Arthur was used to being in the centre of power. Camelot was one such centre after all. But this place called Whitehall gave him a very uneasy feeling. Or maybe it were just these clothes their new allies had made him wear. He was now dressed in something the woman named Connie called a suit and tie, something all important men in this time and place wore.
Connie and Malcolm had spent a good few hours of their time trying to explain to him the politics of this time, which Ros, in the short time she had been listening, had labelled a waste of everyone's time. But Arthur was a king and he had dealt with politics all his life. He wasn't an idiot either, no matter what Merlin might think. So yes, this was all new to him and he really wanted to do nothing more than return to Camelot this very instant, but he could cope. If you survived what he had survived, you didn't really complain about so small a discomfort.
If he was being really honest with himself, he even had to admit that Merlin's plan, to let these people find out who the traitor really was, was a bit of smart and quick thinking on his servant's part. If that meant that he had to talk to the "Home Secretary" in return, that wasn't such a high price to pay.
So, here he was, sitting beside Harry on a bench in a corridor of Whitehall, waiting for Ros to join them. Harry had said he wanted Arthur with him to deal with this Home Secretary by the name of Nicholas Blake, because he was supposed to be good with politicians, something Merlin must have told him. But because Mr Blake would probably be unable to cope with the fact that he was the real king Arthur (it still came across as strange to him that he was apparently a figure from a famous legend), he had been provided with what these people called a legend.
Right now, he was Aidan Parker, Senior Case Officer in Section D, recently recruited from another section. He had been given all kinds of identification cards with his new name and his face on it. Arthur still marvelled at the technologies in this time, but he learned soon enough that the best way to deal with all this new impressions was to simply go with it.
Merlin had suffered an identity change as well. When the officers of Section D had discovered that Merlin was not in the possession of a surname, they had simply created one for him. According to his identification cards, Merlin was now Matthew Eliot, a name that didn't suit the clumsy servant at all. But apparently surnames were needed here. Well, it was better than nothing, Arthur supposed.
The clicking of high heels announced the arrival of Ros Myers. Arthur hadn't known her for long, but the expression on her face was strangely familiar. She had used that exact same look on Merlin and him for the last few hours. Only now, it had increased in tenfold. She was furious.
'Bloody fanatics!' she fumed as she joined them.
'News?' Harry asked.
Ros quickly reported the chat they had with the man she had gone to meet, which was easily summarised as noise, dry run, boom. Arthur didn't really get the part about the noise, but the dry run and the boom were not that hard to understand, even if you were not from this age. Arthur had seen his fair share of boom over the last few years, enough to know that it never meant anything good. Apparently boom was even more dangerous here, in a city with millions of people.
'But a dry run is good, right?' he asked as they walked towards the office of the Home Secretary. 'We know what they are going to do before they actually do it.'
Ros shot him a disbelieving look as if she had trouble understanding that he had said something intelligent. 'Yes,' she admitted, sounding surprised.
They were silent for the remainder of the walk. Arthur used the time to take in his surroundings. In a strange way this place reminded him of Camelot. It had that same solemn atmosphere that the throne room and council chamber had. There were a lot of differences between Camelot and London, but when it came down to it, the essence was the same. People were not so different here. The only thing different was the reason why they caused mayhem.
The Home Secretary, Nicholas Blake, was somewhat of a disappointment. The man seemed nice enough, but somehow Arthur had the idea that a leader should be more impressive. He should definitely be in a better physical shape. This man didn't look like he had any recent training.
'Who's this?' Blake demanded after he had shaken hands with both Harry and Ros.
'Aidan Parker, Senior Case Officer,' Harry introduced. 'Aidan's our new Middle-Eastern expert. You'll understand that in the current situation we were in need of one.' Harry didn't even blink as he smoothly told the lies, betraying years and years of experience in that particular field.
Arthur had to work his hardest not to show his surprise at that announcement. That had not been a part of the agreed lines. Arthur hardly knew anything about the region they had referred to as the Middle East, apart from the bits and pieces the other officers had told him. When tested, it would be clear immediately that he wasn't an expert on anything related to this age, let alone the Middle East.
The Home Secretary, however, didn't even call it into question. He smiled at Arthur, extending his hand and Arthur shook it. 'Pleasure to meet you, Mr Parker.'
'Likewise,' Arthur said, not sure if he meant that.
'Please, be seated.' Blake beckoned to the chairs in front of his desk. 'Good call, Harry,' he added. 'Especially after you lost Adam Carter.'
Arthur hadn't exactly been watching Blake, so he saw the quick expression of pain on Ros's face and anger on Harry's. From what Connie had told him he had learned that Adam Carter had been the Section Chief before Ros, but that he had recently died in another explosion. That had been a great loss, because this man apparently knew everything there was to know about the region Arthur was now pretending to be omniscient about. He sincerely hoped Blake would not feel the urge to test his non-existent knowledge. He suddenly wondered why Harry had thought it a good idea to take him with him to this particular meeting.
The Home Secretary also settled in his chair again. 'Tell me, Harry, what news do you have?'
Ros knew almost immediately that she didn't belong here in this chair, in this office or even in this very building. She was made to be out in the field, not to dance this careful politician's dance. She was thrilled about finally being Section Chief, but meetings with Nicholas Blake were one of the things of the position that she could have done without. But Ros, being a spook, managed to plaster a convincing expression of mild interest on her face as Harry did Arthur's introduction. It faltered a second when Blake mentioned Adam's name so casually, but after that she kept it firmly in place.
'Tell me, Harry,' Nicholas Blake invited as he sat down again, pouring himself a cup of tea. 'What news do you have?'
Harry smiled pleasantly. 'We had a situation with our cousins the other day,' he informed the politician on the other side of the desk. 'They've been a bit uncooperative lately.'
The expression on Blake's face told Ros that he was fully briefed on the matter. The man was intelligent, one of the few things Ros actually admired in the Home Secretary, although she didn't like the fact that he was so obviously aware of all the more unpleasant details of her past, the very reason why the CIA was refusing to help them.
'Ah, yes,' Blake said thoughtfully.
'Of course we would very much like them to come to their senses without our help, but in the unfortunate situation where that might not be the case, I'd like to remind them, pleasantly of course, about the escapades of a certain man by the name of Bob Hogan,' Harry continued.
Bob Hogan. The mere mention of that man's name made bile rise in her throat again. Ros had never liked the pompous, self-centred CIA-man, even before she got involved with Yalta. But when she had learned what he had done when she was "seeing the sights" in Moscow, that strong dislike turned to downright hatred. Bob Hogan had gone freelance once he had retired from the CIA. He had always been self-serving, but earning a fortune by selling both Jo and Adam out to an organisation that tortured intelligence officers for information, only to sell that information, that was about as low as you could go. Jo still had trouble dealing with what had happened to her then. The worst thing about the whole sorry affair was probably that the Americans had spirited Hogan away before they could even begin to demand him back for interrogation. Extradition demands had been met either with silence or a nasty reminder that MI-5 had a bad apple in their midst as well, which would be Ros.
'I don't need to tell you that you'll need to tread with care, Harry,' the Home Secretary said. 'We can't afford to distance our cousins too far from us.'
That was the wrong thing to say. Harry felt just as strongly about the Americans' behaviour as Ros did, maybe even more so. His face darkened. 'We can't allow this situation to continue.' You had to know him well to hear the barely controlled anger underneath the polite tone. 'We had a potential threat to national security last night. The CIA's refusal to help could very well have caused disaster on the streets of London.' Again, you had to know him well to make sense of the clever mix of truths, lies and half-truths. But Ros agreed with her boss that they didn't need to give this politician any more information than he really needed to have. 'Of course we'll be careful not to treat them too harshly,' he added. Ros just had the feeling that he defined harshly a little different from the politician.
Nicholas Blake finally nodded. 'Very well. Do what you have to do.' He sighed and stirred his tea. 'Now, what's the threat level at the moment?'
Ros had already been asking herself how long it would take him to get to that. He had done nothing but complaining about it for the last few weeks, ever since they had raised the threat level to severe, that is. Apparently severe was bad for his image, which meant that it was bad for the outcome of the polls. Thank God she had actually nothing to do with that.
'Severe,' Harry replied curtly. They had probably gone over this before.
The Home Secretary removed the spoon from his cup. 'Could we give the glass a little tap?' he asked hopefully. 'Take it down to moderate? Or lower.'
In your dreams. And here she was thinking that they finally had a Home Secretary who actually cared about something more than his popularity.
'You want us to reduce the feel-bad factor?' Harry asked in a disbelieving voice.
Blake started what appeared to be a lecture on how a high threat level was bad for Britain's economy. She could only take so much, and this was too much. 'The Service of course isn't actually responsible for carrying government business,' she pointed out, as calm as she could manage.
That didn't go down well. 'Actually, miss Meyers, I tell you what the Service is responsible for, not the other way around.'
The door opened and a young man, probably one of Blake's assistants, came in with a paper for him to sign. His arrival made her stop long enough to bite back the sarcastic and very inappropriate reply that was just dying to come out of her mouth, something along the lines of how she had always believed that it actually was the government's business to ensure the safety of its citizens, not the safety of its own image. A quick sideward glance learned that neither Harry nor Arthur were very pleased with Blake either. The former looked daggers at the politician, while the latter was taking deep breaths to control himself. Hm, it would seem that she wasn't the only one who had to check their tongue.
Harry was the one that reacted in the end. 'And we are telling you what the threat level is,' he countered. 'Currently it's severe.'
'Thank you, Nigel,' Blake said after scribbling something down, dismissing the man. He took a deep breath, as if bracing himself for the worst. 'Okay then, Harry. Tell me all about the threat.'
Ros began to outline the problems, mentioned the fact that they had an officer undercover in an active Al-Qaeda cell and briefly summarised Nadif's background and his role in the expected attack. He interrupted her a few times, trying to get her to tell him that this wasn't anything out of the ordinary, even going as far as to demand why they had not already arrested Nadif.
'We're still gathering intelligence,' Harry explained.
Blake snorted. 'A bit twentieth century, don't you think?'
We're the bloody intelligence service, Ros thought. What else are we going to do? Apart from preventing tomorrow's Armageddon, that is. She could only just stop herself from translating that thought into the spoken word.
'Quietly close down the cell and you close down the threat,' Blake instructed. 'Close down the threat…'
'… And you might get a bounce in the polls,' Harry helpfully finished.
Now he had succeeded in angering Blake. 'Believe it or not, Harry, this isn't about polls. It's about jobs and housing and pulling through a real crisis.'
'Whereas the current crisis isn't real?' Arthur had finally lost patience.
Blake looked at the young king. 'I'm sorry?'
'Nadif Abdul Rashid is going to detonate several bombs in this city,' Arthur pointed out. 'I have always thought it was the leader's responsibility to keep his people safe from harm.'
Ros was taken aback for a few seconds. She'd rather that he had kept quiet during this meeting. But he was right, of course. And at the same time she also saw something of a real leader in him, the kind that they would need to sit behind that desk, who thought of his people first and everything else later. Maybe there was a good reason why he had ended up being a figure of legendary proportions, even if they had trouble seeing that now.
'Nadif will bring in a second cell to carry out the actual attack, but we have no idea who that team is,' she backed him up. 'We'll have to watch and wait.'
Blake was not going to give up that easily, unfortunately. 'Arrest Nadif,' he said. 'And I'll arrange a mini-weekend away break for him in Algeria.'
Ros wouldn't have been surprised if the men on either side of her had steam coming out of their ears. They both looked like their blood had reached boiling point.
'You cannot believe for a second that I will allow you to do this!' Harry hissed.
Blake was opening his mouth to reply, but Arthur cut him off. 'If Al-Qaeda have no problems changing teams, how many trouble do you think they'll have switching leaders?' he demanded. 'For all we know, there could be another man waiting to take over. We will know nothing about that man, but we do have information on Nadif.'
Ros suddenly was glad Malcolm and Connie hadn't listened to her when she had called briefing Arthur and Merlin a waste of time. Arthur may have given the first impression of a loud-mouthed idiot, but what if that was only because of his confusion at what was happening to him? Clearly he knew what he was doing now.
'If we take Nadif out, we'll have no idea of what the enemy is planning and the attack will probably happen regardless,' Arthur stated. 'If you make us arrest Nadif, the lives of the people who will most certainly die in that bombing will be on your conscience, Mr Home Secretary. The question you need to ask yourself is: can you live with that?'
It hadn't even occurred to Ros, but he could very well be right. A born king, she couldn't help but think. He might not have the calmness to discuss delicate matters without raising his voice, but he could definitely scare people into things. She suspected that in Camelot he simply threw people in the dungeon when they disagreed with him. Unfortunately that power didn't stretch to Whitehall.
Blake was struck dumb for a few seconds, staring at Arthur in pure disbelief. The king himself had somehow ended up on his feet, positively glaring at the politician. The way he stood, eyes sparking in anger, hands clenched into fists, feet slightly apart, he reminded her of Adam when he was having one of his fits. Adam could act exactly like the ancient king, although she had to admit he never did it in front of politicians.
'I think you are forgetting yourself, Mr Parker,' Nicholas Blake said through gritted teeth.
Any other would have known it was time to back off. Arthur Pendragon had no such intention. 'I think not, Mr Blake,' he said, a sudden icy tone in his voice.
Ros imagined this was the tone he used when he sentenced criminals to die at the stake. If there was a moment she had to name when she realised that he truly was the king of Camelot, that wouldn't be when he had shouted it for all Section D to hear, but now, when he addressed one of Britain's most powerful men as if he was his subordinate.
'It is your duty to protect the citizens of this kingdom to the best of your abilities,' Arthur went on, eyes still blazing with righteous fury. 'Your decisions would put them in mortal danger. If you want to lower the threat level, you'll let us do our job. And you'll let us do it our way.' Or else… The words weren't spoken, but everyone with a brain could hear them.
'Sit down, Aidan,' Harry said. 'That's enough.'
It took Arthur a few seconds to realise that Harry was talking to him and then he sent a death glare his way too. But something in Harry's eyes made him obey, although it was clear it was with some reluctance.
'He's right, Nicholas,' the head of Section D said calmly. 'We need to do our job properly. Until we have done that, the threat level remains on severe.'
Ros tried not to snort. If Marlin was right, it might even go to critical before all this was over. Now that would give this political dinosaur a proper heart attack.
Blake leaned over his desk. 'We are going to downgrade the threat level, because the general public needs some good news,' he told Harry. Harry often said he considered him a good friend, but if this was the way friends treated each other nowadays, she might need to downgrade her definition of friendship, Ros thought. And if she knew her boss at all, that was all that was ever getting downgraded here today.
'Then arrange a royal wedding,' Harry countered, earning him an annoyed 'Harry…' in reply, which he ignored. He grabbed his jacket and stood up. 'We stay on Nadif and my officer remains undercover until operational reasons dictate otherwise. Or else get Nigel out there to take care of national security. Come on, Ros, Aidan.' He literally marched out of the office.
Arthur didn't have any problems with following that particular order. The expression on his face made it all too clear that wanted to be anywhere but here. Ros, feeling the need pacify the now very explosive situation, leaned over the desk, forcing her face into what she hoped was a kind of apologetic smile. 'He always walks a little taller after a haircut,' she told him.
The Home secretary snorted, but she could tell he was amused and no longer ready to explode.
Ros got up and walked over to the door. 'Having said that, they were both right,' she added. She had the door closed behind her before he could react.