By Phil Atcliffe (Phillip.Atcliffe@uwe.ac.uk)
Submitted: September 21, 1997
Summary: H.G.Wells once again enlists the aid of Lois and Clark to help their medieval counterparts Sir Charles and Lady Loisette. A story that follows up on the episode "Soul Mates."
[This one came about after reading a synopsis of "Soul Mates" (I still have yet to _see_ the episode as I finish writing the story) because, hopeless romantic and staunch fan of my heroes that I am, I can't stand the idea of Tempus winning — in _any_ incarnation! Besides, it worried me that so long passed between the "important" incarnations. And I'm always on the look-out for opportunities to use some of my other favourite heroes…
I've also had to slightly push the boundaries of what's possible with ASCII text. The speeches Written Like This are intended to convey that the voice of the speaker is very deep, close to toneless and frighteningly emphatic — the kind of voice that sends cold shivers up and down your spine, whether you hear it or merely _feel_ it rumble up from your feet to the top of your head. Fans of Terry Pratchett will know what I mean if I say that it's meant to sound like everyone's favourite Anthropomorphic Personification. I'd use small capitals like Pterry, if I could (I did when I wrote the original text, but that was using a word processor).
Thanks to Margaret Brignell for her comments and assistance with various details from the 4th season that became important to the plot, and to Sarah Wood, whose transcript started the whole thing.
You should all know the disclaimer mantra by now, so consider it said/chanted.
Constructive comments are half the reason that I write this stuff (the other half is the fun of telling the tale and getting the characters to do what I want them to do), so do tell me what you thought of it — PA]
A man, asleep in a bed. A commonplace enough sight, but a keen- eyed observer might notice certain odd things about the scene — at least from the point of view of someone from the late 20th century.
For a start, although the decor looked ultra-modern — almost *too* modern; there was more than a touch of the bridge of the "Enterprise" about the various bits of furniture and wall panels around the room — the bed was quite old-fashioned, as were the items of clothing scattered about. The bed could date from almost any era — four-posters have been made more-or-less continuously for centuries — but the clothing was most definitely in the fashion of the early years of the 20th century.
The other odd thing was the yellow glow which appeared in the centre of the room. It grew from a point to become a sphere, then stretched to become a long, tall football shape, and finally expanded to become a human figure. The glow died and the figure spoke. The voice, somewhat muffled by the helmet, was deep and sonorous, the kind of voice that one didn't just hear, but felt in one's bones. "Herbert George Wells…"
The man in the bed stirred and sat up. He groped for a pair of old-fashioned glasses and touched a bedside control panel before calling out, "Who's there?"
"Herbert George Wells, You Are Needed."
The lights in the room began to come on, revealing a well-built woman in a tight-fitting outfit reminiscent of Superman's. It featured a blue shirt and tights, but the boots, cape and "briefs" — which were more like a girdle, extending a third of the way up the torso and rising to a point just below the breasts — were all golden, as were the gauntlets and a helmet that covered the complete face of the wearer, revealing only her eyes. There was no chest emblem; instead, a short chain around the woman's neck supported a large gold amulet.
"Who are you?" snapped Wells. "How did you get in here? What do you want?"
"I Am Doctor Fate. I Require Your Help To Preserve The Society In Which You Live. You Must Rectify An Error Which Imperils The Future Of Your 'Utopia'."
"I beg your pardon?" replied Wells, fighting to wake up fully. "An error? What sort of error? And how does it endanger this world?"
"You Enlisted The Aid Of Clark Kent And Lois Lane To Remove A Curse From Their Souls."
"Why, yes… yes, I did. And we succeeded," said Wells in some amazement. Fewer than a half-a-dozen people knew about that, and this intruder was none of those.
"You Prevented The Curse From Being Cast. This Was Well Done, For That Curse Could Have Prevented Your World From Existing. But The Cost Of Your Success Was Allowing Baron Tempos To Exile Sir Charles And Marry The Lady Loisette. Tempos' Triumph Was An Imbalance In The Eternal Struggle Between Good And Evil, Order And Chaos."
"But… but, we corrected that! I took Mr and Mrs Kent to a later era, where they were able to right that balance by defeating Tempus Tex as the Lone Rider and Miss Lulu."
"Yes, But Between Those Eras Lie Centuries In Which Evil Has An Undeserved Advantage. Know You, Herbert George Wells, That Your World Faces A Dire Threat, And It Is From That Interval That This Threat Will Arise. Unless You Act, This Utopia Will End In Fire And Chaos, And No Civilisation Will Arise To Replace It."
"Unless *I* act? But how? What *is* this threat, and what must I do to thwart it?"
"You Need Only Know That The Threat Arises From the Legacy Of Baron Tempos, And From Further Curses Cast By His Sorcerer At The Baron's Orders. You Must Return To That Time And Prevent The Baron From Marrying Lady Loisette. She Must Marry Sir Charles, Of Her Own Free Will. You Must Also Confront The Sorcerer."
"But… but if Sir Charles breaks his exile to marry the Lady, the original curse will be cast, Mrs Kent will die on her wedding night, and this era will not exist in any case! This is impossible!" He glared at the gold-and-blue figure. "Who *are* you? I don't believe in this threat of yours — I think that you're another of Tempus' plots to bring down this 'boring' civilisation which he hates so much. Well, I'm not going to help you!"
The eye-slits of the helmet began to glow, a blazing red. Wells froze. He wanted to move, to get away from the piercing gaze of those scarlet fires, but he was paralysed. But then, he stopped *wanting* to move as images flooded into his mind. Later, Wells could not remember any more than a minute fraction of what he had seen in those few moments, but it did not trouble him; even though most of what he saw faded quickly, he knew, deep in the depths of his soul, that the being whom he faced was not a tool of Tempus. This was a good woman— no, a man *and* a woman, merged in the one, currently female, form; mortals, but raised to near-godhood, charged with an awesome responsibility to act as an agent of one of the sides in the unremitting battle to which she/he/they had referred earlier, ranging across time and space to meet and combat the dark forces whom they faced.
Finally, the red glow died and Wells could move again. But now, he had no need to do so. Instead, he nodded to his companion. "Thank you," he said humbly. "I hope you will forgive my doubting you."
"There Is No Need For Forgiveness. The Eternal Battle Requires Wisdom As Well As Strength, And To Know One's Friends — And Foes — Is One Of The Beginnings Of Wisdom.
"You Need Not Concern Yourself With The Kents. Their Marriage Has Been Consummated, Uncursed, And This Will Not — Cannot — Change. Their Marriage And Physical Union Is A Nexus Event; All Possible Timelines Now Encompass It. Your World *Will* Come To Pass. What Is Of Concern Now Is Its Continued Survival."
"Very well," said Wells. "But how am I to do this? I am merely a scholar and inventor, not a fighting man. And how do I deal with the sorcerer?"
"You Will Need Allies. Take Your Time Machine Rather Than The Soul-Tracer, And Enlist The Aid of Clark Kent And Lois Lane. Their Intelligence And Wisdom, And The Power Of Superman, Will Serve To Deal With The Baron. As For The Sorcerer, All You Need Do Is Confront Him; I Will Be Watching, And When You Are With Him, I Will Come."
"Why do you need me? Can't you just confront him by yourself?"
"No. The Sorcerer Has Made A Bargain With The Forces Of Chaos For His Power. Part Of The Terms Of The Bargain Prevents Me From Attacking Him Directly. However, I May Employ Agents As They Have Done, And May Act Through Them. If You Are Within 3 Metres Of Him, I Will Be Able To Penetrate His Defences, And Will Come."
"I see. Well, I suppose I should get started. Is there any sort of urgency to this — I mean, do I need to leave immediately, or is there time for me to make a proper toilet?"
"You May Prepare Yourself As You See Fit. You Should Know, However, That The Longer You Delay, The More Difficult It Will Be For You To Succeed."
"In that case, I'll dress and be on my way."
"Good." Fate began to glow, and then gradually vanished, "her" final words hanging in the air even as they faded to silence. "Remember, Herbert George Wells, Fate Is Watching…"
It was a lovely sunny winter's morning in Metropolis. It was cold, but not cripplingly so; in fact, the temperature was low enough to be stimulating, and the sunshine encouraged people to get out and about. It was a good day to bustle about and enjoy the exhilarating contrast between the cold and the glow of warmth that came from physical exertion.
'Unless, of course,' Lois thought to herself, 'you come from Krypton, in which case you don't even *notice* the cold.' She was watching her husband, wearing nothing but a black singlet and a pair of old gym shorts, clean up after a late breakfast. It was their day off, and they were planning a leisurely stroll through Centennial Park, so she was bundled up in three layers of the warmest clothes that she had. She might have resented Clark's freedom from the need to "rug up", but hugging him was her favourite way to warm up, and thick clothes would have just got in the way. 'Besides,' she thought, grinning inwardly, 'it means I get to see him dressed like *that* in any weather… Yum!'
Clark finished the washing-up and zipped into the bedroom, emerging scant seconds later dressed in jeans and a t-shirt with a flannel shirt over it. He went over to the coat rack and picked up his and Lois' parkas. He handed Lois hers and was looking around for his glasses when the doorbell rang.
As Lois went to the door, pulling on her parka as she went, Clark looked through it to see if he needed to go to super-speed to find his glasses *immediately*. He didn't, but the sight of their visitor was not exactly reassuring. "Oh, boy…" he muttered.
Lois, lacking x-ray vision, was equally surprised when she opened the door to find Wells waiting outside. "Mr Wells?" she cried.
"Good morning, Mrs Kent," replied Wells in his usual deferential manner. "May I come in?"
"Um… yes. Please do…" Lois looked at Clark, who looked back. They both had the feeling that their relaxing morning was shot, but had no idea why.
"Good morning, Mr Kent," said Wells as he walked in. "I'm terribly sorry to disturb you like this, but I'm afraid I need your help again."
"I knew you were going to say that!" griped Lois, not at all pleased to see her scarce free time with Clark about to disappear. "What is it *this* time? What's Tempus done *now?*" Her voice had got rougher and rougher as she spoke, until it was almost a snarl. She seemed to realise this, because she came over to Clark and, in an attempt to lighten her own mood, quietly remarked, "At least it can't be about what it was *last* time — or if it is, we're in *big* trouble, because our marriage has been well and truly consummated!"
Clark put one arm around her and grinned down at her as he gave her a gentle hug. "You're telling me…" he whispered.
Unfortunately, Lois' attempt to talk to Clark sotto voce hadn't been as sotto as she might have liked, because Wells chimed in, "I'm afraid, Mrs Kent, that it *is* connected with our endeavours the last time I saw you." Clark and Lois both looked at him in alarm, so he hurried on, somewhat embarrassed, "Oh, not the curse. I'm pleased to say that you need not fear any further problems of that kind with your… ah, marital relations."
Clark let out a huge sigh, which only outdid Lois' by virtue of his larger lung capacity. Wells continued, anxious to change the subject, "No, but it appears that your sacrifice as Sir Charles and Lady Loisette, while preventing the curse on your souls from being cast, has had other effects that are… less desirable."
"We knew that," said Lois, "But didn't we fix that as the Lone Rider and Lulu?"
"Apparently not," murmured Wells apologetically. "It seems that allowing Baron Tempos to triumph, combined with the six or seven centuries between the two eras which we visited, has led to a situation which threatens the future of the period from which I now come."
His voice took on a worried tone, combined with a note of entreaty. "Mr and Mrs Kent," he asked, "Whenever I have met you previously, it has been to safeguard my world by preventing interference in your lives; now, however, there is no threat to you, only to the future which you will help create, but your aid is nonetheless vital to preserve that future. Will you help me?"
Lois and Clark looked at one another. Clark quirked an eyebrow; Lois sighed again and nodded, then turned back to Wells and said, "Yes, we'll help. What do we have to do? And *when?*"
Wells smiled and reached into his pocket for a handkerchief, overcome by emotion for a moment. Once he had regained control of himself, he began, "Thank you. To begin with, we must return to the time of Sir Charles and Lady Loisette and prevent her marriage to the Baron."
"Wait a minute," said Clark. "I'm not going to be much help if I'm in exile. And I don't like Lois being at that thug's mercy by herself. Or do I have to break my promise and return to England?" This was looking less and less attractive by the minute.
"Oh, that won't be a problem. Mr Kent. You see, we will not be using my soul-tracer to make the time journey; we will use my original time machine, and so both you and Mrs Kent will make the trip as yourselves, in your present incarnations. There will, so to speak, be two of each of you there while you are in that era."
"*That* should make things easier," said Lois. "Tempus' goons won't have a chance against Superman! So what do we have to do?"
"Well, our main mission is, I'm told, to ensure that the Baron does not marry Lady Loisette, so that she can marry Sir Charles. But it must be by her own free will, so I would assume that we must somehow release her from the promise that she made to Tempos. In addition, we must, at some point in our endeavours, get within 3 metres of the Baron's sorcerer; this is to ensure that he does not cast *any* curses, on anyone."
Lois' eyes narrowed. "Wait a minute!" she cried, suddenly wary. "'I'm told'? 'I assume'? This is starting to sound like you don't *know!* What's going on here? Who's doing the telling? And what's their stake in this?"
Wells bowed his head towards Lois. "Very astute, Mrs Kent. You are quite correct; I am indeed acting at the behest of another. Like yourselves, I was contacted by someone and asked to undertake this mission. I know very little about this person, but I can assure you that she is not only trustworthy but a valuable ally. Indeed, it is she who will deal with the sorcerer if we are able to get close enough to him."
"I dunno…" said Lois, not convinced. "I don't like being in the dark like this. Who is this woman? How's about a name and a few details?"
"As you wish, although I doubt that what little I know will enlighten you to any greater extent than it did me." Wells related the story of his visitor to the Kents, finishing with, "I know that you have no reason to believe me. I can only say that I was as sceptical as you may now be, but I have been completely convinced of the truth and probity of this woman — *and* man. I cannot convince you as I was; I can only ask you to trust me as I trust her — or, rather, them."
Lois and Clark looked at one another. The expression on her face asked an obvious question, to which Clark replied quietly, "I think we have to, Lois. If this 'Doctor Fate' is up to no good, then we're only going to find out by going along with her plans — and if we don't do what she asks, and she *is* a good guy, then a lot of people could suffer for it."
"Yeah, you're right," said Lois downheartedly, "But I hate this kind of uncertainty — not knowing who's right and who's wrong, groping around in the dark…"
Clark smiled at her reassuringly. That was a very un-Lois-like sentiment, and he guessed it came from her disappointment at having their day off interrupted. Forcing himself to ignore the more pleasant memories that were invoked by the word 'groping', he tried to encourage her. "Think of it as like an assignment — is this mysterious doctor all she seems? What's so important about this sorcerer? Sounds to me like a job for Lane and Kent, investigative reporters…"
Lois had to return his smile at that. And he was right; this was the kind of puzzle that was right up their alley. She hugged him, soaking up happiness just from being close to him. They were such a great team together; sorcerers and mysterious doctors had better watch out!
"Okay," she said, letting him go and going over to the couch to put on her boots. "Let's get going."
They finished getting dressed and Wells led them outside and into a nearby alley, where they found the time machine. "You're lucky nobody noticed this — it's almost too much like something out of the George Pal movie of your book to be real," commented Lois.
"Oh, no, Mrs Kent," replied Wells. "That couldn't happen. You see, it wasn't here until a few seconds ago." At her questioning look, he continued, "With the help of some people from my era, I have equipped the machine with a device that allows me to park it just out of phase with the time-stream. That way, no-one can reach it, and I can summon it whenever I wish. It's a great help when I travel to… less civilised eras."
"Handy…" murmured Lois.
"As for Mr Pal… I understand that he based the design of Mr Taylor's time machine on a little sketch that I made for him — on a paper napkin, as I recall…" Ignoring the surprised reactions of the others, Wells began to work the controls. "Are we ready? Very well, our destination is France, a fortnight after the fight between Sir Charles and the Baron…"
The time machine appeared in a clearing in a forest. The sun was high in the sky, and Lois was suddenly bathed in sweat, her winter clothes much too heavy for what felt like summer weather. Clark, of course, was completely unaffected.
She climbed down from the machine and told Clark that she was going to take a couple of layers off. He nodded, having quickly scanned the surrounding forest and found nothing nearby that was bigger than a squirrel, although there was a group of men about two miles away, coming towards them slowly along a path that led to the clearing.
Lois was back soon, looking much more comfortable in just her jeans and a loose blouse. She dumped the rest of her clothes onto the time machine, except for her parka which she slung over one shoulder. She came over to Clark and took his glasses off. "You won't be needing *these*," she said, putting them into the pocket of one of her shirts.
Wells took a small device out of one of his own pockets and did something to it. The time machine disappeared with its familiar whine. He put the device back into his pocket and turned to his companions. "Good," he said, "That's organised. Now, I need to tell you a few things before the others join us…"
"Others? What others?"
"Ah, well, I took the precaution of doing a little preliminary reconnaissance before I came to see you, Mrs Kent. As Mr Kent is no doubt aware, a group of men is headed this way and will be here in a few minutes." He looked at Clark, who nodded in confirmation. "They are Sir Charles and some of his band, the 'Fox's Men'. In the two weeks that have elapsed since Lady Loisette promised to marry the Baron and Sir Charles accepted exile, they have left England and wandered through France. I believe that they may be heading for the town a few miles to the south, possibly to take up service with the local lord, but more likely to join the next group of Crusaders sailing for the Holy Land. Obviously, we want to prevent that, and I thought that this would be a good place to meet them and enlist their help, in case we need it. Then, after we have spoken to Sir Charles, we can go and rescue Lady Loisette and capture Tempos."
"Sounds like you've got it all worked out," said Lois. "But are you sure that she isn't married already? I mean, two whole weeks? Tempos could have got his tame bishop to marry them days ago — she could be *pregnant* by now!" She grimaced at that revolting prospect (the Baron, not pregnancy).
"Yes, that would be unfortunate. However, I checked, and it seems that the Baron has decided that his wedding should not be a rushed affair, but rather one more suited to his rank. Or perhaps his 'tame bishop', as you put it, was not as tame as he might have liked. In any case, the ceremony will not take place for at least another three weeks."
Lois exhaled in relief. Clark, who had been listening thoughtfully, took up the conversation. "Have you thought about how we're going to explain me? I mean, I don't want people to be worshipping me as an angel, or scared because I'm a demon or a witch. They can't hurt me, but we don't want them attacking you or Lois in panic."
"True, true… I have given that a certain amount of thought, but to no real conclusion, I regret to say. The best that I can come up with is to tell them what is more or less the truth — *not* that you're from another planet; I'm afraid that that would be beyond their understanding — but to say that you are a visitor from another land who has been granted certain powers in order to fight evil. It would help, I think, if you only used your powers as Superman. The name won't mean anything to them, but your costume could be represented as a foreign type of surcoat, and the idea of a knight invested with magical abilities for a quest is something that forms part of the cultural background of these people."
"Okay," said Clark thoughtfully, "But I won't change my clothes until after we talk to them for a while. No sense in overwhelming them with everything at once."
The three sat down to wait in the shade of the forest. Lois leaned up against Clark, who happily wrapped his arms around her. They chatted inconsequentially for a while, until a group of ten men emerged from the trees opposite. Four of them were mounted, and the others were on foot. All looked travel-stained and weary, and two of them — one in particular — had familiar faces.
The newcomers halted in surprise when they saw the time travellers. Motioning to Lois and Clark to stay where they were, Wells got up and walked towards the small band. One or two of the men laid their hands on the hilts of their swords or unslung their longbows, but they relaxed when Wells, obviously unarmed and, to their eyes, harmless, approached them and called out cheerily, "Good afternoon, gentlemen! And to you, Sir Charles!"
"Good morrow to you, friend," came the slightly weary voice of one of the riders. Sir Charles, for it was he, dismounted and walked stiffly over to Wells. As he approached, he frowned, obviously trying to work out why Wells seemed familiar. "We had not expected to meet anyone on this road, much less one who knows us. And, in truth, I feel *I* know *you*…" He paused for a moment, then said thoughtfully, "Sir… Clark, of Kent, is it not?" His voice became tight, almost harsh. "We met on that accursed day when I was banished from England, and my lady…" Charles stopped, not wanting to say anything further.
"Yes, yes, a most regrettable business," replied Wells. "And… I'm afraid there was a slight misunderstanding there. The Baron was rather impatient when we met, you might remember, so it seemed to be a good idea at the time for him to think that was my name, rather than have to make complicated explanations. My name is actually Herbert George Wells."
"Wells? Are you then from the West Country, rather than Kent? Your voice has not the sound of it, nor your clothes the look — though, truth to tell, I have yet to see another garbed in the manner of you and your companions."
"Well, no, you wouldn't have. You see, I have, for some years, been living in a far distant land — *very* far distant — and my clothes come from there. But that's not important. What *is* important is why I'm here, and that's what I want to talk to you about"
Sir Charles looked at him somewhat suspiciously. "Say on, then. It is in my mind that this meeting cannot be by chance."
"You're quite right; I was waiting for you. Oh, but you needn't think that I'm some minion of Baron Tempos, sent to check up on you, or even kill you." Sir Charles' face showed quite clearly that he *had* been considering the possibility. "Quite the opposite, in fact. I and my companions are here to help you and Lady Loisette against the Baron."
"There is no help for us," said Charles grimly. "I have chosen exile over death, and she… she will be his bride, if she is not already." His face reflected the pain that the thought brought.
"Ah, but things are not as hopeless as you might think. You see, the sacrifice that you and Lady Loisette made for each other was truly noble, but I'm afraid that Baron Tempos really can't be allowed to get away with that sort of thing, so I went for help. Some very *special* help. Come and meet some friends of mine."
They walked across the clearing, leaving Charles' men to relax where they were. As they neared Lois and Clark, the couple stood up. Lois came out into the sunlight to greet them; Clark hung back. At his first sight of the woman, Sir Charles stopped in his tracks, stunned. Then he raced to Lois, grasping her by the shoulders in incredulous, joyful amazement. "My lady?" he cried. "What miracle is this? How came you here?!"
He would have embraced her, kissed her, but he was halted by the sound of a stern voice from behind the woman — a voice that was all too familiar to the knight. "No miracle, Sir Charles," it said, "And I'm afraid that that *isn't* Lady Loisette — only very nearly… Let me introduce you; her name is Lois, and she's my wife."
The man in the strange clothes stepped forward, out of the shadows of the trees, and Sir Charles recoiled in horror. It was *him!* This man was his exact double, even as the woman had the face and form of his lost love.
He stepped back a few paces, rather unsteadily, and his sword came out. He raised it and swung it back and forth from one person to another, his hands shaking. "What deviltry is this?" he spat. "What black magic have you employed to torture me thus?"
"No, no, no…" said Wells from behind him. Sir Charles, who had momentarily forgotten the other man, immediately dashed to one side, away from all three time travellers, then turned to face them, holding them at bay with his sword as before.
The Fox's Men had heard their leader's cry and were quick to respond when they saw him with sword in hand. They reached for their weapons, and Sir Charles was soon reinforced; Lois, Clark and Wells found themselves surrounded by men, each with either a drawn sword or with a longbow, an arrow nocked and ready.
Clark groaned to himself. This was getting way out of control, and fast. He wasn't particularly worried by the weapons — swords and arrows were no problem to him, and he was sure that he could protect Lois and Wells — but they were trying to *help* these people, and getting into a fight was *not* going to be the way to gain their trust.
"Sir Charles, *please!*" cried Wells, sounding a little desperate. "These are the friends that I mentioned. There's no black magic, and no-one has any wish to torture you. Please, let me explain…"
Sir Charles, the situation now under control — or so he thought — managed to regain enough control of himself to consider Wells' words. He was still angry, but was reasonable with it. "Very well," he said harshly, "Speak! But let your words be the truth, for I tell you plain that I see deceit and treachery in this meeting."
"Thank you," said Wells. "Firstly, let me apologise for the shock which you suffered. I had intended to warn you that you were about to meet people who greatly resemble yourself and Lady Loisette, but you caught sight of the lady before I was able to do so.
"Now, let me present you to these people." He gestured to Clark. "This is Sir Kal, a nobleman of the house of El of Krypton, and *this*…" He bowed slightly in Lois' direction. "…is the lady Lois, his wife, formerly of the house of Lane of Metropolis."
Lois rolled her eyes at her "title", and Clark grinned. Wells looked rather pleased with himself for that bit of invention, and went on, "They are quite prominent citizens of the land from which we come, and when they heard of your unfortunate plight, not to mention the remarkable resemblance between themselves and you and Lady Loisette, they volunteered to come and try to help you and thwart Baron Tempos."
Sir Charles seemed somewhat mollified by Wells' words, but also depressed. "I thank them, and you, sir, if this be so. But what can two people, noble or base, do to help? It is *done* — I am exiled and my lady is to wed the Baron, if she has not already…"
"Ah, well, I can reassure you on that score at least. Lady Loisette is not married; Tempos has set the date for the ceremony for three weeks' time — plenty of time for us to ensure that it does not take place."
"But how? I am exiled, I tell you, and they are in England, where I am sworn not to go. Even if I dared return, how can a mere dozen of us face the Baron's guards, and his accursed sorcerer? My lady will be close guarded; he will not risk losing her when he is so close to marrying her — *and* her lands!"
Sir Charles looked away. "This is madness. Your companions have my thanks, but they are but two…" His voice trailed away.
"Ordinarily, I'd agree with you. But, you see, I knew about Tempos' army, *and* his sorcerer; that's why I asked Sir Kal to help. He is no ordinary man. He has a quest, and a noble one — to defeat evil wherever he finds it, and to ensure that truth and justice prevail. To help him in his quest, he has been granted amazing powers, powers that make him more than a match for the Baron and his minions. That's how we managed to come here so quickly, and how we found you on your travels. If you will let us help you, we can give you the chance to stop Tempos and save Lady Loisette.
"I see that you don't believe me — well, why should you? Fortunately, there's an easy way to prove that I'm telling you the truth. Just get… say, four of your men to shoot at Sir Kal, one after the other… and watch."
The next few minutes were spent in heated discussion. Sir Charles was unconvinced, declaring that he had no wish to murder a stranger. Even when Clark assured him that he wasn't at all worried about being shot at, the knight refused, saying that madness was no protection against a arrow, and he would not widow someone who looked so like his own love. It wasn't until Lois blithely informed him that she had no intention of being a widow, and suggested that he get his men to aim to *miss* if he was so worried — they could do that, couldn't they? *Everyone* had heard of the prowess in archery of the Fox's Men — that he finally consented to the test, albeit doubtfully.
While the archers walked back across the clearing, Wells asked Clark to change into his costume. "Sir Kal always wears the arms of his house in open battle," he told Sir Charles. Clark quickly spun into the suit. Lois smiled — seeing him do that still thrilled her, even after all this time; Wells was impressed, despite his "historical" knowledge; and Charles and his men were frankly stunned.
Superman moved away from the group of watchers and stood impassively while the archers raised their bows and took aim. They loosed their shafts almost simultaneously, but there was a small gap between the first arrow and the last, which was all that Superman needed. In quick succession — but not *too* quick; the people watching needed to see what was happening — he grabbed the first arrow out of the air, let the second hit his chest and shatter, incinerated the third with heat vision and, finally, used the arrow that he was holding to impale the last one, splitting it in two. He then threw the first arrow across the clearing; it whizzed past the startled faces of the archers to embed itself, right up to the feathers, in a tree.
Dead silence reigned over the clearing. No-one moved, except for Lois, who bounced up to Superman and kissed him. "Pretty fancy moves, *Kal*," she whispered in his ear. Clark chuckled at that and gave her a quick hug.
The by-play between the couple, so simple, everyday and natural, broke the paralysis that had the watching company in its grip. Three or four of the men began to back away from the unearthly figure in red and blue; Friar Harry raised his crucifix, as if to ward off evil, and Clark was sure he heard a muttered "Great Shades of Caesar!"; but Sir Charles stood his ground, though his sword was lowered and his expression dumbfounded.
"You see?" cried Wells. "And he has greater powers yet. But you needn't be afraid; there's no black magic or witchcraft involved. Sir Kal was given his abilities by his father, a great scholar of the land of Krypton, when he undertook what is known as the Never-Ending Battle — to leave Krypton to fight for truth and justice, and to oppose evil, tyranny and corruption wherever it may be. It is the highest, most noble quest that any Kryptonian can undertake, and few do, but Sir Kal was raised to help others, and the Battle is surely the ultimate expression of that wish…"
Clark had caught on to Wells' reasoning; presenting himself in this quasi-mythical light was probably the best way to get the Fox's Men, not to mention their leader, to accept him without regarding him as something supernatural — or worse, divine. Wells' rhetoric was a little high-flown for Clark's taste, but the tale he told was pretty close to the truth, so Clark decided to add his own slant to the story. He nodded in confirmation of what Wells had said. "That's right. My father, Jor of El, knew that dark times were coming to the world beyond Krypton, so he gave me these powers by his arts while he stayed behind to defend his land and help his people. If I were to return to Krypton, I'd just be an ordinary man, like you; but while I'm elsewhere on the earth, I have these abilities that seem magical to others, but are really just the result of my father's study of God's handiwork."
Clark realised that his own rhetoric was getting equally high- flown, but it seemed to be working; Sir Charles had lost the stupefied expression, Harry had lowered his crucifix, and the others had stopped backing away. Clark decided to push his advantage. "Look, let me prove my goodwill. You've seen some of what I can do, so you know that I'm powerful. Now let me demonstrate that I'm on your side by helping you, in a way that no-one else could." He beckoned Lois over, whispering in her ear. She looked surprised, but nodded.
"This is my wife, who means as much to me as Lady Loisette does to you," Clark said to Sir Charles. He took Lois' hand and led her over to his counterpart, saying in his most serious manner, "I leave her in your care, to protect and guard against my return, while I go to rescue *your* lady from Baron Tempos. Will you and your men swear to defend her as you would Lady Loisette?"
The challenge caught Charles off guard. For a moment, he looked as though he wasn't quite sure what to do, but the call to his honour was too great to resist. Eventually, he took Lois' hand from Clark and led her over to Friar Harry. "As you wish, Sir Kal," he said. He sounded troubled. "But for how long? Whatever I was in England, here I am a common man-at-arms, as are we all. We have little money and no means to keep your lady according to her rank…"
"Oh, don't worry about that," Clark laughed. "With any sort of luck, I should be back in less than an hour." He took off, rising slowly, waving to Lois, who returned it with some vigour, than accelerated and disappeared from view almost instantly. Behind him were a group of men who looked even more flabbergasted than they had a few minutes before; his wife, who whispered, "Be careful…" before turning to watch the others with a slight smile; and Wells, who sat in the shade of a tree, looking thoughtful.
Clark had every intention of being careful. Having shared Sir Charles' life for a short while, he found that he could remember certain basic details from that time, like the location of Baron Tempos' castle and Lady Loisette's lands. The sky was clear over both England and France, so he stayed at high altitude — high enough not to be seen from the ground, although he, of course, could see everything — while he looked for Lady Loisette. He had no luck at any of Loisette's manors, which didn't surprise him in the least; knowing Tempos, he was certain that the Baron would have her under guard, and where better than at "his" castle (which was actually a royal castle, but Tempos used it as his personal citadel).
Sure enough, he found Lady Loisette in a tower room at the castle. Half-out of the room, actually, because she was leaning on a window-ledge, staring into the distance. This looked perfect — he could swoop down and grab her so fast that no-one would even see him — but, as usual, life wasn't so accommodating; even as he began to descend at super-speed, she turned her head, obviously listening to something, and then went inside.
'So much for the easy way,' he thought. As he continued his dive, he looked through the wall to see her sitting on a bed, an elderly woman (a maid? Companion? Chaperon? *Guard?*) brushing her hair. He decided to keep away until he had a better idea of just who the other woman was; if she was loyal to Loisette, then he could take her, too, but it would be just like Tempos to set one of his own people to watch his intended bride, in which case Clark didn't want her to have any inkling that the lady was about to leave.
His fears turned out to be justified. The woman finished brushing Loisette's hair, then braided it and put it up. After helping her "mistress" into a gown, she was dismissed quite curtly by the younger woman and went out, locking the door behind her. '*Definitely* one of Tempos' servants,' thought Clark.
A quick check showed that there were no guards outside the chamber door, and none watching the tower, so Clark felt safe to approach it. He hovered outside the window. "Lady Loisette…" he called softly. No response.
He called again. This time she heard him, and her face lit up with astonished, hopeful recognition at the sound of his voice. She turned to see Clark step in through the window, and she ran to him, her arms wide and her eyes filling with tears of joy. "Charles!"
Clark hated to do it, but he grabbed her shoulders before she could reach him and held her, gently but firmly, at arm's length. "Lady Loisette," he began quietly, "I'm really sorry, but I'm not who you think I am." She looked at him for a long moment, confused and hurt, her hopes of a few seconds ago suddenly crashing down around her. The sight of her tearful face, so like Lois', tore at Clark's heart, and he went on hurriedly, "I know I look like him — quite a lot — but I'm *not* Sir Charles. I'm… er, Sir Kal of Krypton, and I'm here to take you *to* Sir Charles, if you'll trust me."
"But… but…" she stammered, not really taking in what he was saying, only that he wasn't her love. "Your face… your voice… they are Charles', to the life. How can this be? Who *are* you?"
"I've told you my name. I know this is hard for you to accept — you should have heard Sir Charles' reaction! — but we can clear this up really quickly once we're away from here, if you'll just trust me."
Loisette seemed not to have heard his last few words, seizing instead on his off-hand comment about Sir Charles. "You have *seen* him?" she cried. "When? Where? How is he?"
Clark began to worry that Loisette was making too much noise, and with justification. Footsteps on the stairs heralded the return of the old woman, accompanied by a pair of men-at-arms. "Shhhh…" he whispered, "Yes, I've seen him. He's fine — he's alive, well and free, and he misses you a lot. That's why I'm here: to get you out of here, away from Baron Tempos, and to take you to him. But we've got to get going; that maid of yours is on her way back, and she's got a couple of guards with her…"
"Oh. Yes, of course — I am to ride this afternoon, and I go nowhere without Maud and as many guards as my lord Tempos thinks enough to 'protect' me…" Her mood, bitter at the thought of Tempos' "protection", changed to concern. "You must hide! Quickly, before they come! I will not be gone long, and tonight we can escape from this place."
She quickly searched the room for a suitable hiding place, decided that under the bed was the only option, and tried to drag Clark over to it. He didn't move. He'd hoped to get Loisette away without anyone noticing, but she was as difficult to deal with when she was like this as Lois had ever been, and he was resigned to having her escape discovered almost immediately. He certainly wasn't going to hide under the bed — an adventure in medieval England was one thing; French farce was quite another! "No, my lady!" he said firmly, reaching out to take her by the shoulders, holding her again at arm's length. "Believe me, I do *not* need to hide. What *we* need, though, is to get out of here. Now, please, come with me, and I'll have you back with Sir Charles in less than a minute."
She stared up at him, confused, worried and disbelieving, and he met her eyes, silently willing her to trust him. She seemed to see something in him which reassured her, and she relaxed. "Very well, Sir Kal…" she said, much calmer now, "But how shall we leave?" She looked down at herself. "This is not raiment for climbing, and the men below will surely see us."
"That's no problem. Just trust me, and don't be frightened…"
At that moment, a knock came on the door. "My lady," came the voice of Maud, "Your escort awaits."
Quickly, Clark scooped Loisette up. She looked surprised at what might have been considered undue familiarity on his part, but said nothing. "Now, don't be frightened, okay?" he reassured her. "In fact, you might want to close your eyes — don't open them until I tell you to, and we'll be with Charles, Harry and the others before you know it."
The knock came again, and Maud called out, "My lady?" The sound of a key in the lock was the signal for Clark to lift off and flash out the window. Behind him, he could hear the startled clamour of Maud and the guards searching the room for the vanished lady.
As requested, Loisette had kept her eyes shut from the time that Clark had left the room in the castle. She was bewildered by the whole affair, and had no idea what was going on as Clark flew her to France, but somehow that didn't matter. In a way that she couldn't understand, she trusted this man, this incredible stranger who looked so like her beloved Charles. Being in his arms, something that almost never happened to an unmarried lady of her station, in *or* out of a bedchamber, was not threatening, not even exciting, but brought only balm to her soul. She had not really believed that he could do what he said, but any chance of escape, of doing *something*, was better than helplessly waiting for Tempos to insist that she complete their "bargain". Now, however, in the timeless peace in which she lay while he worked whatever wonders he could, she had begun to hope that she would indeed be reunited with her love.
Clark didn't disappoint her; he touched down lightly by Sir Charles and gently set Loisette on her feet. "You okay?" he asked softly. She opened her eyes and nodded, still not quite back to the world from the depths in which she had been floating while they travelled. "In that case, there's someone here who wants to see you…"
She turned and saw Charles. She went to go to him, but there was no need; he was *there*, and she was crushed against him in a passionate embrace.
Clark looked away, as did everyone else, and searched for Lois. He found her on the other side of the clearing and walked over to her. "Hi."
"Hi," she replied. "I came over here, away from Charles, so as not to frighten Loisette. He's going to tell her all about us, so maybe we won't have a repeat of what happened when he saw you. How'd it go?"
"Okay… though she was as hard to persuade as you are, sometimes. I guess that figures…"
Lois just looked at him with her (in)famous "Oh, yeah?" expression, lightened the teeniest bit by the hint of a smile around the corners of her mouth. Her gaze moved downwards towards a certain spot on his ribs; she was obviously planning to get him for that. Clark admitted defeat to himself and decided to keep talking, the better to distract her and keep her mind focused on what they had to do; there would be time enough for her revenge later.
"I didn't see Tempos, though, so I'm gonna have to go back for him later. Unfortunately, they'll have discovered that Lady Loisette is gone by now, so they might be expecting me. That shouldn't be too much of a problem."
"Hmmm… I'm not so sure, Clark. Remember what you said about that sorcerer last time? If the bad guys know that Loisette has escaped, Tempos might decide to get him to lay another curse. I *really* don't want to have to go home to a life of abstinence…"
"Good point. But don't worry, honey. It only took me a couple of minutes to get Loisette; grabbing Tempos won't even take *that* long, because I don't have to worry about being seen."
"I dunno, Clark. Is anything *ever* that simple for us? Somehow, I have a bad feeling about this… I think you'd better take me with you."
"*No*, Lois. I don't want you ge—"
"I think I have to agree with Mrs Kent," Wells interrupted. "You see, I'm afraid that you may need to take *me*, and if you have to have one 'helper' along, it might be wise to have two — particularly if one of them is Mrs Kent. She is… ah, famous, for helping you in sticky situations, you know…"
Lois' eyebrows went up, and she grinned. She still found it hard to believe that she was honoured in the future as one of the founders of Wells' Utopia, but it was nice to hear that she got some recognition for helping Clark.
Clark looked doubtful. "What do you mean, I may have to take you?"
"Ah, well, you remember that we need to 'confront' Tempos' sorcerer — which is to say, get within 3 metres of him. What concerns me is that Doctor Fate didn't say whether any one of us had to get that close, or *me* in particular. I've been going over our conversation in my mind while you were gone, and I can't decide. 'If You Are Within 3 Metres Of Him', she said. But which 'you'? Singular or plural?" Wells shook his head. "I just don't know…"
"…and we can't afford to take chances," Clark finished for him. He didn't like this at all, but he could see that he had no choice. Wells was right; if this 'Doctor Fate' was going to be of any help — and they weren't even sure if she was one of the good guys or not! — then the possibility that Wells was the one who had to confront the sorcerer had to be allowed for. Given that extra complication, Clark knew from previous experience that Lois was not going to add to their problems, and might well save everyone's bacon as she had many times before.
The decision made, it was time to get going. Clark scooped up Lois and motioned for Wells to grab hold. "Hop on, Mr Wells."
"Uh… very well," said Wells hesitantly. He came over behind Superman and spent a few embarrassing moments (for him, not for Clark) trying to find a secure way to get a grip on Superman. He wasn't having a lot of success and began to turn a red bright enough to match the hero's cape.
Finally, Superman set Lois down and put one arm around each of his companions' waists. "Sorry…" he murmured in Lois' ear. Lois kissed him; she could put up with being carried by Clark one- handed — after all, *her* arms were free…
The three lifted into the air slowly, allowing Wells time to get used to the sensation, then shot into the sky. Lois wrapped her arms around Clark and kissed him again. He smiled, but had to concentrate on flying.
They touched down by a clump of trees a short distance outside the castle walls, and Clark spun back into his ordinary clothes. To Lois' surprised look, he replied, "You and Mr Wells did a good job; you've got *me* nervous now. So, like Mr Wells, I thought a little reconnaissance was in order — x-ray reconnaissance." He frowned and began to sweep the castle with his super-vision. "Hmmm… everything looks quiet. Almost *too* quiet — they must have discovered that Lady Loisette's gone, but you wouldn't know it from watching them.
"There's the Baron, but he's calmly eating in the main hall. Doesn't look like anyone's told *him* that Loisette's gone…"
"Maybe they haven't," Lois said. "It's only been… what, less than ten minutes since you got here the first time? If she tried to escape by herself, without super-help, she couldn't have gone far. This Maud woman and the guards are probably running around, desperately searching for her, not wanting to have to tell the Baron that she's gone. He won't be pleased when he finds out…"
"I think you're right, Lois. There they are… Yeah, they look panic-stricken to me. She's checking the kitchens, the garderobes, everywhere inside; one guy's headed for the stables, and the other looks to be doing the rounds of the walls and fortifications."
Clark continued to scan the castle, but didn't say anything further. Lois also fell silent and looked thoughtful. A little later, she was about to say something when Clark spoke again: "Where the heck is that sorcerer? Oh-oh… I think Maud is going to tell the Baron that Loisette's gone. Boy, does she look unhappy…"
"Quick!" said Lois, "Fly me up to Loisette's room. I'll impersonate her, and that'll keep them all off-guard while you take care of the sorcerer."
Clark cast a startled glance at Lois, and then at Wells, who nodded. "An excellent idea, my dear," said the time traveller. "But you must hurry; Mrs Kent will need time to change, and Tempos will no doubt go charging up to her room once he learns that Lady Loisette is missing."
Clark had his doubts about this whole idea, but he seemed to be outvoted and didn't have a better plan — and, as Wells said, there wasn't time to come up with anything else. So he scooped Lois up and they hurtled into the air, flashing into the now- deserted tower room a fraction of a second later.
Clark set Lois down and went to watch at the door, which had been locked again, while she began to rummage through the chests, looking for something in the way of a gown that she could quickly slip over her 20th-century clothes. She didn't want to have to run around in medieval garb if there was going to be any sort of action, and she just couldn't shake a feeling that there *would* be before this whole business was over.
Just as she found a gown with the right sort of sleeves and neckline to hide her blouse (it was, uncannily enough, an attractive shade of burgundy), an angry roar could be heard from the main hall. "She told him…" muttered Clark.
"Never mind that," said Lois. "Quick, help me get this thing on before he gets here."
No sooner said than done. There was a rush of wind, and Lois found herself wearing the burgundy gown. 'Someday I'm going to have to ask him how he does that without me noticing,' she thought to herself.
Clark stepped back to look at her. "Yeah, nice," he said. He looked through the walls again to see, as expected, the Baron, in a towering rage, charging across the courtyard towards the tower, dragging the wretched Maud with him. "He's on his way. I gotta go… Be careful, huh? Remember, if you need me—"
"'Just scream' — I know, I know. I *will*. Now kiss me and get going."
The couple kissed, quickly but passionately, and Clark, after taking one last x-ray look around, disappeared out the window, leaving his wife with a gentle smile on her face.
It didn't last long, because heavy footsteps, an angry roaring and near-hysterical weeping coming from the stairs announced the arrival of Baron Tempos and the unhappy Maud. Further footsteps and a metallic clinking indicated that they weren't alone, but merely the head of a mini-procession that included several guards.
The door crashed open to reveal a furious Tempos. Lois swallowed and turned what she hoped was an impassive face to the newcomers. She had to fight to retain that impassivity when the Baron saw her; already angry to the point of apoplexy, he went positively ballistic at the calm presence, right where she was supposed to be, of the woman whom he'd been told had absconded, and Lois wasn't sure whether she wanted to cringe or laugh at him. A second's thought brought her down firmly on the side of laughter — no way was she going to let him scare her!
She didn't laugh, though, and any desire that she may have had to do so vanished almost immediately as Tempos lashed out viciously at Maud, knocking the poor woman to the floor, where she lay unmoving. Lois couldn't tell whether this was because she was unconscious, dead or just playing possum in order to escape a further beating.
Lois was infuriated by this senseless brutality, and her gut reaction was to clobber Tempos with a few martial arts moves, to teach him some respect for women — Clark had told her that Maud was one of Tempos' minions, but that didn't mean that he should be allowed to assault the woman with impunity — but she looked down at herself and realised that not only was she not dressed for it, but any attempt to attack the Baron would simply lead to her being dragged off him by his guards. So she fought down her violent inclinations, letting her anger express itself as outraged haughtiness as she played her role, protesting, "My lord! What is the meaning of this? Why do you strike poor Maud so?" Almost against her will, her tone became sarcastic. "She's not much use as a maid, but that's not why you employ her, is it? So why hit her?"
Lois began to worry as Tempos stood there, breathing heavily but saying nothing. She was afraid that what she had said smacked rather too much of a combination of Lady Bracknell and her 20th- century self, and that Tempos would detect her imposture.
Her worries seemed to be unfounded. "This… this *kitchen drudge* had the effrontery to come crawling into my hall, claiming that you had vanished," the Baron snarled. He kicked out at Maud, but the hapless woman had recovered enough to move herself out of range. She cowered by the wall in fright and misery until Tempos called to one of his men to "Get rid of her!", whereupon the erstwhile maid was dragged away, presumably to take up her new position in the castle hierarchy.
Silence reigned in the room until Tempos, who had been staring at Lois, barked, "As for you, my lady, you can forget about riding today. You'll stay here until I summon you. And while you're waiting, you can do your hair properly! I don't know what you've been doing while that fool of a woman was indulging her madness, but you look like it got caught in a hedge!" With that, he turned and went to leave, his guards scurrying to get out of his way.
Lois, still concerned that she might have given herself away, was relieved that she wasn't expected to go riding. She wasn't much of a horsewoman, but Lady Loisette probably was. It suited her just fine to stay here in the castle; Tempos might think that he had her under lock and key, but little did he know that Lady Loisette was long gone, and Lois would be here just as long as she and Clark wanted her to be, and no more.
She kept quiet while Tempos raged, but his crack about her hair angered her. She was going to complain, then thought better of it, then decided that a show of spirit would be in character after all, so she called out to the departing Baron, "And, how, pray, am I to arrange my hair to my lord's satisfaction without Maud? She may have been your spy, but at least she could help me dress!"
Tempos turned back at that and laughed, enjoying her ire. "All right, all right," he growled in reply, "I'll send you someone." He sounded annoyed — but then, he usually did — which was fine with Lois, not only on general principles, but also because if he was mad, he was less likely to notice any slips that she made, and she was still worried that she was coming across as herself rather than as Loisette.
Had she known it, she was right to be concerned. As he stomped away, the Baron was thinking hard, but was more intrigued than angry. He headed towards the hall, but halted abruptly halfway there. His sudden stop caused consternation among the following guards, who, for a few moments, resembled nothing so much as the Keystone Kops in their desperate attempts to avoid colliding with their lord; Tempos was not known for a restrained response to what he might consider an affront to his lordly dignity by his vassals — or anyone else.
The guards managed to pull themselves into some sort of order just in time; Tempos was also not fond of men who failed to maintain what he called proper discipline. But when the Baron turned round, the only evidence of the guards' mad scramble was a slight bend in their line as they stood to attention. This might have been enough for their lord to deliver a reprimand, but he was pre-occupied and didn't notice; as it happened, one of the guards might have preferred the reprimand, because he turned white when Tempos pointed at him and barked, "You! Go tell my sorcerer that I want him! I'll be in the main hall."
The unfortunate man-at-arms could do nothing except salute and step back to allow his fellows to go past as the Baron strode off. Very reluctantly, he walked towards a mostly-deserted corner of the castle; the only person around was a sentry on the battlements, and he spent most of his time as far as possible from the section of the wall towards which the guard was headed.
He knocked at a wooden door set into the wall, but tentatively, as though he'd just as soon whoever was on the other side didn't notice — which wasn't far from the truth. There was no response, and the guard was about to leave in a grateful hurry when a voice came from the other side of the door: "Who is it? Go away — I'm busy!"
"S-s-sir Sorcerer," the guard stammered nervously, "B-Baron Tempos wants to see you, i-in the main hall…"
There was a noise from behind the door that might have been a snort. "What does he want? Tell him I'll see him later — I've got important things to do right now, haven't I, Morganna?"
"S-sir," insisted the guard, his voice rapidly becoming a panic-stricken falsetto, "My lord Tempos *commands* your presence, in the great hall, a-at once!"
That seemed to give the sorcerer pause. After a moment of silence, the voice replied, "All right, all right. I'll be there shortly. I have to tidy up here before I can come. Now go away!"
The guard didn't need to be told twice. He fled.
Inside the main hall, the Baron was fuming, and his anger only got worse as the minutes ticked by with no sign of the sorcerer. He was just about to bellow for the man-at-arms who'd been told to get the sorcerer when a flash and a bang in the middle of the room announced the arrival of the magician in a cloud of boiling mist.
Despite having seen it several times, Tempos was impressed with the manner in which the sorcerer had taken to appearing these days. He wasn't going to admit that, though, so he hid any feelings other than his displeasure at being kept waiting — again — and growled, "Where have you been? When I call you, I expect you to come — immediately! What took you so long *this* time?"
"I was in the middle of something when that nithing came to tell me that you wanted to see me. I've told you before, I can't just stop everything and run to answer your every beck and call. All magicks are dangerous, and some are *very* dangerous; they can't just be left to themselves like a cook with a cauldron of soup. In this case, if I'd run straightaway to answer your summons and not done what was necessary, the potion I was brewing could have escaped and eaten this entire castle and everyone in it!"
That possibility seemed to take even Tempos aback, but he retained enough presence of mind to ask, "What the devil are you going to do with a potion that can do *that?* I don't like the idea of being eaten by one of your concoctions!"
"I'm not going to do anything with it," the sorcerer replied calmly. "That potion is just an intermediate stage in the creation of a more useful one, one which is much more controllable. No-one in their right mind would use the corrosive stage for anything other than creating the real potion — so don't ask me to make it for you, not even if the castle's under siege! It would eat any attackers, yes, but also the castle, the surrounding fields for several miles in all directions, and every living thing it touched!"
Tempos didn't miss the insult, nor the warning. Not for the first time, he wondered if the danger inherent in letting the sorcerer do whatever he wanted in that pit of his might not outweigh the advantages of his services, however effective they undoubtedly were. But, as he had done every other time he had considered the matter, he put the thought out of his mind — or was it that something *else* did that for him? — and concentrated on the business of the moment.
"Never mind that," he snapped. "There's something odd going on. Lady Loisette was supposed to be going riding this afternoon — heavily guarded, of course — but instead, her maid comes grovelling to me, saying that she's escaped from her room. But when I go up there, there she is — but *not* dressed for riding, and… and there's something different about her!"
"Oh, and what's that?" said the sorcerer, who was both rather bored by this petty complaint and amused that it should come from the Baron, who was not usually given to flights of fancy. With any other man, he would have put it down to pre-wedding nerves, but Tempos was hardly a blushing bridegroom…
"I'm not sure," replied a thoughtful Baron. "Her manner is… different, somehow. More assertive, quicker to anger, less gentle in her speech, and she definitely hates me — even moreso than usual. It's rather refreshing, actually."
"That's hardly surprising, my lord," murmured the sorcerer. "You must remember that she only agreed to marry you in order to save the life of Sir Charles. You can hardly expect devotion in those circumstances, but you *can* rely on her word; she will go through with what she promised."
Tempos snorted. "She doesn't have a choice about *that!*" He was silent for a little while before continuing, "You know, you've reminded me of something. This isn't the first time my lady has shown more spirit than usual; she was like this, only not as much, two weeks ago, when I agreed to banish The Fox rather than kill him, in return for her sworn fidelity. Now, what does that mean..?"
The Baron had finally got the sorcerer's interest. The little man became thoughtful as well. "Ah-hh-hh," he exclaimed eventually. "My lord, I do not know what it means, but what you have just said may be of great importance."
"Well, of course it's important! *I* said it!"
"Yes, my lord," sighed the sorcerer in not-very-well-hidden exasperation, "But what I meant is that you have noticed something 'odd', as you put it, about the Lady Loisette, something similar to another oddity of a fortnight ago. At the same time, *I* have been feeling the presence of strange magicks as I practice my arts. These, too, resemble those which I sensed a fortnight ago, and, as you have said about the lady, there are more and more powerful forces involved than those I mentioned to you then. I have managed to hide from their eyes so far, but perhaps the time has come to act openly against them.
"My lord, with your permission, I would like to see Lady Loisette. I may be able to detect if she has indeed changed as you suspect, and whether any changes are connected with the magicks that probe my secrets. If you would summon her…"
Tempos said nothing, merely signalling to a near-by guard, who hurried off.
Lois had been pacing back and forth in the tower room, not enjoying the feeling of helplessness at being locked in a *tower*, of all things, while the bad guys — *and* the good guys, for that matter — did who knew what? She had looked out of the window, hoping to see Clark or Wells, but to no avail. She'd looked at the door lock and, while she thought she could pick it, she didn't have anything to pick it *with* — oh, what she would have done for her purse with its bunch of lockpicks! In the end, she had begun walking about the room out of sheer frustration and restlessness.
The sound of footsteps coming up the tower stairs galvanised her into action, and she flattened herself against the wall next to the door. With any luck, this would be the replacement maid coming to help her do her hair — in which case, one quick punch, and she'd be out of here in next to no time.
No such luck. A stentorian male voice called out, "My lady, the lord Tempos commands your presence in the main hall." Lois wouldn't have minded trying her luck with a man-at-arms — she figured that she ought to be able to take one out, or at least evade him for long enough to escape from the room, and maybe even lock him in behind her — but the noise from the stairwell indicated that her summoner wasn't alone. 'Gee, these guys are real brave,' she thought. 'I wonder how many of them he's brought along to escort one lone female…'
It turned out to be four fully-armed guards. For a moment, Lois entertained the mad fantasy of grabbing a sword from one of them and cutting loose with it in the confines of the stairs, but she dismissed that tempting idea with the thought that she didn't really know how to use a broadsword, and the long gown would only get in her way. 'They'll keep…' she thought.
Lois assumed her most imperious manner, once again borrowing heavily from Dame Edith Evans' Lady Bracknell, and strode out — as well as she could in that gown. She had to moderate her pace on the stairs, which weren't designed for her boots, and which gave the surprised guards a chance to catch up with her. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, because she was able to follow the two who went in front of her; getting lost in the castle, she realised, could have been a sure sign that she wasn't who they thought she was.
After leading her through the castle along a short but convoluted route that Lois did her best to memorise, the guards stopped at a pair of doors and knocked. Lois heard Tempos bellow, "Yes?!", to which the guards responded by opening the doors and bowing to her as their leader called out, "Lady Loisette, my lord."
"Ah, at last…" said Tempos, his voice suddenly silky. "Come in, my lady, come in."
Lois had no real choice in the matter, so she walked into the hall wearing her best poker face. Inside, however, she was troubled by the Baron's sudden change in manner. She remembered Tempus from their encounters in the 20th century, and he was always at his most villainous when he assumed that smooth demeanour. The Baron mostly acted like the classic medieval tyrant — lots of bluster, anger and contempt for everyone, especially those he deemed to be below him (which, at the moment, was everyone in the castle except her, and she was sure that she didn't count because she was female) — but the plotting, the patience and ability to plan that made his later incarnation so dangerous was there, too. It was that side that was showing now, and *that* worried her…
Her fears were justified, although not in a manner that she could ever have imagined. No sooner had she entered the hall than the sorcerer chanted something and she found herself transfixed by his eyes, unable to look away from him. "And now, my lady," he muttered, "Let us examine your soul…"
For Lois, what happened next was like something from a bizarre dream. She could feel nothing other than an instinctive revulsion towards the sight of the sorcerer and his unblinking, staring eyes, and yet somehow she could also feel him inspecting her from inside. The thought made her shudder — except that she couldn't move — and she tried to focus all her feelings into a blaze of hatred and disgust to direct at the revolting figure of the magician.
"Well?" said Tempos with his customary irascibility after a few seconds — or was it a few years? "Is she or isn't she?"
"I… cannot tell," gasped the sorcerer. "There are too many others in this hall. Their presence interferes — get rid of them, sire!"
Tempos didn't hesitate. He swept one arm around the room, beckoning to guards, servants, everyone. "Get out!" he bellowed. "All of you! Leave this hall!"
One or two of the guards hesitated, feeling that it wasn't right for them to abandon their posts, leaving their lord alone with the sorcerer ("Lady Loisette", of course, didn't count), but one glance at Tempos' face convinced them that instant obedience was their first and foremost duty right now, and they left behind the others.
With the hall empty, the examination began again. Lois wanted to fight back, so she concentrated on her feelings of anger and outrage at the violation of her innermost self. She couldn't really tell if her efforts were having any effect on the sorcerer, but he didn't seem to be enjoying what he was doing, so she kept it up on principle. Trying to focus her feelings also helped her to not think about two things — Clark, and the flaw in the sorcerer's reasoning that she hoped would enable her to pass this test.
Eventually, the sorcerer's eyes unglazed and he shook his head to clear it. "Ah…" he half-moaned, obviously in some distress from his probing of Lois' soul — and, who knows, maybe he *had* caught a taste of her fury. But then, before Tempos could explode with impatience, he managed to say, somewhat weakly, "Yes, my lord… yes, that is Lady Loisette…"
"Are you sure?!" barked Tempos.
The sorcerer, offended, drew himself up and faced the Baron to say, "Yes, my lord, I am *sure*. I have looked at the lady's soul, both now and beforetimes, and I can assure you that that *is* Lady Loisette. There can be no doubt."
Tempos snorted in annoyance while Lois, released from whatever force had held her motionless, staggered backwards for a few steps and fought a major internal battle not to let the relief that she was feeling show outwardly. She had seized on the loophole that she had seen in the sorcerer's plan and used it to steady herself while the man had carried out his horrible intrusion. And it had worked, because she did have Lady Loisette's soul — just not her mind or body.
It took her a few moments to regain her poise, both external and internal, by which time the Baron had begun to speak again. She tuned in to his words as best she could.
"…if it's not her, then it must be *him!* Maybe he's not as big a fool as he'd like everyone to believe; maybe he's out there now, planning to attack…"
The sorcerer had also recovered from whatever his probe of Lois had momentarily inflicted him with, because he sounded sardonically amused as he interrupted Tempos' ranting. "Sire, I do not think so. Sir Charles accepted exile, and he is a man of honour; It is not in his character to go back on his word.
"And besides, even if he did return from France — remember, I scried him sailing for Calais ten days ago — and gathered his entire band together, what could they do? Is this not a royal castle, built to withstand warfare and seige? The Fox's Men are scattered, in hiding or returned to the hovels from which they were used to steal away secretly to conduct their thefts; they have no seige engines, nor were their numbers ever sufficient to assault us openly."
"True, true…" mused Tempos, calming and becoming thoughtful. "But I still don't like him being out there, free to do his good deeds. Heroes have the annoying habit of coming back, you know." He paused for a while, then appeared to make some sort of decision. "I'm not going to take the risk! I want you to prepare your vilest curse, to kill him and doom his soul to suffer for all time."
The sorcerer nodded, smiling unpleasantly.
Lois was horrified. If the sorcerer did that, not only would Sir Charles die, but *Clark* would also be cursed! "No!" she cried before she could stop herself. Tempos and the sorcerer started at the sound of her voice — apparently, they had forgotten that she was there. Lois wished that she hadn't drawn attention to herself but, since she had, she had to stay in character and decided to try to talk the Baron out of this, as she was sure the real Loisette would do. It might even work if she reminded him of their agreement. She tried to remember which of the Muses was responsible for eloquence, because she could do with some help…
"My lord, you mustn't!" she implored. "We had a bargain — you spared Charles' life in return for his exile and my hand and fidelity. Your sorcerer admits that he has kept his part; I will keep mine as I have promised; will you now go back on your word? You cannot!"
"Oh, yes I can," replied Tempos. "I'm the villain, remember? We're always doing this sort of thing — it comes with the job!" He turned to the sorcerer. "Go and get on with it! I want Sir Charles dead and in eternal torment by… by *yesterday!"*
Lois, almost instinctively, moved to intercept the sorcerer as he started to leave. If she could get close enough to him, maybe Doctor Fate would intervene; if not, then perhaps she could do something — *anything* — to stop the suddenly monstrous little man from carrying out Tempos' orders and dooming Clark and herself to untold misery in all their incarnations.
Unfortunately, the sorcerer seemed to sense what she was trying to do, and retreated behind the long table in the centre of the hall. Lois came to a halt, not wanting to be drawn into chasing him; that would be completely out of character for Lady Loisette, and for some reason that she couldn't quite identify, she thought that maintaining her masquerade could still prove to be important. Besides, she doubted that she could catch the sorcerer if he managed to get by her and out of the hall — long gowns were not made for running.
The Baron had been watching her and was definitely amused. "Why, my dear," he almost purred, "I do believe you're planning to do something awful to my sorcerer. To protect your precious Sir Charles, no doubt. I didn't think you had it in you. What a shame I can't let you actually do it…" At that, the sorcerer turned and glared at him, but he either didn't notice or ignored it completely. "But," he continued, "good sorcerers are hard to find, and good *evil* sorcerers even harder. So I'm afraid that you're going to have to give up your little plans, because I want my sorcerer alive and healthy, so that he can curse Sir Charles with the full extent of his powers!
"So, *my lady*…" His voice grew louder, almost to a shout, and it was filled with menace. "You will leave, *now*, and return to your room to resign yourself to your fate — and to the fate that awaits The Fox!"
'Fate? I'll give *you* fate, if I can just get close enough to that sorcerer,' thought Lois. But she couldn't. She only needed to get another six or so feet closer to the magician to be within the 3-metre radius, but the table and the Baron and the man's own wariness blocked her. She looked over at Tempos, whose manner was rapidly changing to rage, and decided that retreat was in order. Clark wasn't cursed yet, and maybe she could bushwhack the sorcerer somewhere else. She turned and left the hall without another word.
Behind her, the Baron was glaring at the sorcerer. "Are you still sure that that's Lady Loisette?" asked Tempos sardonically.
"Ye-es, sire," replied the sorcerer thoughtfully. "But I have to agree that her behaviour was unusual. She seemed to want to approach me…"
"Whereas, normally, she'd sooner get close to a kitchen midden than to you!"
"Very true, my lord. This *is* strange — and yet I am certain of my findings. Souls are unique, no two alike, and she definitely has Lady Loisette's soul. Nor could I find any trace of magic within her, so she cannot be in the power of another sorcerer…"
"Are you sure that you'd know if she was?"
"Oh, yes, my lord…" The sorcerer smiled evilly, so evilly that even Tempos recoiled from the malice that the smile showed. The sorcerer saw this, and the smile widened. "You must be aware that since we banished Sir Charles, my power has grown enormously. Together, by that simple act, we have tilted a cosmic balance towards the side of evil. Certain puissant beings have sought to reward us for our help: my reward is this increased skill and knowledge of my arts, equal to that of any sorcerer in the world; *your* reward is my use of my new powers in your service.
"Oh, yes, my lord, I would know… as I know that other powers seek me, even now. They cannot see me, nor anyone in this hall, unless I wish it. And perhaps it is time that they did partly succeed in their quest…"
"What do you mean?"
"We are under seige, sire. Oh, not an ordinary seige, with men and engines — *that* I could deal with now, with a mere wave of a hand — but a subtle, distant probing, of a kind never before seen. I have been able to hide from it or deflect it, but I think that the time has come to invite our enemies in — into a trap, naturally."
"I see…" said Tempos. "Just what do you have in mind?"
"Oh, it's quite simple, sire, as are all good traps. First, I'm going to let our watchers see me — and you. Then…"
Lois had spent a lot of time wondering where Clark was, particularly while in the hall with the sorcerer. Clark had spent even more time wondering where the sorcerer was; despite repeated x-ray vision sweeps and even a couple of super-speed fly-pasts, he had had no luck at all locating the man. And then things got worse; he had seen Tempos' conversation with Lois in the tower, and had followed the Baron as he returned to the hall, but now he couldn't find *him* either. Not only that, but Lois had been summoned to the hall, and *she* had disappeared for a while. He heaved a huge sigh of relief when he saw her leave the hall and walk towards a nearby flight of stairs.
"There's something very strange about that hall," he said to Wells. "People go into it and… vanish. I can see into the hall fine, but there's no-one there. I saw the Baron go in, and I could see him and a whole lot of guards and servants, but then they all disappeared. I saw Lois go in and come out, and all those people came out of it while she was in there, but I couldn't see her when she went in, and the people leaving weren't visible until they came out of the door…"
"Hmmm…" replied Wells, who was sitting at the foot of one of the trees. "That does sound rather as if there's something blocking your super-vision. Since you cannot find the sorcerer, I suspect that he is probably to blame."
"I think you're right…" muttered Clark. "But what do we do about it? Should I simply grab the Baron when he shows up again, or do we keep trying to find the sorcerer, and then take care of Tempos?"
"I don't know…" Wells' worried voice trailed off as Clark visibly stiffened.
"*There* they are!" cried Clark. "They just appeared, both of them, in the main hall. Hang on, Mr Wells, I'm gonna get us in there. With luck, they won't even see us coming." He grabbed Wells and took off at super-speed.
Clark swooped into the hall through a window, intending to flash across the room, knock out the sorcerer, deposit Wells next to him, and then grab Tempos. To his horror, he was barely inside the hall when he slowed up as though he had flown into treacle. Fortunately, both he and Wells had slowed together, so the time traveller wasn't hurt by the sudden deceleration. But that was all of their good fortune; some unseen force pulled them to the ground, where they rolled apart.
Across the room, Tempos was dumbfounded and the sorcerer was ecstatic. "You see, my lord — we *have* them!" And he began to laugh, a deafening howl of the vilest, most malicious merriment.
With the unearthly glee of the sorcerer as background, Clark and Wells found themselves fighting for their lives.
Meanwhile, Lois hadn't gone far. Tempos might think he could order her around and expect unquestioning obedience but, once out of his sight, any pretence that she was going to do what he commanded vanished instantly. Besides, if he was stupid enough to let her run around unguarded… well, she'd just see what she could do to wreck his little schemes.
Where was Clark? There was the sorcerer in the hall, finally out of whatever hole he had been hiding in, and just waiting for Wells to get close enough. How come Clark wasn't there already? If only there was some way she could contact him…
She went to go out into the courtyard, in the hope that Clark would see her and she could tell him about Tempos and the sorcerer and their plans, but before she got outside, an uproar from the main hall and an unholy cry from the sorcerer stopped her in her tracks. She raced back to the hall doorway — well, as fast as she could in the burgundy gown — and looked in.
The sight that met her eyes was horrific, even nightmarish. Clark and Wells were entangled in thrashing tentacles that somehow were growing out of the stone floor of the hall. As she watched, Clark blasted the base of the ones holding Wells with his heat vision, even as he ripped the tentacles gripping him out of the ground. But, like the heads of the mythical hydra, for every one that he burned or tore out, another, or even two others, would sprout from the same spot and wrap themselves around their victim. Clark didn't seem to be in any difficulty other than being two-thirds-covered by the horrible things, but Wells was groaning and gasping, obviously short of breath and in some pain from the grip of the soft, ghastly limbs.
Again, Clark's heat vision shot out, cutting and scorching the tentacles surrounding Wells. Just for an instant, Lois thought she could see the red flash that was the only visible sign that Clark's eyes were pouring out energy. The tentacles on the receiving end withered, died and vanished into nothingness instantly, but any respite that Wells might have gained was short-lived as new growths slithered up his gasping figure.
Lois looked around desperately. There had to be *something* she could do to help, but what? And then her gaze fixed on the sorcerer. The repulsive creature was obviously behind this; if she could distract him or, even better, disable him, Clark would be able to save Wells and get him close enough to the sorcerer for Doctor Fate to intervene — *if* the woman lived up to her promises. In any case, taking out the sorcerer had now become vital, mysterious doctors or not, and Lois realised that *she* had the best chance to do it because no-one would expect the noble, gentle Lady Loisette to attack them. Lois Lane Kent, on the other hand, was more than ready and able to do just that. With a wicked anticipatory glee that she did nothing to suppress because it was all too appropriate, she prepared to strike back at the sorcerer for his invasion of her soul. 'Play your rotten games with *me*, will you? Now it's my turn…'
Quickly, she stepped back into the passage and slipped the gown over her head; 20th-century clothes were much better for a fight than medieval finery. She approached the doorway again and zeroed in on the cackling figure of the sorcerer, who was now standing out in the open with his back to her. 'Okay, you scumbag,' she thought, 'It's martial arts against sorcery. Here we go…'
Lois began to run into the hall, towards the sorcerer, quickly accelerating to a full-blooded charge. Her footsteps rang out on the flagstones and the sorcerer began to turn in her direction, as did Tempos, but it was too late for either of them to stop her. With her best Tae Kwon Do yell, she leaped and drove a booted foot hard into the sorcerer's stomach…
Everything froze. For a timeless instant, Lois felt herself suspended in mid-air while somehow, someone else looked with her, through her eyes, at the motionless, unchanging scene. Then time began again and she crashed to the ground on top of the sorcerer.
She went to roll away, partly to get off the loathsome little man, but also to resume her assault. Before she could, however, there was a golden flash, so quick that it was gone almost before her senses registered that it had happened, and a whoosh, and she found herself on the other side of the hall in Clark's arms. His expression as he looked back at the bad guys was an odd, almost contradictory mixture: he was alert and ready for action, but his face showed an awed amazement, and he glanced down at her with eyes full of unconcealed and grateful pride and love.
She was incredibly glad to see him, and the look he gave her made her heart turn over with joy, but she forced herself to concentrate on what was going on behind her back, turning within his firm, loving hug to see what he was looking at. She saw, and her own eyes widened. The tentacles were gone, and the sorcerer, already doubled over in pain from her attack, was bent even further under the glare of a beam of yellow light that shone on him like an amber laser from an invisible source high in the rafters of the hall. He was screaming silently and his eyes, full of hatred, were fixed on the source of the light, as though he could see something there where no-one else could.
And perhaps he could, for the same golden glow that had illuminated Wells' room appeared and expanded into the form of Doctor Fate. The blue-and-gold figure was male this time, but Wells, panting quietly as he recovered from the grip of the tentacles, recognised the costume — and the voice.
"Pawn Of Chaos! Dupe Of The Dwellers Of The Abyss! In The Name Of Light And Order, I Strip From You Those Powers Which You Ought Not To Have!"
Again, golden light flared from Fate's hands, surrounding the stunned figure of the sorcerer. The man wailed as the light wrapped itself around him. The glow grew brighter, until only Clark could bear to look at it. To his eyes, though, a macabre scene was visible: ghostly figures were being… well, *pulled* was the only word for it, from the sorcerer's body. They rose to coalesce above his head, where they began to change; what had begun as a series of vaguely human-like phantoms disappeared into smooth darkness to re-emerge as a multitude of different shapes and forms which seemed unable to hold their outline or texture for more than an instant. They writhed and squirmed all over, thrashing about such limbs as they had momentarily, but they were no more able to escape from the golden light than they were to retain their shape.
The light began to fade, and with it the darkness that it enclosed and the figures which that, in turn, contained. Before long, all had vanished, leaving only the drab, wizened little man who had been such a menace, threatening the lives and happiness of so many people, only a few moments before.
"You Will Cast No More Spells, Sorcerer," intoned Fate. "Those Whom Empowered You Have Been Banished Once Again." The helmed figure turned to face the three time travellers. "The Curse — *All* Curses — Are Gone. The Mystic Danger To Your World, Herbert George Wells, Is Over. I Leave The Historical Danger And The Disposal Of The Baron To You. Farewell." There was another flash of yellow light, and Doctor Fate was gone.
"I've been *waiting* for this!" Clark growled. He began to spin, and the jeans and shirt vanished in place of Superman's colourful uniform. "Okay, Baron, we can do this the hard way or the easy way. What's it gonna be?"
On reflection, Clark was later to realise that there wasn't any real doubt in the matter. The Baron, once he'd recovered from his amazement, drew his sword, a feral grin on his face. "And I thought *his* clothes were awful," he quipped, motioning with the sword towards Wells. "What are you, the local Court Jester? Oh well, it doesn't matter, because in two seconds you're going to be carrion for the *dogs!*"
As he said the last word, Tempos charged, bringing his sword around in a wide sweep. The blade struck Superman — and shattered. The Baron, still having the momentum that he'd put into the swing, kept moving but was thrown completely off-balance by the impact and crashed to the ground. Cursing, he rolled away from his foe — who hadn't moved yet — and grabbed for a halberd from the wall.
Off to the side, Lois was grinning, and even Wells was having to hide a smile. Tempos noticed this and snarled, "You may laugh *now*, but I'll deal with you after I've run this peasant through!" To his intense annoyance, this only made Lois dissolve into giggles.
The Baron levelled his weapon, its point directed right at Superman's chest emblem. The "target" didn't move. Tempos charged again, viciously thrusting as he closed with his enemy.
When the weapon made contact with Superman, it felt to the Baron as though he'd tried to stab a brick wall — and Superman's body had roughly the same effect on the halberd; the blade bent, and the handle snapped.
Tempos staggered backwards. *What* was he fighting? *Damn* that sorcerer for a worthless knave! Just when he was needed, the useless churl had to go and have his powers taken from him!
Superman decided to get this over with. His eyes narrowed; no- one could see it, but a low-intensity beam of heat vision came from them. "Tell me, Baron," he said, "After all that exercise, aren't you feeling just a little… warm?"
The Baron was. To his horror, he could feel his chain-mail heating up. He began to struggle with it, trying to get it off without burning his hands.
Superman strode over to him. "Here — let *me!*" With that, the Man of Steel grasped the mail shirt and ripped it open. Tempos saw a red-and-blue blur before his eyes, and suddenly realised that his armour was *gone!* He was clothed only in the shirt and hose that he wore underneath it as padding.
Superman grabbed Tempos by the shirt and lifted him off the ground with one hand. The Baron, afraid but determined not to show it, looked down and snarled defiantly, "So what happens now? You going to kill me?"
"No, Baron, I'm not going to kill you. I don't kill."
"Duh — of course!" quipped Tempos. "The good guys don't kill, except in a fair fight. Fools! Now, me, I'll kill anyone. Killing *finishes* things — and it's fun, too."
"Yeah, well, don't get too confident, Tempos. *I* may not kill you, but you have an appointment with someone who just might…" So saying, Superman lifted the Baron off the ground with one hand and, with a whoosh, they were gone.
A very short time later, the familiar gust of wind heralded Superman's return. He picked up Lois and Wells as before, saying, "Next stop, France. We've done our job, but I'd like to make sure that Baron Tempos is properly… disposed of, as our mystical friend said."
Seconds later, they were landing in the clearing. Sir Charles was there, as were Lady Loisette, Friar Harry, the Fox's Men — and, chained to a tree, Tempos.
Superman walked over to the tree and snapped the chains, freeing the Baron. Tempos would have fled, but was restrained by a super-strong grip on one arm. He was dragged into the centre of the clearing, where Sir Charles awaited him.
Lois came up to the group of men and began, "Okay, here's the deal. Lady Loisette has promised to marry *you*" — she pointed to Tempos — "but really wants to marry *you*." Her finger moved to Sir Charles. "For reasons that we won't go into, we want what she wants. But, if she went ahead and just did what she wanted, she'd have broken her word, and that would be as bad as if she married the wrong man. So, Baron, we're going to have to give you a fighting chance — you don't deserve it, but that's how it's gotta be."
Tempos, angry at the off-hand manner in which Lois used his title, went to strike her, but his arm was blocked, almost before he could begin his blow, by the rock-hard muscles of Superman. The Baron found himself once again hauled off the ground bodily by the blue-clad hell-fiend, who turned him upside-down and held him, one-handed, in mid-air while growling at him, "Let's get one thing straight, Tempos: you can't hurt me, and if you even *try* to hurt my wife, your 'fighting chance' will be the chance that a man has when he's got four broken limbs and a fractured jaw! And don't think I'm bluffing; *I* may not kill, but the danger that you represent is more than enough justification for me to make it easy for someone *else* to kill you. And there are at least a dozen people here who'd do that without a moment's hesitation!"
This was, of course, mostly untrue — Clark knew that the Baron had to surrender or his other self had to defeat him in a fair fight for the future to be safe — but Tempos didn't know that; he looked up at his captor's eyes and believed. The expression there was one of grim determination, which, because *he* would have no hesitation in crippling an enemy if for some reason he couldn't kill him, Tempos took to be the gaze of an equally implacable foe.
Superman lowered the Baron to the ground — none too gently — then crossed his arms and stood impassively in the familiar pose as Tempos got to his feet. If looks could kill, the Baron's fearful, hate-filled glare would have… bounced off the Man of Steel's invulnerable skin, just like every other weapon that he might have tried, now that his sorcerer was powerless. And he knew it, which only made his humiliation and fury all the greater.
One of Sir Charles' men came towards Tempos, carrying a sword. He stopped in the middle of the clearing, however, when Superman held up one hand. Clark stepped over to him and took the sword, saying, "Let *me* — just in case our friend there tries anything funny once he has a weapon in his hand…"
Tempos cursed inwardly. He had been planning to grab the man and use him as a hostage long enough to get his hands on an even better one — Lady Loisette. The noble Sir Charles, he was sure, would hesitate to endanger one of his devoted followers, even if it meant making things worse from his point of view by letting his mortal enemy take his lady love. What a fool!
But that gules-and-azure demon had thwarted that plan before he could even attempt it. Still, it was worth remembering; if he could manage to capture the lady, he'd have a perfect way of escaping from this trap with the ultimate prize. He'd just have to bide his time and wait for an opportunity. Even the demon couldn't stop him if he could just get close enough to Loisette… (In this, Tempos did Clark a considerable injustice, but he hadn't seen a demonstration of real super-speed yet, nor would he have believed in it without one)
Meantime, Superman was now right in front of him, holding the sword out to him. "Take this, Tempos," said Clark. "And I suggest you remember what happened to your *last* one before you try to use it on me. You're going to need it, and no-one will give you another sword if you ruin this one."
This gave the Baron pause, even as he took the weapon. He'd half-expected to be run through on the spot; to be given a sword and warned that he was going to need it was beyond all imagining. But he shook that off; he was alive, fit, unbound and armed — he'd beat them all yet! He looked around for a way of escape, but had to give that up almost before he'd begun when Superman said, in a voice that brooked no inattention, "All right, Tempos, stop your scheming and listen! This is where you get a choice. Either you can release Lady Loisette from her promise to marry you and Sir Charles from his exile, *and* go into exile yourself…"
"Never!" snarled Tempos.
"Or you get to fight Sir Charles, here and now. Winner take all."
"Is that supposed to be a *choice?*" laughed the Baron. "Surely you jest! I beat him once, and I'll do it again!" He turned towards Sir Charles and mockingly saluted him with his sword. "To the death!" he called, sneering.
Charles was impassive, as though he had been expecting this. He replied in kind, although his "To the death!" was muted, with a tinge of sadness that it had come to this.
Tempos was anything *but* sad as he stepped out into the clearing to watch everyone but Sir Charles retire to the edges. He took special note of where Lady Loisette was standing, and also of the witch who looked so like her and had dared to mock him — once Charles was dead, he'd just see about teaching her respect for her betters, hell-born "husband" or not. He began to muse on which of the women would make the better hostage; Loisette was the real prize, but the other wench would make a useful bargaining tool to get to the lady, and was less likely to be closely guarded; should he take one of them before or *after* he'd killed Charles..?
Superman had been watching, and he suddenly stepped right up to Tempos, impaling him with the glare that was known and feared by the Metropolis underworld. His face scant inches from the nobleman's, he said, quietly and forcefully, "Just remember one more thing: this is going to be a *fair* fight, just you and Sir Charles. No-one else will be allowed to interfere, so you needn't worry about attacks from Sir Charles' men — or me — but *you'll* have to toe the line as well. If you try to run away, you lose; if you try to grab anyone as a hostage, you lose; if you do *anything* other than fight Sir Charles, and *only* Sir Charles, you lose; and losing means that you'll end up right here, bound and unarmed, and at Sir Charles' mercy."
Tempos quailed inwardly at Clark's words, not so much because of what he had said as from the conviction and power in the hero's voice. But the arrogant self-confidence that was a basic part of his make-up, in any incarnation, bolstered his ego and allowed him to reply, "Hah! He'll soon be at *my* mercy, and I don't have any!"
Superman said nothing, merely standing his ground until Tempos backed away from him. He then moved aside as Sir Charles came across to face the Baron. The two men raised their swords and the battle began.
What followed looked, to the eyes of the 20th-century couple, more like something from an Errol Flynn movie than the fight that Clark-as-Charles had had with the Baron. The real Sir Charles' swordplay was much more controlled and skilled — even flashy when it had to be, which wasn't often. This was an unpleasant surprise to Tempos, who had expected to overpower his opponent much as he had done the "first" time, only to find that his attacks were parried easily. Not that he had many opportunities to attack; this time, he found himself almost entirely on the defensive, desperately trying to block the knight's flashing blade.
Nor were his stratagems any more successful: attempts to lure Sir Charles onto uneven ground were refused, dirty infighting just didn't work, and insults and taunting were ignored. The knight merely stood there, alert and watchful, ready for anything.
In a way, it was Sir Charles' refusal even to exchange banter with him that led to Tempos' undoing. Fatigued and almost insane with fury, he launched one final, all-out assault on his foe, attempting to overwhelm the knight by sheer force. However, Charles had been expecting this, and made an end of the fight; a simple but precisely-timed step to the side, a quick thrust, and Tempos fell, dead before his body hit the ground.
Charles stood for a moment, breathing heavily as he looked down at the body of his erstwhile lord. Then, shaking his head, he kneeled beside the body and cleaned his sword on the grass.
Lady Loisette ran to him, closely followed by Friar Harry and the rest of his band. The three time travellers hung back, pleased that Charles had won but saddened that Tempos' death had been the only way to achieve their goal.
Charles' men were less restrained. One of them gave the body a single, savage kick as he retrieved his sword. Charles saw this and called to him, wearily but sharply, "Enough, Alain! Have some respect for the dead. He was a tyrant, but he was our suzerain and we should treat him with honour for that alone. God knows there was little enough honour in his life; let there be some in his death!"
Alain looked suitably abashed, and bent to clean his own sword, which was stained not with Charles' blood but with Tempos'.
Lois and Clark came over to their other selves, Wells following. Lois turned to her husband and said happily, "That's that. Now you can take everyone back to England, Charles and Loisette can get married, and *we* can go home."
Loisette heard this and looked lovingly at her soon-to-be lord. Not so Charles, who had yet to smile, despite the attentions of his lady and his followers. He looked at Lois and said regretfully, "Would that it were so, lady, but it cannot be. I have given my sworn word not to return to England, and even though he to whom I gave it lies dead, my honour commands that I obey my promise." He turned to Loisette, whose face had fallen with his words. "My love," he continued, "Though it pains me beyond all measure, I cannot go with you. England must I shun, for my word is given. I do not know where I shall go, only that it cannot be there, though it is— *was* my home, and the home of she who owns my heart." He looked away, towards the horizon. "I had thought of taking the Cross, of joining the Crusade. Perhaps in service to God, I may come to accept this bitter fate…"
"Oh, dear," said Wells quietly. "This is unfortunate. Loisette *must* marry Charles. I never expected *him* to be the obstacle. We must do something…"
"Good grief!" muttered Lois. "Isn't this taking the boy scout bit a little too far?" She stomped over to confront the knight, glaring up at him with her hands on her hips. "Are you seriously trying to tell me that you're not going to go back to England, not going to marry her, not going to be *happy*—" She paused to take a deep breath. "—just because you made a promise, under duress, to a dead man?!"
"Madam…" said Sir Charles, somewhat hesitantly; he was, to put it mildly, taken aback by this small female dynamo, so like his own lady and yet so unlike. "Madam, it is not my wish to do as you have said, but I must. My word is pledged, and I cannot do otherwise. To do so would prove me no knight, but a damnable and damned liar, with no honour. How could I ask my lady to wed such a one?"
"Ooooohhhh!" groaned Lois in frustration. Then, remembering her husband, she called out, "Clark! Get over here and knock some sense into this idiot's head!"
Clark joined the group, not looking happy. "I don't think I can, Lois," he said. "This is important to Charles. Remember the poem: 'I could not love thee, dear, so much, Lov'd I not honour more'? *That's* what we're up against, and I don't have any quick ways 'round it."
He stood by Lois and turned her gently to look at him. "I don't like this any more than you do, honey, but I can understand where he's coming from. *Sir* Charles has given his word, and if he goes back on it — well, to do that, he'll have to go against everything he's ever been taught. His honour as a knight is the most important thing in the world to him, because it's how he defines himself with respect *to* the world; he *can't* just up and break his promise, because if he did, he wouldn't be who he is!"
He stopped and looked helpless for a second. "Um… I'm not sure that what I just said made sense, but I do know that we can't expect Charles to renege on a promise. We have to find some other way for him to marry Lady Loisette, but I don't have any ideas…"
"There is no need," said a quiet voice. Lois jumped to hear that voice, so like her own; it was, of course, Lady Loisette, so far unheard from in the discussion. She raised one hand to Sir Charles' face before continuing, "My love, these good people have worked wonders for you and I, that we may wed. I cannot, in good conscience, let their efforts be for naught, not when their wish is my greatest desire also. I *will* wed you, Charles, and I will stay with you, though you must remain outremer for all our days."
Charles looked shocked. "My lady," he stammered, "You must not *do* this. Your family, your lands…"
She smiled up at him. "…mean naught to me if you are not there to share them." She turned to wave a hand at Lois and Clark, who were standing together, each with one arm around the other. "Look at them, my love. Can you not *see?* These people are somehow, by some miracle, ourselves, and they, too, have overcome great trials to wed. But they *have* wed, and the joy that marriage has brought them shines from them like the light of the sun. That joy is their gift to us, that we may share in it and return it many-fold. How can we refuse? Compared to that joy and the love which both engenders it and is engendered by it, what are lands, what is wealth and rank? Surely the most barren of earthly pleasures.
"No, Charles. I swore to marry Tempos to save you, though it meant that my heart must break and my body suffer his embrace; that I could endure, for the sake of you. Now, my heart will not be denied a second time; though you were the poorest man-at-arms in the world, I would marry you, for God knows that a love such as ours should not — *must* not — be thwarted for the sake of mere empty wealth." And with that, she reached up and pulled his head down to hers in a long, loving kiss.
Lois and Clark had been keeping quiet and standing almost motionless while Loisette said her piece, but at the sight of "themselves" kissing, they glanced at each other and went to do likewise. However, before their heads met, Clark saw Lois' expression change. He cocked an eyebrow expectantly; *that* look on Lois' face meant that she'd figured a way out of their problem, even if it seemed as though Loisette had found her own solution.
"Wait a minute.." Lois said under her breath. Clark watched as she thought furiously. "That's *it!*" She called to the other couple, "Charles! You don't want to go back on your sworn word, right?" To the knight's uncomprehending nod, she triumphantly replied, "Well, you never actually gave it!"
Clark looked startled, and Charles frowned. "Think about it!" cried Lois. "Remember after the fight, when Tempos was about to kill you — *you* didn't say anything! The whole exile and marriage deal was arranged by Tempos and me— that is, Lady Loisette. You never said you agreed, you just went along with them! So you *can* go back to England, *with* your precious honour, because you never ever *gave* your sworn word to go into exile!"
Loisette gazed into Charles' eyes, her face aglow with hope. "My lord," she said, "Is this so? Do you remember?"
Charles' face was blank. He visibly tried to remember exactly what had happened that fateful day, finally turning to Lois with an amazed look. "Madam…" he said hesitantly, "I believe you are right." He looked back at his lady. "My love, she is *right!* I did *not* give my word; my honour is safe!" The stunned expression gradually faded, and he dropped to one knee in front of her. Grasping her hand, he looked into her eyes and said, "We *may* wed, if you will have me…"
Loisette didn't bother to answer, but reached out to pull him up and kissed him. Clark murmured, "Lois, you are *brilliant…*" before taking the opportunity to kiss his wife in happy emulation of their counterparts.
"Why, thank you, good sir," Lois smilingly replied after they broke for air. "You can tell me more about that later. But for now, let's get out of here! We got a wedding to perform!"
"You bet!" laughed Clark. He fell silent for a moment and seemed to be thinking, and his face took on a long-suffering expression as he went on, "You know, considering what *we* went through, I kinda think we ought to ride shotgun on those two until they're well and truly married!"
"Good point…" murmured Lois. She looked apprehensive; considering the hell that she and Clark had had to endure, not to mention all the tribulations that their souls seemed destined to undergo for their love in each incarnation, maybe they *had* better stick around. She racked her brains — what else could go wrong?
Lady Loisette, whose ears seemed to be attuned to the other couple's conversations, heard what they had said and noticed their expressions. A frown crept over her face, and she lapsed into thought as the others had. Had Clark been watching, he would have recognised the expression, and probably felt a little nervous; it was so very like the expression on Lois' face a few minutes earlier, and, in their rightful time and place, would normally have meant that his wife was cooking up something — Loisette might well be doing likewise…
She was. Detaching herself from Sir Charles, much to his surprise, she beckoned to Lois, and the two women moved a few yards away to confer quietly, a pair of not-quite-mirror-images. Loisette said something; Lois' eyebrows shot up, and she grinned and giggled, nodding in reply. The two then began to talk together, quietly but animatedly.
Clark also grinned at the sight of his wife and her other self deep in conversation. He strolled over to Sir Charles, remarking softly, "Oh-oh… Those two are up to something. I hope you're ready for marriage to a woman with a mind of her own."
Charles chuckled. "I would not wish to wed my lady if I were not," he replied. "Loisette is fair, and good, and kind, and all that a woman should be, yet she has, as you say, a mind of her own. I have come to treasure it as I treasure her. It is but one more thing that goes to make her who she is. I would not change her."
"Very wise," said Clark. "Believe me, you won't regret it." He would have said more, but the womenfolk returned, with an identical look in each one's eyes that had Clark ever-so-slightly apprehensive. Lois came over to give him a hug, which he returned, whispering in her ear, "What are you up to?"
"Why, Clark," she replied teasingly, "You mean you didn't listen in with your hearing gizmo? Silly boy…"
Clark would have replied to that in like manner, but his attention was caught by Loisette speaking to Charles. "My lord… our future, as man and wife, lies before us. I would begin it without delay. Let us marry — here and now."
"My lady..? I would wed you anywhere, at any time, but would not your home be a better place?"
"Can there *be* a better place than here, where evil was vanquished and our love secured? This place is blessed, by God and by the people who are with us, who have strived to help us. Let us crown their labours and their devotion by marrying in their presence." She began to walk towards the edge of the clearing, tugging on his arm. "Come, I need some flowers if I am to be a bride…" Charles gazed at her smiling face and knew himself lost. He nodded and went with her, shaking his head in rueful amusement.
With that settled, it was time to summon the professional help. "Friar Harry!" yelled Lois as loudly as she could. "Get over here!"
The friar's head swivelled at the sound of his name; he looked shocked to hear such a call from a woman, particularly one who was so like Lady Loisette, but he came obediently. "Yes, my lady," he said respectfully, and not a little nervously, "How may I serve you?"
"Oh, it's not me who needs you," Lois said cheerfully. She pointed over at Charles and Loisette, gathering flowers. "It's those two. We want you to marry them, immediately."
Harry's ruddy face lit up and he galloped over to his master. "My lord!" he cried enthusiastically, "The lady says that you want me to marry you and Lady Loisette. Is that true?"
"Yes, old friend," said Charles. "My lady has decided that we should wed here, and right away, and I cannot deny her. Truth to tell, I am of like mind, with little patience to await our return to England, however swift that may be with the help of our new friends. So let it be done. Go now, and prepare yourself."
The friar walked off, beaming, to tell the rest of Sir Charles' band. Unfortunately, after only a few steps, he stopped abruptly, hitting himself on the head with one hand in what, to Lois and Clark, looked very like Perry White suddenly remembering something and berating himself for forgetting it in the first place. He turned back to Charles and Loisette with an unhappy face and a down-heartened demeanour. "My lord…" he said regretfully, "I can't marry you today — the banns have not been read!"
The would-be happy couple also looked depressed at the friar's words, but they realised that he was right. They gazed into each other's eyes, frustrated but resigned, and embraced gently, each murmuring reassurance and trying to comfort the other, and also seeking a little solace themselves against the disappointment.
Across the clearing, Lois saw Charles' and Loisette's faces fall, and groaned to herself, "Oh, no — *now* what?"
Clark tuned in his super-hearing and after a time replied, "There's some problem; the wedding can't be held today. Oh, of course — the banns haven't been read!"
Lois looked stricken. "But that takes *weeks!*" she cried. "I don't want to hang around here for a month!"
Wells, who had been following their conversation in his quiet way, suddenly spoke up. "Ah, well, I think *I* can help there." And with that, he strode off towards the others. When he reached them, he enquired, "Is there a problem, Sir Charles? You seem unhappy…"
"Yes, my friend," replied Charles ruefully, "In our eagerness to wed, my lady and I forgot that one cannot just marry instantly. The banns must be read, and so we will not be able to wed until that is done, a matter of three weeks or more, even with the aid of Sir Kal to return us to England. It is a disappointment, but it is the law; the sacrament of marriage is not to be entered into lightly."
"True, true," said Wells brightly, "But I think I may be able to help you there." He reached into his coat and pulled out a folded parchment which he handed to Friar Harry. "I, ah… anticipated success, you might say, and so I made a few arrangements. I think you'll find that that parchment smoothes the way for you, so to speak."
Friar Harry had been reading the document while Wells was speaking, and his eyebrows had practically disappeared into his tonsure. "My lord," he began, awed, "This is a message from… *Rome*… I can marry you today — I am *commanded* to marry you, as soon as possible." He stared at Wells, almost as startled as he had been by Clark's demonstration of his super-powers. "How did you get this?"
"Oh, I have a few… contacts, who were very helpful. Does it matter? I mean, there's nothing wrong, is there? That is a genuine document, I can assure you."
"Oh, there's nothing *wrong*… But messages like this are usually delivered by Church couriers, not…"
"Not casually taken out of one's coat pocket, is that it?" Wells chuckled. "Well, it wasn't possible for a courier to bring it this time; after all, I didn't know when or where, or even to whom — although I expected it to be you — I would be giving it. But I think that we needn't worry about that any more. You have a wedding to perform, don't you?"
Harry muttered that yes, yes, he did, and walked off, shaking his head in amazement, to tell the others as he had been going to not long before. Charles and Loisette said nothing, but their faces spoke volumes. They resumed their stroll and flower- collecting as Wells walked back to the Kents to tell them that the wedding *would* be taking place that evening.
Shouts of joy went up from the rest of the Fox's Men as the news spread, and there was a brief period of back-pounding and congratulations before everyone except the couple themselves were swept up in the preparations for the wedding feast. Clark made himself useful collecting wood and helping to make the spit roast; when no-one was looking, he started the fire with a quick blast of heat vision.
Lois kept well away from the cooking, petrified that she'd be asked to help; fortunately for all concerned, she wasn't, and she spent the time helping Loisette prepare for the ceremony. There wasn't much that she could do, though, and she was amused to find herself plaiting flowers into a garland for Loisette to wear in her hair.
And suddenly, it was all done, and it was time. There, in a sun-lit clearing, surrounded by their friends and comrades — including three time travellers — Sir Charles the Fox and Lady Loisette were made man and wife. As the newly-married couple kissed after Friar Harry pronounced the final blessing, Lois leaned over to whisper to Wells, "Now, you're sure nothing goes wrong when *they* consummate their marriage, aren't you?"
Wells blushed. "As far as I know, Mrs Kent. I certainly have no intention of interrupting them as I had to do on *your* wedding night."
"That'll do…" said Lois as the crowd headed for the food.
The feast was as riotous as modern legend would have us believe, especially after Clark zipped back to England with a couple of Charles' men to raid Tempos' wine cellars. The men were petrified by the flight to and from the clearing, but they closed their eyes and hung on to the wine, which was all they had to do. If, once they touched down back at the feast, they staggered over to the trees to throw up, then grabbed a wineskin and proceeded to drown their sorrows, no-one begrudged them it.
Alain turned out to be a musician as well as a man-at-arms, so the festivities were enlivened with songs and dancing. Loisette proved to be as good a singer as Lois, and Charles, rather to Clark's chagrin, turned out to have a good tenor voice. Clark redeemed himself, at least in his own eyes, by retuning Alain's lute to something that was a serviceable substitute for a guitar and accompanying Lois as she treated the company to a wide- ranging repertoire of "Kryptonian" songs, ranging from Gershwin and Cole Porter to Fleetwood Mac by way of jazz, folk and even a little country-and-western.
Between songs, Lois and Clark took great delight in learning both the court dances that Charles and Loisette knew, and the wilder country dances that the men preferred. They were quick learners, which was just as well in Lois' case because she was in great demand once it had been established that Clark didn't mind her dancing with other men, provided he got to dance with her, say, every third dance. Lois bristled at the thought that she had to have Clark's *permission* to dance with somebody, until he pointed out that not only was it the mores of the era, but that Charles' men were probably afraid that he'd throw them to the moon if they did anything that he objected to. She wasn't sure whether to laugh or to continue to be offended at that, but he was right and her indignation subsided, to be forgotten in the sheer fun of the dances.
Towards the end of the evening, Charles requested the honour of a dance with Lois and indicated to Clark that Loisette would like to have the traditional wedding dance with him. It was an eerie experience for all four of them; each person's partner was so like their own husband or wife, and yet wasn't. Charles said almost nothing to Lois, confining himself to partnering her in the formal complexities of the dance, but Loisette had something that she wanted to say to Clark.
"Sir," she began, still somewhat in awe of him after all that had happened, "I know not how to thank you for all you have done for me this day." He would have told her that thanks weren't necessary, but she went on in a worried tone, "I have never known a man like you — no, not the wondrous things that you can do, for you have told us that in your own land, you are a man like other men…" She smiled, just a little. "I do not understand how that can be, but God must, and I can but thank Him for sending you to help Charles and I. No, what troubles me is… I *know* you. It is not just that you could be the twin of my lord, but something… deeper, within. I have not met you before today, and yet I feel I know you as I do my husband. Why should this be?"
Clark smiled at her in the firelight. "You *do* know me," he said reassuringly, "And I know you, even though we've never met until today, and we'll probably never meet again. But you'll see me every time you look at Sir Charles, and I'll see you every time I look at *my* wife. You were right: Lois and I *are* you and Charles. That's why we came to help; our souls are linked, and misfortune to one is misfortune to us all. There's nothing to worry about. Enjoy your life, and we'll enjoy ours. Just remember that across the ages, your soul and Charles' will always be together."
"I do not understand," she replied, but without the concerned note in her voice, "but I do not think I need to. Your words have comforted me, and I can but add that to the list of things for which I owe you thanks."
Just then, the music ended. Clark stepped back a single pace and, imitating something that he'd once seen an actor do in a performance of Shakespeare, he employed his cape in a spectacular flourish as he bowed to Loisette. "You're very welcome," he said, taking her hand to lead her to her husband.
Finally, well after midnight, as the fire began to die down, Clark came over to the newlyweds. "Lady Loisette, Sir Charles," he said, "I guess that, ordinarily, your men and women would be getting you ready for the bridal chamber. That's a little difficult in this situation, but I could take you home if you'd like."
Charles gazed fondly at Loisette, who was nestling in his arms. "What say you, my lady? Shall we take yet more advantage of our benefactor and spend this night in your house?"
His lady was comfortable, and sleepy, and very, very happy. "No-o-o…" she murmured in a dreamy voice that was barely audible. "No… Everyone will have gone to bed by now. The morning will be time enough…"
Charles looked wistful. "Not how you dreamed of spending your wedding night, huh?" said Clark. "I know the feeling…" 'At least *you* managed to marry the right person the first time around…'
At Clark's words, Loisette stirred from her near-doze. "My lord…" she said, seemingly astonished, "This is our *bridal night*…"
Both men burst out laughing. Loisette looked embarrassed for a moment, then began to chuckle softly herself. "Yes, my lady," said Charles, trying to be serious but not quite managing it, "It is. And we look fair to spend it here, in a bare field, instead of a proper bedchamber."
"No matter… This is a blessd place, and where love is, is worth more than a hundred bedchambers…"
The distant howl of a wolf cut her off, and Sir Charles was instantly alert, and worried. "Oh, my love, what fools we have been! We must get you to safety..!"
He began to get up, calling to his men, but Clark stopped him. "Relax… Don't worry about the wolves." He took a quick super- look around before squatting down on his haunches to say, "The pack is a good two miles away, and they're not headed in this direction anyway."
Charles was unconvinced. "How do you know this, friend Kal? Is this more of your magic?"
"You could say that. Look, don't worry — I'll keep watch. If the wolves even look like coming close, I can have the lot of us in England in less than a minute."
Loisette relaxed at that, as did Charles, though not as much. "Trust him, my lord," she said. "Wolves can hold no terror for one who has faced Tempos and his sorcerer, and we have seen his power and his goodness." She smiled coyly. "*We* have other things to think of this night…"
"We do, my love," said Charles ruefully, "But I fear that a soldier's bed is a poor place in which to think of them…"
"Yeah, well, I might be able to help there, too," put in Clark. "Don't go away…" With that, he vanished from their startled view. They settled back and, not knowing how long he'd be, became absorbed in one another, so missing his return a few minutes later; he gently descended next to Lois to whisper something in her ear before shooting off again.
Lois got up and walked over to them. "Hi," she said. "Cla— er, Kal will have your bed fixed up in a couple of minutes. While he's doing that, he's asked me to help Loisette get ready. I'm not much of a tirewoman, but I'll do what I can. I need to borrow your cloak…"
Sir Charles was bemused but said nothing, having come to the conclusion that he was to be relieved of all responsibility for his wedding night, and handed over his cloak. The two women moved a little way off, and Lois spread and held up the cloak, shielding Lady Loisette from view as she began to take off her outer clothing.
By the time Loisette was down to her shift and had unbraided and unbound her hair, a whoosh announced Clark's arrival. Lois looked up to see him drop slowly to the ground with something large and blocky above his head. He set it down near the fire and reached over it to pick up something. The familiar whoosh sounded again as he suddenly kicked into super-speed, and the blocky whatever-it-was was instantly blotted out by another, larger shape.
The shape turned out to be a four-poster bed. The blocky object had been its base, and Clark had quickly assembled the canopy and the drapes. He stepped away from it and turned his back so that Lois could bring Loisette, wrapped in Sir Charles' cloak, over to it. The lady said nothing, but her eyes were wide as she slid behind the drapes.
"There you go," said Clark to Charles. "Bed and bed-chamber all in one, courtesy of Kryptonian Furniture Makers — and Lady Loisette's household stores." With that, he swept one arm towards the bed. "Your bride awaits you, sir. Don't you think it's time you joined her?"
Charles laughed at that. "Time and past time, good Kal." He went to go to the bed, but stopped and came over to Clark, gripping him by the shoulders. "Thank you, my friend. At dawn, I expected today to be another lonely, weary day; tonight, I have all that my heart has ever desired, and all because of you. I am in such debt to you as no man has been since Lazarus…"
"No, you're not!" said Clark, a little sharply. "I— *we* did what had to be done, for our own reasons; it's *our* good luck that that was to your benefit as well, so don't go thinking that you owe us anything." Charles began to protest, but Clark pressed on, "Or, if you feel you have to repay us somehow, do it by being what you are, what you always intended to be — a good man, a loving husband and an honourable knight. Do that, and it will be all the thanks that anyone could want."
Charles knelt before Clark, his head bowed and his hands folded as in prayer. "As you wish, my… brother," he said humbly. "Before God, I swear that I shall strive for the right, as I have always tried to do, and cherish my lady as I have seen you cherish yours…"
He would have said more, but Clark raised him to his feet quickly. Their eyes met. "I believe you," murmured Clark. "Now, will you quit messing around and stop keeping your wife waiting?" He clapped the knight on the back and strode away towards Lois, leaving a surprised Charles to stare after him for a moment before turning and hastening towards the bed and his bride.
"Nice work, Clark," said Lois as her husband enveloped her in a hug. "Where'd you get the bed from?"
"I made it, actually," replied Clark. To Lois' surprised glance, he went on, "I'm no carpentry expert, but heat vision sure speeds up cutting and seasoning wood. The mattress and pillows are filled with Scottish heather. I got the covers, and the tapestries for the canopy and drapes, from the storeroom in Lady Loisette's house. She was right — almost everyone was asleep."
"In that case, they're in for one heck of a surprise when they wake up in the morning…"
"I hope not. I tried to be as discreet as possible — no smashing doors down or anything like that. I was in and out at super-speed, including when I grabbed the keys to the storeroom, so with any luck, nobody will even notice before we take it all back in the morning."
"Okay, so where's *our* bed? Or do we 'peasants' get to sleep on the cold, hard ground like Friar Harry over there?" She pointed to where Harry had indeed dropped off, wrapped in his habit, on the other side of the fire from the bed. Alain and the other men were stretched out nearby, still talking softly.
"Ah…" said Clark. "Well, actually, I wasn't planning to sleep much tonight…" Lois grinned wickedly, but he deflated her expectations by saying, "I need to keep an eye on those wolves. However, I can offer *you* something a bit more comfortable to sleep on than the ground — if you don't mind a bright red blanket."
"Oh, and what did you have in mind, farm boy?" Lois was pretty sure she knew what Clark meant, but she played along with him. She hadn't really expected to do anything other than sleep tonight, and making her comfortable was the sort of thing that he enjoyed doing.
She was right. Clark reached up and unfastened his cape, then floated horizontally about two feet off the ground. "One Lane Special, at your service," he quipped, beckoning her to come over.
Lois hardly needed any encouragement; she leaped onto him and wrapped her arms around him; he returned the embrace, hugging her warmly. "Mmmm," she murmured happily, wriggling a bit to get comfortable — well, *more* comfortable — "This is *my* kind of bed…"
Clark smiled and gently arranged his cape over Lois, tightening his grip on her and kissing the top of her head. She smiled at that, and then popped her head up from its resting place on his chest with a mischievous look on her face. "Cla-aa-ark," she trilled softly, "Tell me… just what are Charles and Loisette up to right now?"
"*Lois!*" Clark replied, shocked. "That's none of our business. I am *not* a voyeur!"
"I know…" said Lois soothingly. Her face became more serious — but not all that much. "I was thinking, though; maybe you *should* be…"
"What?! Lois, that's not funny!"
"No, I'm serious… In medieval times, it was the custom for the consummation of a marriage to be witnessed, as the final step in the whole thing of getting married. Unless the consummation was witnessed and could be testified to, the marriage might be annulled as not being a 'true' marriage — remember, that's how Henry VIII got out of his marriage to Anne of Cleves when it became politically convenient.
"Now, here we are, out in the middle of nowhere; Charles and Loisette are married, but there aren't any witnesses to it other than us and Charles' men. Just to be on the safe side, shouldn't we make sure that nobody can mess things up?"
"Good point…" said Clark thoughtfully. "But I still don't like the idea of being a Super-Peeping Tom. Anyway, I think it'd be better if someone else was the witness; we should do our best to keep a very low profile from here on — we don't want to mess up our future by doing something that we shouldn't. Let's leave that to Harry and Alain; I think they'll be good enough as witnesses."
"Okay…" muttered Lois, realising that he was right and snuggling back down on top of him. She dropped off to sleep fairly soon, tired more by the emotional highs of the day than anything physical, even with all the evening's dancing.
Once he was certain Lois was deeply asleep, Clark began to float around a bit. He wanted to put some more wood on the fire; he should have done it earlier, but making the bed and getting Loisette and Charles into it had taken somewhat more effort than he'd expected, and he hadn't wanted to disturb Lois while she was falling asleep. So now it became a challenge for him: build up the fire without waking his wife or disturbing the others.
He managed without too much trouble, once he'd got the hang of holding Lois with one arm while picking up a log or tossing it onto the fire with the other. Once again, heat vision proved invaluable for cutting a branch from a tree and drying the wood before adding it to the heaped-up pile of logs.
With the fire warmly glowing and enough wood on it to last through till dawn, which was about five hours away, Clark floated up to the top of the trees to look around a bit. He checked on the wolves, who by now were three or four miles distant and heading away from the clearing; he scanned the surrounding forest for anyone who might be out and about, but found nobody; with no need to concern himself about the safety of his companions, he lay back, gazing at the stars, occasionally kissing Lois. He looked for Krypton's star, and wondered what life was like there, seven or eight hundred years before the planet exploded. But then he dismissed that; he had decided some time ago that Earth was more important to him that the world of his birth. The most important reason for that decision was resting on top of him right at this moment, and he took a few minutes from his "watch" to watch her, marvelling yet again at her beauty and the incredible good fortune that had linked his soul with hers and brought her into his life again and again across the ages.
Just before dawn, with the first hint of light on the eastern horizon, Clark took one last look around and, seeing no more danger than he had all night, slowly descended to near ground level. All was quiet, so he took the opportunity to snatch a short nap himself, his arms comfortably around Lois' sleeping figure.
They both awoke to the sounds of the camp preparing for the day. After a long, delightful hug and a toe-curling kiss to start the day, they joined Wells and Charles' men having breakfast — what remained from the feast — and getting ready for the day, medieval style. There was no sign of the newlyweds, but Clark, after more than a little cajoling from Lois, listened and heard both their heartbeats behind the draperies of their bed (he refused to look), and everyone decided to let them sleep themselves out.
Wells was more than a little stiff from sleeping on the ground, so Clark helped him get the kinks out by means of some judicious application of heat vision. After that, not having anything to do until Charles and Loisette emerged, Lois and Clark decided to take a walk. They strolled through the forest for a while, enjoying the beauty of the trees and the sun shining through the leaves. After the previous day, the peace of the morning was heavenly, and the privacy enabled them to spend a lot of their time wrapped in each other's arms.
Eventually, two very happy time travellers wound their way back to the clearing to find that their other selves were up and about. Sir Charles was supervising the striking of the camp — not that much supervision was needed, since there wasn't much of a camp to begin with — while Loisette sat on the bed, looking pretty but slightly bored. She brightened when she caught sight of Lois and Clark and jumped up to walk towards them, smiling. "Good morrow to you, sir. And to you, Lois. I am truly glad to see you. My lord is busy preparing for our leaving, and says that there is nothing that I can do to help." She looked wistfully at her husband as he, too, came over to join the group.
Charles heard his wife's complaint and laughed. "My love, this is, or was, a soldier's camp before it was graced with your presence. There is nothing *for* you to do; the men have it all in hand, and even I have naught to occupy myself save greeting our friends and keeping my wife company. 'Tis a task that I undertake gladly, but nonetheless 'tis all that there is for me to do until we all are ready for Sir Kal to take us home."
"Then perhaps you should speak to him of that matter which we discussed earlier, my lord…" Loisette said teasingly.
"As you wish. Good Kal, my lady and I both wish to thank you for yon bed; 'twas most comfortable, and it has become precious to us for the blessing that it gave to our bridal night. Loisette would have me ask you if there is any way that we may take it with us to England, and I add my own entreaties, for we would have it as ours, always."
Clark was taken aback. "Ah… why, sure. You… might want to get a carpenter to check it over, though; I ran it up fairly quickly — it wasn't meant to last more than the one night."
"It will last a lifetime, if the goodwill of its owners can match that of its maker," said Loisette quietly. "Can you, then, take it with us without difficulty?"
"Nothing to it. Actually, it'd be easier to carry all of you home *on* the bed, if you don't mind leaving the horses for a while. They're going to be the real difficulty…"
"Perhaps not, brother," replied Charles. "Two of my men have volunteered to take our horses home by land and sea. It will take longer, but perhaps the horses will be less bothered by the journey than my men are at the prospect of flying with you a second time..!" He waved a hand at two men who were over by the horses, and Clark was not surprised to see that they were the two who'd helped him fetch the wine the night before. He smiled ruefully; he'd done his best not to worry them, and the darkness should have helped. Maybe they just had weak stomachs.
Friar Harry claimed Charles' attention at that moment, thereby giving the knight the lie about not having anything to do, so Loisette began to whisper in Lois' ear. When she finished speaking, Lois nodded, then moved across to Clark to talk to him while Loisette followed her lord and the friar. "Clark…" Lois said, "Loisette would really like you to mark or sign the bed in some way, to remind her of you — and me — but she's a bit shy to ask. What about it?"
"Oh. Okay." Clark walked over to the bed, arm-in-arm with Lois. "I think it'd be best if I did this somewhere where it won't be seen too often." So saying, he went round behind the bedhead and concentrated for a moment. When he had finished, his heat vision had burned the familiar pentagonal shield — two of them, actually, linked by some complex design that Lois didn't recognise — into the wood. "Now, when they put the bed up against a wall," he said, "no-one will see that, but they'll still know it's there."
Lois looked at his latest handiwork. There was the S-shield, just like the one on his chest, and another one, but with a… *U* in it? She turned to stare at him. "What's *that* for?" she asked.
"For you, of course. This bed is the present of Superman and Ultra Woman, otherwise known as Clark Kent and Lois Lane. Unless your family has a coat of arms that I've never heard about, and you'd rather I used that?"
"Oh, good grief!" exclaimed Lois. "Clark Kent, you crazy romantic fool, you!" She reached over to hug him. Clark returned it, smiling. Lois might think he was crazy, but he got a hug out of it, so he reckoned he was well ahead in the game.
Lois looked up at him. "I know I'm going to regret asking this, but what's that pattern around both shields?"
"True lovers' knots, of course."
"I should have guessed…" muttered Lois from around his chest level, but she didn't let him go for some time. Nor was he in any hurry to escape her embrace.
Shortly thereafter, everything was ready and the various journeys could begin. The two horsemen rode off, leading the other horses and letting out huge sighs once they were well away from the clearing and thought that Clark couldn't hear them. They were wrong, but he only grinned at their exaggerated relief at having escaped another flight with him.
Everyone else except Wells climbed onto the bed. It was a bit crowded with ten people on it (Lois having refused to stay behind with Wells and the time machine, despite Clark's most patient arguments) plus their packs, but they all managed to get a secure grip on part of the frame (and if Charles and Loisette had the most secure positions, right next to the bedhead, and each other, no-one complained) so that Clark could gently lift the whole thing over his head before taking off. He called out to warn everyone not to be upset by the view, or at least to look away if it did bother them, said goodbye to Wells, and headed out towards the coast, and England.
Some of the passengers, Friar Harry included, did find the view a bit much and spent most of the trip looking determinedly at the drapes and one another while clutching the bedframe, but others, especially Sir Charles and Lady Loisette, found the view fascinating — so much so that Lois had to warn them to hang on as they leant out to get a better look at the passing land- and sea-scape. Lois, naturally, enjoyed the trip, but she was really looking forward to the return journey, just herself and Clark, so she spent rather more time watching the others.
The flight took about half an hour, Clark deliberately holding his speed down. Finally, none too soon for some and much too early for others, he descended into a field about a half a mile from Lady Loisette's manor. "I thought you'd prefer to make your own way to the house," he said. "No sense panicking everyone by landing right in the courtyard. As it is, you may have some trouble with people who've seen us arrive. We'd appreciate it if you could squelch any stories about 'angels' or 'witches'; we know they're not true, and you don't want your home becoming a place of pilgrimage or being attacked by fanatics who think that the Devil lives here."
"True, true," replied Charles. "Although I see the hand of God in this, whether angels are involved or no. But it will be as you say."
"Well, then, all that's left is to say goodbye." Which they did. Charles kissed Lois' hand, and Clark did the same with Loisette. The men and women embraced, final good wishes and thanks were exchanged, and Lois jumped into Clark's arms in their familiar "scooping" position. Then, to the accompaniment of cheers from the former Fox's Men, Superman leapt into the air and was soon lost from view.
Charles, his arm around his bride, gazed down at her as she watched the flying couple dwindle to a speck in the sun-lit sky and disappear. "Well, wife, our new friends and benefactors are gone, and we will not see their like again. We can but thank God for them and live our lives so as to be worthy of their kindness. Are you ready to go home?"
"I am, my love, I am. But I cannot help wondering if we will ever see them again…"
"They say not, for their coming can only mean ill-fortune. I would be glad to see them, for all that, but it is in God's hands, where we should let it rest. I wish them well, as they have done for us. Come, we have a pleasant walk ahead of us, and then we must convince your steward that we are truly wed…"
Loisette laughed at that, a happy, joyous sound. She murmured something about that not being too difficult if one knew how to handle William aright, but Clark tuned her out, preferring to let her laughter be the last thing that he would remember of his and Lois' counterparts in this era. He turned his full attention to his wife and kissed her. She smiled at him, and he forgot all about the others.
They "dawdled" on the return trip, swooping here and there to look at a town or castle or monastery as the mood took them, or to watch a pack of wolves, a herd of deer or a wild boar. After a while, Clark shot into the sky and, holding Lois tight the whole time, began what could only be described as an aerial ballet, just for the sheer joy of flying on this glorious day. Every so often, he would pause to kiss her thoroughly before swooping once more into a complicated series of rolls and loops. For her part, Lois relaxed and held him close, his enthusiasm and delight in his flight enchanting her as well. And, of course, responding equally enthusiastically when he kissed her…
About two hours after they'd left, Lois and Clark landed back at the clearing next to the time machine, which its owner had summoned. Wells was sitting at the controls, reading a small electronic book that he'd either had on him all the time or had stored somewhere in the machine. "Oh, there you are," he said, looking up from his reading. "All is well, I trust?" At Clark's nod, he waved a hand at the other seats and went on, "Well, in that case, we should be going. Do sit down, and I'll take you back."
The time machine materialised back in Metropolis at 10:30 a.m. on the same day that it left. Lois, suddenly cold in the winter air, invited Wells in for a cup of tea or coffee, but he declined and she didn't press the point; she was glad that everything had turned out okay, but Wells *was* something of a bird of ill-omen, only turning up when trouble beckoned. It wasn't his fault — *he* wanted to let them live out their lives undisturbed, and only became involved when someone like Tempus interfered — but she couldn't help but resent him, just a little. Wells left for his own era immediately, and Clark and Lois went inside.
"So, what would you like to do today?" asked Clark some time later. "Still want to go to Centennial Park?"
"No-o-o…" said Lois, her eyes narrow and her voice sultry, "I think I've had enough outdoor activity for the time being. I feel more like playing a game — say, Knights and Ladies…"
"Oh, yes," replied Clark, catching on but enjoying bandying words with his wife. "And just what is involved in this game..?"
"Well-ll… it occurred to me that we never did witness Charles and Loisette consummate their marriage… so maybe we should do it now."
"Don't tell me — and since we have their souls, we can do that *very* easily… and all by ourselves…"
"Clever boy…" cooed Lois as she walked towards the stairs. She stopped at the foot and began to unbutton her blouse, looking back provocatively over her shoulder at Clark, still lounging in an armchair. "Well, my lord..?"
Lois squealed as Clark flashed towards her at super-speed, scooped her up, flew up the stairs and dumped her on the bed. She might have protested, but her mouth was covered by his and she had much more interesting things to do than complain…