cast my finger out at him, still turned away from me. He was leaning on the embedded sword now, and he looked tired. It was working. He was weakening. Here, at the pivotal moment in Arthur Drake’s story, the people were losing faith in King Arthur’s.
I couldn’t do it by myself, though. I needed someone else. Come on… come on…
A small voice answered me back from the stands. A young woman - a girl, really, probably a few years younger than me, blonde, pretty - called back, “And he doesn’t even get the girl in the end, right? He’s kind of like… the nice guy that she’s got to be with before she figures out who she really loves. That guy never wins in the end.”
“Yes!” I cried. “Exactly! He’s not even the hero in his own story!”
I locked eyes with the girl for a moment. She had perfect skin and hair and might have been a cheerleader. I had dark skin and thick hair and before yesterday had never kissed a boy. But somehow, in that moment, we were sisters.
The crowd was buzzing with modern indignity at a medieval story. I shoved the bloody tip of the sword I held down into the dirt, and laid a hand on Arthur’s shoulder.
“Come on, Arthur,” I said, speaking softly, just for us to hear. “You and I both know what happens when someone gets absolute power. You started this with the best of intentions. You wanted to save the world. You wound up waterboarding your friend’s daughter. Because that’s who Arthur Pendragon is. That’s not who Arthur Drake has to be. That’s not who you want for these people. That’s not who you want for this world.”
“It all… it all got so complicated,” he whispered. “I had to do things… he said I had to do things…”
Arthur’s voice cracked. “He said I had to kill my son.”
He didn’t slump: he crumpled.
I looked around. People were shaking their heads, as if awakening from a dream. They were talking animatedly, pointing out at us. Whatever subsonic juju Watson was pumping in was lost in the hubbub.
“This isn’t over,” a voice rang across the field, and I raised my eyes to see the new Lancelot getting down from his horse. The other knights did likewise. Lancelot stalked towards me, and his fellows began to close in behind him. He was bigger than Lance Haran had been, and the glint in his eye said it clearly: “does not play well with others.” He stopped a few paces away from me - dueling distance - and drew his sword.
“You haven’t won. We can bring King Arthur back. The Lady and her computer demon can restore him, cleanse him of the poison of your words. Pick up your sword, girl,” he instructed. Girl. Like it was a curse. Like it made me less than him. Like it was so obvious that you wouldn’t even question it.
"Put yours down, boy,” I retorted. "You should have seen what I did to the last idiot who thought he was an unbeatable knight."
He didn't back down. "I'm faster. Stronger. I'm a truer Lancelot than he ever was."
“Oh, what an honor,” I said dryly. My eyes flicked over to Bors, Lance Haran’s former lover, who suddenly looked uncomfortable amongst his peers. I jerked my head up to the grandstands behind me, where Robin still seemed held in the thrall of Guinevere. “You going to go and be true to your namesake and honor your king by poking his wife and stabbing him in the heart through the back?" I asked.
He gritted his teeth. "I'll defend Camelot until I die."
"Why?" I shouted, throwing up my hands. "What's worth defending? Sure, it's built on some noble ideas: using might to defend the right was pretty revolutionary for a thousand years ago. But oh, wait, this is the twenty-first century! Chivalry? How about women's rights? Might for right? How about rule of law? Feudalism? How about democracy? You're so wrapped up in the shiny bits that you don't see the darkness, the oppression! Religious persecution much? Arthur brought the Cross to England on the point of a sword. He sent every child born in the kingdom on the first of May out to sea in a boat in a storm, so that they'd sink and he'd be extra certain to murder his own son! And was he vilified for it? Was he prosecuted for being a murderer? No! Whereas you and his wife dare fool around on him, and you're put on trial for treason!"
"And let me tell you about his wife!" I shouted. I was heated, but I'd had enough. "I should know, because I had to wear her skin. She's a simpering twit! She’s courted by a man over twice her age, one who uses his authority and charm to set her heart aflutter just long enough to trap her in a loveless marriage. She claims she loves him, then betrays him when the new hotness rolls into town. That's her story! That's it! Oh, and after Arthur deals with Lancelot, she starts shacking up with Mordred while dear hubby is off making more war! Nobody ever remembers that part.
“Does Guinevere want anything? Does she have her own ideas? Does she say anything but yes to every man who tries to put his hand up her skirt? No one knows! We've got nothing to learn from her, we've got nothing to learn from you, and we've got nothing to learn from Camelot!”
I took a deep breath, pulled the magic scabbard off my belt, and let it drop into the dirt. "So let me teach you something, Lancelot. No magic charms to protect me, because I don’t need them. I’m just going to walk away now. I’m not going to fight you. Fighting you is beneath me, because I'm civilized. I can stop you with my mind; I don't need a magic scabbard. I can destroy you with words; I don't need the sword. Go back to school and come at me again when you've got a philosophy more sophisticated than 'make sure your woman only fucks when you tell her to', by which I mean chivalry in case you’re as smart as you look. Maybe I'll buy you a beer and we can talk things out like people who can aspire to greater heights than 'most prolific murderer wearing a tin suit'."
Inside me, Eowyn cheered. Wendy clapped her hands together. Even Cleopatra gave me a sultry nod of approval.
I turned my back and started to stalk off the field. There was a wet noise from behind me, and I felt a gob of spit catch me flat in the back of the head.
"You will fight me, bitch," he said. "And I'll show you what you can learn from Camelot. You can learn to die."
A voice, inside me: I crave your pardon, Shieldmaiden of the Riddermark.
I believe that I may be of some small assistance in this matter.
But sir... she lost you. It is against the rules.
My lady, this young woman has been ever faithful to my methods. She has excelled at every art of detection and overcome every challenge with more grace and poise than a thousand of me. I owe her a debt. It is time that I kept faithful to her.
Fuck the rules.
I could feel Eowyn shrug. Her body. Her rules.
There was a moment's silence in my head. I heard Lancelot coming for me.
Gwen. I am so sorry for all of this. Will you let me help you?
Holmes. It was Holmes. I could feel him waiting to slide into my skin, flex his fingers beneath my own. I straightened.
"No, Mr. Holmes," I whispered. "I'm done with men telling me what to do. But I'm glad you're here. Let me show you how well I learned from you."
I knew him. He was planning everything out, seeing all the angles, calculating every possibility. But now, he knew me. I felt him smile. Elementary, my dear Gwen. I have every faith in you.
I wiped the spit from the back of my head. What Would Sherlock Do?
That wasn't really the question anymore, was it? Lancelot had been trying to get under my skin: I mustn't let it register on an emotional level.
First, distract him. A quick step to the side will put the sun right in his eyes, dazzling his vision for a moment. Then, block his blind stab with an arm sweep along the flat of the blade, and counter with a cross to his left cheek. Two-handed slam to his ears: discombobulate. Dazed, he will attempt a wild haymaker now that I am inside his sword arm. Employ an elbow block and knee to the ribcage. Block his feral lunge, then weaken his right jaw with a roundhouse punch. Uppercut: fracture jaw. Spinning kick to break cracked ribs, followed by reverse punch to traumatize solar plexus. Elbow smash dislocates jaw entirely. Heel kick to diaphragm sends him to the ground.
In summary: ears ringing; jaw fractured; three ribs cracked, four broken; diaphragm hemorrhaging. Physical recovery: six weeks. Full psychological recovery: six months.
Capacity to be a chauvinistic douchebag: neutralized. For now. Send him a card in the hospital to show that it's nice to be nice.
I’d said that I wouldn’t fight him. I kept my promise. Fights take longer than six seconds.
The stands were completely silent as Lancelot landed in a limp pile on the ground. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw a tall man take off a deerstalker cap and bow slightly. Then he vanished, as if he'd never been there in the first place.
Where the man had been, Doyle was trying to get my attention. He pointed to the grandstands, then gave a thumbs-up. Oooh. He’d sent me a care package.
With Lancelot gasping in the dirt, I turned to the rest of the knights. "I'm going to spare you a lot of pain. While you were just watching this delicate flower take out the strongest one of you without breaking a nail or a sweat, while you were all focused on me being the big action hero, my associates were uploading pictures of you torturing me to the internet. I’ve learned few hard lessons about misdirection, and now it’s your turn. Turns out, having a shapeshifter on my team is pretty damn handy: the pictures show Arthur clearly, along with a few of the rest of you. You can claim they're fake, which they are, except that it all really happened and there will be camera crews at the amusement park in under an hour.
“It happened today, it's happened before, and even if the pictures turn out to be fake everyone will believe it because it's a story they already know. Your whole little power trip is about to be under the microscope, and some of you are going to jail.”
"Arthur's broken," I continued, "and Lancelot is, too. Maybe some of you were thinking that you could overwhelm me with numbers, and hey, maybe you're right. But I don't need to kick the shit out of you to prove a point. You make a move, and she’s going to have something to say about it. Who wants to be the first?”
I jerked my head up to the grandstand. Robin stood there, tall and strong. Doyle had deprogrammed her.
She had a green scarf wrapped around her neck, and she had two things in her hands. The first, which everyone saw, was the longbow, with arrow knocked and aimed at the knights. It was rock steady in her grip.
She called out, “Take a step, boys, and we're gonna have words! They'll start with 'ow, ow, fuck, arrows in the dick really hurt.’”
The other thing she had in her hands, I don't think most people saw. Drawn back by her ear, where she held back the feathered tip of an arrow, she had a pair of round hipster glasses clutched tight in her hand. Just like the ones that Marion had worn. From the bottom of the grandstand, Doyle nodded, and gave me a little wink.
I wondered how much it had cost him to get them here in the last five minutes. I shook my head. Sometimes magic was like that.
I looked back to the knights. “It’s not about me. It’s never been about me. You all think that way because you expect man-on-man violence to be the culmination of the action. You think that’s how you achieve victory, but we haven’t had to do it that way for centuries. I beat you before you even stepped foot on the tourney grounds, because I don’t care about violence: I care about winning. And these days we’ve got better ways than yours. Your story is over. Stand down.”
I waited. One second, two seconds, five. No one moved.
“One thing we aren’t these days is patient. Stand. The Fuck. Down!” I shouted.
They broke and ran. Behind me, Puck shouted after them in a mock British accent, “Would it help to confuse her if we run away more?”
I turned around. Vivian was close behind me, an urgent look in her eye.
“Gwen, we’ve got to get out of here. He’s coming. He’s going to be here any minute and he is going to kill you.”
Doyle was suddenly by my side. His eyes were focused elsewhere, but his voice was grim and very present.
“We’ve got incoming, Gwen. Drones. Full ordinance load.” He swallowed. “Not just mine: there are defense contractors galore in northern Virginia. They’re the ones who make the drones in the first place. He’s… he’s sending all of them.”
[EDIT: This chapter originally continued at this point, but I decided to break it into two chapters. The remainder of what had followed is now found in Chapter 20.]