The Birth of Modern Merlin

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Chapter 12

Tuesday, June 14, 2016.

This was not going to be an easy trip. Penzance, England to Oban, Scotland was about 650 miles. While the weather was good when we left Cornwall, at 10 pm Monday, we couldn’t know how it might change over the next 11 hours.

The trip took us north, through the peninsula of Southwest England, through the West Midlands and then into Northwest England and Scotland where the changeable weather was notorious.

Marcus and Eilidh tried to prop me up and position my limp body as best they could, hoping to make me as comfortable as possible. There wasn’t much they could do. On more than one occasion I’d slump sideways and fall towards the center of the car, scaring the driver half to death.

I didn’t know where we were, what time it was or how much longer it would take to get to Coll. What they didn’t know… I was conscious inside this mind fog and I heard what they said as they sped northward. It was surreal, like eavesdropping on preparations for my funeral.

Not knowing how much time I had left, Eilidh and Marcus sped through the night, sharing the wheel, switching off every two hours.

The car sped closer to dawn’s light yet we were still four hours south of Oban. Eilidh and Marcus started to discuss their next step, getting from Oban out to Coll.

“What time does the ferry leave for Coll?” asked Marcus.

Eilidh called up the information on her phone. “7:15 am; gets to Coll a little before 10am,” she said.

“That’s kind of early,” said Marcus. “I don’t think we’ll get to Oban in time. Is there anything later in the day?”

“That’s it. Coll is pretty remote; there’s only one ferry per day,” she said.

“That’s not good. Alright, on to Plan B.

Magnus might come out of it. He might live for months or for years. Then again, he might die any minute. We’ve got no choice. We can’t wait till tomorrow. Let’s get him to Coll ourselves, fast. We’ll get back aboard Poseidon’s Trident, motor out to Coll and hope we don’t run into any snags. We’ve got a good boat; let’s put her to work.”

“Marcus,” said Eilidh, her spirit invigorated by this ray of hope, “You’re so smart. That’s such a good idea. If Magnus can hold on a bit longer…”

We didn’t get to Oban until 11am. The fog set in somewhere north of Glasgow, reduced the visibility and cut our forward speed. Not a good sign. When the car reached the marina, thick sea fog covered the harbor and obscured everything. The sailing conditions were horrible: no wind; zero visibility. Luckily, they wouldn’t have to sail. Though they never attempted it before, Marcus and Eilidh had no choice. They must trust the boat’s radar, GPS and autopilot and hope the three of us could make the crossing to Coll in the pea soup fog.

Eilidh fired up the engine. Marcus inspected the rest of the boat, making sure everything was in order. They had enough water and fuel. The food situation wasn’t an issue for a half day trip. The problem was…me.

How were they going to get my limp and unconscious body out of the car and onto the boat? It wasn’t like I could walk onboard. But Eilidh had this one figured out. She nailed it.

Eilidh scanned the docks, on the lookout for the biggest, strongest looking guy she could find. It only took a minute or two to catch something and she shamelessly flirted with him. She reeled in a huge, bearded, caber tossing, human mammoth. When he walked up to the boat he looked like a little lamb, following its ewe.

It’s me brother,” she confessed to the hulk. “He’s blootered. Totally pished. A hora session he had fer sure. Can you chum me and get his limp arse on board me boat? I’m a wee munter. Cannae do it,” she said, smiling broadly at her savior.

“A munter are ye? Naw,” said the beast. “A bonnie burd, ye are, or I’m a daft bampot.”

The giant lifted me out of the car, single handedly carried my limp body on board and placed me on the bed in the aft stateroom. Done!

The weather is such an important part of Scottish life and its many myths. If there’s an old story of castles and knights, of fairies and druids, the Scottish weather is the perfect supporting actor. Wet and foggy, cold and grey, it’s just the sort of weather you’d prefer in the background if you want to tell a creepy story about strange people. But the Isle of Coll is well off the western coast and it breaks the pattern of endless bad weather. In fact, Coll has more sunshine every year than any other part of Great Britain. Of course, this “fact” does not come without conflict. Everything in Scotland comes with conflict. The residents of Tiree, the island just to the south of Coll, claim THEY have the most sunshine and they can prove it because the government’s official weather station is there. Coll doesn’t have the official weather station. That doesn’t make their claim to more sunny days any less true.

The reason it’s so much sunnier on Coll is simple, The Gulf Stream. The warm, moist flow of ocean water from the Southwest Atlantic passes just to Coll’s west, keeping the area relatively warm for latitudes this high. It rarely snows here. But when that same warm, moist air hits the mountains on Mull and, further east, the mainland of Scotland, the moisture laden air must rise in order to get up and over the top. This cools the clouds, rain falls and fog lingers in the glens. This myth making, brooding weather settles on the landscape, creating much of the literary and cultural background we know as Scotland. But, back on Coll and Tiree, well west of those rain inducing mountains, the skies remain sunny and the wind blows hard, preserving Scotland’s best kept secret.

Coll is thirteen miles long, about 5 wide at its midpoint. It takes two and a half to three hours for the ferry to make the journey from Oban, on the mainland.

There are only about 200 permanent residents here, just 15% of what Coll supported before the Highland Clearances of the 18th and 19th centuries. But Coll’s loss, like most of the Highlands, was the world’s gain. All those hard working, intelligent, exiled Scots settled in Canada, The United States, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, becoming the industrious backbone of these emerging societies.

It’s hard to explain to mainlanders how different island life can be; how soul restoration is an island’s primary industry. The six hours between high and low tide, the one hour, daily shift later each day, becomes a second clock for island people. The rhythm of the tide slows life’s harried pace. Infrequent ferries back to the world of supermarkets and shopping malls help’s wounded souls escape these modern irritants. It’s not like an island’s progress towards the future stops, it’s more like island time slows everything down, allowing the past and future to blend together with less anxiety.

Coll didn’t get a cell phone tower until 2014 and the most northerly part of the island still receives no service. Though some residents were happy with this modern development, others were dismayed. It shows how island life is just… different.

For the wounded amongst us, physically or spiritually, an island is a place to heal. People who lost their way rediscover core values here and, once reminded, become newly empowered to reenter the world of mainlands.

After the Tunguska Event of 1908, The Isle of Coll took on added significance. The impact stuffed all that extra dark matter and energy into the “normal” space-time continuum, causing the epicenter of Earth’s dark matter and energy to shift 5.5 degrees north and 4 degrees west from its location before the asteroid’s impact, Glastonbury, England. This was the mythical site of Avalon, the island of healing and redemption, where the fairies took King Arthur to recover after his fight with Mordred. Though it always possessed high levels of dark matter/energy, after the asteroid’s impact, the epicenter for Earth’s dark matter/energy shifted to the Isle of Coll.

Poseidon’s Trident motored closer to the island. I felt much better and started to emerge from my hazy, lifeless daze. Every fifteen minutes, Eilidh or Marcus went below to check on me, hoping to see progress

“Magnus, can you hear me?” asked Eilidh.

I could; I always could. But now I seemed to have regained the ability to respond. I smiled and gave Eilidh a weak but significant thumbs up.

“Marcus!” she exclaimed, “He moved! I think he’s coming out of it.”

“That’s wonderful, Miss, and just in time. The fog is starting to lift. I can see Coll on the horizon. It shouldn’t be much longer.”

The closer we got to Coll, the stronger I felt. Within fifteen minutes, I was sitting up on the edge of the bed. Ten minutes later, I climbed the steps into the cockpit, taking a deep breath of refreshing salt air.

“You look so much better than the last time I saw you,” said Marcus. “How do you feel?”

“A lot better; thank you,” I said. “I didn’t think I was going to get out of Penzance alive.”

Eilidh also came topside, grabbing me around the waist. It felt good, reassuring.

“My big boy is back from the dead, he is. Did you see Elvis during your zombie land holiday? Is he coming back, too?”

“No Elvis; but Jim Morrison said to say, ‘hello.’ He’s not coming, though; just me.”

“That’ll do, mate, that’ll do,” she said before planting a big, wet, extended kiss on my lips. Damn, I thought. How did I ever get so lucky to meet a woman like this? I kissed her right back before Marcus brought us back to reality.

“A-hem,” he interrupted. “I don’t want to ruin this fairy tale moment but we’ve got decisions to make. We haven’t talked to Gordon Graham MacLean since we left Penzance. We need to call him and tell him we’re on our way. And that Magnus seems to have recovered.”

“Let’s hold off on that phone call,” I said. “Let’s talk about this Gordon Graham for a moment. Marcus, in all your time with Swede, did you two ever meet? Have you even heard of this guy? Is he someone we can trust?”

“No; we never met, just spoke on the phone once,” said Marcus, “but that’s not unusual. There are many Time Pilots out there I don’t know.”

“Eilidh,” I said, now directing my questions towards her. “I heard your side of the conversation when you talked with him, back in Penzance. Who brought up the matter of Glastonbury? Was it you or him?”

“MacLean did,” she said.

“That’s what I thought,” I said. “That’s strange. Why would he be so concerned about Glastonbury? He seemed to have a lot of questions. This place or that one, the Tor or the Thorn. He didn’t seem to care about Camelot getting shut down or Tintagel Castle, just Glastonbury. Does that seem strange to you?”

“There are a lot of ties to Glastonbury,” said Marcus. “For Christians, there’s Joseph of Arimathea; there are ties to The Holy Grail; there’s Arthur, of course. But it was also the home of the sorceress, Morgan le Fey. Even today, when the fog hangs low above the Somerset levels, you see optical illusions. Modern science knows it’s caused by a thermal inversion, when light rays pass through layers of air at different temperatures. The ancients didn’t know that, of course, but the name still stuck. Fata Morgana, they call it.”

“Maybe Gordon Graham just wanted to make sure Glastonbury got shut down so we wouldn’t have Morgan le Fey sticking around after the reboot, trying to screw it up.”

“Or maybe someone from Team le Fey didn’t want Glastonbury to get shut down at all,” said Eilidh. “Maybe the fairies have a hand in this. Maybe they’re trying to survive the reboot?”

“True,” said Marcus, “but which fairies; the good ones or the evil ones? It’s like in the Wizard of Oz. You had the Good Witch and the Wicked Witch. Two different people.”

“This doesn’t seem much clearer than it did a few minutes ago,” I said. “Maybe I’m being paranoid and this MacLean is a good, loyal Time Pilot, a guy just doing his job. Then again, my gut’s trying to talk to me and I get in trouble when I don’t listen. My gut says we should get more information on this Gordon Graham MacLean. Marcus, do you have access to any information back at Time Keeper Central? I don’t.”

“No; I’m just an apprentice,” he said. I don’t have that kind of clearance. But the Captain did. He accessed it on his laptop. Maybe he didn’t change his password.”

“What was his password?” I asked.

“Merlin1,” said Marcus.

“That’s it?’ I said, amazed a smart guy like Swede had such a lame, hackable password.

“Yes, that was it,” said Marcus. “Let me go below and see what I can find.”

Marcus went to Swede’s stateroom and sat at his laptop for half an hour, researching all the databases he could access back at Time Keeper Central. He retrieved only bad news.

“I got nothing; I’m sorry,” he said.

“Nothing at all?” asked Eilidh.

“No; nothing on anybody even close to a Gordon Graham MacLean. I spelled the last name with the A, like Mac, without the A, like Mc. I found Magnus and me and The Captain. The Captain’s file had even been updated since he left, so the files are being maintained. But it’s like this guy doesn’t exist. That’s strange.”

“It sure is,” I said. “I knew something about this guy smelled fishy.”

“Here’s something interesting. Remember that guy back at Time Keeper Central you told me about, the guy you soaked back in the 13th Century? I think you called him Mr. Hissy-Fit?”

“That’s right,” I said. “Little twerp. No sense of humor. Jameson Black was his name.”

“That’s right; Jameson Black,” said Marcus. “It turns out Mr. Black has been consistently promoted from his lowly position back in the 13th Century and he is now the Director of Terran Expansion. Terra is the Latin word for Earth.”

“So the little dweeb has done well for himself,” I said, with contempt. “You kiss enough asses and you can do that. Why does it matter?”

“Are you familiar with the Scottish term: Sept?” asked Marcus.

“Yes,” I said. “It’s when a Scottish family group that isn’t a clan associates itself with one of the major clans.”

“That’s right,” he said. “So, Eilidh, smart girl that you are, tell me… The Black family is a Sept of what major Scottish clan?

“If you say ‘MacLean’ I’m going to toss you overboard and let the sharks have their way with you,” said Eilidh, surprised

“It’s true,” said Marcus, smiling. “Summon the sharks!”

“And that, my friend, explains a lot,” I said. “Ever since I emerged, almost three months ago, I wondered why it was a surprise; why wasn’t I given time to prepare. It makes sense now. Mr. Hissy-Fit still holds a grudge. He must really hate my guts. He can’t tell me he’s up to something so he arranges for me to emerge with no information. But he must need me or he wouldn’t have allowed me to emerge at all. Now, he wants me to meet his henchman, MacLean, who doesn’t exist? That’s convenient; no paper trail.”

“Or,” said Eilidh, “everything is fine and Gordon Graham is one of the good guys. Maybe he is so new his paperwork isn’t in the system yet. This Mr. Black? Maybe he’s just another career climbing suit who doesn’t remember the little people like you, Magnus, people he’s stepped on or stepped over as he’s made his climb to the top of the Time Pilot corporation. There’s a good chance this daft conspiracy theory of yours is all bullshit.”

“Absolutely true, my love, very possible. So let’s see where we stand,” I said. “Let’s ring up Mr. MacLean and tell him we’re almost here. Eilidh, you make the call, but don’t tell him I’ve recovered. Let him think I’m still out cold. We’ll see what he has to say.”

Eilidh placed the call, accessing Coll’s new 4G cell phone tower.

“Mr. MacLean, this is Eilidh MacEachern again. I just wanted to let you know we’re almost here… {pause} … No, we missed the ferry this morning. But we had a boat in Oban so we decided to make the crossing ourselves… {pause} … Not much change, I’m afraid; he’s still unconscious… {pause} … [now addressing Marcus and me] … He wants us to go to the north end of the island and drop anchor at Solisdale Bay. We can do that, right? [Marcus nodded, yes, and she continued with MacLean] …yes, that shouldn’t be a problem… {pause} … The sword? Ugh, I don’t know. Let me ask. [addressing us again] Gordon Graham wants to know if we’ve got the sword of Robert the Bruce. Do we? I didn’t take it out if the car.”

Marcus and I looked at each other, each hoping the other guy would come up with the answer Eilidh needed to give MacLean.

Why was he so interested in the sword? Marcus was smarter and quicker than I was and he quickly wrote out a note to Eilidh so the two of us could remain silent. It said, ‘Buy us some time. Tell him you have to go below to look.’ She read the note and was quickly on board with the ensuing ruse.

“Mr. MacLean?” she said. “I have to go below to check. We’re on a big boat. It was Swede’s boat before he left it to me. Did you know him?... {pause} … No? He was my uncle, well, not my real uncle; I just called him that. He was just a good friend of my parents but ever since I was a little girl I called him uncle. That was back on Islay, where I was born. Have you ever been to Islay?... {pause} …No? Oh, you should go sometime, it… {pause} Oh, the sword. Right. As I said, this is a big boat.75 feet long, I think…”

While Eilidh was doing an excellent job stalling MacLean, Marcus and I moved to the front stateroom where we wouldn’t be heard.

“MacLean is asking about the sword again,” I said.

“Right,” said Marcus. “Obviously, he wants it.”

“Or needs it,” I said.

“He is expecting us to return it; that was always part of the plan. It was just on loan from its display case somewhere on the mainland. But, if we just give it to him, we lose leverage and give up the only bargaining chip we’ve got.”

“Right,” I said, agreeing with Marcus. “We need to delay; figure out what he’s up to.

Let’s do this. Since he doesn’t know exactly where we are, just in a boat somewhere, let’s tell him we won’t arrive at Coll until sunset. Tell him we can meet up with him tomorrow. That will buy us some time. If everything seems OK, we return the sword. If not, we keep it, as long as we need to.”

“Good,” said Marcus, sounds like a plan.

We returned topside where Eilidh continued her delaying tactics, surely antagonizing Gordon Graham as she continued to stall for time.

“… it was pouring when we got to Oban. Heavy, heavy rain. Marcus insisted on sailing here, he hates the engine, you know, doesn’t want to contribute any more to global warming…”

Marcus and I climbed the steps and caught Eilidh’s eye, giving her a thumbs up, as if to say she could tell MacLean we had the sword.

She would make a great actress, Eilidh would; such a great bullshit artist.

“…But I insisted,” she continued, “we had to get to Coll, as fast as possible; Magnus’s life might depend on it. We motored here, but Marcus didn’t want the sword to get jostled around in the heavy seas. He stored it somewhere, but it’s a big boat…OH, here it is. Yes, Mr. MacLean, we’ve got the sword. … {pause} … You want us to come ashore as soon as we arrive at Solisdale Bay?...And give you the sword tonight?”

Hearing her side of the conversation, Marcus and I both looked at her and shook our heads, “no.”

“Oh, I don’t think I can do that tonight, Mr. MacLean,” said the totally persuasive young Scotswoman. “We won’t get there till after sundown and I’m afraid of going out in the dark. Marcus has to stay with Magnus and I don’t know how to operate that little boat we’re towing. It’s got a real old engine; I don’t know how it works. That’s alright; we can meet you tomorrow.”

After a few more pleasantries, Eilidh ended the conversation with Gordon Graham as nice as could be, all sweetness and cream. He had no clue what we were up to.

“That was wonderful!” I said, squeezing Eilidh in a giant bear hug. “You are such a bitch. What did he say?”

“He was really interested in that old sword, that’s fer sure. It belonged to Robert the Bruce; Scottish history; I’ll get in so much trouble; Are you sure you cannae come tonight? Blah. Blah. Blah. Didn’t seem to give two shits about you, though. He’s glad you’re not dead; That’s it. Sorry, luv.”

“That’s OK,” I said. “It’s all good. Did he say why he needed the sword so badly?”

“No,” she said, “but he did say something interesting, right at the very end. He said when we came to Coll tomorrow morning, I agreed we’d meet him on the beach at Solisdale Bay at 10am, that when we get to the island, not to touch the sword to the ground. It was bad luck.”

“Bad luck?” I said, not believing a word of it. “That’s all we’ve been doing the last month, touching that thing to the ground. Nobody ever said anything about bad luck.”

“That’s right,” added Marcus. “I think he’s lying. After he told you it was bad luck, what did you say?”

“I asked why it was bad luck and he said, ‘ugh, um,’ kind of like he was looking for the right words. Then he said, it was like the flag, it was disrespectful if you let the nation’s flag touch the ground, something like that.”

“Nice save, MacLean, but I think Marcus is right. He’s lying. Why wouldn’t he want us to touch the sword to the ground? Maybe he doesn’t want us to shut something down like we’ve been doing this past month?”

“Coll wasn’t on the list,” said Eilidh. “We weren’t supposed to come here to shut it down. We were just supposed to come here to return the sword, get another one and meet with that Donald Og guy, later.”

“Exactly,” said Marcus. “Maybe Coll wasn’t on the shutdown list because it wasn’t supposed to be. Might Mr. Black be interested in keeping Coll open, even after the re-boot? To become part of that new Terran Expansion he oversees?”

“Marcus. That sounds like a very reasonable explanation. Then why does he need me? What do I have to do with all of this?”

“Maybe he doesn’t need you, Magnus,” said Marcus. “Maybe who he needs is Merlin.”

“Right,” I said, grasping his new emphasis. “This is good, we’re making progress,” I continued. “Let’s keep the assumptions going.

If it’s Merlin he wants then why didn’t Swede get the call? He was Merlin a long time.

Eilidh, in all the cruises you took with Swede, did you ever come to Coll?”

“No, never,” she said. “When I was a little girl, he told me he always sailed through the Sound of Mull. He said he wouldn’t go the outside route because that’s where all the witches and fairies lived, in the mountains on Mull. At the time, it scared the liv’n shit out of me; I must have been only 5 or 6. Had nightmares for weeks about it; mum and dadiah were none too pleased. Maybe he had some different purpose he couldn’t tell us about, that the outside route took him too close to Coll. Maybe that’s why he never went that way.”

“Marcus, did you ever sail with Swede near Coll?”

“I was his apprentice for over twenty years and we sailed all over the world. But we never went near Coll or Tiree. Not once. We’d head offshore, go out of our way if we had to, gave them wide berth”

“Maybe the witches and fairies were on Mull,” I said. “Maybe they were here on Coll, too. It’s all MacLean land; at least it was in the old days: Mull, Coll, Tiree. Who’s to say that’s not the reason he avoided these places. Maybe Swede knew the witches wanted a piece of Merlin, the great Time Pilot.”

“You both are going to make yourselves crazy, talk’n shit like that,” said Eilidh. “Let’s get there all in one piece, drop anchor and meet Mr. MacLean tomorrow. It’s been a long drive, a rough sail and I thought my Yankee boyfriend was lifeless vegetable on his way to the grave. You two can take the helm on this last leg to Coll and talk all the daft conspiracy theories you want. I’m going to sleep.”

Eilidh left and went below. I wasn’t ready to go to sleep yet. Neither was Marcus.

“Marcus, think out loud with me. Let’s brainstorm,” I said. “Why does MacLean want Merlin, either Swede or me?”

“What did the Captain say we needed to do after the shutdowns?” asked Marcus.

“Return the sword of Robert the Bruce. Meet Donald Og. OK, we’ll do that when we’re done. But then he said we had to go back Iona and stab that marble wall with Excalibur.”

“And where would we get Excalibur,” asked Marcus.

“Swede said MacLean would give it to us, on Coll.”

“That’s odd,” said Marcus. “How would MacLean get that sword? There’s only two people who ever held it, Arthur and Merlin. Nobody just finds Excalibur lying in a ditch by the side of the road. It doesn’t work that way.”

“If I follow your train of thought, either something strange happened for MacLean to even get his hands on Excalibur, or, he’s lying. My guess is…he’s lying,” I said.

“Which is why he needs Merlin to come to Coll, or wherever he thinks Excalibur is. He wants Excalibur but he can’t retrieve it without you.”

“Right,” I said, totally buying what Marcus was selling.

“It sounds like you are his only ticket to Excalibur,” cautioned Marcus. “THAT can’t happen. Excalibur is too, powerful a weapon. It can’t fall into the hands of those not worthy.”

“I was afraid you were going to say something like that,” I said. “But it’s not like I can just walk away. I need Excalibur to take back to Iona so I can initialize the system reboot. I don’t know where to find it. It sounds like we need each other, MacLean and me.”

“It sounds like a trap. Excalibur is the bait.” said Marcus, cutting through the clutter and misdirection, clearly seeing the matter in all its simplicity.

“But are we the kind of mice who can avoid the cats AND steal the cheese without getting our heads snapped?” I said.

“I guess we’ll find out tomorrow, won’t we?” said Marcus. “At least we’re safe for the next few hours; cats don’t like to swim.”

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