The Pendragon Agenda
Teel James Glenn
“The ‘Rounders have a runner!”
The word came in at midnight from one of our West End agents via the teleglass.
“I saw this young bloke give the slip to two of the white coated buggers outside the Pig and Whistle, Guv,” the legless beggar called Jolly Ripple said. “He headed toward Pinchin Street and the maze; and I think—I’m certain he’s the one we got the word on to keep a look out for!”
I grabbed my kit and headed out immediately; knowing that our people besides Jolly would keep an eye on the runner and, if they could, funnel him toward a safe area.
“Two ‘Rounders for one runner,” I thought as I leapt up into the hansom and shouted to Miles, “The East End, and don’t spare the horses!”
He was the best cabman in the ranks of us Mords—members of the Secret Society of Mordredites—so I knew he would find the fastest way through the fogbound London Streets.
All I could do was prepare myself to encounter either of the Special Officers of the Roundtable—the ’Rounders—who were after the boy.
I had briefly fought a Rounder in the Romney Marshes in Kent two years before when Crown forces tried to stop us smuggling in two royal fugitives to France. That Rounder had been already wounded by a stray shot but I still almost died from a wound from his enchanted truncheon.
“Almost there, Master Grey.” Miles called down to rouse me from reverie. “The streets are unusually empty tonight.”
I checked my sword cane that, ironically, had a dragon carved in silver as its handle. It had served me well before, its slim black blade all but humming in thirst for new souls.
“I don’t think you want one of those Rounder bastard’s dark souls,” I said to the obsidian blade. “It’ll leave a bitter taste.” Its blade had been smuggled across the border from the Mayan Empire, its banned sorcery making it one of the few weapons that might allow me a chance, to face up with two ‘Rounders. There were no other of the Mord council in the area so I was on my own
The carriage pulled to a stop and I was out before the wheels stopped turning. The cobbles of the alley were slick with congealed mist that the gaslamps did little to dispel it made the narrow alleys of the East End seem the whole world.
“Ssst,” a hiss came from a shadowed alcove. “Sir Athelstan!” A ragamuffin figure wheeled out of the gloom on a trolley-like platform. He pointed to the right. “Down that way!”
“Good man, Jolly,” I said as I ran down the way indicated, my half cape flying like bat wings behind me.
Jolly had lost his legs fighting for The Crown against the Moorish Confederation in Spain—had been taken prisoner by them after he was wounded. It was there that he first came to see the world beyond the lies of the Crown.
“Have a care, sir,” the vet called after me, “ both ‘Rounders are in the maze!”
“So are our people,” I thought. “Hopefully, that will make the difference.“
The area of the East End, deep in Whitechapel was commonly called The Maze. It was a sordid, dark and putrid place, where the dregs of humanity struggled to keep alive under the oppressive rule of our ‘good’ Queen Guinevere and her court sorcerers. It therefore was a place were many of our supporters came from.
It was easier to relate the realities of the world to the downtrodden, the abandoned and those, like Jolly Ripple who had served the Crown then been discarded like so much trash.
As I raced along whispered words and soft cries of “that way—” or “the alley to the right,” came to me and I knew it was our phantom army steering me toward the runner.
As I ran, I considered why I was taking such a radical chance of possibly facing two ‘Rounders at the same time; the runner. We had been alerted by allies across the channel to a most unusual circumstance of a young monk from a scriptorium at Du’lac that had gone rogue. He had apparently stumbled on something that so shook his faith in the Holey Albion Church that he’d defied an order from his abbot and fled. And he ran talking about whatever it was he had found.
Whether by wit, skill or luck the boy had eluded Crown forces on the continent and somehow made it to London; our hope was that he was looking for we dissidents.
Whatever he had had the teleglass network of the ‘Rounders buzzing.
And anything that disrupted their lives we were all for.
I was deep in The Maze now and for the first time I sensed something beyond the background noise of the hundreds of minds in the buildings around me—a particular fear.
It was one of the ‘talents’ (though some would call it a curse) I have jealously guarded from the officers of the Crown—the ability to sense the emotional states of others. Some might call it a low level of mind reading—but it was more about empathy than the full ability to actually read thoughts. It did make me valuable to our underground in recruiting those who would help our cause—no one can lie to me.
The shabby walls of the West End seemed to lean in toward me as I moved from deeper into The Maze. I could ‘feel’ the runner ahead of me in the narrow ways, a fearful individual at the edge of panic.
I rounded a sharp corner into a dead end alley and suddenly I saw the object of my search; he was little more than a boy—perhaps in his late teens—and cowering against the far wall of the cul-de-sac, his arms wrapped protectively around a leather case, his eyes focused fearfully on two ‘Rounders that loomed over him.
There was no mistaking the Crown’s enforcers, for they, like the Beefeaters of old, seemed a breed apart. All ‘Rounders were well over six feet tall and broad of shoulder, though one of these seemed easily seven feet.
They wore the long white leather dusters with the Crown’s dragon coat-of-arms embossed on the single left shoulder pauldron, low crowned white top hats and the full face silk masks that all ‘Rounders wore to protect their identities.
No one, to my knowledge, had ever seen a ‘Rounder’s naked face and lived.
I stood in the shadows for a long second contemplating what my course of action should be and listened.
“Easy, Lad,” the nearer ‘Rounder said in a deep, but soothing voice. “No one wants to harm you; the Crown Advocate would just like to talk to you about the little case you have there. No need to fear.”
“No!” the terrified runner said in a heavy accent. “You-you all want me dead!”
“Now, lad,” the slightly smaller of the enforcers said. “You were naughty when you nicked that package, it is true, but the Crown knows its all been a ballocks of a misunderstanding. Just hand it over and we’ll take you to the Dover dirigible port and send you back to your monastery.”
There were waves of soul deep fear pouring forth from the dark haired boy though he seemed to raise his chin in defiance as he spoke. “No,” the boy said again, “I know, I know. And you know I do so you’ll have to kill me!”
From the ‘Rounders, as usual, I couldn’t detect even an emotional trace, it was as if they were negatives in the reality of the world. For all their bulk they were essentially phantoms to my abilities, for whatever training the Crown gave them I could not penetrate their minds in any way.
“We tried, Alfie,” the taller of the ‘Rounders said with false concern in his voice that barely concealed his glee. “Now we do it the hard way!”
“Just so, Tommy, “the second ‘Rounder said. “Just so.”
The two behemoths reached beneath their coats as one to pull their enforcers truncheons. The crystal weapons glowed with Merlinian energy and caused the boy to gasp in horror.
That was my cue to act!
All concept of fair play was pointless in dealing with ‘Rounders so I drew my Webly—charged with steel jacketed silver bullets and warded by a priest of Bran and put two bullets through Tommy’s head.
The man’s head became a literal bloody mess in a spray of red.
Alfie spun to face me, but I dared not fire for hitting the boy beyond him who was in direct line of fire.
I holstered my pistol and drew my soul-blade, grateful that, for some unknown reason ‘Rounders never used firearms. Not that their crystal blubs were not deadly, but at least I had the hope, one on one, if I could end the conflict quickly.
“Take heart, lad,” I called to the amazed boy, “I’ll deal with this bloody behemoth, then we’ll be on our way.”
“Stand down, blasphemer and you will die quickly,” Alfie snarled at me. “If you do not I will make your death a work of art.”
“I’ve come to distrust anything you no-faced devils say,” I hissed in a false calm tone. “You’ve done nothing but lie to the people of Albion for decades.”
My accusation seemed to enrage the ‘Rounder and he came at me with the truncheon raised with the inevitability of a steam locomotive.
I had my sword cane in my left hand and drew the blade with my right I gave ground to his charge.
The truncheon, a three foot bar of crystal imbedded with jewels and mystic runes, wrapped partially in gold, was a fearsome weapon by itself, but wielded by an expert the size of the ‘Rounder it seemed a sure path to death.
I say seemed, for in my time in India I had witnesses a Sikh master disarm a ‘Rounder and escape capture. I sought that master out and, after much pressure was allowed to secretly study under him during my tenure there for the East India Company.
Thus as the crystal club arced down at my head I dodged right, slashed up with my steel cane-sheath and struck a thunder-crack blow to Alfie’s forearm.
At the same time I thrust my soul-sword under his left armpit, hoping to pierce the upper chamber of his heart.
My blade barely penetrated his heavy coat, however, before the nimble giant jumped back with the light step of a Morris dancer.
“A banned Mordredite weapon!” The ‘Rounder hissed. “You have condemned yourself to the Inquisition!”
Alfie was at me again with the fluid grace of a large cat, the truncheon flashing in the dim light as if it were lambent.
I parried with my sword, the black blade sparking red when it connected with the spelled crystal of the club.
I continued to give ground, moving back up the alley in hopes that I could pull the ‘Rounder off line so I could get a shot at him, but he realized my strategy and stopped following.
“The boy is mine,” the ‘Rounder said. “Your blasphemous magicks against the Church of Albion can not prevent me taking him.”
I began to believe he might be right.
The boy was still cowering against the wall of the dead end, clutching his satchel, tears streaming from his blue eyes.
I was forced by Alfie to stand and exchange blow for blow with him, vying for an opening while trying to keep him from penetrating my defenses. Each blow of his I parried sent shock waves down my arms and sapped by strength just a little bit more. I began to doubt I could stave off his attacks for much longer and might have to flee.
I could feel the boy’s fear and confusion as he watched our combat turning to something else but had no time to reflect on it as the ‘Rounder managed to bypass a parry of mine and slam the crystal club into my left hip.
The pain was a whitehot lance cutting through me and then my whole left side went numb. I barely managed to keep from falling and slashed back at the ‘Rounder to keep him off me.
“You and your kind will fail, Mordredite,” Alfie gloated. “Her Majesty’s forces will never fall before such unholy scum as you!”
I began to fear Alfie was right. My whole left side was going numb and I had already lost the ability to use my left arm to ward. While I fought with my blade I had no time for a counter chant to the truncheon’s spell.
Suddenly the ‘Rounder yelled in pain—a strange sound that I had never heard from one of his kind—and dropped to his knees.
The reason was clear immediately; the runner had used Tommy’s truncheon at Alfie’s legs and downed the officer.
I took advantage and made a clumsy lunge with my blade, sending the point through the ‘Rounder’s left eye into his brain.
The ‘Rounder shuddered once and fell forward, dead.
The alley was abruptly deathly quiet save for my own rasping breaths.
After a time I attempted a smile and whispered, “Thank you, lad.”
I tried to limp toward him and then stopped. “Just let me unspell my leg and we can be gone.”
“Allow me, monsieur,” the boy said then, with a muttered Latin phrase removed the paralyzing geist almost before I realized he had done it.
“Again, thank you—”
“Etienne Le Guierre,” the boy said. Close up he was pale, thin with startlingly blue eyes and almost feminine hands. “Are you really a Morderdite?”
I smiled as gracefully as my disheveled appearance would allow and bowed. “Sir Athelstan Grey, adherent to the doctrine of justice, in opposition to the Pendragon excesses; we have been called Mords.”
“Then know that all you and the world believe—all that I once believed about the very history of Albion is a lie.”
Before I could react or ask what he meant he reached over and snatched the silk mask from the corpse of Alfie.
I gasped at what was revealed; the face of the dead ‘Rounder was a hideous thing, not the scarred face of some warrior concealed for form, rather a thing wholly not human!
It had a pushed in snout a fanged mouth and greenish lizard-like skin.
“What monster is this?” I whispered.
“No monster,” Adrian said. “Not as you might think.” He held the leather tube aloft. “Something worse; I stumbled across this ancient lay in the scrolls that tells the whole truth that the Crown has killed to keep secret for centuries.”
He took a deep breath then sang softly words that I knew immediately would change the world for all of us.
“The Lie of the Line,
When the Pendragon sat on the throne
And an enemy’s blade could cut to the bone
The bards and the people were wont to essay
That England’s true ruler
Was the Queen of the Fae
‘Twas Merlin some said
Was running the show
But the real inside track knew it w’rt so
That the lady was calling the cuts and the wards
For ‘twas she who reigned as monarch of swords
To what purpose this boy of brambles made king?
Why for his praises for ages to sing?
To elevate Guinevere to first lady state
And Lancelot’s issue to put on the plate
For that child and his spawn still rule to this day
In the secret Wyr-Albion
The Kingdom of Fae!
“My god,” I exclaimed, “ The ‘Rounders are Fey guardians and the whole Pendragon line is illegitimate!”
“Yes,” the boy said and then spoke the words that I knew would ignite a full blown revolution. He stood up a bit straighter, threw his shoulders back and said in a voice that was tinged with awe, “I am a direct descendant of Mordred, son of King Arthur by Morgan Le- Fey and thus am the true Ruler of Albion, not Queen Guinivere!”