Sunday morning, June 19, 2016
The Isle of Coll
Near the megalithic standing stones.
Arthur awoke at dawn, cooking breakfast over the peat fueled fire, fully energized for the new day. Me; not so much. Having slept fitfully outside the tent all night long, I was stiff and sore, a sleep deprived mess. Arthur suggested I move inside the tent, to try and get some real sleep. I was in no condition to argue with him. I crawled inside, zippered the flap shut and slept until noon.
The weather was pretty much the same as yesterday, temperature in the mid 50’s F. with a 15 mile per hour breeze. When the sustained winds started to pick up shortly after noon, to around 25 miles per hour, I was awakened by the movement of the tent and the increased noise. That was fine; it was time to get up.
I tried to call Eilidh again but still got pushed to her voice mail.
“Feeling better now?” asked Arthur as I emerged from the tent, looking like hell. “You looked like death itself when I saw you this morning.”
“It felt that way, too,” I said. “It was a dream, but it wasn’t a dream. It was like I had to re-live one of my past lives, every second of it. I was there for over sixty years and yet I wake up here, on Coll, like it never happened. It did happen; I know it.”
“It sounds like you’ve been given a great gift,” said Arthur, “a second chance to look at your life; a second sight, if you will. It sounds like the taibhsear has been hard at work on you.”
“I thought the second sight was about looking into the future,” I said. “I saw nothing about the future; just the past.”
“I guess different teachers use different methods.
Were the people in your dream friends of your Mr. Jefferson?” asked Arthur.
“Yes,” I replied, “I suppose you could call them that. But their loyalty was not to him but to the idea of which he wrote: The rights of man. Justice for all. That sort of thing.”
“That sounds like the Round Table,” said Arthur. “That’s how we tried to do it back in my day. It’s hard. Looks good on paper, but a lot of people hate the idea, especially the power players who think they have a lot to lose by treating people equally. It’s a struggle. It was back then; still is today. Same struggle, different players.”
These four words from the wise old King gave me pause: Same struggle; different players. Is that what he said? Is that why the taibhsear made me relive my past? So I could come to the same conclusion: despite the passage of time, the struggle remains the same?
The Round Table… The 6th Century struggle.
All men are created equal… The 18th Century struggle.
??? The 21st Century struggle
‘No, that’s can’t be it,’ I thought. If I remembered correctly, Cuideachaidh wanted me to focus on my own, personal development, questions like: Who was I; Magnus or Merlin? What were my priorities and values? How did he put it? ‘How can the world know who you are if you don’t know who you are?’ Wait; no, it was Arthur who asked that question. Oh, probably didn’t matter who asked it, it was my answer that was important.
I had a peat fueled fire to stare at, the smoldering bricks were intellectually comforting, helping me to draw conclusions I needed to make. After a few minutes of mindless staring I came to this result: While it might be good and noble to concentrate on “The equality of the Round Table” and “All men are created equal,” theories like that seemed more suited to group development, not personal growth. They wouldn’t help me answer, ‘Who are YOU, Merlin? Who are YOU, Magnus?’ No, that couldn’t be it; that couldn’t be THE answer.
The flame inspired result just brought me back to square one: What would be my answer when Cuideachaidh asked what I learned during my long night of remembrance? I doubt he would be satisfied if I merely explained Who I WASN’T. I knew in my heart he wanted to know Who I WAS? What values were central to me?
My mind churned, processing the data of my 18th Century life through a 21st century filter, the culmination of a long, homework assignment. If I could boil it all down to just one word, one easy to remember word…
“Magnus,” said the King. “You’re dreaming again.”
I shook my head to clear the cobwebs. Arthur was right; I was drifting. I couldn’t help it; it all seemed so important. I was doing exactly what Cuideachaidh said I needed to do, to look inside myself, to find the real me first. I thought I was making good progress when Arthur snapped me out of my reflection and called out my name.
“Yes, Arthur, I’m still here. There’s a lot to process, I’ve got sixty years of material to work through before I see Cuideachaidh tonight.”
“Don’t let me bother you, then,” said the kindly King. “Do what you need to do. Maybe you had better let me take the lead on our decisions today. You need to stay deep in thought.”
“That sounds like a fine idea,” I said, “I’ll do what you do.”
“Good. Maybe we should make it an easy day, just play games. There’s a bit of fun I like to have with the kids,” said Arthur. “Ever play Simon Says?” You can’t do anything until I first say: ‘Simon Says.’”
SIMON SAYS!!!… My mind instantly went back to my long difficult dream. Without lingering for more than an instant, I flashed forward, to my carriage ride with Dr. Witherspoon, when he asked me for one word to sum up what I learned with Simon, his young student.
And that’s when the common denominator came to me. It’s what Simon said…
“VIRTUE,” I exclaimed, catching the totally surprised Arthur off guard. “THAT’S IT, the one word which ties it all together.”
Arthur recognized this as key moment. He fell in behind me, encouraging me to continue.
“Magnus, what are you seeing?” he prodded.
“It’s the root, the foundation, the basis on which everything gets built. It’s where we start.
When you came up with the idea for The Round Table, the reason you got there was because virtue rose within you. When Jefferson wrote, ‘All men are created equal,’ it was because virtue demanded his response. Virtue continues to place its demands on us, today.
Virtue rises within individuals; it rises within the group. It’s the common denominator.”
“Simon says, ‘Stand up!’” ordered Arthur. “We’ve got to walk. You’re on to something, Magnus; we can’t let that flame go out. Walking is thinking. I’ve learned that over the years. Let’s go, son; time to move.”
Obeying Arthur’s order, I stood up, shouldered the backpack and followed the King.
“Where are we going?” I asked.
“Doesn’t matter,” said Arthur, “we’ve just got to hike.”
And hike we did, for most of what was left in the day. Arthur encouraged me to walk alone much of the time. He knew socializing wasn’t the point, putting things in perspective was. I wasn’t the only one doing the thinking. I saw Arthur’s mind working, contemplating his future. At one point, I had to ask what was going through his mind now that his life took this dramatic turn towards some unknown future.
“I never had a reason to think this way before. It’s all new to me,” said Arthur. “Ever since I got here and during my time locked up in Glastonbury before that, I felt like a single man in prison. Yes, the fairies were there. That helped. But it’s not like they were family. All that ‘Your Highness’ crap puts a real barrier between royalty and everyone else. So when you said I’ve got blood kin somewhere out there in the world, a direct descendent who can trace his line directly back to me, my whole perspective changed. I’ve got a new purpose in life. The more I think about it the more determined I am to find this Arthur 2.0, as you like to call him.
I guess your quest has become my quest. If we can get off of this rock.”
“I hear that,” I said, embracing the cold, hard truth. “Right now, that seems like a big IF.”
By the time we returned to our campsite, we were both tired. It was a good tired, knowing in one’s heart much internal work had been accomplished. By the time the sun set and the taibhsear emerged from the shadows of the rocky outcrop, I was ready for his questions.
“Good evening, Your Majesty,” said Cuideachaidh, bowing slightly towards Arthur. “Good evening, Merlin Magnus Andrew Cook. I trust you had a good day of reflection.”
“I have,” I said, with a note of confidence in my voice. It was true. I felt I accomplished a lot of internal work over the course of the day.
“First,” said the taibhsear, “I wish to apologize if I was too harsh and abrupt last evening. That was not my intent. My purpose was to challenge you and, I can see from your long trip back in time, that through the experience you gained perspective. Is that correct?”
“There is no need to apologize, sir. You were right, I needed a challenge.”
“So, Andrew, son of the patron saint of Scotland, what did you discover on your long night’s journey into yourself. Who emerged this morning? Was it Merlin? Was it Magnus? Or am I now speaking with an altogether new person?” asked Cuideachaidh. Who are you?
“I am all of those names,” was my honest reply.
Even though I knew it was coming, I didn’t expect to answer his question that way, but that’s how it came out. I stuck with it because it was true.
“Explain,” he said.
“I feel no need to claim one name at the expense of the others. The name “Cook” represents my personal history, my parents and my family. So much of me, good and bad, is called into being by that surname. It would be disrespectful to cast it aside. Likewise, the name “Andrew” calls me to remember the land of my birth and the group whose values and habits guide my mannerisms. While those names represent my roots, and my past, the ground from which I grow, the name “Merlin” calls me to look towards the future, towards the name I am to become. But the person who has to reconcile the pull of these three people, the tug of my future pulling against the anchors of my past, his name is Magnus. He lives in the here and now.
Past, present and future. We need them all to be fully human.”
Cuideachaidh said nothing. He walked towards the fire and poked around a bit, thinking of… I don’t know. The ball was in his court. I patiently awaited his response.
The response for which I waited did not come. He poked while I waited; he paced, while I waited. It went on like this for over fifteen minutes. Then, he sat right before me, less than two feet away, and looked me straight in the eye.
I waited a few more seconds before the closeness of his body and the deliberateness of his gaze forced the issue. I made a hunched sort of motion with my shoulders and expanded my hands, palms up, as if to say, non-verbally, “And so, Mr. Taibhsear, what’s your reaction?”
Before I could say a word, Cuideachaidh said, “I’ll take that as a reaction. Fifteen minutes and twenty-eight seconds. Pretty good. Most people succumb long before that.”
“It’s another test, isn’t it?” asked Arthur, contributing his two cents worth of insight.
“Yes, Your Majesty, that’s correct. Magnus did well.”
“I don’t understand. What did I do well?” I asked. “Did you like my answer?”
“Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha,” he laughed. “Oh; not at all. There is no ‘correct’ answer. Knowing one’s self isn’t so much about coming to a ‘correct’ answer. More about how you come to whatever answer completes your quest. So, Magnus, the man of the present, how is it you came to your answer? It seems you put a lot of time into your reflections.”
“I don’t know,” I replied, “It just seemed like the right thing to do. I guess virtue…”
“Let me stop you there,” said Cuideachaidh. “Virtue, you say. Right and wrong. That’s the criteria you used to make your decision? Abandoning your family name to adopt a new one just seemed wrong to you? That’s the moral judgement you made? You sought the good, virtuous path and you acted? Am I right?”
“Yes,” I replied, “That’s pretty close. Is that what I’m being tested on? That I’m somehow worthy because I have the capacity to know the difference between right and wrong?”
“If that were the case then you wouldn’t be different than anybody else. Isn’t that what everybody wants to know: What’s right? What’s wrong? The knowledge of Good and Evil?”
“Of course. Embracing virtue, doing good. What’s wrong with that?” I asked.
“It’s not that there’s anything wrong with that, but that’s not why YOU have been chosen, Merlin Magnus Andrew Cook.
Do you know why fate shined its light on you?” asked Cuideachaidh.
“I have no earthy clue,” I said, blurting out the honest truth.
“Oh, how wise you truly are, my friend,” said Cuideachaidh. “It is quite true the reason for your fate is not to be revealed to you by an earthy clue. Quite true. But I could see the truth in the justice of your call just moments ago when you passed the test with a time of fifteen minutes and twenty-eight seconds.”
“Explain,” I said, repeating Cuideachaidh’s concise way with me a few moments ago.
“Who is Magnus? Who is Merlin? When you gave your answer, it was not right. It was not wrong. It was neither. It just was. It wasn’t a matter of right or wrong. But you sought confirmation from me, did you not? An explanation if you were right or wrong. You awaited my judgement. It was not forthcoming. But you waited and you waited and you waited some more. Much longer than most of your impatient human brethren.
That is why you are qualified to become Merlin. Not because you have the ability to discern Good from Evil, that is the realm of the gods. But you have been chosen because you have the patience to wait when no answer is forthcoming. It is a sign of your humility and your self-control, your faith that an answer will come, in due time.
Magnus, I do not need to look at you through the flame to see this. As I gaze upon you, the second sight tells me this now. It is a sign you will do well, if you decide to accept the call to become Merlin. But, of course, the choice is yours. It always has been,” said the wise seer of things unseen.”
I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t consider myself especially worthy. Yes, I had grown in confidence over these last few days. I was more sure of myself, more accepting that the fate which lies before me was not impossible. But understand? No, not yet. Maybe never. Accept? Accept without complete understanding? Yeah, I guess I could do that.
Cuideachaidh now turned to Arthur and said, “Your Majesty, it seems we have a bit of a role reversal here. It seems you played the role of wise elder while it is young Merlin here who is the up and coming apprentice. Magnus,” he said, turning to me, “you will find no better example of grace under pressure or patience for the long haul than in the person who stands by your side. King Arthur Pendragon of Camelot has waited, with the utmost patience, for close to 15 hundred years for his fate to be revealed to him. Well done, Your Majesty, well done.”
“Sir,” began Arthur, “while I appreciate your kind words, I can assure you I would be even more grateful if you looked through the flames, towards me, and tell me I won’t have to wait another 15 hundred years to learn my fate.”
“Oh, no, no, no, Your Majesty,” said Cuideachaidh, with a good natured laugh. “that won’t be necessary at all. I was going to tell you both tomorrow, when we met again. That will be when I give you instructions for what comes next. I suppose I could tell you now. I can happily say that when the alignment occurs tomorrow evening, the winds will begin to blow in a different direction.”
“Different direction? What does THAT mean?” I asked, my impatience clearly showing. “Is Arthur getting off this rock? Am I getting out of here? What happens after tomorrow?”
“So much for him being a fine example of patience,” said Arthur, his snide tongue-in-cheek comment directed towards Cuideachaidh.
“Oh, Your Majesty; you have such a way with words,” said Cuideachaidh, now walking towards the huge rock. “I’m sure you’ll have him all fixed by sundown tomorrow.”
“When I’m asleep tonight, you’re not going to send me on another one of those seventy year trips into my past, are you?” I asked as the taibhsear retreated.
“No, Magnus, not tonight. After that, well, as I said, the winds will change direction.
Let’s meet tomorrow at the western end of Loch nan Cinneachan a few hours before sundown. Until then, with your permission, I will take my leave...Your Majesty…Magnus.”
Cuideachaidh bowed toward us, turned, and disappeared into the shadows at the base of the rock and was gone.
“Loch nan Cinneachan? You know where that is, right?” I asked Arthur as soon as Cuideachaidh disappeared.
“Yes, I know,” said Arthur, his mood instantly changed for the worse.
“What’s the problem,” I asked, picking up on Arthur’s souring mood.
“Oh, nothing,” said Arthur, “It’s just that Excalibur is probably still at the bottom of that loch and Gordon Graham MacLean wants me to get it for him. But a couple of years ago I said to him, ‘sure no problem, if I can shove it up your arse.’ He didn’t take too kindly to that.”
“Oh, I see your point."
“But that’s tomorrow’s problem,” said the King. “Cross that bridge when we get to it.”
We climbed into the blue tent and zippered the flap shut.
“Good night, Magnus. It looks like we’ve got another long day ahead of us.”
“Yes, it does, Arthur, it certainly does.”