Let’s say you’re walking through Times Square in New York City one day and there’s this guy standing on the corner, not talking to anybody in particular, but to everybody who walks by. He claims to be Jesus Christ; in fact, he claims to be the 2nd coming of Jesus Christ, warning all who will listen of impending doom and the imminent end of the world. Nobody pays attention to him and the whole city, on a fast pace to somewhere else, walks on by. Everyone knows he’s nuts and today is no different than any other. Just another day in The Big Apple.
Someone needs to explain this to me. Why was it that when I met a total stranger on this treeless, windy island in the North Atlantic, who not only claimed to be invisible and talked to invisible people but later told me he was King Arthur, yes, THAT King Arthur, that I totally believed him? Do I lack that Bronx skepticism gene which indemnifies suckers like me? Am I that gullible and trusting, doomed to lifetime of cash handouts to windshield cleaning squeegee guys who approach my car at a red light?
But I did believe him…AND his incredible story. The more he told me, the more I believed. It didn’t take long before I was all in. But the one question foremost on my mind concerned his mental stability.
“Fifteen centuries! Why aren’t you insane?” I asked. “Arthur, you seem like a normal, well-adjusted guy, I don’t understand. How can anyone live that long, alone, isolated from the rest of humanity, and not go stark raving mad?”
“I don’t have a good answer for you,” he said. “All I know is…it didn’t seem that long. I know before I was injured and taken to Avalon that I experienced the passage of time like anyone else. But once I got hurt and was recovering, it was like I lost the ability to tell when minutes became hours and years became decades. Everything seemed to blend together in one big mental file called The Past.”
His answer made sense. It was similar to the calendar pausing experiences we Time Pilots have when our time on Earth is concluded and we head back to Time Keeper Central.
But Arthur’s time suspending experience didn’t happen somewhere else, it took place on THIS planet. That was a new development I never could have anticipated.
We sat in Arthur’s small living room and talked for an hour. It was late afternoon. He offered me something to eat, fresh mutton soup and homemade bread he made himself.
“I don’t get a chance to cook too often and I like to cook,” he said, ladling out a generous portion of the aromatic liquid and handing me the bowl. “The fairies take care of that and most of my domestic needs. I get to indulge a bit when they’re gone.”
“Tell me about these fairies,” I said. “I couldn’t see them and I’ve never met any of them in my previous emergences. Who are they and where do they come from?”
“First, I have to say, I am so thankful for them, all of them. They saved my life,” said Arthur. “But to answer your question, we have to go back to the 6th century and the Battle of Camlann. My army and the army of Mordred, who was my nephew, were locked in a terrible fight. It was the worst day of my life. After a whole day of bloody slaughter, everybody was dead, if you can imagine that. At the end, it was only Mordred and me, just the two of us, bloody swords in hand, surrounded by hundreds of dead bodies.”
“It wasn’t just a military fight,” I said. “It was a family fight, too. How horrible.”
“Exactly right,” said Arthur. “Mordred was such a smart kid; he had so much promise. I didn’t see him too often; he lived up north, in Lothian, with his mother and King Lot. When he joined the cause and became a knight of the Round Table, I couldn’t have been more proud. So when he turned and took the wrong path, the pain I felt was so much greater than the pain I felt for the other knights he took with him.
Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, history is full of these sad, family fights. My pain was no worse than theirs. It’s all terrible.”
I don’t think Arthur told this story before, at least not to a real human being, like me. I got the feeling he needed to put the whole event into words and get it out of the pit of his belly. As a war veteran myself, I sympathized with his plight, somehow knowing he still had mental and emotional wounds which lingered long after the bombs and bleeding stopped. He took a deep breath and began again. I felt I was there to listen, just listen.
“There would be no winner in this fight, just a survivor, me or him. Mordred was a charismatic leader, which is why he attracted so much support among the knights. He was a skinny kid, not real strong, physically. I also had more sword fighting experience and a better weapon. I knew I had the advantage in a one-on-one contest. That didn’t make it any easier, knowing you had to kill your own nephew. But it had to be done.
When I approached, Excalibur held high, I first faked a move to the left and he bit. Then I came from the other side, his unprotected side, and cut him down. That was it, a single blow and he was finished. But he managed to inflict a wound on my leg or maybe I got it earlier in the battle, I don’t know. So while it wasn’t serious by modern standards and under different circumstances I would have been treated and been fine, it was late in the day. I was bleeding and the battlefield was silent; everyone else was dead. Night was upon me. I couldn’t walk. It was dark. I couldn’t see anything and I couldn’t stop the bleeding. Nobody from the local community was going to venture out at that time of night, it wasn’t safe. I was bleeding out. Probably would have been dead by morning.
That’s all I remember. The fairies said they found me, unconscious on the battlefield. They took me away, put me on a boat of some kind, and when I came to, I was in Avalon.
They fixed my leg; it’s fine now, and I appreciate what they did for me. But what they didn’t say was that I was not going to leave that island, or this one, and I’ve been in their company ever since.”
That last statement concerned me…a lot! Something prevented me from leaving Coll. What? I didn’t know. Now Arthur just told me about his similar experience. Was I to suffer his fate? Trapped on Coll for all eternity?
“Why won’t the fairies let you leave?” I asked with a sense of urgency.
“I don’t think it’s up to them. I don’t even think they know it’s an issue.
Let me explain something about the fairies,” said Arthur. “Fairies are like pure goodness. It’s like they are virtue itself but virtue that’s taken a human form. They would never keep me prisoner here if they knew it caused me pain; they’re not like that.”
“I’ll say it again. Why can’t you just pick up and go?”
“I don’t know,” said Arthur. “I can walk anywhere on the island. But as soon as I try to step in the ocean, I can’t. It’s like there’s an invisible wall at the water’s edge.”
“I experienced the same thing this morning,” I said, my anger beginning to build, “and I don’t like it. That wall; that’s exactly what I encountered when I tried to row back to my boat anchored in Solisdale Bay. It prevented me from going past the waterline.
Can’t you just tell these damn fairies the truth? Being kept against your will isn’t right? If they’re such good and pure beings, they should understand this, right?”
Arthur shook his head like a man who tried that a thousand times and failed, each time.
“I’ve had more than a millennium to think about this,” said Arthur, “and this is the best I could come up with.
Let me ask you a question, Magnus Cook. Have you ever had a dog?
“Yes,” I said. “When I was a boy growing up in the north of Scotland, we had a dog. It was a Shelty. My brother thought it would be fun just to name her “dog.” That was her name; “dog” the dog.
Arthur smiled. “Then you know of that love and affection between a master and his pet. That’s what I think it’s like if you are one of the fairies. They love humans and they want the best for us. But they don’t see us as equals; they see us as pets to be protected from things we cannot understand.
Let’s say you lived in a busy and dangerous world, and we do. You would never let “dog” the dog run loose on the streets of London, would you? She might get lost or injured, even killed. As a good owner, you would protect “dog” from things you knew could hurt her but she, in her dog like innocence, could never know.
That’s how I think it works with us and the fairies. They keep us confined to this island kennel of ours, not because they are malevolent or mean spirited, but because they love us and want to protect us.”
Arthur’s explanation was well reasoned and made sense. For him. Maybe I’d feel the same way if I had been kept tied up for more than a thousand years and needed to justify my incarceration. That didn’t mean I had to be OK with it. I was angry and upset I was being held against my will on this windy rock and, unlike Arthur, I was not in debt to some fairy for saving my life. No way I was going to live my life at the end of some invisible creature’s leash. I wasn’t their dog; I was a free man. I was determined to find a way out.
“Arthur, I mean no disrespect, but you seem to have accepted your fate and have come to peace with it. I’m not there; this stinks. I have a job to do. I have to get out of here.”
“I know you’re frustrated, Magnus Cook. I felt the same…”
“Can you stop that?” I exclaimed, interrupting Arthur mid-sentence.
My frustration began to boil over and it was starting to show.
“Just stop with the two names. People don’t talk like that; it’s driving me nuts. My first name is Magnus, my last name is Cook. Just call me Magnus; it’s how people talk these days.”
“You don’t want me to call you Merlin?” asked the King. “That’s who you said you were. Now I’m confused. You said you were Magnus Cook but now you say not to call you that. Then you said you were Merlin but you don’t want me to call you that either. How am I supposed to know who you are if you don’t know who you are?”
It was brilliant. With one sentence; simultaneously rhetorical and literal, Arthur penetrated to the core of my insecurity. ‘Who was I?’ he asked, and I had no answer for the King.
I sat silently in his modest home. He looked at me, silent as well, fully aware of the power his silence commanded. His wasn’t a stare of judgment, but of one who once trod this inward path himself.
Those silent seconds felt like centuries. Was that a function of this weird place or did Arthur’s question hit a nerve inside me, a synapse which needed to be whacked, causing me to contemplate the truth of my self-identity.
We’ll never know because at just the right time, Arthur himself broke the moment and moved us forward.
“Let’s go outside,” he said. “A walk will do you good.”
We walked. Arthur was right, it felt good to be out and moving.
It was hard to tell who was more inquisitive, Arthur or me. I was amazed by the sheer volume of history which ran parallel to Arthur’s life. I wanted to know everything he knew about the past. Likewise, Arthur seemed fascinated about modern life. He wanted to know everything about 21st century culture and world events, especially life in America. When he started to get specific, especially about the new cell phone tower recently erected on the island and cell phones in general, I had to stop him for clarification.
“Arthur, how do you know so much about cell phones?” I asked. “And aviation and Queen Elizabeth and television and geological plate tectonics and all these other subjects 6th Century people couldn’t possibly know about?” I asked. “Your accent. Your language. You don’t speak Olde English or Middle English or even Shakespearean English. I understand everything you say, no problem. What’s up with that?”
“Thank you, Magnus; I’ll take that as a compliment. But, again, I have to thank the fairies. After I recovered from my battle injury, the fairies knew something was still wrong with me. I was lonely but they have no concept of loneliness. It doesn’t resister for them. They are intelligent beings and they saw my mood improve when they provided me with things which helped me focus on something other than my situation.
First there was a book, which I devoured. Then they provided me with more books and over the centuries I read so many books I became a walking library. In the 18th century came the newspapers. It felt like my whole world exploded with new found understanding. When electronic media arrived, first-radio, then-television, and now-the internet, the fairies, always thinking of my best interests, made sure I had access to all the electronic media I wanted. So I watch what you watch. I have access to a lot of information, just like any normal person does.
It’s a lot easier now than it was a thousand years ago. I’m not as bored. But I’ll be honest; I’m still lonely. That’s why I’m so glad you showed up, Magnus. Today is the best day I’ve had in centuries.”
That’s how it went for the next few days. I’d take an hour and pepper Arthur with questions about the Middle Ages or the Renaissance or Adolph Hitler or 6th century women, anything remotely tied to history. Then he’d take over and for the next hour he’d ask me everything about life in the 21st century. I kept telling him I’d only been alive in the 21st Century since March and that all I knew was what I learned through the media when I was back at Time Keeper Central. I explained it wasn’t like I actually lived it, like a normal person. He didn’t seem to care and he kept coming back to one topic, over and over again: America.
Finally, after a few days of non-stop interrogation on all things America, I had to ask, “Arthur, why the big interest in the United States?”
“It goes back to the 18th Century,” he said. “Remember, all I had up until that time were books. Fiction or non-fiction. When real news of the outside world started to come into my cloistered life, I felt connected to the world in ways I hadn’t experienced since Camelot was up and running. It was exhilarating! But the place that seemed to be the main focus of attention back then was this place called America. I had to know more about it.
The fairies did the best they could, trying to keep up with my incessant requests. They went to great lengths to keep me happy, smuggling in newspapers from America, doing their best to keep me informed. But I was only working with partial information and that was very frustrating. As best I could tell, back in, let’s say, 1776, people in America were trying to fight for some of the same things I tried to do in Camelot. That was SO exciting! I thought the spirit of Camelot died at Camlann.”
Arthur was on a roll now. I didn’t want to stop him. As soon as he said, “1776” I lost track of what he was said and my mind immediately went back to that point in my own personal calendar. I hadn’t thought much about my previous lives lately, not with all the drama and uncertainty about my current situation. But I was back there now, daydreaming into the past, dredging up memories, both good and bad, memories long buried.
“Magnus,” said Arthur, snapping his fingers in front of my dazed, distant face. “Magnus. Are you still with me?”
Arthur’s snapping fingers brought me back to reality.
“Yes,” I said, lying a little. “I’m here. When you said ‘1776,’ my mind went back there.”
“You were alive that year? 1776?” said Arthur, his eyes widening in hopeful anticipation.
“Yes, I was. I emerged in the year 1720. I was an old man then, I turned 56 that year.”
“Were you in America?” he asked. “Did you know about the Declaration?”
“Actually, I was in America. Yes, I knew about the Declaration of Independence.”
Arthur’s eyes lit up like a kid on Christmas morning. I sensed a new avalanche of questions about to come down on my head and I didn’t want to disappoint him. But the two of us had been going at this question and answer thing for a good 48 hours now. I was exhausted. Obviously, this was an important subject for him and I didn’t want to let him down. I just leveled with him.
“Arthur,” I said, “I’m exhausted. Let’s pick up this subject tomorrow. It deserves my full attention, not my tired, half-assed attempts at answering your questions.”
“That’s alright,” said Arthur, “I’m a bit tired too. But just one question now; I have to ask. Did you ever get a chance to meet Mr. Jefferson?
I have to tell you, when I first read his words, about self-evident truths, ‘that all men are created equal,’ I must have hit the ceiling, I jumped so high.
‘THAT’S IT’ I screamed at the top of my lungs. ‘IT’S STILL ALIVE!’
The fairies didn’t know what to make of me; they had never seen me act like that before.”
“To answer your question; No,” I said, “I never met Mr. Jefferson. I’m sorry. But what did you mean when you said, ‘It’s still alive?’ What was still alive?”
Arthur was getting all choked up, having to relive some difficult moment from his past. But he collected himself, knowing his difficulty was transcended by a bigger moment, a moment of hope made manifest in the earthquake that was 1776.
“I was out of the country; had been for a while,” he began, “off fighting some forgotten war in some forgotten place. Mordred and his band of self-righteous puritans had taken over Camelot, declaring me to be dead, that he was the rightful heir to the throne. When I heard this news, I made plans to return and reclaim my home and kingdom from these thugs who had no clue what we were trying to accomplish at Camelot.
There was a fight coming. Everybody knew that. Before Mordred’s army left the castle, they smashed everything. They burned everything burnable, including the Round Table.
When we went into battle, my heart was heavy, having witnessed the smoldering ruins of my own home. More importantly, Mordred ordered his people to leave behind as many pieces of the charred, smashed Round Table they could find. These blackened pieces of oak were drilled and impaled on pikes as if they were the severed heads of the conquered. Finally, these evil men, fully expecting to be victorious in battle against our numerically inferior army, lined the road to the front gates of Camelot with forty-three burnt, broken pieces of my dream.”
“Oh, Arthur, I’m so sorry.” I said.
He interrupted before I could say another word.
“Don’t be; it’s all good. There’s hope here because your Mr. Jefferson took our idea and brought it back to life,” said Arthur, regaining his composure and vitality.
“ALL men are created equal,” he thundered. “The Spirit of The Round Table is alive and well! Mordred couldn’t kill it. George the 3rd couldn’t kill it. Napoleon couldn’t kill it. The Confederate States of America couldn’t kill it. Hitler couldn’t kill it and nobody in the 21st Century is going to kill it either; so help me, God!”