The Birth of Modern Merlin

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Chapter 11

The cat was out of the bag.

“What did you hear?” I asked Eilidh.

“Not too much this time,” she said. “But a few days ago, when you and Uncle were talking, the day you thought I was so hungover, I heard a lot. I kept my mouth shut till now. So you and Uncle are both some kind of Time Travelers but now…”

“Let me stop you right there,” I said. “We’re not Time Travelers; we don’t actually go anywhere. We can’t go forward and backward in time. I don’t know the future. But I remember the past, just like you remember what happened in your life when you were younger. We live our lives and die, just like you, but when we come back, at 100 year intervals, we’re the same person inside. Does that make sense?”

“Sure. Not a problem,” said Eilidh, sarcastically. “My uncle is Merlin and he owns the Loch Ness monster, who is really just a nice dragon. And me mum’s crazy friend is the Statue of Liberty. But you’re Merlin, too. No, that’s not confusing. But you’re not Merlin, not yet, not until you see some blind dude. Does that cover it? There’s nothing more, is there?”

“I’m a Time Pilot, too” said Marcus. [Insert rim shot here.]

“NO!! No fuk’n way!” said Eilidh. “That’s it! My brain’s fried. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Why didn’t you tell ME?” I said, looking at Marcus.

“I couldn’t tell you, Miss, and Mr. Cook, Magnus, I mean, I didn’t know you were one of us until today,” he said.

All Time Pilots are trained to conceal our true identity. It would have been surprising if Marcus told either Eilidh or me until it was necessary. But now, the situation was different and we could talk openly about it.

“Right before Swede departed,” I said, addressing Marcus directly, “he said you were free. What did he mean?”

“I was his apprentice,” began Marcus, “this was my first emergence. But now that he’s gone, my apprenticeship is complete. I’ll get to live out the rest of my life, like any normal person. When I emerge again, around 2070, I’ll be on my own.”

“That’s wonderful, Marcus. Congratulations. You’ll be a wonderful Time Pilot,” I said.

“Am I the only REAL human on this ship of fools? I guess so,” said Eilidh. “I’m going back to bed. Wake me up when we get to The Big Dipper or wherever the hell we’re going. Jesus, this is ONE Crazy Fuk’n day! Oooopps, Sorry, Magnus… uh, Merlin… uh, Yank… whatever the hell your name is. It’s just one crazy day.”

“See, there is hope for you. Sweet dreams, baby doll.” I said as Eilidh went below to catch some sleep.

Sleep sounded so good. But these overnight events keyed me up too much I knew a good snooze wasn’t in my immediate future. I started the engine, headed Poseidon’s Trident south west and motored through the rest of Loch Ness before we finally stopped in Fort Augustus.

Our trip through the Great Glen marked some of the happiest days I can ever remember, in any lifetime. No deadlines. Nothing particular to do. We took our time, enjoyed the spectacular scenery and each other’s good company.

On a clear day, with the morning sun glistening off its white capped summit, Ben Nevis, Great Britain’s highest point, guided us like a beacon towards Fort William, its closest town. With no secrets between us, Marcus and Eilidh delighted in sharing their countless stories of Swede, uncle and mentor. “Remember the time when,” began more than one laugh fueled recollection. We had plenty of food, plenty of fuel and plenty of Scotch. Life was good.

While Eilidh and Marcus put their minds at ease, I had a job to do. Organize. How was I going to shut down all these Arthurian sites? I moved into Swede’s aft stateroom and began planning my first mission as Merlin. I found the list of sites Swede gave me but there were a few other notes and instructions too.

“Eilidh,” I yelled, hoping she would hear me from her position at the helm. “You might want to come down here and take a look at this stuff.”

Eilidh turned the helm over to Marcus and came below. “What is it?” she said.

“I might be mistaken,” I said, “but this looks like a will. It looks like he left a bunch of things to Marcus, sentimental things and some money; a bunch of money to me, that’s nice. It looks like he left both money and this boat to you. Dang, girl, that’s a lot of dinero. I got the feeling he was loaded, but geeze, I didn’t know he had this much. He told me he liquidated everything to build this boat.”

“That, my dearest Mr. Cook, is the perfect Sven Magnusson story. Always a surprise; always leaving the crowd happy, wanting more. The total showman. It’s so like him to let us find out this way.”

“You didn’t know? Not about any of this?” I said.

“I guess I knew, sort of. That day in Inverness, when the two of us went to take care of all that paperwork with my parent’s estate, we spent most of the afternoon in some solicitor’s office. We spent much of the morning and lunch sampling the local nectar. I was half blootered, not paying close attention to what I signed later that afternoon. I signed a million papers that day.”

“So, the boat’s yours. What are you going to do with it, rich lady?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Eilidh. “It’s too big to sail alone. Maybe I’ll sell it; maybe I’ll keep it. I don’t have to decide right now.”

She was right. We were in this wonderful place. We were happy, no imminent decisions needed and we could take our time to decide everything.

The emerging plan was to continue our trip through the Caledonian Canal, through Loch Oich, Loch Lochy, Loch Eil and Loch Linnie, finishing up in Oban, thus closing our giant loop around the northern part of Scotland, a world class voyage to delight any sailor.

We needed a change. While Poseidon’s Trident was large for a sailboat, it was still a small, confined space when you had to share it with 3 or 4 other people. It was time to hit the list.

Road Trip!

I could manage the shutdowns myself. Eilidh would hear none of it.

“Take me with you. Please take me with you,” she pleaded. “There’s so many of these places I’ve never been. I’m dying to go.”

I had no good reason to say, “no.” Not that I wanted to. She knew about my call to become Merlin; she knew about Time Pilots; I just spent two plus weeks with her, confined to a small space, and though we came close, we didn’t kill each other so…

“What the hell; why not.” I said.

Eilidh was thrilled. She celebrated the moment by punching me in the arm.

“That’s the Yank I’ve come to know and love,” she proclaimed. “I was going to shackle you to the mast and keep you as a galley slave on MY boat, but this sounds like a lot more fun.”

Marcus said he would stay with the boat and we were fine with that. Eilidh and I rented a car in Oban and off we went.

We organized the list, scheduling visits in order, from North to South, with Land’s End, in Cornwall, being our last stop, just as Swede instructed. The more we learned about the task at hand the bigger the trip got. We felt it was important to hit as many Arthurian places as we could, no matter how insignificant or far-fetched the associated myth might be.

One of the biggest lessons learned was “Arthur” didn’t necessarily mean one guy. With myth and legend and fact all mixing together in one, big, muddy story, with many locations boasting some Arthurian event “might” have taken place there, our list seemed to grow. For example: many people believe the real King Arthur lived in Wales and they cite many local legends and writings to bolster their claim. Then there are the ruins at Tintagel, on the ocean in Cornwall, supposedly the site of Camelot. That’s not Wales, that’s England. But there is also some evidence there was an Arthur from Scotland. Was this the same guy or were there two different Arthurs? And what of Avalon, supposedly the final resting place of Arthur, the place he went after being mortally wounded at the battle of Camlann? Was that the same place as the mythical Lyonesse? So many places; so much uncertainty. It didn’t matter. We had the time and we were determined to go to every Arthurian linked place we could find. And at the end of a hard day’s driving, climbing and sword sticking, Eilidh and I would check in at a local pub, sample the local whisky and laugh with the townsfolk.

In some of the more remote locations, the task was easy. We drove up to the place, touched the sword to the ground and waited for the sword to shiver. When it was done, we knew the program was shut down. In more settled towns, with lots of people and lots of police, pulling a sharp, four foot sword out of your car might not be received too well.

“Hold on, mate. Just what do you think you’re doing?”

“It’s alright, Mr. Policeman,” I’d have to say. “My name is Merlin and I came here to help King Arthur get home. I’m just going to take this sword, it once belonged to Robert the Bruce, you know, and I’ll touch it to the ground. Off we’ll go, then; No worries.”

“Right... Hands up, magic man; drop the blade. Come with me,” he’d say.

I could totally see that happening.

Eilidh and I came up with a creative solution. I got the idea from some of the gangster movies I watched back at Time Keeper Central during my in-between times. In the movies, the bad guys hid their tommy guns in violin cases. Nobody knew. I took that idea a step further. We found a much bigger violin case, long enough to hold a four foot sword. It was an acoustic bass violin and we stored the sword behind the string bass, inside the case. It worked like a charm.

Eilidh wanted to form a duo, the two of us. She bought a violin and some whacked out hippie clothes. We’d go right up to the site, dressed like stoned musicians, carrying the string bass case and the violin. If anybody questioned us, we’d make up some nutty story about playing music as a peace offering to Rapscallion, the god of Rap music, who demanded a quality music offering or else he’d vent his Rap anger on the world. So we gave it to them. Oh, did we ever!

Eilidh played her squeaky violin and sang poorly written, Marxist poetry, off key, flat. I sang sharp. Mission accomplished. Onlookers just rolled their eyes and elected to stay far away. When the coast was clear, I’d press the button on the back of the string bass case, releasing the sword inside. The tip came out of the bottom, touched the ground and after the shuddering stopped, I’d tug on the string, pull the sword back up into the case and nobody was the wiser. It was all so much fun.

When we started our trip, we’d check into a hotel, get two separate rooms and join up again the next morning. But after a few fun filled days, Eilidh and I got closer, much more in tune with each other than when we were on the boat. Before the end of the first week we needed only one room. Shortly thereafter, just one bed. Eilidh and I were falling in love.

Not wanting to leave Marcus alone while Eilidh and I went off on our merry way, we came up with a plan to keep him involved. Ever since Eilidh was a little girl, Marcus was her trusted confidant. I had grown quite fond of him, too. After two weeks on the road, Eilidh and I drove back to Oban, picked up Marcus, and the three of us were a team again.

Monday, June 13, 2016

The list was almost finished. We were in Cornwall, at Tintagel Castle, with Merlin’s Cave below us. The excitement was contagious as we drove into the parking lot because we were about to shut down the most likely site of the real Camelot, Camelot 1.0 as we now called it.

“Marcus? Do you want to come with us?” I asked.

“No, that’s alright, Magnus. I’ll just wait here for you to get back. Then we’ll all go over to the castle together, for the next to last shutdown.”

Eilidh and I headed down the rock path to the site of Merlin’s Cave, a place carved out by the power of the ocean.

Working its persistent magic over the course of centuries, the seawater cut through the rock peninsula near the castle. When you stand inside the cave, you see the ocean on either side. Even today, the waves continue their work, carving the cave further still. It’s filled with water at high tide. Six hours later, at low tide, the water would have receded and people can walk on its sand floor. Luckily, it was low tide when Eilidh and I arrived.

We walked into the cave together, my fingers intermingled with hers, as I held Robert the Bruce’s sword in my other hand.

“Do you feel anything?” she asked. “Like the presence of the first Merlin?”

“Not really,” I said. “But then, I’m not really Merlin, not yet. I’m still mostly Magnus. I don’t know IF I’m even supposed to feel a presence.”

“I guess we’re just here to do the job. No ghost stories to take back to Marcus,” she said.

“There is one thing I have to do before we leave,” I said. “Eilidh, I don’t know what’s going to happen once I become fully Merlin. Swede never told me. I don’t think he knew. But standing here in Merlin’s Cave, while I’m still me, I want you to know… I love you. I think I knew it when I first saw you waiting at the dock back at Glen Watt. I think I…”

“Magnus, you daft, Yankee dunderhead, just kiss me already and hawd yer wheeshd.”

I smiled a big grin. Eilidh, such a quality quine as the locals on Islay might say, now at her bawdy, beautiful best. Oh, yeah, I could do that. I held her in my left arm with the sword still gripped in my right hand. I kissed her there in Merlin’s Cave, a passionate embrace, long overdue. Within seconds a huge, rogue wave roared through the mouth of the cave, soaking us.

“Look at us,” she said, half laughing, half giddy with love. “We’re drookit.”

It didn’t matter, we both laughed it off and returned our lips to each other, sealing the precious moment forever.

Shutting down the cave site was anti-climactic after that; meaningless almost. Our minds were off in other places, together. I touched its tip to the cave’s walls and felt a good sized shudder go through my wrist, much larger than the ones I felt before. I guess the significance of the place meant the program was bigger and took more sword power to terminate. No matter.

That was it for this location and Eilidh and I quickly moved up the side of the rock cliff to rejoin Marcus at the site of our final Arthurian shutdown, the ruins of Tintagel castle.

But even the castle shutdown felt like a distraction. Eilidh beamed with new found love, Marcus was happy to join us at the successful conclusion of our task and I started to focus on my next step, the trip to Coll.

Swede told me I had to get there quickly. We had to have a plan for what to do after I shut myself down at Land’s End. There was no big speech, no final “faire thee well olde castle Camelot,” none of that. I just touched the sword to the ruins, waited for the sword’s big shudder to finalize and we were gone, on our way to Land’s End.

“Here’s the plan,” I said, as the car sped down the road towards the very end of Great Britain. I’ll move out on to the edge of the cliff, not right on the edge, but close enough. After I touch the sword to my body and wait for confirmation, we’ll get back in the car and drive all night if we have to. We’ll get to Oban, hop the ferry out to Coll and look up this guy, Gordon Graham MacLean. Eilidh do you have his number?”

“Yes, I do,” she said. “I have it here in my phone.”

“Good. Then we’ll do the sword swap with MacLean or this other creepy guy, what was his name?”

“Donald Og,” said Eilidh. “But we don’t meet up with him until after we are done on Iona. Remember?”

“That’s right. I forgot. So we go to Iona with the big guy’s sword, stab said sword into the stone and hope the place doesn’t explode.”

“Sounds about right,” said Marcus.

“THEN, we come back to Coll,” I said, “make all nicey nice with this blind, old creeper Og and he tells us what’s next. Anybody here speak Gaelic? I’m guessing; No. So that’s a challenge. Cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Since this was our last shutdown, we decided to make a big deal out of the event and wait until just after the sun set over the western ocean. Normally, the trip from Tintagel Castle to Land’s End took about 2 hours. We were in no rush. The temperatures were about 15 degrees above average and it was sunny that Monday afternoon.

We took our time driving through the beautiful Cornwall countryside, stopping at impromptu places where demanded by whimsy and serendipity. Since the days were long this time of year and the sun didn’t set until 9:27pm, we enjoyed being tourists for the rest of the day.

As it got closer and closer to sunset, I started to feel more and more apprehensive. It was one thing to shut down some medieval location long associated with Arthurian legend. Shutting myself down, Ah…that was different. What about my Magnus memories from earlier lifetimes? After the reboot, would I get programmed with the memories of all the pervious Merlin’s, my predecessors who occupied this position over the centuries? This coursed through my mind as we sauntered through the Cornwall countryside. But mostly, I was just scared. I didn’t want to touch the tip of the sword to my body because, literally and figuratively, it felt like I was about to commit suicide.

We arrived at the Land’s End parking lot about 15 minutes before sundown, enough time to scout the area and decide where to stage this final scene. Eilidh wanted to get a nice picture of me standing at the edge of the cliff with the ocean and setting sun behind me as I held the sword high. It sounded like a good idea, very theatrical.

I was in position at the edge of the cliff with the sun to my back. Eilidh, camera in hand, played Director.

“Hold the sword high,” she said, looking through the viewfinder. “I want to make sure I can get all of you and the sun.”

“You should be wearing some kind of uniform, like a kilt or something,” said Marcus, “A tee shirt and jeans doesn’t make you look very kingly.”

“You’re right,” I said. “I’m not a King. You Brits forget, we kicked your King’s ass back in 1776. We don’t do royalty in America. If there IS an American uniform, I’m wearing it.”

“Are you at least going to say something profound, something like: ‘that’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind?’” asked Eilidh.

“Babe, I think that one’s taken. But give me a minute; I might come up with something.”

“I think you’ve got less time than that. That sun is setting fast,” she said.

Uh-oh; now I actually had to think up something to say. I didn’t want to make a big speech, not to an audience of two people. I didn’t want to get all serious and mushy, either. It wasn’t like I was Lou Gehrig saying goodbye at Yankee Stadium with his: ‘Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.’ speech. No. I was just a guy, doing my job. But, OK, I thought, I can say something; maybe have a little fun with it.

“We’re just about there,” said Eilidh the Director, raising the camera to her eye, looking through the viewfinder. “Magnus, hold the sword up. Hold it high until I give you the word. Then you can do what you have to do.”

Eilidh snapped off a few shots as I stood on the pathway, my back towards the setting sun. Once the sun set and she gave the OK, I began to sing:

Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And never brought to mind?
Should auld acquaintance be forgot
And days of auld lang syne?
For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.”

“Aw, that’s sweet,” said Eilidh. “You quoted Bobby Burns to me before we met, while we were talk’n on the phone. And you sing him to me now that we’re done.”

“Ouch! I wouldn’t call that singing,” said Marcus, holding his hands over his ears. “The words were nice but he was as flat as a pancake.”

“Magnus,” she said, walking towards me, giving me a kiss on the cheek. “Don’t listen to him. I thought it was sweet. Let’s get on with it. Touch that sword to your foot or your belly or wherever you’re going to do it, don’t cut yourself, and we’ll be off to the pub.”

“Sounds good to me,” I said.

I took the tip of Robert the Bruce’s sword, touched it to my foot and felt the shudder move up my leg and overtake my body. It didn’t feel uncomfortable. It didn’t hurt. It was kind of like when you’re cold and you get the shivers. It lasted just a few seconds. Then it was over.

“Are we good?” asked Eilidh once the faraway glaze in my eyes went away.

“I think so. Just in case, Marcus, you drive,” I said, handing him the keys.

Marcus took the keys and the three of us began the short walk back to the Land’s End parking lot. Just as I was about to get into the car, I started to feel a queasiness in the bottom of my stomach, something like that feeling you get a few hours after you’ve eaten food gone bad. I didn’t say anything because Marcus and Eilidh were chatting away, talking about the long trip back to Oban, looking forward to the ferry ride out to the Isle of Coll. By the time we completed the eight mile trip to the town of Penzance, where we planned to check out a famous 13th century pub, the discomfort I felt in my unsettled stomach progressed to pain, radiating out from my belly, moving across my body in all directions. Eilidh noticed something was wrong when she and Marcus got out of the car.

“Magnus,” she said, walking over to the passenger’s side of the car and opening the door. “Are you alright?”

“I don’t know,” I said, trying to put the best face on the situation. “I might have eaten something bad at lunch…”

I stopped mid-sentence. Before I could even complete my thought, I felt a sharp, shooting pain run up my spine, from my hips to my shoulders. I let out a loud painful cry…”Ahhhh!!!”

“Magnus; what is it?” cried Eilidh, now clearly concerned.

I knew Eilidh said something but I couldn’t make out what it was. The pain got worse and I was beginning to get disoriented. I didn’t respond, just stayed in the car’s front seat and vomited outside the door. I bent over at the waist, my useless arms folded at my belly, unable to manage this deepening crisis.

“Marcus,” she said. “You’re a Time Pilot. What’s happening to him?”

“I don’t know, Miss.” he said, now equally concerned. “He might be right; it could be something he ate. But it might have something to do with the shutdown he just went through. I don’t know. This is all new to me.”

“We need to call a medic,” said Eilidh, now powering up her phone. “Or maybe we should just take him right to hospital?”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Miss,” said Marcus. “If this is connected to the shutdown then no medic in the world will have any idea what to do. They might make it worse. And it’s not like we can explain any of this to them.”

“Magnus,” she said, now shaking my shoulder, trying to get my attention. “Magnus, we want to get you some help. Where should we go?” she asked.

I was falling deeper and deeper into a haze, like I was caught in a fog bank so thick you couldn’t see an arm’s length in front of you. I could hear Eilidh calling, but her voice seemed muffled by the fog, sounding far away. But worse than the disorienting fog, when I tried to respond, I couldn’t and I now felt as helpless as a newborn baby.

“Marcus,” she cried out, panic starting to creep into her voice as she shook my shoulder, hard. “He’s not responding. Magnus…Magnus, can you hear me? Magnus, can you hear me?”

“Eilidh,” said Marcus, now taking charge of this worsening situation. “Ring up that guy on Coll we were supposed to see, Gordon Graham MacLean. Maybe he knows what we should do. Maybe he has seen this sort of thing before.”

Eilidh called up his name on her smartphone and put the call through, straightaway. After it rang a few times, Gordon Graham answered.

“Mr. MacLean, my name is Eilidh MacEachern. Swede was my uncle… {pause} … I’ll get right to the point because we have a situation here. Magnus Cook is with me. He completed the task my uncle gave him and we were going to leave for Coll shortly. As soon as we left Land’s End he fell ill and now he is unresponsive in the front seat of our car. Marcus is with me and he thought if we took him to a medic here in Cornwall they wouldn’t know what to do. They might even make the situation worse.

I’m getting scared, Mr. MacLean, do you have any suggestions? … {pause} … Yes, we went through the whole list Swede gave us. I think we shut down all the sites. Yes. … {pause} Glastonbury? Yes, I think…Marcus, we went to Glastonbury, right?”

“Yes, Miss, we shut down the Glastonbury thorn. It was that Hawthorne tree in front of the church,” said Marcus.

“Yes, Mr. MacLean,” said Eilidh, speaking once again to Gordon Graham on the phone. “We went to Glastonbury and shut down the tree that was near the church … {pause} … Yes, that’s right, The Glastonbury thorn … {pause} … Glastonbury Tor? T.O.R.? Just a minute.

Marcus, do you have the list? He wants to know if we shut down the Glastonbury Tor, T.O.R.?”

“Eilidh,” said Marcus. “Can I have the phone, please. It’s just easier if I talk to Gordon Graham.”

Eilidh handed the phone to Marcus and he began to speak to the man from Coll.

“Gordon Graham. Hello; this is Marcus. It’s nice to speak with you again … {pause} … Thank you. I appreciate it… {pause} … Yes, I have the Captain’s list right here. We went to Glastonbury and shut down the Glastonbury Thorn. But it looks like there was another entry here, it’s hard to make out.

When I first looked at the list I thought the Captain made an error and did a do over. On the first Glastonbury entry there is a capital T and, yes, what could be the letters O. and R. after that. Looking at it again, right now, I can see how Thorn and Tor look so much alike. There’s a smudge in the ink so we thought there was only one Glastonbury location to shut down. {pause} … Yes, that’s right. We shut down the Glastonbury Thorn: T.H.O.R.N. We did not shut down the Glastonbury Tor: T.O.R. Is that a problem? … {pause} … Alright, I understand. Thank you, Gordon Graham, for your help. We’ll see you soon. Goodbye.”

“What did he say? What did he say? Eilidh asked.

“I’ll explain it in the car. Get in; we have to go.” said Marcus.

“Where are we going? Is Magnus going to be OK?” she asked.

“We’re going to Coll,” said Marcus, starting the engine then pealing out, leaving a trail of rubber down Chapel Street in Penzance. “We have to get there as quickly as possible. Magnus is dying.”

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