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The Table under the Hill

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“Come on, Kate,” Emily cried, pulling on her hand. “Hurry up!”

“All right,” Kate acquiesced, setting her brush down onto the table beside her. “Where are we exploring today?”

It had been a little over half a year since they had come to the goblin kingdom and Kate had married Marak, the goblin king, but the excitement had yet to die down for young Emily. Here was the adventure that she had always wanted, but couldn’t have had in the world above. She had been steadily making her way through all of the caves in the goblin kingdom, dragging Kate along with her.

“Well, you know that cave we were exploring yesterday?” Emily chattered away. “Well, I think I saw a door at the end. So now we’re going to go see if it goes anywhere.”

“Are you sure you saw a door?” Kate asked. “I don’t remember seeing anything. And you didn’t even say anything about it.”

“Yes, I’m sure!” Emily glared at her. “I know what I saw.”

“Fine, fine, I believe you,” Kate hurried to reassure her. “Let’s go then.”

Emily looked around the room, frowning. “Where’s Marak? Did he leave already?”

“Yes, he wanted to get an early start with the courts today.”

“Oh.” Emily frowned, disappointed.

“Where was that cave again?” Kate asked.

Emily brightened. “It was this way!” She hurried away, pulling Kate after her. They walked together to the cave that they had explored the day before. It was nothing exciting, just an old storage room, but Emily’s imagination could make anything seem exciting and dangerous.

“See? There is it!” she pointed excitedly to the back of the room. Kate peered over. “Em, I can’t see very much back there, it’s too far away for the torches to reach.”

“So grab one and bring it over then.”

Kate pulled one of the torches out of its sconce on the wall and walked forward, holding the torch out in front of her while Emily bounced ahead. “See! I told you there was another tunnel.”

“You’re right. I’m sorry for doubting you,” Kate said. “Where do you think it goes?”

“Let’s see!” She continued down the tunnel, with Kate following her carefully. The tunnel continued for a while, at first well-maintained with smooth walls and floor before transitioning into a more jagged, rougher design. “I wonder how often anyone comes down here,” Kate wondered, her voice echoing throughout.

Emily shrugged, reaching out to run her hand against the wall. “Probably not very often. They don’t even have torch sconces down here.”

After a few more minutes of walking, the tunnel opened up into a larger cavern. Kate held the torch higher fruitlessly, trying to light up the room. With the scant light from the single torch, they couldn’t see anything other than dark emptiness. She took another step further into the room, and all of a sudden it was filled with light. She peered up at the ceiling of the cave, trying to see where the light was coming from. There was no sign of torches or candles; instead it seemed like the light was coming from the rock itself, as if it were glowing with a pure, golden light. It would have startled her once, but after living in the goblin kingdom, magical lights were somewhat commonplace.

“Kate, look!” Emily cried. She dragged her attention away from the light and looked around.

The chamber they were in was large, larger than the storage room they had come from. The walls were roughly hewn from the surrounding granite, and the ceiling was so high that they couldn’t even see it. In the middle of the room, was a large, round, stone table, around which people were sitting, or at least what looked like people were sitting. They were all slumped down, leaning onto the table or the person next to them as if sleeping.

“Are they dead?” Emily whispered.

“I have no idea. Maybe this was a bad idea,” Kate said hesitantly.

“No!” Emily hissed. “We have to find out who they are. Or were.” She took a step closer. Kate grabbed her arm and pulled her sister back. “I still say this is a bad idea,” she muttered. She stepped forward into the middle of the room, keeping her younger sister behind her as she came up behind one of the people. It was a woman. Her long golden hair was pinned up under a delicate veil, and when Emily leaned in closer, she could see her eyelashes against the pale skin of her cheek. Her dress was a dark purple velvet, and the chair she was sitting in was large, made out of a dark wood with gold inlays. Kate reached out and brushed a finger against her face. She jumped back. “She’s warm!”

“She’s still alive?” Emily asked.

“I think she is. I think they all are,” Kate answered in shock. “But why are they here? Who were they?”

Emily ran a few chairs down. “This one’s alive too! And he has a sword!” Kate followed her. “He looks sort of like a knight, with that sword, and the armor.”

Emily gasped, looking around the room. “Kate.” She reached out and grabbed her hand. “It’s a bunch of knights and ladies sitting at a round table. I think this is Camelot,” she whispered. “Or what’s left of it.”

“Camelot?” Kate repeated.

“Yes!” Emily cried. “King Arthur’s Camelot! It makes sense! But what are they all doing here?”

“I don’t know,” Kate frowned. She continued walking around the table, staring closely at the people. They were all dressed richly, the women in silks and velvets and the men with swords on their belts. And they were all asleep. Emily followed her without speaking. When they had gone all around and were back where they had started, Kate spoke up. “I think you may be right, about this being King Arthur’s court. I don’t know why else there would be knights and ladies asleep here.”

“But they weren’t all knights,” Emily argued.

“Yes, they were.”

“No, there was that one man who had a weird guitar thing instead of a sword.”

“I think he was still a knight.”

Emily frowned. “Fine. Whatever. Where do you think King Arthur is, then? I don’t think he’s here.”

“No, I don’t think he is either. I didn’t see anyone who looked *kingly enough. Besides, don’t the stories say that he went to Avalon until he was needed again?”

Emily’s face fell. “Yes, I suppose you’re right. Then that must be why he isn’t here.” She looked around the chamber again, her eyes lighting upon a dark corner. “Kate, what do you think that is over there?” She pointed.

Kate followed her finger with her eyes. “That’s a corner, Em.”

Emily rolled her eyes. “No, it’s not just a corner, something’s over there! Let’s go see!”

“We’re right in front of King Arthur’s Round Table and you want to go explore the darkest corner of the room? Really?”

“Come on* Kate!”

Emily grabbed Kate’s hand, pulling her forwards. “See! There’s a tunnel here!” Kate allowed herself to be pulled down the tunnel. The entrance was slightly hidden in the shadows from the lights, which explained why she hadn’t seen it earlier. The walls seemed older than the larger chamber; the rock was more smoothed down, as if by hundreds of hands that had brushed up against it. The passageway continued on for quite a ways, with the mysterious lights popping up into existence a few feet in front of the sisters as they moved forward. At last, after what seemed like hours to Kate but was probably only a few minutes, the tunnel ahead opened up into another room. They were just at the mouth of the tunnel into the room when they hit an obstacle; a clear barrier that prevented them from moving forward.

“Wow,” Emily breathed. “It’s so strange. I can see that the tunnel continues farther on into a much bigger room, but there’s something stopping me.”

“It’s like an invisible wall.” Kate reached out a tentative hand and brushed up against the wall. It felt cool, and smooth. “It doesn’t feel like rock. Maybe it’s metal.”

Emily had her face pressed up against the clear barrier. “Can you see anything?” asked Kate. Emily shrugged. “Nothing much. It looks like a room, but I can’t tell if there’s anything in there.”

“We could always go back to the other room,” Kate suggested. “We didn’t really look around that much, I’m sure there’s a lot there that we missed.”

“Probably,” Emily sighed. “I was just sort of hoping that there’d be something better out here.” She sighed again and turned to leave, letting loose a shrill scream. “Where did you come from?”

Kate jumped in shock and spun around, staring at the man who had come up behind them. He didn’t look like a goblin. “Who are you?” she demanded, holding her torch out threateningly as she pulled her younger sister protectively behind her.

“No, who are you? You are trespassing here.” He glared at them, his eyes dangerous in an ageless face.

“Listen, she’s the goblin king’s wife, I’m pretty sure she can go almost anywhere in here,” Em burst out imperiously from behind Kate.

The man raised an elegant, arched brow at her. “The goblin king’s wife? And who are you?”

“I’m her sister.” She folded her arms and glared at him.

“Ah. Apologies, princess.” He bowed slightly to her. Her firm glare softened.

“I asked who you were.” Kate repeated dangerously.

“You should probably answer her,” Emily whispered. “She can get violent sometimes when she doesn’t get her way.”

“I am the guardian of these caves. And you are still trespassing. If you would care to relocate to the other chamber, we could discuss things with greater detail.” He gestured down the tunnel.

“After you,” Kate said firmly. He smiled magnanimously and started walking. The two sisters followed.

“Is this Camelot?” Emily burst out when they were all back in the larger room. “Because it looks like that” she pointed “is King Arthur’s Round Table.”

“Yes. At least it once was, and will be again soon.”

She nodded pensively. “That explains all the knights and ladies. But what about the minstrel?”

The strange man looked confused. “Minstrel?”

“Yes. Right there, sitting at the table with the guitar thing. I think he’s a minstrel, but Kate says that he’s a knight.”

“Well, in a way you are both right. He was a knight who wanted to be a minstrel.”

“Oh.” Her nose crinkled up in disgust. “Why would he want that?”

He shrugged. “I do not know. Different people want different things out of life. It just happens like that.”

“And what was down that tunnel? The one with the invisible wall?”

His face grew solemn. “That is where the king sleeps.”

“King Arthur?” she asked, her eyes wide.

He nodded.

Kate had finally had enough. “But who are you! You still haven’t said yet!” she burst out.

He turned to look her in the face. “My name is Terence.”

“Well, that’s your name, but it tells me nothing about who you are, what you’re doing here, anything!”

“I was once a part of Camelot.”

She faltered. “Oh. But then why aren’t you asleep, like the others?”

He shrugged. “I was. Your presence here woke me up. I am not like the others. I slept for a time, as they did, on the island of Avalon, but I was awoken early by an invasion of unseelie creatures called dementors.” He made a face. “Nasty things. The Island of Avalon was in danger, and I knew that we could not remain there much longer, so I petitioned the dwarves for sanctuary. They, in turn, asked the goblin king for help, and the entire court was removed to here.”

“Who were you in Camelot? You had to have been someone important, but you don’t really look like a knight.”

“I don’t?”

“No, and don’t ask me why, I can’t really explain it, but you don’t quite have the look of a knight.”

He chuckled softly. “I was a knight, just not of Camelot. In Camelot I was a squire.”

“A squire,” Kate repeated doubtfully.

“Yes. I was a squire. Sir Gawain’s squire, to be exact. That’s him over there.” He pointed towards a man seated at the table. He was tall, and had broad shoulders, and had a wild, craggy face and a red beard, trimmed neatly. An empty chair was next to him. “But I was also a knight of Avalon.”

“Avalon?” Kate looked closely at him. “Are you . . . human?”

He hesitated. “My mother was human.”

“And your father?”

“He is a fairy.”

“Is? Is he still alive?”

“Never mind that!” Emily said excitedly. “You’re a real fairy!”

“Half-fairy,” he corrected.

“But that’s so amazing! I’ve always wanted to meet a fairy! But where are your wings?”

He blinked at her in surprise. “My what?’

“Your wings! Fairies are supposed to have wings!”

“I do not have wings,” he said with finality. “I am not that type of fairy.”

“Oh.” Em seemed to collapse in disappointment.

“Now that your curiosity has been satisfied, perhaps it would be best if the two of you left.”

“Oh.” Em collapsed even more. “Really?”

He nodded. “I am not usually awake this long. Actually, the last time I was awake for longer than this was when I spoke to Marak Fireheart about relocating.”

Emily eyed him curiously. “So you’re normally asleep?”

“Emily,” Kate warned. “Why don’t we leave him to his rest, ok?”

“You may always come back and visit,” Terence said. “Perhaps in a few weeks.”

“All right. We’ll be there,” Emily said. She turned to Kate. “Calm down, Kate, I’m coming.” As Emily scampered off down the tunnel they had come from back to the main caves, Kate took one last look back at King Arthur’s Round Table. Terence had moved back to his seat along the table, with his head leaning up against the shoulder of the red-headed knight next to him, already asleep. She turned around and continued back down the tunnel with her sister following closely behind.