They stepped through the pods ten minutes later. Ros had made the promised phone call. She tried to decide whether or not she wanted to believe Lucas's theory. Part of her wanted to, mostly because that would render the need to liaise with Six and the CIA unnecessary. But a small voice in the back of her head kept telling her how ridiculous this was.
'Anything yet, Malcolm?' she asked.
He shook his head, his face predicting trouble for whoever had refused to give him what he wanted. 'Six says we should try within office hours.'
She glanced at her watch: a quarter past eight. For security services that was office hours. As far as she was concerned, overtime didn't start until after ten o'clock in the evening. This was obstructing them deliberately and she knew it.
'Then hack into their bloody system!' she barked. 'You can do that, right?'
Malcolm's smile lit up his entire face and she suddenly realised where Lucas had learned to do his smile. 'I shouldn't be able to,' he told her.
She smirked. 'Do it, Malcolm. I'll square it with Harry.' Not that she thought he would object much. It was most likely that he would cross the river in person to give that sodding bunch of misfits the full benefits of his rage. 'We've knocked on the front door asking nicely and they slammed it in our face, now break down the bloody thing.'
'I'm on it, Ros,' he said. 'Give me an hour.'
'Connie, anything?' she went on.
'Nothing,' the elderly woman reported. Ros could tell she was still pissed off, but she couldn't care. She knew that Connie would give it her best shot anyway, no matter what she thought of Ros.
'Then keep searching,' she said. 'Somewhere there's got to be something.' Unless Lucas is right, of course, the voice in the back of her head offered. Part of her might hope for that, no matter how irrational the idea, but another, even bigger part, hoped that he was wrong about this. She wasn't looking forward to trying to explain this to Harry. Apart from the fact that he was most likely not going to believe them, she could almost hear his rant about wasting officers' time already. Because, if anything, the sudden appearance of Arthur and Merlin was not a security risk, not as long as they could keep this a secret.
What the hell do you think you're doing, Rosalind? she asked herself a second later. Are you starting to believe Lucas's insane idea or are you going to keep your head and deal with the more realistic options on this? She knew the answer to that, of course. Ros Myers didn't deal in vague, which meant that she would stay with the last option until Lucas obtained the evidence that would leave her no choice but to go with it.
'Jo, anything from the CIA?' she called to the other end of the Grid.
Jo had been on the phone, but she ended the call immediately. 'They refused point blank to help,' she reported, an apologetic smile on her face.
Ros could hear what she didn't say. 'They refused to help because of me, you mean,' she snapped. 'You can say it, Jo. I won't drop dead on the spot because the CIA has taken a strong dislike towards me.'
She grimaced. They had every reason to hate her the way they did, but that didn't make it any less painful. She realised all too well that her presence caused some difficulty in liaising with the services she had accidentally, or not so accidentally, caused some harm. It made her wonder why Harry had wanted her back. He must know that her return to this Section would make his life and his operations a lot more difficult. Six still looked upon her with contempt for abandoning the conspiracy they had been more or less involved with and the CIA was understandably livid about the part she had played in trying to disable their satellites whilst working with Yalta. Harry had been able to calm them then, but that was when they still thought she was dead.
Jo's smile turned even more apologetic, if that was possible. 'They said that while a certain person was still in charge, they would not willingly cooperate with us, especially when we were not going to tell them what this was about.'
Ros could only just keep her teeth from grinding in frustration. 'Did you threaten them?' she asked. If she recalled correctly she had never said anything about the CIA having to be willing. She briefly considered asking Malcolm to hack into their system as well, but dismissed the idea almost immediately. The Americans tended to protect their systems better than any other service she had ever heard of and she doubted she would get away with hacking into two systems on one single night. Even Harry Pearce's tolerance didn't stretch that far.
'I didn't have the time,' Jo said. 'They hung up on me before I could get to that. They haven't answered their phones since. All the lines have gone dead.'
'Get to Harry,' Ros ordered. 'Tell him what happened and let him deal with it. I'm sure he's got one or two people there who owe him a favour.' She snorted. Harry seemed to have done a lot of things for a lot of people in the past, because he always seemed to have a favour left to call in when they needed it most.
Jo nodded and almost ran over to Harry's office. Ros sat down behind her desk, going over what little they had to see if she could make anything of it. It stubbornly refused to give her anything but small things that only supported Lucas's theory. That didn't do much to improve her mood.
'Here, boss,' Lucas's voice said from behind her.
She looked over her shoulder to see him standing behind her with two mugs of coffee. 'You know that when I said you would be serving tea for the next decade, I didn't mean it literally, right?' she said, accepting one of the mugs gratefully.
He grinned. 'Just being nice. You looked like you could use one anyway. Jo seemed to be under the impression you were going to bite her head off.'
'Bloody Yanks!' she growled. 'They like keeping grudges warm for years.'
Lucas shrugged. 'Let's hope Harry can change their minds. It isn't your fault, Ros.'
'Isn't it?' she muttered darkly, before she realised who she was talking to. 'Never mind, Lucas. Any news?'
He shook his head. 'Nothing much. Merlin's at it again,' he reported. 'Malcolm's sinking his teeth into Six's security systems and Connie is threatening her computer with dire consequences if it doesn't give her something very soon.' Just at that moment they could hear Harry's very best furious roar coming from his office. Jo must have forgotten to close the door entirely, otherwise the sound would never have come through. 'And I think Harry's just been informed about the lack of progress we've made with the Americans,' he added dryly. 'Anything on your end?' She knew he meant the team she had sent over to the village.
'Nothing yet,' she replied, checking her watch again: nine o'clock. She frowned at it. It was only a ten minutes' walk to the other end of the forest. How long could it possibly take for them to ring her back? It wasn't as if it was even possible to get lost there. 'They should have reported back by now, so if they haven't within ten minutes, I'm going to call them myself.' She shot him an apologetic look. 'I'm sorry, but it doesn't look like you're going to get your beauty sleep tonight.'
'Don't worry about it,' he said. 'I'm used to it. They used to keep me awake for days on end in Russia. I can handle one night.' There was something infinitely wrong with the casual manner in which he delivered that line, almost as if it was normal to him. She smiled sourly as she realised that it probably was.
She wasn't going to tell him that she felt sorry for him, so instead she settled for a clipped 'Good.'
He watched over her shoulder at the CCTV footage he had given her. 'Any luck with that?'
'They've made no sudden magical appearance on the CCTV cameras, if that's what you mean,' she replied dryly.
'Now that would prove my theory,' he shot back.
She was about to give him a sarcastic reply, but her phone interrupted. One look at the screen told her that it was the officer she had spoken to an hour ago. 'About bloody time,' she said, before taking the call. 'Myers.'
'Officer Myers?' a voice asked. Taken into account that she had just given her name, Ros thought that a rather stupid question.
'Yes,' she said impatiently. 'What news do you have?'
'I'm sorry it took so long,' the officer on the other end said, which wasn't a good answer in Ros's opinion. 'We didn't have a signal in the woods.'
Sometimes Ros wondered if people actually listened when she talked to them. 'I sent you there to search for something that blocks a mobile signal,' she pointed out. 'I would think that would explain the lack of signal, wouldn't you?' She caught Lucas trying to disguise his laughter as a coughing fit. It didn't convince her. 'Now, what have you found?'
'It's very strange, ma'am,' the officer said. Ros thought his name was King, but she wasn't sure. But no matter what his name was, he was irritating her to no end, almost just as much as the wannabe king in the interrogation room.
'Stop beating around the bush and tell me what you found,' she snapped. 'Leave the interpretation to the experts.'
'Charming, Ros,' Lucas commented.
She glared at him, focusing on King's report rather than Lucas's clever commentary.
'We walked for half an hour from the clearing,' he reported. 'And then we came to the end of the forest.'
'Half an hour?' Ros echoed, wondering how slow these people walked.
'Yes, but that's the strange thing, ma'am. We could see a huge castle and a town around it from the edge of the forest,' King went on quickly, fearing her sharp tongue.
Oh no. She could already see Lucas's face looking triumphant. She didn't think she could accept his theory just now, so she kept her attention strictly focused on operational level. 'Did you take photographs?' she demanded.
'Yes, ma'am,' King said.
'Then why am I not yet seeing them on my computer?' she asked, her voice dangerously low again.
'I'm on it,' he said quickly.
'You'd better,' she threatened, before ending the call without as much as a greeting, leaning back in her chair as she did so.
'They found something,' Lucas concluded.
She grimaced. 'A castle and a town around it,' she replied. It didn't matter how much she disliked this outcome, but this was what had been found and this was what they needed to deal with. 'They're sending over the photographs now.'
Just then the pictures were starting to come in. They were taken while it was dark, but they showed some high quality images of a white castle and a medieval looking town around it. Ros didn't need any comments from Lucas to know that there was no such castle anywhere near that village. And besides, that town might be a bit old-fashioned, but she seriously doubted that it would be that old-fashioned.
Lucas was visibly trying to restrain himself from saying something, which she appreciated. It might be his head that would be bitten off if he was going to say something along the lines of 'I told you so'.
'Time for another briefing,' she decided.
'Do you want us to tell Harry first?' he asked. 'He might throw a fit when we tell him what it is that we're dealing with.'
She snorted. 'When we tell him we have king Arthur and Merlin in our interrogation rooms, you mean?'
He grinned. 'We might want to have back-up for that. The cavalry maybe.'
'Ha bloody ha,' she said, getting up. Best have this dealt with as soon as possible. She made a mental note to close the door of his office entirely and shut the blinds on the window before she would drop this bomb on him. Well, at least it would save Harry the trouble of dealing with that awful people of the CIA. That should make his day.
'Do you want me to come with you?' Lucas asked.
'I can handle this, Lucas,' she said, a little harsher than she had meant.
'I know that, Ros.' Was she imagining things, or was he worried about her?
Harry's bad tempers were famous, but she had dealt with them before. Although she had to admit that she had never had to tell him something like this. She wasn't even sure yet that Lucas was completely right about this. Her common sense was still protesting against the very mention of it, but there were too many coincidences and too much evidence for Lucas's case to not do something with it, which meant that Harry had to be informed.
'He's not going to be happy,' she pointed out.
'I've had worse.' That could have been a joke had he not looked so serious.
She didn't react, mostly because she didn't know how she should. She just marched towards Harry's office, with Lucas following in her wake. Jo was still in there and Harry was still shouting about a bunch of children with the intelligence of a bloody donkey. It was a good thing there weren't any CIA officers around to hear that, Ros thought, trying to keep herself from smiling.
Ros didn't bother to knock, knowing that was the fastest way to get Harry's attention, beckoning Lucas to come in with her.
And indeed the head of Section D turned towards them instantly. 'Knock, people! Do I need to hang a sodding sign on that door?'
'It might help,' Ros remarked. 'Jo, could you please go and help Connie?' She knew it was a less than subtle way to get her out of here, but apparently today, Jo didn't mind.
'What about the Americans?' she asked.
'Leave them be,' she ordered. 'For the moment,' she added under her breath. Regardless of whether or not they would need them on this operation, they would need them in future and this was not a way to treat one's "greatest allies". The Americans needed to be told that, if they continued like this, they might find Britain a very reluctant helper in future.
Jo nodded and left.
'What did you find?' Harry demanded, his not-so-good temper made even worse by the Americans' behaviour.
Lucas and Ros exchanged a glance and then Lucas spoke up. 'King Arthur,' he replied, which was a truthful answer, although Harry did not yet understand.
'What's his name?' Harry asked, obviously thinking they had found the name for the man that claimed to be Arthur Pendragon.
Lucas bit his lip.
'Out with it!' Harry said. 'For heaven's sake, what's wrong with the two of you?'
Ros mustered her courage and answered. After all, she was the Section Chief and it had been her decision to take Lucas seriously, so if Harry was going to fly off the handle, she would be the one he was angry with.
'There's something very strange about this,' she began, noticing how much she sounded like some cheap soothsayer on a fair. 'They're not terrorists anyway.' She swallowed. 'We think that they are the real king Arthur and Merlin.'
Harry didn't shout. He didn't yell at them about how the Service didn't deal in sodding fairy tales. In fact, he just sat there, staring at them with a look on his face that begged them to be joking. For the first time since Ros knew him, Harry Pearce was struck completely speechless.
Lucas used that temporary silence to his advantage, explaining quickly why they had come to that particular conclusion, finishing with the fact that the investigating team had found a castle and a medieval town on the other side of the forest in question, for which Ros still couldn't come up with a reasonable explanation of any kind. She may hate it with a passion, but until proven otherwise, Lucas was very likely to be right.
'You think?' Harry said in a low voice that usually preceded the shouting. 'You think? We're the bloody intelligence service. We know, Ros. And now you think that we may have a king in our interrogation room who has been dead for centuries?'
It was a gamble, one Ros didn't even believe in entirely herself, but, if she was really honest, it was the best thing they had now, no matter how ridiculous. 'We don't think, we know,' she replied in a calm voice that didn't betray any doubts. 'His friend, Merlin, he's currently trying to blast the door of his cell away, using magic. They came here, or rather, we came there, through some kind of magical portal, which caused our mobiles to lose signal. No mobile networks in the Dark Ages, I'm afraid.' She produced a confident smile.
Harry spluttered, for the moment unable to formulate a full sentence. 'What?!' was what came out at long last.
'I know it sounds bloody unlikely,' Ros admitted. It is bloody unlikely, she added in her mind. 'But at the moment is doesn't look like that there are any other possibilities. It is for sure that they are no terrorists, unless terrorists started to use crossbows and sword while I was away, of course.'
'Rosalind, this is not the time for jokes,' Harry reminded her.
'I'm not joking, Harry,' she said, serious this time. 'The man claiming to be Merlin, he really is using magic.' She grimaced. 'He's already succeeded in damaging the door, just by bloody shouting at it in a language we can't understand. Lucas, could you show the footage, please?'
Lucas had been as clever as to bring the laptop in with them. He placed it on Harry's desk, turning it towards him and then hit the play button. The head of Section D blinked once, twice.
'I've seen much,' he said in the end. 'But this beats it all. You are certain, Ros?'
'One hundred per cent,' she replied, trying to come across as if she was as sure as she claimed to be. Because really, this was just bloody ridiculous, even if it was true. Time travel was something that happened in stories, not in real life.
Harry went for a second opinion. 'Lucas?'
'Certain, Harry.' His answer had an underlying tone of uncertainty to it, but Ros guessed that had more to do with Lucas's attitude towards Harry, the fear that Harry would dismiss his ideas, than the theory itself. He really needed to learn not to let himself be led by the need to earn Harry's approval. He was a senior officer for heaven's sake, not some sodding newbie.
That answer earned them both a stern frown from their boss, as if it was their fault that they had to deal with a legendary king and his faithful sidekick, who, strangely enough, happened to be as young, or maybe even younger than the king. Something wrong there, certainly. It would appear legend was even less accurate than she had already thought it to be.
'Well, then,' Harry said. 'It might be time for another briefing. But if this turns out to be a wild goose chase, you had better be sure your passports are up to date.'