The Birth of Modern Merlin

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Chapter 10

Sunday, April 3, 2016…Early AM

Loch Ness

The weather hadn’t changed. Still in the low 40’s F, winds - light, not enough to hoist the sails, a light rain, not uncommon for this time of year.

We motored into the early morning hours, heading southwest, on a course towards Fort Augustus at the other end of the 22 mile loch. Swede was at the helm; I was below, reading over a lot of material he gave me. Homework is never fun, especially late at night when you’re tired and want to hit the sack.

That’s where Eilidh spent much of the previous day. She was pretty hung over from the big party back at Inverness and though she gave it a good effort yesterday afternoon, once the sun went down Saturday night and she still felt heavy headed, Eilidh headed for the forward stateroom and went to sleep.

“Magnus…Can you come here, please,” said Swede, calling to me from the cockpit.

I needed a break. I was only too happy to put down my reading material.

“Yes, Swede, what do you need.”

“Can you go into the galley, please. Try not to wake up Marcus, he’s probably sleeping. Open the drawer by the sink and get five of the polished, green marble, cocktail coolers we use in our Scotch glasses. Bring them topside, will you?”

What was this all about, I thought? It was two in the morning, a bit too late to start drinking. But I retrieved the stones and headed up the stairs to join Swede. It felt moist and humid as I emerged into the Scottish night. I pulled my hood up over my head and tried to give the five stones to Swede.

“No, I don’t need them,” he said. “Here’s what I want you to do. You’ve got a better arm than I do. Go to the bow and throw one stone as far as you can, at a 45 degree angle off the bow, on the starboard side. Then take a second stone and do the same off the port side, 45 degrees off the bow. Then come back here and do the same off the stern. Give the fifth stone to me.

It sounded easy enough. The stones were round and smooth but smaller than the palm of my hand, easy to grip. It felt fun to give them a heave, feeling like I was a kid again, skipping stones off the beach at John O’ Groats. After I threw the fourth stone into the water off the boat’s stern, I noticed the trident, which we had been towing for over two hours, now pulsated beneath the surface, glowing green like when I met Swede that first night. It was like the four green stones flipped a switch, causing the trident to shine again.

“It’s not necessary anymore, but it’s a nice, old tradition. I see no reason to get rid of it,” said Swede. “To the ancients, the four stones represented the four elements as they understood them: Earth, Fire, Water and Air. By the time we got to the Post-Columbian era, the four stones came to represent the four directions of the compass: North, East, South and West. Practically speaking, all we did was identify the four corners of a grid we will now activate and the show of all shows will begin.”

He sure had my attention! Swede, The Ring Master Supreme; Showman Extraordinaire. All that was missing was a call to the crowd, “Ladieees…Annndd….Gennnn-tle…mennn.” But there was no crowd to call, just me, and my stone toss ensured it remained so, preventing any potential witnesses from observing this soon to begin, otherworldly show as they drove along the A-82 Motorway near Urquhart Castle.

The grid Swede described was like a net made of refrigerated pipes, now rising from the deep, stopping six inches below the surface of the loch. The idea was to create an artificial micro climate, a sea smoke generator, like what happens naturally on a humid summer’s day when warm, moisture laden air settles atop cold lake water, condensing the low level moisture into fog so thick you can’t see ten feet in front of you.

“You’d be amazed at the amount of work that still needs to go into this,” said Swede. “Got to check the phase of the moon. We prefer no moonlight at all. A new moon is best, but tonight is OK, moon rise won’t happen till after 4am. Can’t have too much wind, either, or else it will blow the fog away. We’re down to about 2 knots of wind. I can live with that. The rain is nice, too. Most people are inside, not thinking about what’s going on out here. We set up on this side of the loch, as far away from the motorway as we can. We don’t want another 1933 situation to happen again.”

“What happened in 1933?” I asked.

“Doesn’t matter; show’s about to begin,” said the Ring Master.

I could see the four corners of the square now, illuminated by the green light emitted by the small pieces of marble on all four sides of the boat. Poseidon’s Trident came to a complete stop right in the middle of the watery square. The surface of the loch began to agitate and mists of liquid water began to squirt skyward, loch water now reduced to droplets by hundreds of small atomizers in much the same way ski resorts spray atomized water into the cold air to manufacture snow. But this time, the grid produced fog, thick fog, which began to envelop the boat and rise taller than the top of the mast.

“As long as the wind stays calm, we’ve got enough fuel to power the grid til dawn,” said Swede. “We should have a couple of hours, if we need it.”

“That’s a nice trick,” I said. “But why the fog? In the middle of the night?” I asked, completely clueless about our location.

Swede laughed, humored by his good fortune.

“Whenever we’ve done this in the past,” he explained, “my guest was usually someone from Scotland. They knew exactly where we were so it lessened the drama a bit. But you’re an American. My guess is: you don’t know where we are. Right?”

“We’re on a lake, at night, somewhere southwest of Inverness,” I said, which was, technically, correct.

“Perfect,” said Swede. “Finish strong. Big Finale. Always leave ’em wanting more.” Swede then took the fifth green marble stone and threw it into the water.

Nothing happened.

“What?” I said. “Am I supposed to see something?” It’s foggy; I can’t see a thing.”

“Oh, you will,” said Swede, now looking at his watch. Just… about…”

The water began to boil and bubble, roiling like smoky cauldrons from a thousand witches’ kitchens. Just as the frenzy of agitated water reached its climax, Swede merely said,

“…Now.”

Emerging from its watery lair, located 230 meters down in the deepest recesses of Loch Ness, rose the reptilian back of an enormous creature. As more and more of the beast became visible, I saw silver scales which covered the moving sinew of its muscles, now stretching freely, freshly limbered after its long sleep.

The beast continued to rise, now presenting wings on either side, which began to flap and create unwanted noise. Swede pressed his finger to his mouth, speaking calmly to the creature, saying, “Shhh.” Though its head was beneath the water, the beast seemed to hear him anyway, Swede’s command, obeyed.

“She’s still a pup,” began Swede, starting his factual explanation. “She’s still trying to figure her way around this new world of hers.”

“Is this Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster? I asked, no longer surprised by anything new on this trip.”

“Yes and No,” said Swede. “Yes, we call her Nessie because that’s the name most people use to refer to the mysterious creature said to live here Most people think Nessie is some kind of sea creature. Why? Because the stories and the myths all place her here, in the water. The truth is, Nessie is a dragon. It doesn’t matter to dragons, they can live anywhere, in the water, the air, the lack of air, deep space temperatures close to absolute zero. If people want to think of her as a water monster, that’s fine, we’re not going to hold a press conference to correct them.

Dragons are creatures of deep space. They access dark energy much easier than we can. When the asteroid hit, it really did a number on her parents, they got shifted almost 90 degrees out of phase. It eventually killed them, not long after she was born. It was so sad.”

“This is so cool,” I said. “You said she was still a pup. Does she fetch?” I asked, proud of my little joke.

“Let’s find out,” said Swede, pulling in the trident. “We’ve been working on this one. One of the other guys spent a lot of time with her. I’m curious what kind of progress he made.

NESSIE,” Swede called out to the still half submerged beast.

In a heartbeat, the entire body of the agile young dragon jumped into the sky next to the boat, revealing the entirety of her dripping, 150 foot body.

What a magnificent creature she was. Half a football field long, silver from head to tail, the young dragon’s wings were extended but they hardly flapped, as if flapping wasn’t necessary to hold her position. Nessie’s head was a triangular, block shape which narrowed to a pointy, squared off nose. Her nostrils snorted cold mist, not hot flames and her small eyes were set deep within her skull. The dragon’s tail comprised almost a third of her total length and looked to be immensely powerful, as if with one swat it could fell a skyscraper made of the strongest carbon steel.

Awakened by the noise, Marcus joined us on deck. He knew all about Nessie and needed no explanation or introduction. The beast seemed glad to see him, her tail wagging violently.

“Hello, Nessie,” said Marcus. “Have you been a good girl? Nessie replied with two quick snorts of cold mist from her nostrils. “That’s a good girl,” said Marcus.

Swede held the trident in his left hand before giving the young dragon a hand command she knew well, the outward facing palm of his right hand outstretched, at shoulder height.

“Nessie; stay,” commanded Swede.

The great winged beast held her position, tail wagging powerfully, cold mists snorting from her enlarged nostrils, alternating left, right, left, right, clearly anticipating the game, soon to begin. She behaved like an obedient Border Collie, the smartest of all canines. Her focus, intense; her stare, steel eyed, all business, as she awaited her master’s release.

“The last time I was here, Margaret Choo was working with her on ‘Stay.’ I think she’s got it down pretty good. My guess is if you don’t release her, she’ll still be there a hundred years from now. Dragons are so smart; so loyal.”

Swede tossed the trident into the waters of the deep loch and watched as it sank. I didn’t expect that. He had been carrying that green pitchfork around with him for twenty five or thirty years and to just toss it overboard like so much unwanted trash was surprising. He didn’t seem concerned.

“We’ll give it a couple of minutes to sink to the bottom,” he said. “There’s all that muck that must be down there. We’ll see if she can find it.”

“Nessie, stay.” he said, continuing to hold up his right hand, reminding the eager young reptile of what she already knew.

You could tell; Nessie wanted to go, to dive to the deepest depths and retrieve the trident. She was like an eager child on Christmas morning, being forced to wait before claiming the mother lode of gifts beneath the tree.

“How long are you going to make her wait?” I asked, after a few minutes.

“I think that’s good enough,” he said. “OK, Nessie” said Swede. He waved his hand, releasing the noble beast from her obedient hold.

Nessie dove straight down, wings folded at her side, tail straight, her compact splash barely rippling in the water.

“Here’s what people don’t understand about dragons,” said Swede. “They come from the universe of dark matter so they are ethically orientated creatures. That’s what draws them to Earth. They find like-minded, ethically oriented people here, just like where they come from.

The red ones you have to worry about, very self-righteous, easily drawn to evil. The silver ones, like Nessie, are an absolute delight. They’ve been here a while, too. In the year 565 AD, just two years after arriving at Iona, St. Columba went on a trip and came here, to Loch Ness. It was reported at the time that he encountered a great water beast here. That’s an historical fact. So the dragons have been here at least that long, probably longer.”

“What’s all the commotion?” said the female voice.

Swede and I looked at each other as Eilidh emerged from below, still sleepy eyed. Both of us smiled broadly, absolutely on the same page, clearly in tune with each other. We were like 12 year old boys again, ready to spring some hilarious trap on our younger sister.

“Hi, sleepy head. How are you feeling?” I said, casually.

“I’m better,” she said. “The sleep did me good. My head was pounding yesterday and I still feel like I’m half asleep.”

“Your alarm didn’t go off?... YET!” I said, unable to hide my giggle.

Swede didn’t fare as well. Trying to hold back his laugh, he snorted and a ball of ripe snot shot from his left nostril. Eilidh didn’t catch on and the shared secret between we two repressed adolescents was secure.

“Huh?” was all she said before noticing all the fog and moving towards the gunwale. “Whoa. Where did this come from? Uncle, going to need the radar tonight, we will. But it is beautiful. I love the fog. It just wraps around you like a comfortable blanket, softening everything, dulling the hard edges of the …”

“ROARRR!!!” screamed Nessie, erupting from the deep… hovering, dripping and snorting, wings fully extended, just 5 meters off the starboard side of the boat. It was one hell of an entrance.

“Agggghhhhhh!!” screamed Eilidh, her arms and wrists flailing.

She was terrified; her blood curdling screech was awesome, a world class shriek, delivered straight into the dragon’s nostrils amid the cold condensation expelled by Nessie’s snout.

Nessie was so excited, thrilled to have found the trident. Her snorts were deep and powerful, enveloping Eilidh. It’s as if Eilidh disappeared into the fog yet her shrieks continued from inside the midst of the mist. This was so much fun.

Nessie had the trident in her mouth and she gladly gave it up, dropping it into the cockpit of the boat, ready to fetch again. Swede rubbed her snout, praising his eager young pup.

“Good girl, Nessie, good girl.”

With a final rub of her nose, the dragon was off, diving again to parts unknown. The quiet of the loch returned and Eilidh started to regain her composure.

“I’ve got to stop drinking… Jesus, Mary and Joseph. What the fuk was that?” she exclaimed, sitting down.

Swede and I started to laugh, hard, all at Eilidh’s expense.

“It wasn’t Jesus; it wasn’t Mary and it sure wasn’t Joseph. Three strikes and you’re out, luv,” I said, toying with her.

“Shut it, bawbag,” said Eilidh, directing her anger towards me. She turned towards Swede, a more reliable source, and asked, calmly, “Uncle, what the hell was that? Was that what I think it was?”

“Yes, it was, dear,” he said. “That was Nessie. She should be back in a few minutes. We’re playing a little game of fetch right now.”

Swede put himself in a precarious position. Obviously, he was going to have to explain the whole Nessie phenomenon to Eilidh but would he also feel compelled to tell her the rest of the story, that he was a Time Pilot and so was I? When we talked yesterday, he seemed to think it was important to keep that information secret. But could he do that under these circumstances? It would be interesting to see how he played it.

Over the next hour, Swede explained to Eilidh all about dragons much like he explained it to me. She lost her fear and it wasn’t long before she started to play fetch with the giant beast. At one point, Nessie came up from below with six tridents in her mouth.

“Seems like we’ve got a breeding stock of tridents down there,” said Swede. “Didn’t know they could do that.”

It was so much fun drifting there, the four of us standing in the cockpit, hidden behind our self-created fog bank, tossing rocks and pitchforks into the water as we played fetch with our giant interstellar puppy. It was the happiest of moments. It was especially nice seeing Eilidh and Swede enjoy this last, special time together. They meant so much to each other after Eilidh’s parents died. But I knew the clock was ticking, closer and closer towards dawn. So did Swede. Moonrise was due in less than an hour.

The moment felt bittersweet. Here was true happiness still singed by fires of tragedies past, nightmares momentarily held in abeyance. What if fate offered Arthur and Guinevere a final respite from their impending storm. Might they have felt this way, appreciating the special nature of this pause in the forward progress of time? I think they would have treasured the opportunity for one last moment together, sitting side by side, momentarily forgetting their separation and their memories of collective strife.

If time heals, then don’t we deserve one last chance to hit the pause button, to recall the good times of decades past, when we were all young and first in love? One last moment; one last kiss on pause before the right forward arrow clicks us back towards the fate we cannot avoid? One last chance for virtue, not vengeance; one final opportunity to say, “I’m sorry?”

Click…So the middle aged Arthur left Camelot to fight Mordred, thus sealing the King’s fate for the next 14 centuries. Click. And now, this modern Merlin was soon to depart. Just as there was nothing the first Merlin could do to change their 6th century fate, there was nothing we two Merlins could do to change ours. Swede, the older more experienced Merlin, wouldn’t try; his reluctant protégé, not able. Not even close.

Eilidh didn’t see it coming. When the water surrounding the boat started to roil and bubble once again and Nessie emerged from the deep, Eilidh thought it was all part of the show. It wasn’t. Nessie was different now, not acting like the energetic playful pup so eager to retrieve the toys we tossed in the water. Nessie rose like a mature, well trained workhorse, focused, a wide platform strapped to her flanks.

The platform attached to the young dragon was meant for standing, not sitting. A waist high railing surrounded its base, something to hold and steady one’s self while the great beast moved. Standing on the platform as they rose from below was Viviane, clad in a brilliant, white, chiffon like cloth which seemed to repel the water, preserving her radiant beauty.

Viviane held the railing with her left hand. In her right she held a magnificent silver sword. It was a claymore (claidheamh mòr,) a well-balanced, Highland design with distinct Celtic scroll patterns on its handle and downward sloping cross guard.

Recognizing her mother’s old friend, Eilidh waved, saying, “Hi, Viviane.” But the white clad woman said nothing and continued to stand stoic astride the dragon.

“Eilidh, dear,” began Swede, a sad note of fated resignation in his voice. “Sit down; I need to tell you something.”

Swede began the arduous task of telling his sweet unassuming niece the truth. For fifteen minutes he laid it out for her: dark energy, the asteroid impact and its aftermath, the trident story, expecting me then meeting me. When he finally got around to the part where he had to tell her he was Merlin, she seemed to take it pretty well. Why wouldn’t she? Eilidh trusted him, completely. The sad part was yet to come. I knew how the story was to end. I doubted she did.

“Now comes the hard part,” said Swede, rising then moving towards the side of the boat.

He gave a hand command to the dragon and said, “Nessie. Come.” The young dragon obeyed, gliding ever closer, stopping with her flank pressed against the boat’s side, as if she knew just how to fulfill her role in this concluding drama.

“Good girl, Nessie; stay,” commanded Swede, now reaching out his hand, requesting the sword from the silent Viviane, who gave it to him without incident. Swede, sword in hand, returned to the cockpit and sat down.

“Magnus, in the last couple weeks, have you wondered: Why Dumbarton? Why did we meet there, not someplace else? And did you wonder what the big deal was about John O’Groats? Why all the fuss about this end of the road little village?” asked Swede.

Eilidh looked confused, not knowing the significance of Dumbarton. This was no time to tell her and open up that particular storyline, not if Swede didn’t want to.

“Actually, I have wondered about those things,” I said. “But in the end it didn’t seem to matter. I’m here; I didn’t give it any more thought.”

“It does matter,” said Swede, continuing. “In the year 1305, John De Menteith, governor of Dumbarton Castle, received this sword. Supposedly, it belonged to William Wallace. There is another sword some say is the Wallace Sword, on display at the National Wallace Monument in Stirling. There is no proof so the authenticity of both these swords cannot be confirmed. Nevertheless, in the nine years after Wallace was executed, this sword made its way into the possession of Robert the Bruce and it was with him during that most iconic moment in Scottish history, the Scot’s victory at the Battle of Bannockburn. But the story didn’t end there. Over the centuries this sword came into the possession of the MacLean clan, specifically, McLean of Coll. This sword is on loan from them. In its own right, this sword is one of the most treasured artifacts in all Scottish history. I’m handing it to you because you’re going to need it to finish the mission I’m giving you. This is your assignment.”

I took the ancient four foot long sword into my hand, holding it gently and reverently, fully aware of the sanctity of the moment. I felt humbled more than scared, proud that history shined on me with its favor, allowing me to savor the distinct honor of communion with these Scottish saints.

Swede continued as I held the sword, turning it over, touching the delicate Celtic engravings so similar to what I saw on MacLean’s cross when we went to Iona. Was that significant, I wondered? Some as yet to be learned MacLean connection? I’m sure I would find out, in time.

“It’s been over one hundred years since the dark energy asteroid hit,” Swede explained, “and while we hoped the passage of time might correct things, it hasn’t. Earth is still about 6 degrees out of phase from where it should be. I don’t have to tell you, a lot of people think our world is a mess, much worse than in the past. You don’t need a scientist to confirm it. Even average people sense a bad moon rising.

The decision was made to reboot the whole system, to do a complete ethics restart. In theory, this should eliminate the phase differential that’s screwing up Earth’s morality and ethics, our skewed sense of right and wrong, and get us back on the right path. Are you with me so far?” asked Swede.

“I’m good. Keep going,” I said.

My mentor just delivered a good, easy to comprehend summary of the situation and even Eilidh, who just learned of this much bigger picture, seemed to understand.

“Good,” said Swede, ready to move forward. “Here’s the plan. We have to shut down all the affected programs before we do the restart. Otherwise, the system will crash. I’m giving you a list of places. Go there. All of them. When you get to each place, touch this sword to the ground. That will initialize the shutdown protocol for that location. Then go to the next place and do the same thing. There will often be people around but they won’t know anything’s changed. We’re not dealing with physics here; this isn’t about matter and energy. It’s an ethics reboot.”

“That sounds doable,” I said, “I’m still not clear on the significance of Dumbarton or John O’Groats?”

“Good question, Magnus. You always surprise me with these good questions. I’m going to miss that.

Think of it as being like a broken circle. When things are right, a circle has no beginning, no end. If there was a beginning, like with a broken circle, then the beginning would lie right next to the end. This is all about the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. If the ethics associated with this sword began in Dumbarton, then in Dumbarton it must end; and if Arthur began in Camelot, then in Avalon it must end. The same goes for you, too, Magnus. You, personally, are now involved. You need to be part of the reboot process, too. That’s why John O’ Groats is significant.

Here’s a quiz, I know you know the answer to this. If you’re on one of those charity bike rides across the length of Great Britain and you begin at Land’s End, where does the trip end?”

“John O’ Groats,” I said. “Everybody knows that.”

“Right,” said Swede, now continuing with the allegory. “But… what if you are Magnus Cook, who was born in John O’ Groats? Where does YOUR journey end?

BING! The light went on. I got it. I could see where Swede was going with this whole explanation. I answered, with a much clearer picture in mind of what my future held for me. “Land’s End,” I answered and Swede nodded his head in agreement.

“That’s right, he said. “And it just so happens, Land’s End is near the archaeological dig where they believe the real Camelot once existed. It’s also close to Lyonesse, the mythical site of the Battle of Camlann, where Arthur was mortally wounded. It’s near one of the presumed sites of Avalon, the place where Arthur was taken after he was wounded, where, some say, he still awaits his fate. Any place that might be connected to Camelot or Arthurian legend, go there and give it the sword treatment.

Is it starting to make sense? The circle is broken. It must be fixed. It’s first and last, beginning and end. Camelot 1.0 began so Camelot 1.0 must end; Magnus Cook 1.0 began so Magnus Cook 1.0 must end. When all the old programs are shut down and it’s safe, we’ll shut down the system, do the restart and the renaissance can begin: Camelot 2.0; Arthur 2.0; Merlin 2.0… All of it.”

“I think I get it. It sounds daunting but not impossible,” I said.

“Good,” said Swede, happy his teachings seemed to get through.

Eilidh listened to this whole explanation and while she was very smart and understood what Swede said, she still wasn’t privy to some of the information Swede and I discussed. So she asked him, straight out.

“Uncle, why are you explaining all of this to Magnus? Wouldn’t it just be easier to do this sword touching business yourself?”

This was the moment Swede dreaded, the difficult time when he needed to explain the end game to his niece.

“Eilidh, dear,” he began, a tear starting to well up in the corner of his eye. “I would do it myself, but I can’t. I won’t be here. I have to go away.”

“Why?” said Eilidh, her anger awakened, starting to think there was something fishy going on. “Why do you HAVE TO go? Does this have something to do with her?” she said, pointing directly at Viviane. She turned and addressed the shimmering fairie directly, “Viviane, is this your doing?”

Swede drew Eilidh’s attention back towards him and away from Viviane who did not answer, she didn’t even move, remaining stoic, astride Nessie’s back.

“Sweetheart,” he began again. “The honest answer is, ‘Yes’ she does have something to do with this. A lot, actually. But her name is not Viviane… It’s Nimue. I think you know what that means.”

Eilidh’s eyes widened, aghast at learning this new revelation. She knew exactly what it meant. After a few moments where nobody said anything, Eilidh’s anger began to subside. She knew all too well there was nothing she could do, nothing anyone could do. It was fate. She fell into a heap in Swede’s lap and began to sob.

They sat there for a few minutes, saying nothing, letting the difficult moment be what it was. After a minute or two, Swede stood up and told Eilidh he needed to speak with me. We went below, into Swede’s stateroom, and continued our conversation.

45 minutes till moonrise.

“We need to go over some of the nuts and bolts of this shutdown,” began Swede. “After you go to all the locations on the list…”

“Hold on,” I said. “Back up a second. Who is Nimue and why did Eilidh react like that? What do you two know that I don’t?”

“That’s a fair question,” said Swede. “I shouldn’t assume everybody is familiar with Arthurian legend.

Nimue, Viviane, two names for the same person. She is an enchantress, Merlin’s true love. In the original story she wouldn’t give Merlin all her love unless he taught her his magic. Once she learned it, she enchanted Merlin and kept him locked up in a tree or a cave, depending on which story you want to believe.”

“And this is the woman you want to go off with?” I said, somewhat perplexed. She doesn’t sound too trustworthy to me.”

“It’s alright,” said Swede, “Like any legend, there are lots of different versions, lots of different ways to interpret the story. In other versions, Nimue isn’t depicted as malevolent, rather, she’s seen as a force for good. That’s what I see in my Nimue. It’s one of the reasons why I love her. One of many reasons, I guess. And in the end, that’s what all versions of the story have in common, Love. Nimue is Merlin’s true love.”

“Love. It seems like just another four letter word to me,” I said. “Nothing but trouble.”

“You’re right, Magnus. Trouble indeed. Or bliss if you fell in love, lost it then found it again.

True love is the perfect addiction,” he continued. “If you’ve never been in love, then life is OK; you don’t know what you don’t know. But once you partake and you’ve found the one…you’re hooked. As long as you maintain your addiction and keep using the love drug, everything is calm and peaceful. But as soon as you are without, even for a short while, withdrawal symptoms set in. You’re a total mess until you get your next fix. You’ll sacrifice everything to maintain your addiction. That career track you were climbing, derailed. Hobbies? Don’t care anymore. Those pets you treated like they were your children? They become just regular old dogs and cats again. And none of this is a problem for you. You gladly surrender all of it to maintain your one true addiction, even unto death.”

“And Nimue is your one?” I said.

“Yes, she is,” acknowledged Swede. “But be forewarned, Magnus. You’re Merlin now; your Nimue will appear someday. She will enchant you, then she will leave you and your life will be an unfulfilled mess until she returns, if she returns. But when she does, and she locks you in some cave, you’ll be fine with that so long as you two are together. It’s your fate, Merlin. You can’t change it.”

“Sounds terrible,” I said.

“Right again, Merlin,” said Swede. “Terrible and wonderful, two sides of the same coin.”

“OK,” I said, not really wanting to talk about this anymore. “What were you saying before I interrupted?”

“Right,” said Swede, getting back on track with his explanation of the shutdown “After you go to all the locations on the list, go to Land’s End last. As I said, since you are now part of this, personally, you’ll need to shut yourself down, too. I know that sounds ominous, it’s not; the physical Magnus will be unaffected. After you touch that sword to yourself, at Land’s End, make your way to the Isle of Coll and find Gordon Graham MacLean. He’s a Time Pilot, too. You’ll return this sword to him. He’ll get it back to its rightful owner, destined to be trapped forever in a glass case where all the tourists can oooh and aaah over it. Gordon Graham will arrange to have another sword given to you. This one’s a bit more important.”

“How can it be any more important than this? What can be more important than Robert the Bruce’s sword?” I asked.

“Because,” continued Swede, “the sword you’ll be given is Arthur’s sword: Excalibur.

“You have got to be kidding me!” I bellowed. “Excalibur! King Arthur’s sword? And just like that I’m supposed to, oh yeah, sure, Swede, like…no problem. It’s King freak’n Arthur’s sword, man!”

“That’s right,” said Swede, not wavering a bit. “And when the time is right you’ll make sure it gets to this Arthur 2.0, whoever he is.

I’m told the sword’s been updated in the last 30 years. It got pretty trashed when I had it. They must have done a good job with the restoration. I understand it’s working better than ever.”

“I don’t like it,” I protested.

“Nobody cares,” said Swede, now scolding me, like a father. “You don’t have to like it. You don’t even have to take the gig. But that’s the job. Like I said, if you don’t accept this job in its entirety, and affirm your new call, it’s back to Time Keeper Central you go. Who the hell knows what will happen then.”

“Affirm my call?” I asked. I felt like this job description was expanding still more, beyond my ability to handle it. “What the hell does THAT mean?”

“Good, you’re still with me,” said Swede, lowering the anxiety of the moment as best he could. “Affirm your call; OK. When I said you were the next Merlin, that didn’t mean it took right away. There is some free will on your part. As I said, you have the option to say, ‘No.’ But if your answer is “Yes,” then you will need to affirm that, proactively, so there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind about your will and intention.”

“And just how do I do that?” I asked.

“Once you receive Excalibur, immediately make your way back to Iona. You’ve already been there, it shouldn’t be a problem. Go to the south end of the island, to the quarry. It’s slippery and dangerous, be careful. Try to go at night, when nobody can see you. Take Excalibur, find a crevice in the marble and as hard as you can, stab the green marble rock in the wall of the quarry. If everything works, the marble will accept the sword and you will have accepted your call. This will start the system reboot. It will also be the moment you fully become Merlin. Until then, you’re sort of half Merlin and half Magnus. It’s not sustainable.”

“You said you did this, what, thirty years ago? That the sword got pretty trashed? What happened? Why do I have to do this if you already did it?”

“Because thirty years ago, when I stuck Excalibur into that green rock, it didn’t take. The world wasn’t ready back then. The marble rejected the sword, the system didn’t initialize and the whole side of the quarry just exploded, green rocks flying everywhere. That’s how I got all those green cocktail coolers, it was after the rock wall exploded and Excalibur was rejected. The sword got bent. I got hit in the head. It was a mess.”

“Why didn’t it take?” I asked. Do you think that could happen to me?”

“Situation’s different now,” said Swede. “But it might.

When the geeks back at Time Keeper Central analyzed the data, they learned the reason the marble wall exploded was because Arthur 2.0 hadn’t been born yet. I wouldn’t have had anybody to give the sword to. The system encountered a feedback loop and it blew up. Over the last twenty five years or so the geeks made a lot of progress and while they can’t tell you exactly where Arthur 2.0 is located, they know he is alive. He’s probably a young man in his mid-twenties. When you stick the sword in the stone, it will probably take. I hope for your sake it does. That was a pretty wild explosion back then,” said Swede.

“And if this Arthur 2.0 dies in a car accident the night before I get to Iona and there is no guy to give the sword to…?”

“I’m thinking, BOOM! All in another day’s work,” said Swede, slapping me on the back.

“That’s lovely; fuck’n lovely,” I said, not concentrating on the down side. “So the sword sticks into the stone. What then?” Has anybody figured out that part yet?”

“Nobody’s got that far yet,” said Swede. “It’s not like anybody’s done this sword in the stone trick for 1,500 years. You’re the test pilot. I’m guessing it will be self-explanatory.

But, to finish things off, head back to The Isle of Coll and Gordon Graham will probably introduce you to Donald Og. He’s a taibhsear. He’ll be able to tell you what comes next; I’ve got no idea; it’s above my pay grade.”

“Donald Og, eh? And just who is that, if I may be so bold?”

“Don’t know,” said Swede. “Never met him. But I’ve heard OF him. He’s this creepy, old, blind guy that’s said to have the Second Sight. Only speaks Gaelic. But that’s your problem, buddy; Nimue and I are off, on permanent vacation.”

And with that, Swede exited the stateroom, moved up the stairs to the cockpit of Poseidon’s Trident to say his final goodbyes.

Crying time was over; it was time for Swede to go. Eilidh was a strong woman, not one to be consumed and rendered helpless by the heavy emotions of the moment as might so many other young women when faced with a similar situation. But there was no similar situation, how could there be? This was unique; Eilidh handled it well.

Naturally, I was sad to see Swede go, but he prepared me well for what I was to expect. I was as ready as I could be. The person who surprised me though was Marcus. Swede and Marcus had been together for years, only apart those few times when Marcus traveled to Bangladesh to visit friends and family. Many of them were dead now so in the past few years there were fewer reasons to make the trip. Marcus just stayed with Swede for longer periods. Now it was time to change that relationship and I was interested in how Marcus would handle the moment.

Swede approached me first. “Magnus,” he began, reaching out to shake my hand. “You are as fine a man as I ever met. The franchise is in good hands; I know it in my bones. I am SO proud of you. Everybody else is, too,” he said with a distinct wink of shared acknowledgement. “All the best, my friend.” We hugged and held it for a long time. Not nearly long enough.

“Save some of that for me,” said Eilidh, cutting in. They hugged hard but before things got weepy, Eilidh broke the tension of the moment with a joke. “If I can’t keep you, can I at least keep your dragon? Who’s going to take care of her?”

“Sorry, lassie,” Swede laughed, “We’re part of the same package.”

Swede laughed because he was relieved this going away wouldn’t be all morose and sad. And why should it be, I thought? He wasn’t dead or dying, he was just going away. It was no different than what my mother and father must have felt when they had to say goodbye to me when I left John O’Groats so many years ago. That’s how we’d have to look at it. Yes, it was partly sad, but also happy, all part of the relentless human experience as our species marches through time.

Swede approached Marcus, his constant companion for so many years.

“You’re free now, you know. You did your time. You performed brilliantly. That hasn’t gone unnoticed,” he said.

“Thank you, Captain,” said Marcus, still the consummate professional. “I will miss you. Thank you for everything you have done for me. I appreciate it so much.”

“Maybe I should have taken your advice back there at Tobermory and just gone off with you. Maybe this wouldn’t be necessary,” said Swede.

“Captain,” said Marcus. “I don’t think it would have mattered. I think the arms of fate would find you no matter where we went. At least, this way, you get to say goodbye. Many people aren’t that lucky.”

“Well said, my friend; well said.

Do you know what you’re going to do next?” asked Swede.

“I’ll stay with the Miss here, until the boat gets back to Islay. Then I’ll take some time off and decide later,” said Marcus.

“NO long term plans, sounds like a wonderful plan.” said Swede. “Be well, my friend,” he said, now shaking Marcus’ hand before embracing him in a hug.

Moonrise was minutes away, the goodbyes, finished. It was time to go. Swede stepped over the side of the boat and onto the platform attached to Nessie’s back.

Nimue stood stoic on the platform, saying nothing, not even moving. It was as if she was frozen in place.

“She really is a lot of fun,” said Swede, kissing her on the cheek. “She told me she would be like this, that things would get better once we got beneath the surface. I sure hope so or this could be one long, miserable honeymoon.”

That’s the Swede I loved. Always one with a joke. The Master Showman.

“Swede,” I called out. “Do you need a wee dram for the ride?”

“No, laddie; but thanks for asking. Where we’re going, they don’t have to drink Scotch; they bathe in it.”

Swede began that hearty laugh of his, as good natured a sound as you would ever hear. We could tell; he was happy with his fate, as unknown as it might be.

“OK, Nessie, down we go, girl. Down we go.”

The giant silver dragon brought her wings in close to her body and the three of them slipped below the surface of Loch Ness. The old underwater hardware producing the fog stopped its work and it, too, sank below the surface. The artificial fog soon lifted and any motorists driving between Fort Augustus and Inverness in the cold, Highland rain would drive on, unaware of the drama just concluded atop the waters of this legendary loch.

I put my arm around Eilidh’s shoulder; she put hers around my waist. We were both so composed while he was here. Now that Swede was gone, a tear or two flowed freely.

“I’m going to miss him,” I said.

“I will too,” said Eilidh. “But now that he’s gone, you can tell me. What’s a Time Pilot?”

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