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Title: A Knyght Ther Was
Author: Young, Robert F., 1915-1986
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                         Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction July 1963.
    Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed.


                          A Knyght Ther Was


     _But the Knyght was a little less than Perfect, and his
      horse did not have a metabolism, and his "castle" was much
      more mobile--timewise!--than it had any business being!_


                          by Robert F. Young


                     _Illustrated by Leo Summers_


    _A Knyght ther was, and that a worthy man,
     That fro the tyme that he first bigan
     To ryden out, he loved chivalrye,
     Trouthe and honour, fredom and curteisye_

                                --THE CANTERBURY TALES

       *       *       *       *       *



I

Mallory, who among other things was a time-thief, re-materialized the
time-space boat _Yore_ in the eastern section of a secluded valley in
ancient Britain and typed CASTLE, EARLY SIXTH-CENTURY on the
lumillusion panel. Then he stepped over to the control-room telewindow
and studied the three-dimensional screen. The hour was 8:00 p.m.; the
season, summer; the Year 542 A.D.

Darkness was on hand, but there was a full moon rising and he could
see trees not far away--oaks and beeches, mostly. Roving the eye of
the camera, he saw more trees of the same species. The "castle of
Yore" was safely ensconced in a forest. Satisfied, he turned away.

If his calculations were correct, the castle of Carbonek stood in the
next valley to the south, and on a silver table in a chamber of the
castle stood the object of his quest.

_If_ his calculations were correct.

Mallory was not one to keep himself in suspense. Stepping into the
supply room, he stripped down to his undergarments and proceeded to
get into the custom-built suit of armor which he had purchased
expressly for the operation. Fortunately, while duplication of early
sixth-century design had been mandatory, there had been no need to
duplicate early sixth-century materials, and sollerets, spurs,
greaves, cuisses, breastplate, pauldrons, gorget, arm-coverings,
gauntlets, helmet, and chain-mail vest had all been fashioned of
light-weight alloys that lent ten times as much protection at ten
times less poundage. The helmet was his particular pride and joy: in
keeping with the period-piece after which it had been patterned, it
looked like an upside-down metal wastepaper basket, but the one-way
transparency of the special alloy that had gone into its construction
gave him unrestricted vision, while two inbuilt audio-amplifiers
performed a corresponding service for his hearing.

The outer surface of each piece had been burnished to a high degree,
and he found himself a dazzling sight indeed when he looked into the
supply-room mirror. This effect was enhanced no end when he buckled on
his chrome-plated scabbard and red-hilted sword and hung his
snow-white shield around his neck. His polished spear, when he stood
it beside him, was almost anticlimactic. It shouldn't have been. It
was a good three and one-half inches in diameter at the base, and it
was as tall as a young flagpole.

As he stood there looking at his reflection, the red cross in the
center of the shield took on the hue of freshly-shed blood. The
period-piece expert who had designed the shield had insisted on the
illusion, saying that it made for greater authenticity, and Mallory
hadn't argued with him. He was glad now that he hadn't. Raising the
visor of his helmet, he winked at himself and said, "I hereby christen
ye 'Sir Galahad'."

Next, he bethought himself of his steed. Armor clanking, he left the
supply room and walked down the short passage to the rec-hall. The
rec-hall occupied the entire forward section of the TSB and had been
designed solely for the benefit of the time-tourists whom Mallory
regularly conducted on past-tours as a cover-up for the illegal
activities which he pursued in between trips. In the present instance,
however, the hall went quite well with the _Yore's_ lumillusioned
exterior, possessing, with its gallery-like mezzanine, its long snack
table, and its imitation flagstone flooring, an early sixth-century
aspect of its own--an aspect marred only slightly by the
"anachronistic" telewindows inset at regular intervals along the
walls.

Mallory's steed stood in a stall-like enclosure that was formed by the
tourist-bar and one of the walls, and it was a splendid "beast"
indeed--as splendid a one as the twenty-second century robotics
industry was capable of creating. Originally, Mallory had planned on
bringing a real horse with him, but as this would have necessitated
his having to learn how to ride, he had decided against it. The
decision had been a wise one: "Easy Money" looked more like a horse
than most real horses did, could travel twice as fast, and was as easy
to ride and to maneuver as a golp jetney. It was light-brown in color
with a white diamond on its forehead, it was equipped with a secret
croup-compartment and an inbuilt saddle, and its fetlock-length
trappings were made of genuine synthisilk threaded with gold. It wore
no armor--it did not need to: weapons manufactured during the Age of
Chivalry could no more penetrate its "hide" than a tooth pick could.

_Come on, Easy Money_, Mallory encephalopathed. _You and I have a
little job to do._

The rohorse emitted several realistic whinnies, backed out of its
"stall", trotted smartly over to his side, and nuzzled his right
pauldron. Mallory mounted--not gracefully, it is true, but at least
without the aid of the winch he would have needed if his armor had
been manufactured in the sixth century--and inserted the red pommel of
his spear in the stirrup socket. Then, activating the _Yore's_ lock,
he rode across the imaginary drawbridge that spanned the mirage-moat,
and set forth into the forest. As the "portcullis" closed behind him,
symbolically bringing phase one of Operation Sangraal to a close, he
thought of Jason Perfidion.

       *       *       *       *       *

Standing in front of the floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall fireplace in
the big balconied room, Perfidion said, "Mallory, you're wasting your
time. Worse, you're wasting mine."

The room climaxed a vertical series of slightly less sumptuous
chambers known collectively as the Perfidion Tower, and the Perfidion
Tower stood with a score of balconied brothers on a blacktop island in
the exact center of Kansas' largest golp course. A short distance from
the fraternal gathering stood yet another tower--the false tower into
which Mallory had lumillusioned his TSB upon his arrival. On the Golp
Terrace, as the blacktop island was called, everyone and everything
conformed--or else.

The room itself was known to time-thieves as "Perfidion's Lair". And yet
there was nothing about Jason Perfidion--nothing physical, that is--that
suggested the predator. He was Mallory's age--thirty-three--tall, dark of
hair, and strikingly handsome. He looked like--and was--a highly
successful businessman with a triplex on Get-Rich-Quick Street, and he
gave the impression that he was as honest as the day was long. Just the
same, the predator was there, and if you were alert enough you could
sometimes glimpse it peering out through the smoky windowpanes of his
eyes.

It wasn't peering out now, though. It was sleeping. However, it was
due to wake up any second. "Then you're not interested in fencing the
Holy Grail?" Mallory asked.

Annoyance intensified the slight swarthiness of Perfidion's cheeks.
"Mallory, you know as well as I do that the Grail never really
existed, that it was nothing more than the mead-inspired daydream of a
bunch of quixotic knights. So go and get your hair cut and forget
about it."

"But suppose it _did_ exist," Mallory insisted. "Suppose, tomorrow
afternoon at this time, I were to come in here and set it down on this
desk here? How much could you get for it?"

Perfidion laughed. "How much _couldn't_ I get for it! Why, without
even stopping to think I can name you a dozen collectors who'd give
their right arm for it."

"I'm not interested in right arms," Mallory said. "I'm interested in
dollars. How many Kennedees could you get for it?"

"A megamillion--maybe more. More than enough, certainly, to permit you
to retire from time-lifting and to take up residence on Get-Rich-Quick
Street. But it doesn't exist, and it never did, so get out of here,
Mallory, and stop squandering my valuable time."

Mallory withdrew a small stereophoto from his breast pocket and
tossed it on the desk. "Have a look at that first--then I'll go," he
said.

Perfidion picked up the photo. "An ordinary enough yellow bowl," he
began, and stopped. Suddenly he gasped, and jabbed one of the many
buttons that patterned his desktop. Seconds later, a svelte blonde
whom Mallory had never seen before stepped out of the lift tube. Like
most general-purpose secretaries, she wore a maximum of makeup and a
minimum of clothing, and moved in an aura of efficiency and sex. "Get
me my photo-projector, Miss Tyler," Perfidion said.

When she returned with it, he set it on his desk and inserted the
stereophoto. Instantly, a huge cube materialized in the center of the
room. Inside the cube there was a realistic image of a resplendent
silver table, and upon the image of the table stood an equally
realistic image of a resplendent golden bowl. Perfidion gasped again.

"Unusual workmanship, wouldn't you say?" Mallory said.

Perfidion turned toward the blonde. "You may go, Miss Tyler."

She was staring at the contents of the cube and apparently did not
hear him. "I said," he repeated, "that you may go, Miss Tyler."

"Oh. Yes ... yes sir."

       *       *       *       *       *

When the lift-tube door closed behind her, Perfidion turned to
Mallory. For a fraction of a second the predator was visible behind
the smoky windowpanes of his eyes; then, quickly, it ducked out of
sight. "Where was this taken, Tom?"

"It's a distance-shot," Mallory said. "I took it through one of the
windows of the church Joseph of Arimathea built in Glastonbury."

"But how did you know--"

"That it was there? Because it _had_ to be there. Some time ago, while
escorting a group of tourists around ancient Britain, I happened to
witness Joseph of Arimathea's landing--and happened to catch a glimpse
of what he brought with him. I used to think that the Grail was a pipe
dream, too, but when I saw it with my own eyes, I knew that it
couldn't have been. However, I knew I'd need evidence to convince you,
so I jumped back to a later place-time and got a shot of it."

"But why a shot, Tom? Why didn't you lift it then and there?"

"You concede that it is the Grail then?"

"Of course it's the Grail--there's not the slightest question about
it. Why didn't you lift it?"

"Well, for one thing, I wanted to make sure that lifting it would be
worth my while, and for another, Glastonbury wasn't the logical
place-time from which to lift it, because, assuming that the rest of
the legend is also true, it was seen after that place-time. No
time-thief ever bucked destiny yet and came out the winner, Jason; I
play my percentages."

"I know you do, Tom. You're one of the best time-lift men in the
business, and the Past Police would be the first to admit it.... I
daresay you've already pinpointed the key place-time?"

Mallory grinned, showing his white teeth. "I certainly have, but if
you think I'm going to divulge it, you're sadly mistaken, Jason. And
stop looking at my hair--it won't tell you anything beyond the fact
that I've been using Hair-haste. Shoulder-length hair was the rage in
more eras than one."

Perfidion smiled warmly, and clapped Mallory on the back. "I'm not
trying to ferret out your secret, Tom. I know better than that.
Lifting is your line, fencing mine. You bring me the Grail, I'll sell
it, take my cut, and everything will be fine. You know me, Tom."

"I sure do," Mallory said, taking the stereophoto out of the projector
and returning it to his breast pocket.

Perfidion snapped his fingers. "A happy thought just occurred to me!
I've got a golp date with Rowley of Puriproducts, so why don't you
join us, Tom? You play a pretty good game, as I recall."

Mollified, Mallory said, "I'll have to borrow a set of your
jetsticks."

"I'll get them for you on the way down. Come on, Tom."

Mallory accompanied him across the room. "Keep mum about this to
Rowley now," Perfidion said confidentially. "He's a potential
customer, but we don't want to let the cat out of the bag yet, do we?
Or should I say 'the Grail'." He took time out to grin at his little
joke, then, "By the way, Tom, I take it you're all set as regards
costume, equipment and the like."

"I've got the sweetest little suit of armor you ever laid eyes on,"
Mallory said.

"Fine--no need for me to offer any advice in that respect then."
Perfidion opened the lift door. "After you, Tom."

They plummeted down the tube together.

       *       *       *       *       *

It had been a good game of golp--from Mallory's standpoint, anyway. He
had trounced Rowley roundly, and he would have inflicted similar
ignominy upon Perfidion had not the latter been called away in the
middle of the game and been unable to return till it was nearly over.
Oh well, Mallory thought, encephalo-guiding his rohorse through the
ancient forest, there'll be other chances. Aloud, he said, "Step
lively now, Easy Money, and let's get this caper over with so we can
return to civilization and start feeling what it's like to be rich."

In response to the encephalo-waves that had accompanied his words,
Easy Money increased its pace, the infra-red rays of its eye units
illumining its way. In places, light from the rising moon seeped
through the foliage, but otherwise darkness was the rule. The air was
cool and damp--the sea was not far distant--and the sound of frogs and
insects was omnipresent and now and then there was the rustling sound
of some small and fleeing forest creature.

Presently the ground began to rise, and not long afterward the trees
thinned out temporarily and rohorse and rider emerged on the moonlit
crest of the ridge that separated the two valleys. In the distance
Mallory made out the moon-gilt towers and turrets of a large castle,
and knew it to be Carbonek beyond a doubt. He sighed with relief. He
was all set now--provided his masquerade went over. Conversely, if it
didn't go over he was finished: his sword and his spear were his only
weapons, and his shield and his armor, his only protection. True, each
article was superior in quality and durability to its corresponding
article in the Age of Chivalry, but otherwise none of them was
anything more than what it seemed. Mallory might be a time-thief; but
within the framework of his profession he believed in playing fair.

In response to his encephalopathed directions, Easy Money picked its
way down the slope of the ridge and re-entered the forest. Not long
afterward it stepped onto what was euphemistically referred to in that
day and age as a "highway" but which in reality was little more than a
wide, hoof-trampled lane. As Mallory's entire plan of action was based
on boldness, he spurned the shadows of the bordering oaks and beeches
and encephalopathed the rohorse to keep to the center of the lane. He
met no one, however, despite the earliness of the hour, nor had he
really expected to. It was highly improbable that any freemen would be
abroad after dark, and as for the knight-errants who happened to be in
the neighborhood, it was highly improbable that any of them would be
abroad after dark either.

He grinned. To read _Le Morte d'Arthur,_ you'd think that the chivalry
boys had been in business twenty-four hours a day, slaying ogres,
rescuing fair damosels, and searching for the Sangraal; but not if you
read between the lines. Mallory had read "Arthur" only cursorily, but
he had had a hunch all along that in the majority of cases the quest
for the Sangraal had served as an out, and that the knights of the
Table Round had spent more time wenching and wassailing than they had
conducting their so-called dedicated search, and the hunch had played
an important role in the shaping of his strategy.

The highway turned this way and that, never pursuing a straight course
unless such a logical procedure was unavoidable. Once, he thought he
heard hoofbeats up ahead, but he met no one, and not long afterward he
saw the pale pile of Carbonek looming above the trees to his left, and
encephalo-guided Easy Money into the lane that led to the entrance.
There was no moat, but the portcullis was an imposing one. Flanking it
on either side was a huge stone lion, and framing it were flaming
torches in regularly-spaced niches. Warders in hauberk and helmet
looked down from the lofty wall, their halberds gleaming in the
dancing torchlight. Mallory swallowed: the moment of truth had
arrived.

He halted Easy Money and canted his white shield so that the red
cross in its center would be visible from above. Then he marshalled
his smattering of Old English. "I hight Sir Galahad of the Table
Round," he called out in as bold a voice as he could muster. "I would
rest my eyes upon the Sangraal."

       *       *       *       *       *

Instantly, confusion reigned upon the wall as the warders vied with
one another for the privilege of operating the cumbersome windlass
that raised and lowered the portcullis, and presently, to the
accompaniment of a chorus of creaks and groans and scrapings, the
ponderous iron grating began to rise. Mallory forced himself to wait
until it had risen to a height befitting a knight of Sir Galahad's
caliber, then he rode through the gateway and into the courtyard,
congratulating himself on the effectiveness of his impersonation.

"Ye will come unto the chamber of the Sangraal sixty paces down the
corridor to thy left eftsoon ye enter the chief fortress, sir knight,"
one of the warders called down. "An ye had arrived a little while
afore, ye had encountered Sir Launcelot du Lake, the which did come
unto the fortress and enter in, wherefrom he came out anon and
departed."

Mallory would have wiped his forehead if his forehead had been
accessible and if his hands had not been encased in metal gloves.
Fooling the warders was one thing, but passing himself off as Sir
Galahad to the man who was Sir Galahad's father would have been quite
another. He had learned from the pages of his near-namesake's "Arthur"
that Sir Launcelot had visited Carbonek before Sir Galahad had, but
the pages had not revealed whether the time-lapse had involved
minutes, hours, or years, and for that matter, Mallory wasn't
altogether certain whether the second visit they described had been
the real Sir Galahad's, which meant failure, or a romanticized version
of his own, which meant success. His near-namesake was murky at best,
and reading him you were never sure where anybody was, or when any
given event was taking place.

The courtyard was empty, and after crossing it, Mallory dismounted,
encephalopathed Easy Money to stay put, and climbed the series of
stone steps that led to the castle proper. Entering the building
unchallenged, he found himself at the junction of three corridors. The
main one stretched straight ahead and debouched into a large hall. The
other two led off at right angles, one to the left and one to the
right. Boisterous laughter emanated from the hall, and he could see
knights and other nobles sitting at a long banquet table. Scattered
among them were gentlewomen in rich silks, and hovering behind them
were servants bearing large demijohns. He grinned. Just as he had
figured--King Pelles was throwing a whingding.

Quickly, Mallory turned down the left-hand corridor and started along
it, counting his footsteps. Rushes rustled beneath his feet, and the
flickering light of wall-torches gave him a series of grotesque
shadows. He saw no one: all the servants were in the banquet hall,
pouring wine and mead. He laughed aloud.

Forty-eight paces sufficed to see him to the chamber door. It was a
perfectly ordinary door. Opening it, he thought at first that the room
beyond was ordinary, too. Then he saw the burning candles arranged
along the walls, and beneath them, standing in the center of the
floor, the table of silver. The table of the Sangraal....

There was no Sangraal on the table, however. There was no Sangraal in
the room, for that matter. There was a girl, though. She was huddled
forlornly in a corner, and she was crying.


II

Mallory laid his spear aside, strode across the room, and raised the
girl to her feet. "The Sangraal," he said, forgetting in his agitation
the few odds and ends of Old English he had memorized. "Where is it!"

She raised startled eyes that were as round, and almost as large, as
plums. Her face was round, too, and faintly childlike. Her hair was
dark-brown, and done up in a strange and indeterminate coiffeur that
was as charming as it was disconcerting. Her ankle-length dress was
white, and there was a bow on the bodice that matched the
plum-blueness of her eyes. A few cosmetics, properly applied, would
have turned her into an attractive woman, and even without them, she
rated a second look.

She stared at him for some time, then, "Surely ye be an advision,
sir," she said. "I ... I know ye not."

Mallory swung his shield around so that she could see the red cross.
"Now do you know me?"

She gasped, and her eyes grew even rounder. "Sir ... Sir Galahad! Oh,
fair knight, wherefore did ye not say?"

Mallory ignored the question. "The Sangraal," he repeated. "Where is
it?"

Her tears had ceased temporarily; now they began again. "Oh, fair
sir!" she cried, "ye see tofore you, a damosel at mischief, the which
was given guardianship of the Holy Vessel at her own request, and
bewrayed her trust, a damosel--"

"Never mind all that," Mallory said. "Where's the Sangraal?"

"I wot not, fair sir."

"But you must know if you were guarding it!"

"I wot not whither it was taken."

"But you must wot who took it."

"Wot I well, fair knight. Sir Launcelot, the which is thy father, bare
it from the chamber."

Mallory was stunned. "But that's impossible! My fa--Sir Launcelot
wouldn't steal the Sangraal!"

"Well I wot, fair sir; yet steal it he did. Came he unto the chamber
and saith, I hight Sir Launcelot du Lake of the Table Round, whereat I
did see his armor to be none other; so then took he the Vessel
covered with the red samite and bare it with him from the chamber,
whereat I--"

"How long ago?"

"But a little while afore eight of the clock. Sithen I have wept. I
know now no good knight, nor no good man. And I know from thy holy
shield and from they good name that thou art a good knight, and I
beseech ye therefore to help me, for ye be a shining knight indeed,
wherefore ye ought not to fail no damosel which is in distress, and
she besought you of help."

Mallory only half heard her. Sir Launcelot was too much with him. It
was inconceivable that a knight of such noble principles would even
consider touching the Sangraal, to say nothing of making off with it.
Maybe, though, his principles hadn't been quite as noble as they had
been made out to be. He had been Queen Guinevere's paramour, hadn't
he? He had lain with the fair Elaine, hadn't he? When you came right
down to it, he could very well have been a scoundrel at heart all
along--a scoundrel whose true nature had been toned down by writers
like Malory and poets like Tennyson. All of which, while it strongly
suggested that he was capable of stealing the Sangraal, threw not the
slightest light on his reason for having done so. Mallory was right
back where he had started from.

He turned to the girl. "You said something about needing my help. What
do you want me to do?"

Instantly, her tears stopped and she clasped her hands together and
looked at him with worshipful eyes. "Oh, fair sir, ye be most kind
indeed! Well I wot from thy shining armor that ye--"

"Knock it off," Mallory said.

"Knock it off? I wot not what--"

"Never mind. Just tell me what you want me to do."

"Ye must bear me from the castle, fair sir, or the king learns I have
bewrayed my trust and wreaks his wrath upon me. And then ye must help
me regain the Holy Cup and return it to this chamber."

"We'll worry about getting the Cup back after we're beyond the walls,"
Mallory said, starting for the door. "Come on--they're all in the
banquet hall and as drunk as lords--they won't even see us go by."

She hung back. "But the warders, fair sir--they be not enchafed. And
King Pelles, by my own wish, did forbid them to pass me."

Mallory stared at her. "By your own wish! Well of all the crazy--"
Abruptly he dropped the subject. "All right then--how _do_ we get out
of here?"

"There lieth beneath the fortress and the forest a parlous passage
wherein dwells the fiend, the which I have much discomfit of. But with
ye aside me, fair knight, there is naught to fear."

Mallory had read enough Malory to be able to take sixth-century fiends
in his stride. "I'll have to take my horse along," he said. "Is there
room for it to pass?"

"Yea, fair sir. The tale saith that aforetime many knights did ride
out beneath the fortress and the forest and did smite the Saxons,
Saracens, and Pagans, the which did compass the castle about, from
behind, whereupon the battle was won."

Mallory stepped outside the chamber, the girl just behind him, and
encephalopathed the necessary directions. After a moment, Easy Money
came trotting down the corridor to his side. The girl gasped, and, to
his astonishment, threw her arms around the rohorse's neck. "He is a
noble steed indeed, fair sir," she said; "and worthy of a knight
fitting to sit in the Siege Perilous." Presently she stepped back,
frowning. "He ... he is most cold, fair sir."

"All horses of that breed are," Mallory explained. "Incidentally, his
name is 'Easy Money'."

"La! such a strange name."

"Not so strange." Mallory raised his visor, making a mental note to
see to it that any and all suits of armor he might buy in the future
were air-conditioned. He got his spear. "Let's be on our way, shall
we?"

"Ye ... ye have blue eyes, fair sir."

"Never mind the color of my eyes--let's get out of here."

She seemed to make up her mind about something. "An ye will follow me,
sir knight," she said, and started down the corridor.

       *       *       *       *       *

A ramp, the entrance of which was camouflaged by a rotating section of
the inner castle wall, gave access to the subterranean passage. The
passage itself, in the flickering light of the torch that the girl had
brought along, appeared at first to be nothing more than a natural
cave enlarged through the centuries by the stream that still flowed
down its center. Presently, however, Mallory saw that in certain
places the stone walls had been cut back in such a way that the space
on either side of the stream never narrowed to a width of less than
four feet. He saw other evidence of human handiwork too--dungeons.
They were little more than shallow caves now, though, their iron
gratings having rusted and fallen away.

After proceeding half a hundred yards, he paused. "I don't know what
we're walking for when we've got a perfectly good horse at our
disposal," he told the girl. "Come on, I'll help you into the saddle
and I'll jump on behind."

She shook her head. "No, fair knight, it is not fitting for a
gentlewoman to ride tofore her champion. Ye will mount, and I will
ride behind."

"Suit yourself," Mallory said. He climbed into the saddle with a clank
and a clatter, and helped her up on Easy Money's croup. "By the way,
you never did tell me your name."

"I hight the damosel Rowena."

"Pleased to meet you," Mallory said. _Giddy-ap, Easy Money_, he
encephalopathed.

They rode in silence for a little while, the light from Rowena's torch
dancing acappella rigadoons on bare walls and dripping ceilings, Easy
Money's hoofbeats hardly audible above the purling of the stream.
Presently Rowena said, "It were best that ye drew out thy sword, fair
sir, for anon the fiend will beset us."

"He hasn't beset us yet," Mallory pointed out.

"La! fair sir, he will."

He saw no harm in humoring her, and did as she had suggested. "You
mentioned something a while back about having been given guardianship
of the Sangraal at your own request," he said. "How did that come
about?"

"List, fair sir, and I will tell ye. But first I must tell ye of Sir
Bors de Ganis, of which Sir Lionel is brother. It happed one day that
Sir Bors did ride into a forest in the Kingdom of Mennes unto the hour
of midday, and there befell him a marvelous adventure. So he met at
the departing of the two ways two knights that led Lionel, his
brother, all naked, bounden upon a strong hackney, and his hands
bounden tofore his breast. And every each of them held in his hands
thorns wherewith they went beating him so sore that the blood trailed
down more than in an hundred places of his body, so that he was all
blood tofore and behind, but he said never a word; as he which was
great of heart he suffered all that ever they did to him as though he
had felt none anguish.

"Anon Sir Bors dressed him to rescue him that was his brother; and so
he looked upon the other side of him, and saw a knight which brought a
fair gentlewoman, and would have set her in the thickest place of the
forest for to have been the more surer out of the way from them that
sought him. And she which was nothing assured cried with a high voice:
'Saint Mary succor your maid.' And anon she espied where Sir Bors came
riding. And when she came nigh him she deemed him a knight of the
Round Table, whereof she hoped to have some comfort; and then she
conjured him: By the faith that he ought unto him in whose service
thou art entered in, and for the faith ye owe unto the high order of
knighthood, and for the noble King Arthur's sake, that I suppose that
made thee knight, that thou help me, and suffer me not to be shamed of
this knight. When--"

"Just a minute," Mallory interrupted, thoroughly bewildered and
simultaneously afflicted with an irrational sense of _deja vu_. "This
gentlewoman you speak of--would she by any chance be you?"

"Wit ye well, fair sir. When--"

"But if she's you, why don't you use the first person singular instead
of the third?"

"I wot not what--"

"Why don't you use 'I' instead of 'she' when you refer to yourself
directly?"

"It would not be fitting, fair knight. When Bors heard her say thus he
had so much sorrow there he nyst not what to do. For if I let my
brother be in adventure he must be slain, and that would I not for all
the earth. And if I help not the maid she is shamed for ever, and
also she shall lose her virginity the which she shall never get again.
Then lift he up his eyes and said weeping: Fair sweet Lord, whose
liege man I am, keep Lionel, my brother, that these knights slay him
not, and for pity of you, and for Mary's sake, I shall succor this
maid. Then dressed be him unto the knight the which had the
gentlewoman, and then--"

       *       *       *       *       *

"Hist!" Mallory whispered. "I heard something."

For a moment the light flared wildly as though she had nearly dropped
the torch. "Wh ... whence came the sound, fair knight?"

"From the other side of the stream." He peered into the vacillating
shadows, but saw nothing but the darker shadows of one of the
innumerable man-made caves. The sound he had heard had brought to mind
the dull clang that metal makes when it collides with stone, and it
had been so faint as to have been barely audible above the purling of
the stream. Thinking back, he was not altogether certain that he had
heard it at all. "My imagination's getting the best of me, I guess,"
he said presently. "There's no one there."

Her warm breath penetrated the crevices of his gorget and fanned the
back of his neck. "Ye ... ye ween not that it could have been the
fiend prowling?"

"Of course I ween not! Relax, and finish your story. But get to the
point, will you?"

"An ... an it so please.... And then Sir Bors cried: Sir knight, let
your hand off that maiden, or ye be but dead. And then he set down the
maiden, and was armed at all pieces save he lacked his spear. Then he
dressed his shield, and drew out his sword, and Bors smote him so hard
that it went through his shield and habergeon on the left shoulder.
And through great strength he beat him down to the earth, and at the
pulling out of Bors' spear there he swooned. Then came Bors to the
maid and said: How seemeth it to you of this knight ye be delivered at
this time? Now sir, said she, I pray you lead me there as this knight
had me. So shall I do gladly: and took the horse of the wounded
knight, and set the gentlewoman upon him, and so brought her as she
desired. Sir knight, said she, ye have better sped than ye weened, for
an I had lost my maidenhead, five hundred men should have died for it.
What knight was he that had you in the forest? By my faith, said she,
he is my cousin. So wot I never with what engyn the fiend enchafed
him, for yesterday he took me from my father privily; for I nor none
of my father's men mistrusted him not, and if he had had my maidenhead
he should have died for the sin, and his body shamed and dishonored
for ever. Thus as--"

"_Shhh!_"

This time, Mallory was certain that he had heard something. The sound
had had much in common with the previous sound, except that it had
suggested metal scraping against, rather than colliding with, stone.
Directly across the stream was another cave, this one shallow enough
to permit the torchlight to penetrate its deeper shadows, and looking
into those shadows, he caught a faint gleam of reflected light.

Rowena must have caught it, too, for he heard her gasp behind him. "It
were best that I thanked ye now for thy great kindness, fair knight,"
she said, "for anon we be no longer on live."

"Nonsense!" Mallory said. "If this fiend of yours is anywhere in the
vicinity, he's probably more afraid of us than we are of him."

The cave was behind them now. "Per ... peradventure he hath already
had meat," Rowena said hopefully. "The tale saith that and the fiend
be filled, he becomes aweary and besets not them the which do pass him
by in peace."

"I'll keep my sword handy, just in case he changes his mind," Mallory
said. "Meanwhile, get on with your autobiography--only for Pete's
sake, cut it short, will you?"

"An it please, fair sir. Thus as the fair gentlewoman stood talking
with Sir Bors there came twelve knights seeking after her, and anon
she told them all how Bors had delivered her; then they made great
joy, and besought him to come to her father, a great lord, and he
should be right welcome. Truly, said Bors, that may not be at this
time, for I have a great adventure to do in this country. So he
commended them unto God and departed. The fair gentlewoman did grieve
mickle to see him leave, and she saith, sir knights, noble was the
service that brave knight did render unto thy liege's daughter in the
saving of her maidenhead the which she could never get again, for that
be none other than his own brother the which he fauted. Therefore,
noble must be both his king and his cause, wherefore it be befitting
that a gentlewoman of thy liege's daughter's nature leave the castle
of her father betimes that she may render fitting service to her
succor's cause and be worthy of his deed. Thus spake this fair
gentlewoman, whereat she did mount upon her palfrey and so departed
her from thence and did ride as fast as her palfrey might bear her,
whereupon after many days she came to the castle of Carbonek and did
seek out King Pelles and did beseech him that she might be made
guardian of the Sangraal, whereat he did graciously consent to her
request and did consent also that she be made prisoner in the fortress
by her own wish. And now she was bewrayed her trust, fair sir, and the
table of silver whereon the Sangraal stood stands empty."

       *       *       *       *       *

For some time after she finished talking, Mallory was silent. Was she
trying to pull his leg? he wondered. Or were the gentlewomen of her
day and age really as high-minded and as feathered-brained as she
would have him believe? He decided not to go into the matter for the
moment. "Tell me, Rowena," he said, "if the Sangraal is visible only
to those who are worthy of it, as I have been led to believe, how are
any of those wassailers whooping it up back there in that banquet
hall going to know whether it's gone or not?"

"It be ofttimes averred that all cannot see the Holy Cup, as ye say,
fair knight. Natheless, all that have come unto the chamber sithen my
trust began, they did see it, and Sir Launcelot, the which is much
with sin, he did see it--and did take it."

"He's not going to get very far with it, though," Mallory said. And
then, "How long is the tunnel anyway?"

"Anon we shall see the stars, fair sir."

She was right, and a few minutes later, after rounding a turn in the
passage, they emerged upon the bank of a small river. The subterranean
stream that had kept them company emerged, too, and joined its larger
sister on the way to the sea. On either hand, cliffs rose up, and the
susurrus of waves breaking on sand could be heard in the distance.

Mallory guided Easy Money upstream to where the cliffs dwindled down
to thickly forested slopes. It took him but a moment to orientate
himself, and presently rohorse and riders were headed in the direction
of the highway. "Now," said he, "if you'll tell me where you want to
be dropped off, I'll see what I can do about getting the Grail back."

There was a brief silence. Then, "An ... an ye wish, ye may leave me
here."

He halted Easy Money, dismounted, and lifted her down to the ground.
He looked around, expecting to see a habitation of some sort. He saw
nothing but trees. He faced the girl again. "Don't you have any
friends or relatives you can stay with?"

An argent shaft of moonlight slanting down through the foliage
illumined her face. "There be none nigh, fair sir, nor none nearer
than an hundred miles. I shall abide your again coming here in the
forest."

Mallory stared at her. She didn't look--or act either, for that
matter--as though she knew enough to get in out of the rain. "Abide
here in the forest! Why, you wouldn't last a week!"

"But ye will return hither with the Sangraal long afore that,
whereupon we two together shall return the Holy Vessel to the chamber
and I shall not be made to suffer the severing of my two hands."

He was aghast. "They wouldn't dare cut off your hands!"

"They dare much, fair knight. Know ye naught of the customs of the
land?"

He was silent. What in the world was he going to do about her? She
would probably wait here for him until she starved to death or,
equally as distressing, until she was apprehended. Abruptly he
shrugged his shoulders--to the extent that his pauldrons
permitted--and remounted the rohorse. Why should it matter to him what
became of her? He'd returned to the Age of Chivalry to steal the
Sangraal, not to play nursemaid to damosels in distress. "Don't take
any wooden nickels now," he said.

Two tiny stars appeared in the pale regions of her eyes and twinkled
down her cheeks. "May the good Lord speed ye upon thy quest, fair
knight, and may He guard ye well."

"Oh, for Pete's sake!" Mallory said, and reaching down, pulled her up
onto Easy Money's croup. "I have a castle not far from here. I'll drop
you off, then I'll go after the Sangraal."

Her breath was warm little wind seeping through the crevices of his
gorget. "Oh, fair sir, ye be the noblest of all the knights in all the
land, and I shall serve thee faithfully for the rest of my days!"

The rohorse whinnied. _Giddy-ap, Easy Money_, Mallory encephalopathed,
and they started out.


III

Rowena fell for the _Yore_ hook, line, and sinker. Not even the modern
interior gave her pause. Those objects which happened to be beyond her
ken--and there were many of them--she interpreted as "appointments
befitting a noble knight," and as for the rooms themselves, she merely
identified them with the rooms out of her own experience that they
most closely resembled. Thus the rec-hall became "the banquet hall,"
the supply room became "the kitchen," the control room became "the
sorcerer's tower," the tourist compartments became "the sleeping
tower," Mallory's bedroom-office became "the lord's quarters," the
lavatory became "the chapel," and the generator room became "the
dungeon." Only two things disconcerted her: the absence of servants
and the fact that Easy Money was stabled in the banquet hall. Mallory
got around the first by telling her that he had given the servants a
leave of absence, and she herself got around the second by declaring
it to be no more than fitting for such a splendid steed to be accorded
special treatment. Certainly, Mallory reflected, she was nothing if
she was not co-operative.

After showing her around he wasted no time in getting down to the
business on hand, and stepping into the control room, he punched out
the data necessary to take the _Yore_ back to 7:15 p.m. of the same
day, and to re-materialize it one half mile west of its present
position, as an overlap was bound to occur. There was a barely
noticeable tremor as the transition took place, and simultaneously the
darkness showing on the control-room telewindow transmuted to dusk.

Turning away from the jump board, he saw Rowena regarding him with
large eyes from the doorway. "We're now back to a point in time that
precedes the theft of the Sangraal," he told her, "and we're relocated
farther down the valley. But don't let it throw you. None other than
Merlin himself built the magic apparatus you see before you in this
room, and you know yourself that once he makes up his mind to it,
Merlin can do anything."

She blinked once, but evinced no other signs of surprise. "Yea, fair
sir," she said, "I am ware of the magic of Merlin."

"However," Mallory went on, "magic such as this isn't something for a
gentlewoman such as yourself to fool around with, so I must forbid you
to enter this room during my absence from the castle. Also, while
we're on the subject, I must also forbid you to leave the castle
during my absence. Merlin would be upset no end if there were two
damosels that hight Rowena gallivanting around the countryside at the
same time."

She blinked again. "By my troth, fair sir," she said, "I would lever
die than disobey thy two commands." And then, "Have ye ate any meat
late?"

This time, Mallory blinked, "Meat?"

"It is fitting that ye should eat meat afore ye ride out."

"Oh, you mean food. I'll eat when I get back. But there's no need for
you to wait." He took her into the supply room and showed her where
the vacuum tins were stored. "You open them like this," he explained,
pulling one out and activating the desealer. "Then, as soon as the
contents cool off a little, you sit down to dinner."

"But this be not meat," she objected.

"Maybe not, but it's a good substitute, and a lot better for you." A
thought struck him, and he took her into the lavatory and showed her
how to operate the hot and cold-water dispenser, ascribing the setup
to more of Merlin's magic. He debated on whether to explain the
function and purpose of the adjacent shower, decided not to. There was
a limit to all things, and an apparatus for washing one's whole body
was simply too farfetched for anyone living in the sixth-century to
take seriously.

Back in the rec-hall, he donned his helmet and gauntlets, reset the
gauntlet timepiece, picked up his spear and encephalopathed Easy Money
to his side. Mounting, he set the spear in the stirrup socket. Rowena
gazed up at him, plum-blue eyes round with awe and admiration--and
concern. "Wit ye well, fair sir," she said, "that Sir Launcelot, the
which is thy father, is a knight of many victories, and therefore ye
must take care."

Mallory grinned. "Dismay you not, fair damsel, I'll smite him from his
steed before he can say 'Queen Guinevere'." He straightened his sword
belt, activated the _Yore's_ lock, and rode across the mirage-moat and
entered the forest. The "portcullis" closed behind him.

       *       *       *       *       *

Dusk had become darkness by the time he reached the highway.
Approximately half an hour later he would reach the highway again.
However, the seeming paradox did not disconcert him in the least: this
was far from being the first time he had backtracked himself on a job.

[Illustration]

As "before," he spurned the shadows of the bordering oaks and beeches
and encephalopathed Easy Money to keep to the center of the lane. And,
as "before," no one was abroad. Probably King Pelles' wassail was
already in progress, or, if not, the goodly knights and gentlewomen
were still at evensong. In any event, he reached the lane that led to
the castle of Carbonek without mishap.

After entering the lane, he encephalopathed Easy Money into the
concealment of the shadows of the bordering trees and settled back in
the saddle to wait. Rowena's placing the time of the theft at "a
little while afore eight of the clock" had been a general estimate at
best; hence he had allowed himself plenty of leeway and had arrived on
the scene a little early. It was well that he had, for hardly a minute
passed before he heard hoofbeats approaching from the south, and
presently he saw a tall knight astride a resplendent steed turn into
the lane. His armor gleamed in the moonlight and bespoke a quality and
class that only a knight of Sir Launcelot's status would be able to
afford.

Mallory watched him ride down the lane to the lion-flanked entrance
and heard him announce himself as "Sir Launcelot". The portcullis was
raised without delay, and the knight rode through the gateway and
disappeared from view.

Mallory frowned in the darkness. Something about the incident had
failed to jibe. He thought back, but he could isolate nothing that, in
retrospect anyway, seemed in the least incongruous. He tried again,
with the same result, and at length he concluded that the note of
discord had originated in his imagination.

Again, he settled back to wait. He wasn't particularly worried about
the outcome of the forthcoming encounter--the superiority of the
weapons and armor should be more than enough to see him through--but
just the same he wished there was some way to avoid it. There wasn't,
of course. Sir Launcelot's theft of the Sangraal was already
incorporated in fact, and, as a _fait accompli_, could not be obviated
by a previous theft. All Mallory could do was to make his move after
the _fait acccompli_ in the hope that that was when he _had_ made his
move. A time-thief didn't have nearly as much leeway as his seeming
freedom of movement might lead the uninitiated to believe. About all
he could do was to play along with destiny and await his
opportunities. If destiny smiled, he succeeded; if destiny frowned, he
did not. However, Mallory was optimistic about his forthcoming bid for
the Grail, for if it wasn't in the books for him to wrest the Cup from
Sir Launcelot, the chances were he wouldn't have gotten as far as he
had.

He estimated that it would take the man five minutes to enter the
castle, proceed to the chamber, seize the Sangraal, return to the
courtyard and come riding back to the portcullis. Seven minutes proved
to be nearer the mark. In response to a hail from within the wall,
several of the warders bent to the windlass, whereupon the portcullis
scraped and groaned aloft, and the tall knight came riding out just as
the hands of Mallory's timepiece registered 7:43 p.m.

Mallory let him pass, straining his eyes in vain for a glimpse of the
Sangraal. He waited till Sir Launcelot was half a hundred yards down
the highway before he encephalopathed Easy Money to follow, and he
waited till a bend in the road hid the castle of Carbonek from view
before encephalopathing the command to charge. At this point, Sir
Launcelot became aware that he was no longer alone, and wheeled his
steed around. Without an instant's hesitation, he dressed his spear
and launched a counter-charge. All Mallory could think of was a
twentieth-century steam locomotive bearing down upon him.

He swallowed grimly, "aventred" his own spear, and upped Easy Money's
pace. Two could play at being locomotives. The approaching knight and
steed loomed larger; the sound of hoofbeats crescendoed into staccato
thunder. The spear pointing straight toward Mallory's breastplate had
something of the aspect of a jet-propelled flagpole. Hurriedly, he got
his shield into position. Maybe the man would spot the red cross,
realize its significance, and slow down.

If he spotted it, he gave no sign, and only came the faster. Mallory
braced himself for the forthcoming impact. However, the impact never
occurred. At the last moment his antagonist directed the spearpoint at
Mallory's helmet, did something that made it separate itself from the
shaft to the accompaniment of a gout of incandescence and come
streaking through the air like a little comet. Mallory tried to dodge,
but he would have been equally as successful if he had tried to dodge
a real comet. There was a deafening _clang!_ in the region of his left
audio-amplifier, and the whole left side of his face went numb. Just
before he blacked out he saw the oncoming knight veer his steed, wheel
it around, and ride off. A peal of all-too-familiar laughter drifted
back over the man's shoulder.

       *       *       *       *       *

"Now," said the rent-a-robogogue, "you will try again: 'A' is for
'Atom', 'B' is for 'Bomb', 'C' is for 'Conform', 'D' is for 'Dollar',
'E' is for 'Economy', and 'F' is for 'Fun'. What comes after 'F'?"

The boy Mallory squirmed in his ABC chair. "I don't know what comes
next and I don't care!"

"I'll box your ears," the rent-a-robogogue threatened.

"You wouldn't dare!"

"Yes I would--I'm a physical-chastisement model, you know. Now, we'll
try once more: 'A' is for 'Atom', 'B' is for 'Bomb', 'C' is for
'Conform', 'D' is for 'Dollar', 'E' is for 'Economy', and 'F' is for
'Fun'. What comes after 'F'?"

"I told you that I didn't know and that I didn't care!"

"I warned you," said the rent-a-robogogue.

"Ow!" the boy Mallory cried.

"Ow!" the man Mallory groaned, sitting up in the weeds beside the
early sixth-century highway.

All was silence around him, if you discounted the stridulations of
insects and the _be-ke korak-korak-korak_ of frogs. A few yards away,
Easy Money stood immobile in the moonlight. Mallory raised his hand
to his helmet and felt the sizable dent that the spearpoint had made.
Gingerly, he took the helmet off. Who in the world would have dreamed
that they had jet-rifles in this day and age!

The absurdity of the thought snapped him back to full awareness. A
moment later he remembered the peal of familiar laughter.

Perfidion!

The man must have wanted the Grail desperately to have come after it
himself, which meant that it was probably worth much more than he had
let on. But how had he known when and where to essay the lift? More
specifically, how had he found out when and where to essay the lift on
such short notice?

Mallory thought back. He was reasonably certain that he had made no
slips of the tongue during his visit to the Perfidion Tower and during
the ensuing game of golp, and he was equally certain that he had let
fall no revealing references to the place-time he had so carefully
pinpointed. Where, then, had he gone astray?

Suddenly, way back in his mind, Perfidion said, "By the way, Tom, I
take it you're all set as regards costume, equipment and the like."

"I've got the sweetest little suit of armor you ever laid eyes on,"
Mallory heard himself answer.

He swore. So that was it! All Perfidion had needed to do was to make
the rounds of the costumers who specialized in armor, and to shell out
a few Kennedees to the one Mallory had patronized last. Then, in
possession of the knowledge that Mallory was embarking into the past
as Sir Galahad, all Perfidion had had to do was to consult one of the
many experts he kept at his beck and call. The expert had undoubtedly
told him where Sir Galahad was supposed to have found the Grail before
taking it to Sarras, and, equally as important, approximately when the
event was supposed to have taken place. Further questions could not
have failed to elicit the additional information that Sir Launcelot
had come to the chamber of the Sangraal before Sir Galahad had, and
from this Perfidion had undoubtedly deduced that Sir Launcelot could
very well have been a time-thief in disguise, too, and that the man,
having arrived on the scene first, could very well have been
responsible for the Grail's so-called return to Heaven, despite what
legend said to the contrary. Certainly it had been a gamble worth
taking, and obviously Perfidion had taken it.

And won the jackpot.

But that didn't mean he was going to keep the jackpot. Not by a long
shot. Mallory encephalopathed Easy Money to his side and pulled
himself to his feet with the help of the left stirrup and hung his
helmet on the pommel. Then he picked up his spear and clambered into
the saddle. "We're not beat yet, Easy Money," he said. _Giddy-ap!_

Easy Money whinnied, stamped its feet, and started back toward the
_Yore_. A short while later they passed the lane that led to the
castle of Carbonek. Presently Mallory heard the _clip-clop_ of
approaching hoofbeats, and not wanting to risk an encounter in his
weakened condition, he encephalo-guided the rohorse off the highway
and into the deep shadows of a big oak. There was something
tantalizingly familiar about the horse and rider coming down the
highway. Small wonder: the "horse" was Easy Money and the rider was
himself. He was on his way to the castle of Carbonek to lift the Holy
Grail.

Mallory gazed after his retreating figure disgustedly. "Sucker!" he
said.


IV

Rowena nearly threw a fit when Mallory rode into the rec-hall. "Oh,
fair knight, ye be sorely wounded indeed!" she cried, helping him down
from his rohorse. "Certes, an ye bleed so much ye may die!"

Mallory's head was throbbing, and he saw two damosels that hight
Rowena instead of only one. "I'll be all right after I lie down for a
while," he said. "And don't worry about the bleeding--it's almost
stopped."

He took a step in the direction of his bedroom office, staggered and
would have fallen if she hadn't caught his arm. Her strength
astonished him: for all the lightness of his armor, it still lent him
an over-all weight of some two hundred and ten pounds; and yet the
shoulder which she provided for him to lean on did not give once all
the way to his bedside. She had his pauldrons, breastplate, and
arm-coverings off in no time flat. His cuisses, greaves, and sollerets
followed. The last he remembered was lying there in his under garments
and his chain-mail vest with three faces swimming in the misted sea of
his vision, each of them invested with the peculiar beauty that
concern, and concern alone, can grant.

"How is mammakin's little man now?" the rent-a-mammakin asked,
applying soothing sedasalve to the boy Mallory's swollen ear.

"He hit me, mammakin," the boy Mallory sobbed. "Just because I
wouldn't tell him that 'G' stands for 'Geography'. I hate geography! I
hate it, hate it, hate it!"

"Nasty old rent-a-robogogue! Mammakin sent him away. He was an old
model that got rented out by mistake. Is mammakin's little man's ear
all right now?"

The boy Mallory sat up. "I want my real--" he began.

The man Mallory sat up. "I want my real--" he began.

"I have great joy of thy swift recovery, fair sir," Rowena said.

She was perched on the edge of his bed, applying a cool and soothing
ointment to his ear. On the table by the bed lay a basin of water, and
on her lap lay a pink tube. He grabbed the tube, looked at the label.
_Sedasalve_. He sighed with relief. "Where did you find it?" he
asked.

"La! fair sir, when ye did seem no longer on live I did run both
toward and forward in the castle seeking a magical salve whereby I
might succor ye, whereupon I did come to a white box in the chapel
wherein lay many magical tubes of diverse colors and natures whereof I
did choose one and--"

Mallory was incredulous. "You chose a tube at random?" he demanded.
"Good Lord, it might have contained a counteragent that could have
killed me!"

"The ... the letters thereon seemed of a magical nature, fair knight.
And ... and the color was seemly."

"Well anyway it was the right one." He looked at her. Could she read?
he wondered. He was tempted to ask her, but refrained for fear of
embarrassing her. "In that same white box," he said, "you will find a
big bottle filled with round red pellets. Would you get it for me?"

When she returned with it, he took two of the pills, then he laid his
head back on the pillow. "They'll restore the blood I lost," he
explained, "but in order for them to do the job properly I've got to
lie perfectly still for at least one hour."

She sat down on the edge of the bed. "Marry! the magic of Merlin is
marvelous, albeit not as marvelous as the magic of Joseph of
Arimathea."

"What did he do that was so marvelous?"

The plum-blue eyes were fixed full upon his face. "Ye wit naught of
the tale of the white shield ye bear, fair sir? List, and I will tell
ye:

"It befell after the passion of our Lord thirty-two year, that Joseph
of Arimathea, the gentle knight, the which took down our Lord off the
holy Cross, at that time departed from Jerusalem with a great party of
his kindred with him. And so he labored till that they came to a city
that hight Sarras. And at that same hour that Joseph came to Sarras
there was a king that hight Evelake, that had great war against the
Saracens, and in especially against one Saracen, the which was King
Evelake's cousin, a rich king and a mighty, which marched nigh this
land, and his name was called Tolleme la Feintes. So on a day these
two met to do battle. Then Joseph, the son of Joseph of Arimathea,
went to King Evelake and told him he should be discomfit and slain,
but if he left his belief of the old law and believed upon the new
law. And then there he showed him the right belief of the Holy
Trinity, to the which he agreed unto with all his heart; and there
this shield was made for King Evelake, in the name of Him that died
upon the Cross. And then--"

"Hold it a minute," Mallory said. "This shield you've finally got
around to mentioning--is it the same one you set out to tell me
about?"

"Wit ye well, fair sir. And then through King Evelake's good belief he
had the better of King Tolleme. For when Evelake was in the battle
there was a cloth set afore the shield, and when he was in the
greatest peril he left put away the cloth, and then his enemies saw a
figure of a man on the Cross, wherethrough they all were discomfit.
And so it befell that a man of King Evelake's was smitten his hand
off, and bare that hand in his other hand; and Joseph called that man
unto him and bade him go with good devotion touch the Cross. And as
soon as that man had touched the Cross with his hand it was as whole
as ever it was tofore. Then soon after there fell a great marvel, that
the cross of the shield at one time vanished away that no man wist
where it became. And then King Evelake was baptized, and for the most
part all the people of that city. So, soon after Joseph would depart,
and King Evelake would go with him whether he would or nold. And so by
fortune they came into this land, that at that time was called Great
Britain: and there they found a great felon paynim, that put Joseph
into prison. And so--"

"A great _what_?" Mallory asked. In one sense the story was familiar
to him, but what bothered him was the fact that it was familiar in
another sense too--a sense he couldn't put his finger on.

"A wicked unbeliever in our Lord. And so by fortune tidings came unto
a worthy man that hight Mondrames, and he assembled all his people for
the great renown he had heard of Joseph; and so he came into the land
of Great Britain and disinherited this felon paynim and consumed him;
and therewith delivered Joseph out of prison. And after that all the
people were turned to the Christian faith.

"Not long after that Joseph was laid in his deadly bed. And when King
Evelake say that he made much sorrow, and said: For thy love I have
left my country, and sith ye shall depart out of this world, leave me
some token of yours that I may think on you. Joseph said: That will I
do full gladly; now bring me your shield that I took you when ye went
into battle against King Tolleme. Then Joseph bled at the nose, so
that he might not by no means be staunched. And there upon that shield
he made a cross of his own blood. Now may ye see a remembrance that I
love you, for ye shall never see this shield but ye shall think on me,
and it shall be always as fresh as it is now. And never shall man bear
this shield about his neck but he shall repent it, unto the time that
Galahad, the good knight, bare it; and the last of my lineage shall
have it about his neck, that shall do many marvelous deeds. Now, said
King Evelake, where shall I put this shield, that this worthy knight
may have it? Ye shall leave it there as Nacien, the hermit, shall be
put after his death; for thither shall that good knight come the
fifteenth day after that he shall receive the order of knighthood: and
so...."

       *       *       *       *       *

When Mallory awoke, Rowena's head was resting on his chest, and she
was breathing the soft and even breaths of untroubled sleep. Her hair,
viewed thus closely, was not as dark as he had at first believed it to
be. It was brown, really, rather than dark-brown. And astonishingly
lustrous. Without thinking, he rested his hand lightly upon her head.
She stirred then, and sat up, rubbing her plum-blue eyes. For a
moment she stared at him uncomprehendingly, then, "Prithee forgive me,
fair sir," she said.

Mallory sat up, too. "Forgive you for what? Go open a couple of vacuum
tins while I get into my armor--I'm going to bring this caper to a
close."

"Thy ... thy strength has returned?"

"I never felt better in my life."

In the rec-hall he said, sitting down at the table before one of the
two vacuum tins she had opened, "You never did ask me what happened."

"Ye will tell me of thy own will an ye wish me to know."

Mallory took a mouthful of simulsteak, chewed and swallowed. "Your Sir
Launcelot turned out to be a phony, and pulled a rabbit out of his
helmet the nature of which I'd better not try to describe to you."

Eyes round as plums, she regarded him across the table. "A ... a
phony, fair sir?"

Mallory nodded. "That's a sort of felon paynim who plays golp."

"But with my own eyes I did see his armor, fair knight."

"That's right--you saw his armor. But you didn't see him. A certain
character by the name of Perfidion was residing behind that
hardware--not the good Sir Launcelot."

"Perfidion?"

Mallory grinned. "Sir Jason Perfidion--a knight errant ye wit not of.
But the tournament's not over yet, and this time _I've_ got the
rabbit: he thinks I'm dead."

"He ... he left ye for dead, fair sir?"

"That he did, and if that little brain-buster of his had struck just
one inch to the right, I'd have been just that." He shoved his empty
vacuum tin away and stood up. "Excuse me a minute--I've got to visit
the sorcerer's tower again."

In the control room, he took the _Yore_ back to 7:20 p.m. of the same
day and re-materialized it half a mile farther down the valley.
Turning, he saw that Rowena had followed him and was watching him from
the doorway. "Whereabouts may I find oats that I may feed thy horse,
fair knight?" she asked.

"Easy Money doesn't eat. He--" Mallory paused astonished as two of the
largest tears he had ever seen coalesced in her eyes and went tumbling
down her cheeks. "Oh, it's not that he's sick," he rushed on. "It's
just that horses like him don't require food to keep them going. Why,
Easy Money's guaranteed for ... he'll live another thirty years."

The sun came up beyond the plum-blue horizons of her eyes. "It
pleaseth me mickle to hear ye speak thus, fair knight. I ... I have
great joy of him."

Back in the rec-hall, Mallory pulled on his gauntlets, reset his
timepiece, and donned his helmet. The left audio-amplifier was shot,
but otherwise the piece was in good condition--aside from the dent, of
course. He encephalopathed Easy Money to his side, hung his shield
around his neck, and mounted. "Hand me my spear, will you, Rowena?" he
asked.

She did so. "Ye be a most noble knight indeed, fair sir," she said,
"for to set so little store by thine own life in the service of a
damosel the which is undeserving of thy deeds. I ... I would lever
that ye forsook the Sangraal than that ye be fordone."

Her concern touched him, and he removed his helmet and leaned down and
kissed her on the forehead. "Keep the home fires burning," he said;
then, setting his helmet back in place, he activated the lock, rode
across the mirage-moat, and set forth into the forest once again.


V

This time when he reached the crest of the ridge that separated the
two valleys, Mallory took an azimuth on the towers of Carbonek,
encephalo-fed the direction to Easy Money, and programmed the "animal"
to proceed in as straight a course as possible.

In the east, the moon was just beginning to rise; in the west, traces
of the sunset lingered blood-red just above the horizon. On the
highway below, a knight sitting astride a brown rohorse and bearing a
white shield with a red cross in the center was riding toward Carbonek
to challenge a twenty-second century "felon paynim" in imitation
Age-of-Chivalry armor. In the valley Mallory had just left behind him
there were two castles named _Yore_, and soon, a third would pop into
existence and yet another Mallory come riding out. Mallory grinned. It
was a little bit like playing chess.

The forest which Easy Money presently entered was parklike in places,
and sometimes the trees thinned out into wide, moonlit meadows.
Crossing one of the meadows, Mallory saw the first star, and when at
length Easy Money emerged on the highway, the heavens were decked out
in typical midsummer panoply. The rohorse had followed its programming
almost perfectly and had emerged at a point just south of the lane
leading to the castle of Carbonek. All Mallory had to do was to
encephalo-guide it farther down the highway to a point beyond the site
of the forthcoming joust. While doing so, he kept well within the
concealing shadows of the bordering oaks and beeches where the ground
was soft and could give forth no telltale _clip-clop_ of hoofbeats.
His circumspection proved wise--as in one sense, of course, it already
had--and when the false Sir Launcelot came riding by on his way to the
castle and the chamber of the Sangraal, he was no more aware of
Mallory III's presence by the roadside than he would presently be
aware of Mallory II's presence in the shadows of the trees that
bordered the lane.

Mallory III grinned again and brought Easy Money to a halt just beyond
the next bend. "Wit ye well, Sir Jason, that thy hours be numbered,"
he said.

He remained seated in the saddle, feeling pretty good about the
world. In no time at all, if his one-man ambuscade came off, he would
be on his way back to the _Yore_, and thence to the twenty-second
century and a haircut. Selling the Sangraal without the aid of a
professional time-fence like Perfidion would be difficult, of course,
but it could be done, and once it was done, he, Mallory, could take
his place on Get-Rich-Quick Street with the best of them, and no
questions would be asked. There was, to be sure, the problem of what
to do about a certain damosel that hight Rowena, but he would face
that when he came to it. Maybe he could drop her off a dozen years in
the future in a region far enough removed from Carbonek to ensure her
safety. He would see.

[Illustration]

At this point in his reflections he was jolted into alertness by the
sound of approaching hoofbeats. A moment later he heard a second set
of hoofbeats and knew that Mallory II had made his presence known.
Presently both sets crescendoed into staccato thunder as the two
"knights" came pounding toward each other, and not long afterward
there was a clank and a clatter as Mallory II went tumbling out of his
saddle and into the roadside weeds. Finally the single set of
hoofbeats took over again, and Mallory III saw a horse and rider
coming around the bend in the highway. He braced himself.

Before making his play, he waited till horse and rider were directly
opposite him; then he encephalopathed Easy Money to charge. "Sir
Launcelot" managed to get his shield up in time, but the maneuver did
him no good. Mallory's spearhead struck the shield dead center, and
"Sir Launcelot" went sailing out of his saddle to land with an awesome
clatter flat on his back on the highway. He did not get up.

Dismounting, Mallory removed the man's helmet. It was Perfidion all
right. There was a large bruise on the side of his head and he was out
cold, but he was still breathing. Next, Mallory looked for the
Sangraal. Perfidion had concealed it somewhere, and apparently he had
done the job well. Since the armor could not have accommodated an
object of that size, the hiding place had to be somewhere on the body
of his horse. The horse was standing quietly beside Easy Money in the
middle of the highway. It was jet-black and its fetlock-length
trappings were blue, threaded with silver; otherwise, the two steeds
were identical. Mallory tumbled to the truth then, went over to where
the black "horse" was standing, raised its trappings, found the tiny
activator button, and depressed it. The croup-hood rose up, and there
in the secret compartment, wrapped in red samite, lay the cause of the
mounting absentee-rate in King Arthur's court.

Always the skeptic, Mallory raised a corner of the samite in order to
make certain that he was not being cheated. Instantly, a reflected ray
of moonlight stabbed upward into his eyes, and for a moment he was
blinded. Exorcising the thought that sneaked into his mind, he closed
the croup-hood, rearranged the trappings, and returned to Perfidion's
side. Dragging the armor-encumbered man over to the black rohorse and
slinging him over the saddle was no easy matter, but Mallory managed;
then he picked up Perfidion's helmet and spear and set the former on
the pommel and wedged the latter in one of the stirrups. Finally he
mounted Easy Money and, encephalopathing the black rohorse to follow,
set out down the highway away from the castle of Carbonek.

Make-believe castles could fool the hadbeens, but they couldn't fool a
professional. He spotted the phony towers of Perfidion's TSB rising
above the trees before he had proceeded half a mile. After raising the
"portcullis", he got the man down from the black rohorse, dragged him
inside, and propped him against the rec-hall bar. Then he got the
man's helmet and spear and laid them beside him. After considerable
reflection, he went into the control room, set the time-dial for June
10, 1964, the space-dial for a busy intersection in downtown Los
Angeles, and punched out H-O-T-D-O-G S-T-A-N-D on the lumillusion
panel. Satisfied, he went into the generator room and short-circuited
the automatic throw-out unit so that when rematerialization took
place, the generator would burn up. Finding a ball of heavy-duty
twine, he returned to the control room, tied one end to the master
switch, and began backing out of the TSB, unwinding the twine as he
went.

In the rec-hall, he paused, and grinned down at the still-unconscious
Perfidion. "It's a better break than you meant to give me, Jason," he
said. "And don't worry--once you explain to the authorities what
you're doing in a suit of sixth-century armor and how you happened to
open a giant hot-dog stand in the middle of a traffic-clogged
crossroads, you'll be all right. As a matter of fact, with your
knowledge of things to come, you'll probably wind up a richer man than
you are now--if the smog doesn't get you first." He stepped through
the lock, jerked the twine, and the "castle" vanished into thin air.

Remounting Easy Money and encephalopathing the black rohorse to
follow, he started back toward the _Yore_, taking a direct route
through the forest. He was halfway to his destination and had just
emerged into a wide meadow when he saw the knight with the white
shield riding toward him in the bright moonlight. In the center of the
shield there was a vivid blood-red cross.

When the knight saw Mallory, he brought his steed to a halt. Moonlight
glimmered eerily on his shield, turned his helmet to silver. His armor
seemed to emit an unearthly light--a light that was at once terrifying
and transcendent. The hilt of his sword was as blood-red as the cross
on his shield; so was the pommel of his spear. Here was righteousness
incarnate. Here in the form of an armored man on horseback was the
quintessence of the Age of Chivalry--not the Age of Chivalry as
exemplified by the vain and boasting nobles who had constituted
nine-tenths of the knight-errantry profession and who had used the
quest of the Holy Grail as an excuse to seek after mead and maidens,
but the Age of Chivalry as it might have been if the ideal behind it
had been shared by the many instead of by the few; the Age of
Chivalry, in short, as it had come down to posterity through the pages
of Malory's _Le Morte d'Arthur_.

At length the knight spoke: "I hight Sir Galahad of the Table Round."

Reluctantly, Mallory encephalopathed his two rohorses to halt, and
said the only thing he had left to say: "I hight Sir Thomas of the
castle _Yore_."

"By whose leave bear ye likenesses of the red arms and the white
shield whereon shines the red cross the which was put there by Joseph
of Arimathea whilst he lay dying in his deadly bed?"

Mallory did not answer.

There was silence. Then, "I would joust with ye," Sir Galahad said.

There it was, laid right on the line. The challenge--

The death sentence.

Nonsense! Mallory told himself. He's nothing but a nineteen-year old
kid. With your rohorse and your superior weapons you can unseat him in
two seconds flat, and once he's down, that glorified junk pile he's
wearing will glue him to the ground so fast he won't be able to lift a
finger!

Aloud, he said, "Have at me then!"

Instantly, Sir Galahad wheeled his horse around and rode to the far
side of the meadow. There, he wheeled the horse around again and
dressed his spear. Moonlight danced a silvery saraband on his white
shield, and the blood-red cross blurred and seemed to run.

Mallory dressed his own spear. Immediately, Sir Galahad charged.
_Full speed ahead, Easy Money!_ Mallory encephalopathed, and the
rohorse took off like a rocket.

All he had to do was to hang on tight, and the joust would be in the
bag, he reassured himself. Sir Galahad's spear would break like a
matchstick, while his own superior spear would penetrate Sir Galahad's
shield as though the shield was made of tissue paper, as in a sense it
really was when you compared the metal that constituted it to modern
alloys. No matter how you looked at the situation, the kid was in for
a big letdown. Mallory almost felt sorry for him.

The hoofbeats of horse and rohorse crescendoed; there was the
resounding clang! of steel coming into violent contact with steel.
Mallory's spear struck Sir Galahad's shield dead center--and snapped
in two. Sir Galahad's spear struck Mallory's shield dead center--and
Mallory sailed over Easy Money's croup and crashed to the ground.

He was stunned, both mentally and physically. Staggering to his feet,
he drew his sword and raised his shield. Sir Galahad had wheeled his
horse around, and now he came riding back. Several yards from Mallory,
he tossed his spear aside, dismounted as lightly as though he wore no
armor at all, drew his sword, and advanced. Mallory stepped forward,
his confidence returning. His spear had been defective--that was it.
But his sword and his shield weren't, and now that the kid had elected
to give him a sporting chance, he would teach the young upstart a
lesson that he would never forget.

Again, the two men came together. Down came Sir Galahad's sixth
century sword; up went Mallory's twenty-second century shield. There
was an ear-piercing _clang_, and the shield parted down the middle.

Aghast, Mallory stepped back. Sir Galahad moved in, sword upraised
again. Mallory raised his own sword, caught the full force of the
terrific down-rushing blow on the blade. His sword was cut cleanly in
two, his left pauldron was cleanly cleaved, and a great numbness
afflicted his left shoulder. He went down.

He stayed down.

Sir Galahad leaned over him, unbroken sword uplifted. The cross in the
center of the snow-white shield was a bright and burning red. "Ye must
yield you as an overcome man, or else I may slay you."

"I yield," Mallory said.

Sir Galahad sheathed his sword. "Ye be not sorely wounded, and sithen
I desire not neither of they two steeds, as belike they be as unworthy
as they pieces, ye can return to thy castle unholpen."

       *       *       *       *       *

Mallory blacked out for a moment, and when he came to, the shining
knight was gone.

He lay there in the moonlight for some time, looking up at the stars.
At length he fought his way to his feet and encephalopathed the two
rohorses to his side. Mounting Easy Money, he encephalopathed it to
return to the westernmost "castle of Yore" and encephalopathed the
other rohorse to follow. He left his broken weapons where they lay.

What had gone out of the world during the last sixteen hundred years
that had left sophisticated twenty-second century steel inferior in
quality to naïve sixth-century wrought iron? What did Sir Galahad have
that he, Mallory, lacked? Mallory shook his head. He did not know.

The moonlit "towers" of the _Yore_ had become visible through the
trees before it occurred to him that before riding away the man just
might have removed the Sangraal from the black rohorse's croup. At
first thought, such a possibility was too absurd to be entertained,
but not on second thought. According to _Le Morte d'Arthur_, the
fellowship of Sir Galahad, Sir Percivale, and Sir Bors had taken both
the table of silver and the Sangraal to Sarras where, some time later,
the Sangraal had been "borne up to heaven", never to be seen again.
Whether they had taken the table of silver did not concern Mallory,
but what did concern him was the fact that if they had taken the
Sangraal they could have done so only if it had fallen into Sir
Galahad's hands this very night. Tomorrow would be too late--now was
too late, in fact--provided, of course, that Mallory was destined to
return with it to the twenty-second century. Here, then, was the
crossroads, the real moment of truth: was he destined to succeed, or
wasn't he?

Hurriedly, he encephalopathed the two rohorses to halt, dismounted,
and raised the black rohorse's trappings. He was dizzy from the loss
of blood, but he did not let his dizziness dissuade him from his
purpose, and he had the croup-hood raised in a matter of a few
seconds. He held his breath when he looked within, expelled it with
relief. The Sangraal had not been disturbed.

He lifted it out of the croup-compartment, straightened its red samite
covering, and cradled it in his arms. Too weak to remount Easy Money,
he encephalopathed the two rohorses to follow and began walking toward
the _Yore_. Rowena must have seen him coming on one of the
telewindows, for she had the lock open when he arrived. Her face went
white when she looked at him, and when she saw the Grail, her eyes
grew even larger than plums. He went over and set it gently down on
the rec-hall table, then he collapsed into a nearby chair. He had just
enough presence of mind left to send her for the bottle of
blood-restorer pills, and just enough strength left to swallow several
of them when she brought it. Then he boarded the phantom ship that had
mysteriously appeared beside him and set sail upon the soundless sea
of night.


VI

"No," said the rent-a-mammakin, "you cannot see her. She is
displeased with your score in the get-rich-quick race."

"I did my best," the boy Mallory sobbed. "But when it came to stepping
on all those faces, I just couldn't do it!"

The rent-a-mammakin arranged its features into a severe frown and
strengthened its grip on the boy Mallory's arm. "You knew that they
were only painted on the game floor to symbolize the Competitive
Spirit," it said. "Why couldn't you step on them?"

The boy Mallory made a final desperate effort to gain the bedroom door
which his mother had just slammed and before which the rent-a-mammakin
stood, then he sank defeated to the floor. "I don't know why--I just
couldn't, that's all," he sobbed. He raised his voice. "But I _will_
step on them! I'll step on real faces too--just you wait and see. I'll
be a bigger get-rich-quickman than my father ever dreamed of being.
I'll show her!"

"I'll show her," the man Mallory murmured, "just you wait and see."

He opened his eyes. Save for himself, the bedroom-office was empty.
"Rowena?"

No answer.

He raised his voice. "Rowena!"

Again, no answer.

He frowned. The door to the bedroom-office was open, and the "castle"
certainly wasn't so large that his voice couldn't carry from one end
of it to the other.

His shoulder throbbed faintly, but otherwise he was unaware of his
wound. Rowena had bound it neatly--it was said that Age-of-Chivalry
gentlewomen were quite proficient in such matters--and apparently she
had once again got hold of the right counteragent.

He sat up and swung his feet to the floor. So far, so good.
Tentatively, he stood up. A wave of vertigo broke over him. After it
passed, he was as good as new. The blood-restorer pills had done their
work well.

Nevertheless, everything was not as it should be. Something was very
definitely wrong. "Rowena!" he called again.

Still no answer.

She had removed his armor and piled it neatly at the foot of the bed.
He stared at the various pieces, trying desperately to think.
Something had awakened him--that was it. The slamming of a door ... or
a lock.

He look a deep breath. He smelled green things. Dampness. A forest at
eventide....

He knew then what was wrong. The lock of the _Yore_ had been opened
and had been left open long enough for the evening air to permeate the
interior of the TSB; long enough, in other words, to have permitted
someone to ride across the imaginary drawbridge that spanned the
mirage-moat. Afterward, the lock had slammed back into place of its
own accord.

He hurried into the rec-hall. Easy Money stood all alone behind the
tourist-bar. The black rohorse was gone.

His eyes leaped to the rec-hall table. The Sangraal was gone, too.

He groaned. The little idiot was taking it back! And after he had
forbidden her to leave the "castle" too! Well no, he hadn't forbidden
her exactly: he had forbidden her to leave it _during his absence_.

He walked over to the telewindow nearest the lock and scrutinized the
screen. She was nowhere in sight, but night was on hand and the range
of his vision, while considerably abetted by the light of the rising
moon, was limited to the nearer trees.

Presently he frowned. Was it still the same night, or had he been
unconscious for almost twenty-four hours?

It _couldn't_ be the same night--the position of the moon disproved
that. And yet he could swear that he had been unconscious for no more
than a few hours.

       *       *       *       *       *

Belatedly, he remembered his gauntlet timepiece, and returned to the
bedroom-office. The timepiece registered 10:32. But that didn't make
any sense either: the moon was still low in the sky.

He knew then that there could be but one answer, and he headed for the
control room posthaste. Sure enough, the jump-board time-dial had been
set for 8:00 p.m. of the same day. He looked at the space-dial. That
had been set to re-materialize the _Yore_ one half mile farther west.

He wiped his forehead. Good Lord, she might have sent the TSB all the
way back to the Age of Reptiles! Even worse, she might have plunked it
right down in the middle of WWIII!

She hadn't, though. In point of fact, she had done exactly what she
had set out to do--taken the _Yore_ back to a point in time from which
the Sangraal could be returned to the castle of Carbonek less than an
hour after it had been stolen.

Suddenly he remembered how she had watched him from the doorway of the
control room each time he had reset the time and space-dials.
Technologically speaking, she was little more than a child, but
jump-boards were as uncomplicated as modern technology could make
them, and a person needed to be but little more than a child to
operate them.

Grimly, Mallory returned to his bedroom-office and got into his armor;
then, ignoring the throbbing of his reawakened wound, he mounted Easy
Money and set out. He had no weapons, but it could not be helped. With
a little luck, he would have need of none. He was about due for a
little luck, if you asked him.

He gambled that Rowena would use the same route back to the chamber of
the Sangraal that they had used in leaving it--actually, she had no
other choice--and he encephalo-guided Easy Money at a fast trot in the
direction of the river in the hope of overtaking her before she
reached the entrance to the subterranean passage. However, the hope
did not materialize, and he saw no sign of her till he reached the
entrance himself. Strictly speaking, he saw no sign of her then
either, but he did discern several dislodged stones that could have
been thrown up by the black rohorse's hoofs.

[Illustration]

Entering the passage, he frowned. Until that moment, the incongruity
of a sixth-century damosel encephalo-guiding a twenty-second century
rohorse had not struck him. After a moment, though, he had to admit
that the incongruity was not as glaring as it had at first seemed.
"Encephalopathing" was merely a glorified term for "thinking," and
Rowena, shortly after mounting Perfidion's steed, must have made the
discovery that she had only to think where she wanted to go in order
for the rohorse to take her there.

He had not remembered to bring a light, nor did he need one. The
infra-red rays of Easy Money's eye units were more than sufficient for
the task on hand, and overtaking the girl would have been as easy as
rolling off a log--if she hadn't been riding a rohorse, too.
Overtaking her wasn't of paramount importance anyway: he could
confiscate the Sangraal after she returned it just as easily as he
could before.

The odd part about the whole thing was that Mallory never once thought
of the inevitable overlap till he saw the flicker of torchlight up
ahead. An instant later he heard the sound of a woman's voice, and
instinctively he encephalo-guided Easy Money into a nearby shallow
cave.

       *       *       *       *       *

[Illustration]

The flickering light grew gradually brighter, and presently hoofbeats
became audible. The woman's voice was loud and clear now, and Mallory
made out her words above the purling of the underground stream: "...
And then he set down the maiden, and was armed at all pieces save he
lacked his spear. Then he dressed his shield, and drew out his sword,
and Bors smote him so hard that it went through his shield and
habergeon on the left shoulder. And through great strength he beat
him down to the earth, and at the pulling of Bors' spear there he
swooned. Then came Bors to the maid and said: How seemeth it to you of
this knight ye be delivered at this time? Now sir, said she, I pray
you lead me there as this knight had me. So shall I do gladly: and
took the horse of the wounded knight, and set the gentlewoman upon
him, and so brought her as she desired. Sir knight, said she, ye have
better sped than ye weened, for an I had lost my maidenhead, five
hundred men should have died for it. What knight was he that had you
in the forest? By my faith, said she, he is my cousin. So wot I never
with what engyn the fiend enchafed him, for yesterday he took me from
my father privily: for I nor none of my father's men mistrusted him
not, and if he had had my maidenhead he should have died for the sin,
and his body shamed and dishonored for ever. Thus as...."

At this point, the truth behind the sense of _deja vu_ that Mallory
had experienced the first time he had heard the tale hit him so hard
between the eyes that he jerked back his head. When he did so, his
helmet came into contact with the cave wall and scraped against the
stone. The rohorse and its two riders were directly across the stream
now. "_Shhh!_" Mallory I whispered.

Rowena I gasped. "It were best that I thanked ye now for thy great
kindness, fair knight," she said, "for anon we be no longer on live."

"Nonsense!" Mallory I said. "If this fiend of yours is anywhere in the
vicinity, he's probably more afraid of us than we are of him."

"Per ... peradventure he hath already had meat," Rowena I said
hopefully. "The tale saith that an the fiend be filled he becomes
aweary and besets not them the which do pass him by in peace."

"I'll keep my sword handy just in case he changes his mind," Mallory I
said. "Meanwhile, get on with your autobiography--only for Pete's
sake, cut it short, will you?"

"An it please, fair sir. Thus as the fair gentlewoman stood talking
with Sir Bors there came twelve knights seeking after her, and
anon...."

For a long while after the voices faded away, Mallory IV could not
move. Hearing the story the second time and, more important, hearing
it from the standpoint of an observer, he had been able to identify it
for what it really was--an excerpt from _Le Morte d'Arthur_. The
Joseph of Arimathea bit had been an excerpt, too, he realized now,
probably lifted word for word from the text. It was odd indeed that a
sixth-century damosel who presumably couldn't read could be on such
familiar terms with a book that would not be published for another
nine hundred and forty-three years.

But not so odd if she was a twenty-second century blonde in a
sixth-century damosel's clothing.

Remembering Perfidion's secretary, Mallory felt sick. No, there was no
noticeable resemblance between her and the damosel that hight Rowena;
but the removal of a girdle and a quarter of a pound of makeup, not to
mention the application of a "lustre-rich" brown hair-dye and the
insertion of a pair of plum-blue contact lenses, could very well have
brought such a resemblance into being--and quite obviously had. The
Past Police were noted for their impersonations, and most of them had
eidetic memories.

_Come on, Easy Money_, Mallory encephalopathed. _You and I have got a
little score to settle._

       *       *       *       *       *

When he entered the chamber of the Sangraal, Rowena IV was arranging
the red samite cover around the Grail. She jumped when she saw him.
"Marry! fair sir, ye did startle me. Methinketh ye be asleep in thy
castle."

"Knock it off," Mallory said. "The masquerade's over."

She regarded him with round uncomprehending eyes. He got the
impression that she had been crying. "The ... the masquerade, fair
knight?"

"That's right ... the masquerade. You're no more the damosel Rowena
than I'm the knight Sir Galahad."

She lowered her eyes to his breastplate. "I ... I wot well ye be not
Sir Galahad, fair sir. It ... it happed that aforetime I did see Sir
Galahad with my own eyes, and when ye did unlace thy unberere and I
did see thy face, I knew ye could not be him of which ye spake."
Abruptly she raised her head and looked at him defiantly. "But I knew
from thy eyes that ye be most noble, fair sir, and therefore an ye did
pretend to be him the which ye were not, ye did so for noble cause,
and it were not for me to question."

"I said knock it off," Mallory said, but with considerable less
conviction. "I'm onto you--don't you see? You're a time-fink."

"A ... a time fink? I wot not what--"

"An agent of the Past Police. One of those do-gooders who run around
history replacing stolen goods and turning in hard-working people like
myself. You gave yourself away when you lifted that Sir Bors bit
straight out of _Le Morte d'Arthur_ and--"

"But I did say ye sooth, fair sir. Sir Bors did verily succor my
maidenhead. I wot not how there can be two of ye and two of me and
four hackneys when afore there were but two, and I wot not how by
touching the magic board in thy castle in a certain fashion that I
could make the hour earlier and I wot not how the magic steed I did
bestride brought me hither--I wot not none of these matters, fair sir.
I wot only that the magic of thy castle is marvelous indeed."

For a while, Mallory didn't say anything. He couldn't. In the
plum-blue eyes fixed full upon his face, truth shone, and that same
truth had invested her every word. The damosel Rowena, despite all
evidence to the contrary and despite the glaring paradox the admission
gave rise to, was not a phony, never had been a phony, and never would
be a phony. She was, as a matter of fact--with the exception of Sir
Galahad--the only completely honest person he had known in all his
life.

"Tell me," he said, at length, "weren't you afraid to come back
through that passage alone? Weren't you afraid the fiend would get
you?"

"La! fair sir--I had great fear. But it were not fitting that I
bethought me of myself at such a time." She paused. Then, "What might
be thy true name, sir knight?"

"Mallory," Mallory said. "Thomas Mallory."

"I have great joy of thy acquaintance, Sir Thomas."

Mallory only half heard her. He was looking at the samite-covered
Sangraal. No more obstacles stood between him and his quest, and time
was a-wasting. He started to take a step in the direction of the
silver table.

His foot did not leave the floor.

       *       *       *       *       *

He was acutely aware of Rowena's eyes. As a matter of fact, he could
almost feel them upon his face. It wasn't that they were any different
than they had been before: it was just that he was suddenly and
painfully cognizant of the trust and the admiration that shone in
them. Despite himself, he had the feeling that he was standing in
bright and blinding sunlight.

Again, he started to take a step in the direction of the silver table.
Again, his foot did not leave the floor.

It wasn't so much the fact that she didn't believe he would take the
Sangraal that bothered him: it was the fact that she couldn't conceive
of him taking it. She could be convinced that black was white,
perhaps, and that white was black, and that fiends hung out in empty
caves and castles; but she could never be convinced that a "knight" of
the qualities she imputed to Mallory could perform a dishonorable act.

And there it was, laid right on the line. For all the good the Grail
was going to do Mallory, it might just as well have been at the bottom
of the Mindanao Deep.

He sighed. His gamble hadn't paid off any more than Perfidion's had.
The real Sir Galahad was the one who had inherited the Grail after
all--not the false one. The false one grinned ruefully. "Well," he
told the damosel Rowena, "it's been nice knowing you." He swallowed;
for some reason his throat felt tight. "I ... I imagine you'll be all
right now."

To his amazement she broke into tears. "Oh, Sir Thomas!" she cried.
"In my great haste to return the Sangraal to the chamber and to right
the grievous wrong committed by the untrue knight Sir Jason, I did
bewray my trust again. For when I espied ye and me and Easy Money in
the passage I did suffer a great discomfit, and it so happed that when
my steed did enter into a cave that the Sangraal came free from my
hands and ... and--"

Mallory was staring at her. "You _dropped_ it?"

Stepping over to the silver table, she lifted a corner of the red
samite. The dent was not a deep one, but just the same you didn't have
to look twice to see it. "I ... I nyst not what to do," she said.

Suddenly Mallory remembered the first sound he had heard in the
passage when he and Rowena were leaving the castle of Carbonek. "Well
how do you like that!" he said. He grinned. "I take it that this puts
your hands in jeopardy all over again--right?"

"Yea, Sir Thomas, but I would lever die than beseech thee again to--"

"Which," Mallory continued happily, "makes it out of the question for
a knight such as myself to leave you behind." He took her arm. "Come
on," he said. "I don't know how I'm going to fit a sixth-century
damosel into twenty-second century society, but believe me, I'm going
to try!"

"And ... and will ye take Easy Money to this land whereof ye speak,
Sir Thomas?"

"Sir Thomas" grinned. "Wit ye well," he said, "and his buddy, too.
Come on."

       *       *       *       *       *

In the _Yore_, he tossed his helmet and gauntlets into a corner of the
rec-hall and proceeded straight to the control room. There, with
Rowena standing at his elbow, he set the time-dial for June 21, 2178
and the space-dial for the Kansas City Time-Tourist Port. Lord, it
would be good to get home again and get a haircut! "Here goes," he
told Rowena, and threw the switch.

There was a faint tremor. "Brace yourself, Rowena," he said, and took
her over to the control-room telewindow.

[Illustration]

Together, they gazed upon the screen. Mallory gasped. The vista of
spiral suburban dwellings which he had been expecting was not in the
offing. In its stead was a green, tree-stippled countryside. In the
distance, a castle was clearly discernible.

He stared at it. It wasn't a sixth-century job like Carbonek--it was
much more modern. But it was still a castle. Obviously, the jump-board
had malfunctioned and thrown the _Yore_ only a little ways into the
future, the while leaving it in pretty much the same locale.

He returned to the jump-board to find out. Just as he reached it, its
lights flickered and went out. The time and space-dials, however,
remained illumined long enough for him to see when and where the TSB
had re-materialized. The year was 1428 A.D.; the locale, Warwickshire.

Mallory made tracks for the generator room. The generator was smoking,
and the room reeked with the stench of shorted wires.

He swore. Perfidion!

So that was why the man had broken with tradition and invited a common
time-thief to a game of golp!

If he had been anyone but Perfidion he would have gimmicked the
controls of the _Yore_ so that Mallory would have wound up directly in
the fifteenth century sans sojourn in the sixth. But being Perfidion,
he had wanted Mallory to know how completely he was being outsmarted.
The chances were, though, that if the man had anticipated the
near-coincidence of the two visits to the chamber of the Sangraal he
would have seen to it that Mallory had never gotten a chance to use
his Sir Galahad suit.

Returning to the control room, Mallory saw that the lumillusion panel had
been pre-programmed to materialize the _Yore_ as a fifteenth-century
English castle. Apparently it had been in the books all along for him to
become a fifteenth-century knight, just as it had been in the books all
along for Perfidion to become the proprietor of a misplaced hot-dog stand.

Mallory laughed. He had gotten the best of the bargain after all. At
least there was no smog in the fifteenth century.

Who was he supposed to be? he wondered. Had his name gone down in
history by any chance?

Abruptly he gasped. Was _he_ the Sir Thomas Malory with estates in
Northampshire and Warwickshire? Was _he_ the Sir Thomas Malory who had
compiled and translated and written _Le Morte d'Arthur_? Almost
nothing about the man's life was known, and probably the little that
was known had been assumed. He _could_ have popped up from nowhere,
made his fortune through foreknowledge, and been knighted. He _could_
have been a reformed time-thief stranded in the fifteenth century.

But if he, Mallory, was Malory, how in the world was he going to get
five hundred chapters of semi-historical data together and pass them
off as _Le Morte d'Arthur_?

Suddenly he understood everything.

       *       *       *       *       *

Going over to where Rowena was still standing in front of the
telewindow, he said, "I'll bet you know no end of stories about the
doings of the knights of the Table Round."

"La! Sir Thomas. Ever I saw day of my life I have heard naught else in
the court of my father."

"Tell me," Mallory said, "how did this Round Table business begin? Or,
better yet, how did the Grail business begin? We can take up the Round
Table business later on."

She thought for a moment. Then, "List, fair sir, and I will say ye: At
the vigil of Pentecost, when all the fellowship of the Round Table
were come unto Camelot and there heard their service, and the tables
were set ready to the meat, right so entered into the hall a full fair
gentlewoman on horseback, that had ridden full fast, for her horse was
all besweated. Then she there alit, and came before the king and
saluted him; and he said: Damosel, God thee bless. Sir, said she, for
God's sake say me where Sir Launcelot is. Yonder ye may see him, said
the king. Then she went unto Launcelot and said: Sir Launcelot, I
salute you on King Pelles' behalf, and I require you to come on with
me hereby into a forest. Then Sir Launcelot asked her with whom she
dwelled. I dwell, said she, with King Pelles. What will ye with me?
said Launcelot. Ye shall know, said she, when ye--"

"That'll do for now," Mallory interrupted. "We'll come back to it as
soon as I get stocked up on paper and ink. Scheherazade," he added.

"Scheherazade, Sir Thomas? I wot not--"

He leaned down and kissed her. "There's no need for you to wot," he
said. Probably, he reflected, he would have to do a certain amount of
research in order to record the happenings that had ensued his and
Rowena's departure, and undoubtedly said research would result
ironically in the recording of the true visits of Sirs Galahad and
Launcelot to the chamber of the Sangraal--the "time-slots" on which he
and Perfidion had gambled and lost their shirts. The main body of the
work, however, had been deposited virtually on his lap, and its style
and flavor had been arbitrarily determined. Moreover, contrary to what
history would later maintain, the job would not be done in prison, but
right here in the "castle of Yore" with Rowena sitting--and
dictating--beside him. As for the impossibility of giving a
sixth-century damosel as his major source, that could be avoided--as
in one sense it already had been--my making frequent allusions to
imaginary French sources. And as for the main obstacle to the
endeavor--his twenty-second century cynicism--that had been obviated
during his encounter with Sir Galahad.

The book wouldn't be published till 1485, but just the same, he was
keen to get started on it. Writing it should be fun. Which reminded
him: "I know we haven't known each other very long in one sense,
Rowena," he said, "but in another, we've known each other for almost
nine hundred years. Will you marry me?"

She blinked once. Then her plum-blue eyes showed how truly blue they
could become and she threw her arms around his gorget. "Wit ye well,
Sir Thomas," said she, "that there is nothing in the world but I would
lever do than be thy bride!"

_Thus did the prose epic known
successively as "La Mort d'Arthur,"
THE MOST ANCIENT
AND FAMOUS HISTORY OF THE
RENOWNED PRINCE ARTHUR,
KING OF BRITAINE,
AS ALSO, ALL THE NOBLE ACTS,
AND HEROICKE DEEDS
OF HIS VALIANT KNIGHTS
OF THE ROUND TABLE,
and "Le Morte d'Arthur"
come to be recorded._

       *       *       *       *       *





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