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Etiology

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“You think it’s just another day in your time ship. You get up, you cook breakfast, Gideon apologises for interrupting but there’s yet another problem and apparently this one is serious enough to still be unfolding, and then suddenly you’re dressed like a leper. Again!”

“You know you could’ve just worn armour like the rest of us,” Ray pointed out with a smile that faltered in the face of Nate’s glare.

“What if we ran into people who weren’t from Camelot?” he cried. “This is still far more historically accurate.”

“They might just, oh, I don’t know, assume we’re also from Camelot,” Sara pointed out with a sigh while starting to pick her way up a small hill.

“I think he enjoys being a martyr to history,” Amaya said, a small smirk twitching at her lips.

“I do not- that’s not-“ Nate huffed, then took a deep, deliberate breath. “Gideon didn’t know the extent of the aberration yet. What if Camelot isn’t there anymore? We could contaminate history, or start a riot!”

The others exchanged amused glances.

“We could!”

*

“I still don’t see… why we couldn’t land any closer,” Martin gasped some time later, pausing to bend over with his hands on his knees. “This is… rather heavy gear… to be wearing for a hike.”

“Speak for yourself, old man,” Jax said with a bark of laughter, doing a little jig and laughing harder when it made Martin groan and swat at him.

“We don’t know what we might be walking into,” Sara said in the flat tones of someone who was sick of repeating themselves.

“Yeah, see, we don’t know. We should be prepared for history, not implausible magic cities,” Nate insisted, but quickly subsided again when Sara cut a look at him.

“I don’t remember getting this close without meeting anyone last time,” Ray said suddenly, brow furrowed as he looked around them at the still empty forest.

“I just see trees, trees, and more trees,” Mick rumbled.

“Exactly.”

“Ray’s right,” Sara said, stopping and looking around as well. “Guinevere intercepted us much quicker than this on our last visit.”

“They were out searching for Damien Darhk last time, though… Perhaps they don’t normally patrol this far?”

“But we’re not very far out now,” Sara said, shaking her head. “The castle is just over this ridge. No, something’s wrong. Everybody stay quiet.”

*

By the time they were approaching the foot of the castle all joviality had been cast aside in favour of a rather tense silence. Yet, to their surprise, they were hailed at the gate by a knight. It was one none of them knew but he at least seemed to recognise Ray, and welcomed all friends of Sir Raymond of the Palms to join them in the great hall of the mighty Camelot.

“Are they all going to talk like that?” Mick asked, frowning.

“Why, but it is the fair tongue of the land of his birth and-“

Ray came to an abrupt halt and yelped as Mick whacked him upside the head.

Their self-appointed guide turned back to them with a frown, making Sara hiss at them to behave and everyone else smile back extra brightly at him.

“Are you well, Sir Raymond?” the knight asked, casting a suspicious eye over the others.

“Oh, yes, yes. Everything-“ Ray stopped, took a deep breath and then put on his most pompous knightly voice again. “All is well, fellow knight.”

The knight continued eyeing them all suspiciously, but turned and resumed walking after a moment. Ray immediately deflated and rubbed the back of his head.

“Ow,” he muttered quietly. “What was that for?”

“I don’t speak pompous jackass,” Mick said with a shrug and then started off after the knight, leaving Ray to stand gaping.

Nate sniggered and Amaya appeared to be hiding a smile behind her hand.

“Well, come along then, Sir Raymond,” Sara said, eyes dancing.

“But- he just-“ Ray spluttered, but reluctantly started trailing along with the others once more.

*

By the time they had reached the hall Ray had stopped rubbing his head but was still busy casting frowns toward Mick at every opportunity, so Sara quickly stepped to the front of the group.

“This is still so cool,” Jax said behind her, grinning and looking around the room.

“We’re looking for Queen Guinevere,” Sara announced, ignoring Ray when he finally looked up and made an aborted movement as if to join her.

Silence fell slowly across the hall as a few people looked at her and then to each other, but nobody stepped forward to speak.

“We would also like to speak with your King,” she tried again, frowning.

There was a small commotion at the back of the room, and then the crowd parted.

“Neither the King nor the Queen are in Camelot,” Courtney said, her face grave. “But you are all still very welcome here.”

Quickly she swept across the room and ushered them toward a corner as the chatter started up again, pausing only to embrace Amaya.

“What has happened here?” Amaya asked.

Courtney sighed.

“Too much since you departed,” she said. “The Queen has been kidnapped-“

“No!” Ray cried, and was quickly shushed.

“- and Arthur has gone to negotiate her release, against my advice, with almost all of the knights.”

“You didn’t go with him?” Nate asked, then made a choking noise as Amaya stepped on his foot.

“We thought the forest seemed a little quiet,” Sara said, and Courtney nodded.

“As is Camelot itself,” she agreed. “The King insisted I stay behind to help protect the castle in case of another attack. My position as Merlin gives me some sway over those that remain, but our numbers are depleted and without either the King or the Queen…”

“Camelot is ripe for the picking,” Sara finished for her, frowning.

Courtney dipped her head. “We were expecting them back earlier today, but now night is drawing close and still no word.”

“It makes sense then,” Nate said. “If something happens to the castle-“

“Then there’s no legend of Camelot,” Amaya finished. “Oh, Courtney, I’m so sorry.”

“I don’t understand,” Courtney said, mouth turning down further into a frown.

Sara took a deep breath. “There’s been a change in the timeline, that’s why we came back. The myth of Camelot has faded into obscurity and it’s having some rather far reaching effects on history. Don’t get me wrong, the legend is still there, but it’s… not as widely told.”

“So there’s not as many people across history wanting to be knights,” Ray said.

“Not in Britain, at any rate,” Nate continued, “the localised effect on knight numbers is actually-“

“Probably an improvement. What kind of idiot wants to be a knight, anyway?” Mick scoffed.

“I did!” Ray said with a huff.

“I am no real traveller of time,” Courtney said slowly, “at least not the way you all are. But I was the one who created this Camelot to protect the spear. It wasn’t a real place before I arrived. How can events here now be changing the legend which I created it from?”

“That’s the million dollar question,” Sara said, shrugging.

“It could be a fascinating little predestination paradox-“ Martin mused, but was interrupted by the doors to the hall being flung open with a bang.

“Arthur!” Courtney cried, leaping to her feet and hurrying towards the group of rag-tag looking knights spilling through the doorway.

After rather a lot of noise and confusion, most of the knights were settled in around the hall and healers called in to tend to their wounds. Courtney had insisted on attending to the King herself, and was bent over his arm with a bandage while the Legends hovered uncertainly nearby.

“It is an honour to see you again, Sir Raymond,” the King said at last, looking up from Courtney and taking them all in.

“The honour is mine, your highness,” Ray said with a deep bow that turned into a sudden dart sideways as Mick made a small movement in his direction.

King Arthur took this all in with a furrowed brow, and then turned toward Sara as she spoke.

“The Queen is not with you?”

“No,” he said with a heavy sigh. “Our request to meet with her captors was refused and we were forced back when we attempted to enter by the edge of our blades.”

“You need rest,” Courtney said, casting a quick glare at the rest of them, and tugging the bandage a little tighter.

“Be easy, Merlin. My injuries are not so great,” King Arthur said, reaching over with his good hand to touch her shoulder and smile. “None can rest while our Queen remains in peril. Perhaps those who helped us once before might help us again in this quest?”

The last he directed toward Sara, who bowed her head in acceptance.

“We would be happy to assist in any way we can.”

*

By morning they were all yawning but a plan had been decided upon, and - to Courtney’s relief - King Arthur had even agreed to remain behind with his knights to rest and heal.

“Worst case scenario, we get caught and they can make a second run at it with the element of surprise,” Ray concluded as they entered the Waverider, smiling and bouncing along with a decided spring in his step.

“I think you mean worst case scenario we all get skewered on swords,” Jax broke in.

“I predict only a two point six percent likelihood of that scenario eventuating,” Gideon interrupted.

“Oh, is that all?” Martin huffed, and exchanged a dark look with Jax.

“You stayed on the ship last time,” Sara pointed out. “I’m sure Gideon would appreciate the company if you want to stay behind again.”

“The rest of us managed the last sword fight just fine on our own,” Amaya pointed out.

“I still have terabytes of data to process and this plan is likely to generate further alterations to the timeline. I do not require company,” Gideon observed, making Martin sigh.

“Right, so we’re all clear on the plan then?” Sara asked. “We sneak into this rival lords castle and you all create a distraction while I follow the King’s directions to their dungeons. Then I grab Guinevere and we all get the hell out of dodge. Firestorm is our backup plan incase their sword power is enough to overcome our fire power, but let’s try not to scare the god fearing locals anymore than we need to if we can avoid it.”

There were nods all round.

“I have located an appropriate clearing for landing a short walk from the other castle,” Gideon offered. “It will enable a quicker get away.”

“Oh thank god,” Martin muttered.

*

“I will not speak- Sara Lance?”

“Yup,” Sara said, puffing. “Are you tied up at all? No? Okay, great, come along then your majesty, we’re in a bit of a hurry.”

Guinevere blinked, and then stood in a flurry and hurried over to the door. “I need a weapon,” she said urgently.

“Got you covered,” Sara grinned, holding out one of her two swords.

Guinevere reached for it with one hand. Then she reached for Sara’s hand with the other, clasping both together and stopping her from releasing the hilt.

“It is good to see you again,” she said, gazing into Sara’s eyes.

Sara’s grin widened, and she shrugged one shoulder. “Just thought I’d help a girl out.”

“Though you do still speak oddly,” Guinevere chuckled, releasing Sara’s hand and hefting the sword. She raised and lowered it and then gave a cautious swing. “It is not as balanced as my own, but it shall serve me well. Thank you.”

“Anytime,” Sara smirked. “I love to see a woman with a weapon. Shall we?”

Guinevere gazed at her for a long moment, and then nodded and moved to walk past her. “There should be a guard at either end of the hall-“

“Already taken care of,” Sara said, and then ushered her down the same hall and through a small door hidden in an alcove.

By the time they reached the castle courtyard it had erupted into shouts and clanging, and Sara and Guinevere burst outside with their swords raised to join the melee.

*

“I owe you a great debt of gratitude once more,” Guinevere said with a smile as she wove the last few steps through the celebration to reach Sara’s side.

“It really was our pleasure,” Sara said, accepting the cup of wine from Guinevere’s hand.

“And yet, once again, you have mysteriously arrived from the forest and helped me and my people in difficult times. However shall I repay you?”

Sara ducked her head and dimpled, looking up through her lashes.

Guinevere chuckled. “Perhaps you already have something in mind?”

Sara’s gaze darted past Guinevere for a moment and her smile faltered. “The thanks you and your husband have given us really have been enough.”

Guinevere turned her head and followed Sara’s gaze to where King Arthur stood before the round table, apparently regaling his knights with the end of a comedic story punctuated with much sloshing of wine judging from the laughter that could be heard even over the rest of the din. Courtney and Ray both stood at his side, smiling up at him broadly as he launched into a new tale with gusto.

“My husband is my dearest friend and ally,” Guinevere said warmly, turning back to Sara. “But our marriage has always been first and foremost a political alliance.”

Sara blinked. “So you two….”

“You must have seen the way Merlin looks at him,” Guinevere laughed into her own cup. “Don’t look so surprised.”

“I’m not! I mean, I am, but I’ve always been open to surprises…,” Sara trailed off still staring at the King, and then visibly regathered herself with a little shake. “I guess I just thought you hated politics.”

Guinevere shrugged and moved a little closer. “I was a warrior first, as I told you, true enough. But there were some fights which even I could not win alone.”

“So you-“

“Are free to hunt boar in my spare time, as my husband does.”

“Sorry. Hunt boar?”

Guinevere started to laugh openly.

“We both enjoy a good hunt. It is an easy excuse for when we are surrounded by more than just our knights and loyal advisors.”

Sara nodded slowly, and then reached for Guinevere’s cup, taking it and placing it on a nearby table along with her own.

“Then, your majesty,” she said, stepping closer still. “Perhaps I might ask you for a few lessons in boar hunting?”

*

“Well, Gideon?”

“The original aberration has been corrected. The court of Camelot and King Arthur is once again a prominent myth.”

Sara nodded and began to continue deeper into the ship, but then paused for a moment and frowned.

“Why do I sense a ‘but’ coming?”

“A second aberration has been identified. The character of Sir Lancelot no longer exists, and it appears to be changing the nature of knights throughout history for the worst.”

Sara’s eyebrows raised.

“What does ‘for the worst’ mean, exactly?” Jax asked.

Images began scrolling across the screen before them.

“You’re joking,” Ray said blankly, face slack.

“This looks more like depictions of pirates than knights,” Nate said, walking toward the screen and scrutinising it closely.

“That is not inaccurate,” Gideon said. “Destruction and pillaging appears to have become a far more common aspiration for knights from the twelfth century onward. There is no longer record of any vows of virtue, only of marauding.”

Mick barked out a laugh and clapped Ray on the shoulder. “I knew it couldn’t all be boring,” he said, chuckling.

Ray simply turned a look of deep betrayal in his direction.

“I guess we should all pack a few things to take to the castle until we’ve sorted this out properly,” Sara suggested, and with a few shrugs, nods, and grimaces, they began to disperse again.

“Wait,” Ray said suddenly, making them all stop. “How are we going to restore the legend of Lancelot when we haven’t even met him yet? None of the knights we’ve met so far have had that name.”

Sara smirked.

“I guess we might be here a while.”