“The key to Camelot?” Peter Borowski examined the slab of weathered sandstone with a doubtful eye.
“No doubt in my mind.” Dr. Bert Clovis sat with fingers laced across his ample belly and leaned back in his leather behind the massive mahogany desk on which the slab was centered. His thinning hair was unnaturally dark for his age.
Borowski squinted through rimless glasses at the discolored stone covered with barely discernable markings that resembled the symbols used by meteorologists to indicate wind speed. Finally he gave up, shaking his head. “I can’t tell what’s carved and what’s from natural causes.”
Clovis smirked. “That’s why I’m the curator of Dorchester University’s Museum of Celtic History and you’re the visiting professor.”
Condescending jerk. “Seriously,” Borowski said, rubbing his eyes, “What’s on the stone? Where was it found?”
“Tintagel,” Clovis replied, casually running his pudgy fingers through his hair, confirming that his comb-over was still in place. “The inscription is ogham. We’ve been examining it under microscope, with high-resolution cameras, 3-D laser scanning; everything we can bring to bear on it to decipher the text.”
“Why do you think this relates to Camelot? I thought Glastonbury was more closely associated with Arthur.”
“And you’re a professor of medieval literature, not history,” Clovis said. “Arthur was conceived at Tintagel. You know that, all the legends agree. And in nineteen ninety-eight, the Arthnou Stone was found at Tintagel Castle. The link is clear.”
“But Arthur was ‘the last of the Romans’,” Borowski objected. “Ancient Celtic hieroglyphs don’t seem to fit with an educated Romanized British nobleman.”
“Yes, well, perhaps he wasn’t as Romanized as we thought.” Clovis eased further back into his expansive leather chair, eyes glittering. “We’ll see.”
It was late, well past midnight, and it was six rings before Borowski found his cell phone on the hotel nightstand.
The voice on the other end was hoarse with desperation. “Peter? We’ve done it. I’ve done it! But--”
The call ended with a gasp, followed by a scream that pierced Borowski like an icepick through his skull.
It was several moments before he could process what he’d heard. It was Clovis.
Borowski dressed and bolted out of the hotel room door into the brisk autumn night. He made it to the university museum in ten minutes, about half again as fast as the law allowed. He parked in a visitor’s space, next to the spot reserved for the curator’s car. Borowski assumed the late-model BMW belonged to Clovis.
Moonlight glinted off the tall first floor windows, but the full moon’s illumination only stoked Borowski’s sense of dread. A dim light glowed inside the curator’s corner office on the second floor. It flickered, and Borowski wondered briefly whether it was a candle rather than an electric lamp.
Why had Clovis called? If he was truly in danger, why not the police? Maybe he only had time to redial the last number he’d called.
For that matter, Borowski wondered why he didn’t call the police himself. He touched the cell phone in his pocket and then changed his mind. Maybe Clovis had simply fallen during the call. Borowski decided he could dial for help after he found the curator.
Sliding the electronic pass card Clovis had given him earlier in the day, Peter Borowski entered the museum. The modest, two-story limestone building, built from stone quarried in southern Indiana, near the Ohio river town of Eden, was blockish and plain. Form had clearly given way to function somewhere along the design/build timeline, and the structure had little about its exterior that evoked the academic nature of the surrounding campus.
The Celtic History Museum at Dorchester University fit the dictionary definition of a museum in that it was unquestionably a place where “works of art, scientific specimens, or other objects of permanent value are kept and displayed”. However, the value of the permanent displays was open to debate, and certainly in the eye of the beholder. Borowski wondered again about the tendency of Dr. Clovis to use the majority of his limited space to display stones engraved in ancient Celtic script. And a very specific type of ogham; Dr. Clovis was only interested in Brythonic, the ancestor of modern Welsh.
It was dimly lit by nighttime security lights where hallways intersected and at stairways, glowing pools offering just enough illumination to navigate the hallway leading from the entrance to the curved staircase at the back of the main hall leading upstairs. The soles of Borowski’s sneakers hitting the slate floor echoed softly in the stillness. The air was no warmer inside than out, but Borowski perspired freely even though he’d only worn a t-shirt and shorts on this brisk October night.
Taking the stairs two at a time, he noticed that the dim light in the hallway at the top of the stairs seemed to pulse and flux, like the light he’d seen in Clovis’ window. Borowski turned the corner at the top of the stairs and confirmed that the glow was, in fact, shining through the open door to the office of Dr. Clovis.
Borowski hurried down the hall--and then stopped short of the door as his nose was assaulted by the metallic stink of blood and the acrid odor of something burnt or burning.
The only sound to breach the silence was a subdued electrical hum from somewhere above the tiles of the false ceiling. A dim light continued to flicker within the office.
“Bert? Are you all right?” Borowski reached for his cell phone.
A whisper of motion to his left. The glint of reflected light on metal. Borowski instinctively flinched, a reflex from his high school baseball days. Just as it had saved him more than once from a high inside fastball, it now spun Peter Borowski down and away from a flashing blade that sliced the air a fraction of an inch above his left ear.
“You are not the one!” The voice was thunderous, a hammer blow. Borowski had fallen to the floor, and in the darkened museum hallway, his eyes perceived only the black outline of a man wielding an immense sword.
Skittering backward across the tiled floor, Borowski’s mind was overwhelmed by the adrenaline rush of raw terror. His only thought was to get away from the madman slowly advancing on him. Even in the dim light, the blood on the menacing blade was clearly visible.
Both Borowski and the man-shape turned to as a second man reached the top of the stairway from the first floor.
“In the name of Jesus Christ, begone!” The new arrival continued toward them, seemingly oblivious to the gore-fouled sword now swinging in his direction.
The man-shape laughed. “The nameless weakling has no power over me,” he rumbled. “My hour has come. Even your lying prophecies tell you that much.”
“In the name of Jesus Christ, leave this place!”
Instead of responding, the man shape threw back his head and roared. It was deafening, felt more than heard, and fueled by a rage that was beyond Borowski’s comprehension.
And then he was gone.
Borowski lay on the floor, panting, unsure he’d really seen what he thought he’d seen.
“Are you hurt?” The man had rushed to his side. “Did he cut you?”
“No,” Borowski said. “I don’t think so.”
“What about Doctor Clovis?”
Borowski finally focused on the man kneeling next to him. Young, probably in his late twenties, with ash-blond hair and about a week’s growth of beard. “I don’t know,” Borowski said. He waved in the direction of the open office door. “In there.”
The young man stood and walked over to the doorway. After a moment, he turned away and shook his head.
Borowski’s brain had begun to function. The sudden appearance of this young man was just as unlikely and disturbing as the lunatic with the sword.
“Who are you? And how do you know Bert Clovis?”
“Owens,” the young man responded. “Jeff Owens. I’m in the anthropology department here. We’ve been watching Clovis a long time.”
“The anthropology department?” Borowski slid himself over to the wall and sat up straighter. His legs didn’t feel ready to stand just yet.
“The Sons of Gildas,” Owens said. “We’ve been trying to prevent what you just saw for about fifteen hundred years.”
“What--guys with swords?”
“No,” Owens said, offering a hand to help Borowski to his feet. “The return of King Arthur.”
Borowski almost laughed--and would have, except for the dead body of Clovis ten feet away. “You have got to be kidding.”
“I’m deadly serious,” Owens said. He certainly looked as though he meant it. “You’ve heard the legends of Arthur?”
“I’m a professor of medieval literature. Yes, I’m familiar with them.”
“Then you know that prophecies of Arthur’s return were common in medieval Europe.”
“The Welsh--the descendants of Arthur’s Britons--thought he was the Mab Darogan, the ‘son of prophecy’ who’d drive out the English. T.H. White popularized the idea about fifty years ago. He called Arthur ‘the once and future king’.”
“Sons of Gildas,” Borowski said. “As in Gildas, the monk?”
“Right,” Owens said. “Gildas the Wise, who wrote On The Ruin of Britain just after the death of Arthur.”
“Gildas trashed the kings ruling in early sixth-century Britain, but he never mentioned Arthur.”
“As far as you know,” Owens said. “Not everything Gildas wrote is public knowledge. He knew the prophecies of Arthur’s return and he warned us. We’ve been trying to delay it as long as possible.”
Borowski shook his head. This was surreal. “What does this have to do with what just happened? Why aren’t we calling the police?”
“In a minute,” Owens said. “Clovis apparently deciphered a sixth-century tablet that was rumored to exist. A conjuring, a summons.”
“To bring back Arthur.”
“Yes,” Owens said, “But not the way you think, not the Arthur you know from stories. How much Bible prophecy do you know?”
“Not much,” Borowski said. “But I don’t see--”
“Cliff’s Notes version: the ‘Son of Perdition’, the ‘Man of Lawlessness’, better known as the Antichrist, returns and takes over the world’s government. He’s a charmer, most likely; promises peace and gets everybody to sign on, brings war instead, and then sets himself up as a god.”
“Okay...” Borowski wanted to leave, and soon. Owens was creeping him out.
“Now think about this: Arthur was fathered by Uther Pendragon. ‘Pendragon’ was Brythonic for ‘head dragon’. What was Satan called in the Book of Revelation?”
“I don’t know.”
“‘Great dragon’,” Owens said.
Borowski’s jaw dropped in disbelief. “You’re saying I just saw the reincarnated Arthur, who’s really the Antichrist? And that he decided to show up here and kill Bert Clovis? And this is your proof?”
Owens shook his head. “I didn’t figure you’d get this, not so quick. Look, the beast of Revelation has seven heads. They represent seven kings. Five were already dead when John wrote the book, one was alive, and one had yet to come. The beast--the Antichrist, the ‘Son of Perdition’--was an eighth king who was also one of the seven. A once and future king.”
It was too much. “As far as I’m concerned,” Borowski said, “What I saw was a psychopath with a sword--who might still be around here, by the way, so I’m calling the police now. Second, Arthur--if he ever existed--lived five hundred years after John. I don’t buy the connection. Even if Arthur was this ‘son of the dragon’, why didn’t he conquer the world? He couldn’t even hold back the Saxons for very long.”
“Wasn’t his time,” Owens said. “Let’s pray this isn’t, either. The enemy has a ready supply of candidates waiting for the chance to be the eighth king. Something always happens to bring them down because it wasn’t their time. Nimrod, Alexander, Atilla, Arthur, Hitler--just wasn’t their time. This one? We’ll see.”
Owens looked down the hallway toward the staircase, as though checking to be sure the swordsman was truly gone. “You won’t see him again, at least not this close. You got a cell? Call the cops. Let’s see them solve a decapitation murder with no weapon.”
Owens was right. The murder weapon never turned up. Borowski was questioned by police and released. Jeff Owens corroborated his story--the basic details, anyway. Owens didn’t bother to share with investigators his theory that the murderer of Dr. Bert Clovis was the spirit of King Arthur.
It was three weeks later, on Halloween--the day the ancient Celts called Samhain. Peter Borowski, on his way to an academic conference, glanced at a television monitor in an airport terminal. The “breaking news” graphic stopped him in his tracks. He moved closer to hear the reporter standing in front of Buckingham Palace, and a ball of frozen lead slowly crystallized in his gut.
Repeating, Buckingham Palace confirms that the successor to Queen Elizabeth is Prince William, who will ascend to the British throne in place of his father, the victim of a bizarre and tragic accident while hunting just three days ago. The prince has decided that his regnal name--the name he’ll be called as king--will be his middle name.
So when he’s crowned just four days from now, Britain will once again be ruled... by King Arthur.