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.
* * * * *