The Birth of Modern Merlin

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Chapter 23

Watching the sun set over the Atlantic is a beautiful, peaceful feeling almost any night. Not tonight; I was uninspired. The silence of the moment did not draw me inward. I thought no great thoughts; felt no inspired giddiness for my milestone soon to be reached. The triumphs of my many lives did not pass before me with appreciation. Even my budding love for Eilidh, so vibrant a week ago, now felt like a minor scene from a children’s book, easily forgotten.

Is this what helplessness feels like? Profound depression amplified by events which are out of your control? I couldn’t even summon the energy to hate it. My impotence sliced off the ridges and troughs of my emotions, leaving me numb. I was a flat lined loser grunting a three word mantra: “I don’t care.”

Time moved towards my unwelcome destiny and I summoned no effort to stop it.

Toc, tic, toc… Toc, tic, toc….

So what?

When the situation changes, quite apart from any effort by you, and the salvific moment arrives, you’re not ready to embrace it, you’re still enveloped in a cloud of doubt and despondency. I guess it takes a bit of time for the reality of Grace to sink in.

Much like the unlikely turning point in a Hollywood movie, hope just arrived on Coll, in the nick of time, flying in from the south.

I first noticed something was different when the mass of assembled fairies parted and moved, like a huge murmuration of starlings changing direction. Something caused this change in behavior. I couldn’t see what it was. Within seconds though, the reason descended from the sky and made itself known to Arthur, GG, the fairies and me.

A giant reptile, 50 yards long, descended, its long wings fully extended, like an airplane landing, full flaps. As the beast came to a rest on the rocky ground, its wings folded at its side, its nostrils expelled a sharp, cold, high pressured mist, like a truck releasing its air brakes.

“Whoa, Nessie,” said the voice. “Atta girl. Easy does it.”

The beast tipped to one side like it was drunk, unstable on its feet. It tipped to the other side and the creature’s long, powerful tail swung to the right, trying to help the beast regain its balance. But the tail smashed into the side of the large rock outcrop in front of me, sending small rocks and stones flying, followed by a snort and a pained roar.

“It’s alright, Nessie,” said the reassuring voice. “You’re doing fine. Good girl.”

After a few more swishes of her tail, the dragon managed to balance herself and came to a controlled stop despite the fact the solid granite beneath her feet made it impossible to grip anything with her talons. As soon as the dragon was stable and calm, the voice behind the neck stepped forward to reveal himself. Without a moment’s hesitation, like an experienced cowboy climbing off his horse, he slid down the dragon’s silver scales and on to the ground.

“How do you like my entrance?” he asked. “I was thinking about this on the way over here. ‘Large it up!’ I think that’s how The Captain would have put it.”

It was Marcus. I rushed over to shake his hand.

“You are a sight for sore eyes,” I said. “Things are pretty desperate. I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you.”

“I wasn’t sure we were going to make it,” he said. “I don’t think Nessie has ever been out of the water before. We practiced landing on solid ground yesterday; didn’t go too well. She did a couple of tail over head somersaults. But then the green marble piece I had started to pulse and glow. It was screeching. Nessie was all upset. I thought we should take a chance and go, get here ASAP. What’s up?”

“Have you heard from Eilidh?” I asked, before answering his question.

“No, I haven’t,” said Marcus, “That concerns me. All I get is a message and then forwarded to her voicemail.”

“Me, too; I haven’t seen her or talked to her since she left Solisdale Bay.

How’d you get away from MacLean,” I wanted to know. “And what happened to the sword of Robert the Bruce? Do you still have it?”

“No, I don’t. I had to leave it back on Mull, along with the dingy. They’re hidden in the forest over there,” said Marcus. “Our plan worked pretty well, I think. I managed to get to Mull before MacLean found me. I could hear him a few times; he even called out for me once or twice. I just cut my engine and rowed the last few hundred yards in the fog. That Boy Scout compass you made me take at the last second made all the difference in the world.

I went ashore then hitchhiked to Loch Ness after I got the idea to summon Nessie.”

Before I could begin to explain to Marcus about our time sensitive predicament, Arthur sprinted up to us followed by the 10,000, most of whom had never seen a dragon before. Introductions were in order.

“Arthur, I’d like you to meet my friend, Marcus,” I said. “He’s a Time Pilot, too. We were both on board that sailboat I…”

Arthur was more sensitive to the time shortage than I seemed to be and was quick to move on from the introductions.

“Nice to meet you, Marcus,” said Arthur, interrupting me and reaching out to shake Marcus’s hand. “So you have a dragon. A silver one, at that.”

“Arthur is an expert on dragons,” I said, not wanting to go into too much detail. The King and Camelot explanations could wait.

“I see she’s still a pup,” said Arthur, knowingly. “Have you had her long? Is she trained?”

“She knows a couple of commands,” answered Marcus. “We’ve done fetch and stay. But I’ve only had her a few days now; somebody else trained her. I don’t know what they covered.”

“I see,” said Arthur. “Well, it’s a start. But, things look brighter than they did a few minutes ago.”

Shuffling up to join the three of us was a wizened, old fairie with an old, tarnished, silver pocket watch in his hand.

“Your Majesty,” said the old fairie, “I would remind you that you have but 70 minutes until the advent of the Solstice.”

“Very well, Cedric,” said Arthur, “Thank you for informing us. If you would be so kind, please continue with your time reminders, at the 1 hour mark, then every fifteen minutes thereafter.”

“As you wish, Your Majesty,” said the old but still viable fairie. “It shall be done.”

“Who’s he talking to?” asked Marcus whispering in my ear.

“Oh, that’s right.” I said, realizing Marcus was in the same position I was when I first arrived on Coll. “Look, over there, towards the south. Tell me what you see.”

“A bunch of rocks and grass. The ocean in the distance. A house here and there,” he answered.

“You don’t see 10,000 people?” I asked.

“Not tonight,” he said, smiling, thinking I was about to lay a whopper on him.

I wanted to tell Marcus all the details of our situation: Arthur’s true nature, Camelot, the fairies, the strangeness of Coll, all of it. There just wasn’t enough time. I had to believe Marcus would accept the “trust me” explanation I was about to lay on him.

“Here’s the situation,” I began. “Behind that electrified fence over there is Gordon Graham MacLean. He has Excalibur. It’s turned out it’s a very powerful weapon and he’s going to set it off at 11:34pm. We have to stop him. We have no weapons, no tools, just ourselves. But The Isle of Coll is a very strange place. There’s a lot I can’t explain; you’ll just have to trust me that it’s all real and not imaginary.”

“What HAS changed in the last few minutes,” said Arthur, “is you, Marcus; you and your wonderful silver dragon. Do you think she’ll let me approach her?”

“I don’t know,” said Marcus. “She’s been exposed to other people. She seemed to handle the new situation at Loch Ness pretty well. It’s worth a try.”

“Very well, then,” said Arthur, taking control of the situation. “Here’s what I want to do. I want the three of us to go up close to her, slowly, no sudden movements. Marcus, you’ll be in the middle. Magnus, you’ve met her before. She’ll recognize you, right?”

“Maybe,” I answered. “We played fetch for a while back on Loch Ness.”

“Good,” said Arthur, “then there’s already a basis of trust to build on. Dragons have very good memories. If she had a good experience with you before, she’ll remember. When we get close to her, Marcus, I want you to ask her if she remembers Magnus.”

The three of us calmly and slowly walked towards the fierce looking reptile.

“Nessie; sit,” commanded Marcus.

The young dragon instantly heard and obeyed, calmly sitting on her haunches like a well-trained dog.

“Good girl, Nessie; good girl. You remember Magnus, don’t you?” asked Marcus, motioning to me.

Nessie looked me over. After a few seconds she began fidgeting side to side, but not moving off her assigned position, like a good, obedient dragon. She snorted a powerful cold, white mist out of her right nostril, followed immediately by a blast from her left.

“Good. She recognizes you. She’s happy to see you,” said Arthur. “They do that when they’re happy. Right nostril blast followed by the left. Now, do either of you have one of those green marble stones?”

I still had mine in my pocket so I handed it to Arthur.

“So far, so good,” said Arthur. “Now comes the big moment. Marcus, I’d like you to introduce me to her. Tell her I’ve got a treat for her. Go ahead.”

“Nessie, good girl,” said Marcus, ever so calmly. “Nessie, stay… Good girl. Nessie, this is my friend, Arthur. He has a treat for you.”

“Hello, Nessie; good girl. You’re such a good girl,” said the expert dragon trainer. “I have something for you. Do you want to play fetch?” asked Arthur, now holding out the green marble stone for her to see in his left hand.

Nessie started fidgeting side to side again, snorting out of her nostrils: right then left; right then left. But she didn’t move off her haunches, a good sign.

“Whoever worked with her up till now did a very good job,” said Arthur. “Young pups often break command when they get excited, she doesn’t.

OK, here’s the big test. Nessie, stay!” commanded Arthur, now holding out his right palm in a reinforcing hand command.

Nessie was excited. Her fierce focused stare did not move from the green marble rock. Though she wanted to, she did not move.

Arthur tossed the rock to a place thirty feet in front of Nessie where she could see it clearly. Her head turned to follow the flying marble all the way through its flight phase before it came to a stop. Still, she did not move.

Arthur turned to Marcus and asked, “What’s the release command?”

“I don’t know if she has one,” he said. “All we’ve done is say ‘OK’ and…”

The dragon’s pitch perfect, well-tuned hearing immediately heard what she wanted to hear and the playful pup immediately pounced on the rock. Her razor sharp teeth picked up the smooth rock with a delicate subtleness before whipping it from side to side in dragon ecstasy. But the stone was unscathed and her pointed snout became bathed in a cold white mist, shrouded with euphoria.

Nessie was smart, very smart, and she already learned it was far better to return the prop to the Master for him to throw again than to keep it and play alone. After a few ecstatic tosses of her armored head, Nessie bent down and placed the green rock at Arthur’s feet before retreating to await another toss.

It would have been nice to continue playing a gentle game of fetch, pretending like we were all back on Loch Ness, recreating that lighthearted hour before sunrise, before Marcus, Eilidh and I said goodbye to Swede. It was not to be. After a few more reinforcing stay, toss and retrieve exercises to fortify Arthur’s dominance over the submissive dragon, Cedric, the old fairie, stepped forward to perform his one and only duty.

“Sixty minutes, Your Majesty,” he said. “Sixty minutes.”

Toc, tic, toc…Toc, tic, toc.

Arthur reached the point where Nessie trusted him. She let him touch her. After commanding her to stay he motioned for us to come forward, to the area directly beneath Nessie’s belly, between her two massive legs. It felt like I was standing underneath an airplane.

“I can see the creative wheels turning inside that mind of yours, Arthur.” I said. “What do you have in mind?”

“I learned this when I was a kid,” he said. “We had two dragons back then, a red one and a silver one. They lived in the dark spaces below the castle. When I tried this first on the red one, I almost burned down the castle. Lesson learned. It worked a lot better with the silver one.

If you rub their belly, right here, in between their legs, it does something inside their abdomen. I can’t explain it, even with today’s science. It’s pretty cool, though. And if you’re a ten year old boy, with your own pet dragon, it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

After you rub and rub, for about thirty seconds, you clench your fist and punch them, right there, as hard as you can. Watch what happens.”

Arthur made a fist and punched. Hard. I was terrified the young dragon would get angry and that would be the end of us. But something far less ominous happened. Instead of a blast of cold, white mist exploding from Nessie’s two nostrils, she expelled a stream of super cold, clear liquid.

“Back in the 6th century, we didn’t know what it was,” continued Arthur. “I’m not an expert and as far as I know no one has tested it, but my guess is, it’s liquid nitrogen. Sure was fun though. My friends and I, we’d aim the dragon at a tree, give him a good punch in the belly, and we’d freeze that tree solid. Then we’d whack on it with our swords and it would just explode into little pieces. Once, we put a live fish inside a bucket full of water, gave the dragon a punch, poof, we had a fish inside a frozen block of ice. Oh the nasty things ten year old boys can do. But it was a lot of fun.”

“So, what’s your plan,” asked Marcus.

“Nessie becomes our heavy weapon,” said Arthur. “We walk her over to just outside of the fence, rub her up, give her a good punch and see what we can freeze. 190 degrees below zero Celsius can do a lot of damage.”

“I love it!” I said. “I’m actually feeling hopeful again.”

“Me, too,” said Marcus, “very creative.”

We walked Nessie over to the area about twenty yards away from the fence and called out GG. It’s hard to miss a dragon who shows up on your doorstep. GG came to the inside area of the electric fence immediately. Marcus spoke first.

“Hey, Gingin’ Goon. Remember me?” he teased. “No? Of course you don’t. ’Cause you never caught me, that’s why. I lost your sorry arse in that fog bank and off to the south you went. Wrong way, chump.”

Marcus; what a guy. Calm and focused when you needed composure, kind and thoughtful at other times, Marcus was a talented chameleon, changing with the moment’s needs. And when you needed him to be an in your face, trash talking, fight picking prick, he could do that, too.

“I sent you shuffl’n back home to yo momma. Oh, Yeah,” said Marcus, continuing to stick it to GG. “I bet yo momma so Ugly folks gots ta capitalize it, pronounce it YOU-gly.

Word!”

God, I love him.

“I got Excalibur. You don’t,” said MacLean, confidently. Everything else is bullshit.”

“Yes, you’ve got the sword,” replied Arthur. “But it’s still just a sword. And now I’ve got a tank. It’s your sword against my tank. I’ll take those odds.

I’ll give you one last chance, GG. Surrender, give me the sword, and we’ll work out the rest. You’ll be treated fairly, I promise.”

It only took GG three seconds to analyze the changed situation. He decided his best course of action was to retreat, immediately. He ran back towards the tower and the relative safety of his hiding position. You could hear him cursing: “Fuck… Damned fucking shit. Fuck…”

“Alright,” said Arthur “He had his chance. Light it up!”

“I ran to the area beneath Nessie’s belly and between her legs and began to rub and rub. It felt like I was priming a canon. After thirty seconds, Arthur gave Nessie the ‘stay’ command. We were ready for the salvo.

“Punch it!” he commanded.

I hit Nessie’s belly as hard as I could.

Nessie seemed unaffected by the blow. Even the expelled liquid was no big deal. It probably felt no more ominous than an induced sneeze. But it sure made a big impression on us. Ten gallons of cold dragon snot spewed from her two enlarged nostrils. But the cold, clear liquid squirted directly into the ground, about ten feet behind the fence. So while the rub and punch succeeded, our aim was off and all that cold, cold liquid fell well short of our target.

“We’ve got to adjust her aim,” said Marcus. “Her head has to be raised; she’s looking directly into the ground.”

If this was a real canon, adjusting the aim would be a cinch. Canons were made to be adjusted, raising and lowering the muzzle so you could hit the intended target. Nessie wasn’t a canon, she was an excited, puppy-like dragon who thought this was one, big game.

“Good first effort,” said the optimistic Arthur. “How are we going to adjust our aim?

“That’s a good question,” I said. “Nessie’s head is twenty feet up off the ground. When Arthur commands her to ‘stay,’ the angle of her head is pointing down, towards him. Somehow, we need to figure out a way to get her head level so she can shoot straight.

Luckily, our tactical conversation wasn’t being held just between the three of us. Also participating… 10,000 fairies, each intently listening and thinking of ways they could help their Sovereign. Time for one of them to speak up.

“Discuple, Su Majestad. Me llamo, Antonio. Soy un gaucho de Argentina. Tengo una idea.”

“Sí, Antonio,” said Arthur, “Una idea. Excelente. ¿Qué es?

“Usa una bola, Su Majestad. Los usamos en las pampas para cazar animales. Sujete la roca verde, lanza la bola, coge la torre y el dragón mirará hacia la roca. Entonces puedes disparar al dragón.”

Arthur thought about it for a second. When he realized this South American idea might actually work, he grabbed the diminutive Argentinian fairie by his head and kissed him in the middle of his bald spot.

“Antonio, eres un genio,” said Arthur. “Tienes tres estrellas de oro.”

“I don’t speak Spanish,” I said. “What did he say?”

“He suggested we use a bola,” said Arthur. “He said the gauchos use them on the pampas to catch animals. His idea was to attach the green rock, throw the bola, catch the tower and Nessie will look towards the rock. Then he said we could punch the dragon.”

Cedric came forward and his matter of fact sobriety quenched the frivolity and optimism built up in the last fifteen minutes.

“Forty-five minutes, Your Majesty. Forty-five minutes.”

“Forty-five minutes, people. That’s it. Gauchos. ¿Puedes hacer una de estas bolas?” asked Arthur.

“Sí, Su Majestad,” replied many.

“Excelente. Estamos perdiendo el tiempo. ¡Vayan! ¡Vayan!” replied the multi-lingual King. “I love that can-do spirit.”

“Arthur, I think we should make more than one,” suggested Marcus. “Someone’s got to throw this thing. They probably could use a few practice throws. Make a couple with just plain rocks.”

Both Arthur and I thought it was an excellent suggestion. Within minutes, a battalion of Spanish speaking fairies ripped off their shirts, tore them into long strips and braided them together to make long, strong cords. Yet another group took the strips of cloth and wove them into pouches to securely hold the three stones of a bola.

Before you knew it, the Gauchos finished four bolas. Three were made with plain rocks. The fourth held the precious green Iona marble that would command Nessie’s attention and direct her gaze.

It was time to throw. Antonio stepped forward, accompanied by a wiry little man wearing glasses which looked like they were manufactured in the 19th century.

“Su Alteza. Recomiendo Gregorio para hacer el tiro. Él era el campeón de las pampas por tres años consecutivos.”

“Pampas throwing champion. Three straight years,” said Arthur, translating for us and impressed by the wiry man’s resume. “Sounds good to me. Está todo bien. Gregorio, te has levantado.”

Gregorio stepped forward. We asked the fairies to clear out the space to the south, away from the fenced in area, for a few practice throws. He took the bola, one cord shorter than the other two, and swung it one time over and around his head before letting it fly. It went straight, but not very far. He took a second bola, threw it forward with much the same result. It traveled only twenty feet, not nearly far enough to make it the forty yards needed to get from the fence to the tower.

Antonio went to his side and they spoke. I could tell Gregorio was upset because he failed in his first two attempts. Antonio offered words of encouragement. When they finished talking, he slapped Gregorio on the butt. I was hopeful his third throw would be different. It was not. Though all three throws were accurate and they landed in a perfect, straight line, the throws lacked the power to make the long flight from the fence to tower. Sadly, Arthur had to step in and stop the test before the fourth bola was thrown.

They were too far away for me to hear what was said, not that I could understand them, anyway. I saw the ever compassionate King put his arm around the dejected Gregorio, now in tears over his inability to perform under pressure. When Arthur returned and explained what happened, I felt sorry for the wiry, bespectacled fairie.

“I keep forgetting. They aren’t human,” said Arthur. “They’re fairies. They look human and act human, they might have even been human at one point, but they’re not; not now. In this case, Gregorio just doesn’t have the arm strength of a human, any human. He might be the strongest, most accurate bola throwing fairie on the Argentine Pampas, but he’s not human and he’ll never be able to make that throw. One of us will have to do it. Who’s it going to be?”

“Magnus,” said Marcus, the first to speak up. “You look like you’re young and strong enough to make that throw. How old did you say you thought you were when you emerged? Mid to late 20’s?”

“Yes, as best I can figure. Don’t know for sure. But I’m no athlete. I had to make a couple of long throws off my father’s fishing boat, but I was none too accurate. Arthur, do you feel up to it? You’re pretty strong for a man your age.”

“I walk a lot,” said Arthur, “so I guess my legs are OK. And I’m in good aerobic shape. But my upper body strength is not very good. I think one of you two is the better choice. Marcus? How about you?”

“Under normal circumstances, I’d be OK with it,” he said. “But I took a nasty fall right after I climbed out of the dingy and escaped into the mountains on Mull.”

Marcus rolled up his sleeve to reveal a terrible black and blue mark which covered most of his upper right arm.

“It looks worse than it is,” he said, “But I still don’t think I could make that throw. Especially with the torque I’d have to generate.

Magnus, I saw you throw those four green stones into the water back at Loch Ness when we first summoned Nessie. You showed strength; you had accuracy. 45 degrees off each corner of the bow and the stern, if I remember The Captain’s instructions. You nailed it. I think you can do this. What do you say?”

“Time’s ticking, Wizard boy,” said Arthur. “The truth is… I’ve got more faith in you than I do in me. I think this decision’s been made.

Fairies, please retrieve the bolas. Merlin will take his turn practicing.”

The fairies did as instructed and within seconds four bolas were placed at my feet, the path cleared for me to throw. I adjusted the cords as the Gauchos instructed and held the first bola, ready to throw.

“Remember,” instructed Arthur. “That isn’t a lariat and you aren’t a cowboy. One loop over your head, then release. Good luck, Magnus. We’ve got faith in you.”

The bola is supposed to work like this. The two heaviest rocks attach to the short cords, the lightest rock is attached to the long cord. As the bola comes out of my hand, the two heavy rocks fly out in front together and the cord between them stretches out straight. But the smaller stone, attached to the long cord, flies behind the two heavy stones. When the three corded contraption hits the cell phone tower, in theory, it should wrap around whatever it hits and stay wrapped. We would soon find out.

I took the first practice bola, swung it over my head and released. It went thirty yards but landed way off to the left. My release was too late. I overcompensated on my second throw, released too soon, and put way too much power and angle on the throw. The bola went sixty yards, way too far, too much to the right. I figured it was lost forever. My third throw was pretty good but I thought I still needed more practice. I asked the fairies to retrieve the bolas they could find. They found two out of the three, much as I expected.

“OK, Magnus,” said Marcus, being as encouraging as he could be. “Two more throws here then we’re off to the fence.”

My first throw was on the money, straight and true, plenty of power to go forty yards. The fairies cheered. While I appreciated their support, I still had one more practice throw. I wanted to make it a good one. I wanted to go to the fence with positive momentum.

That momentum was short lived. My final practice throw went far to the left. It hit the large rocky outcrop with such force that two of the bola’s three stones cracked and the pieces fell out of their pouches, rendering the bola useless. It was a bad omen.

“Not a problem,” said Arthur, keeping things positive. “Time to do it for real. Let’s bring the dragon to the fence, people, time to fly the rocks.”

10,000 fairies, 3 humans and one young dragon made the short trip to the electrified fence and immediately a new problem became obvious. The fence was twenty feet high. My practice throws were done at ground level. Nobody took into consideration that I’d have to throw the bola high enough to clear the fence and still have enough accuracy and power to make it all the way to the tower. To make matters worse, I had just one practice bola left plus the real one containing the green rock from Iona.

“In order to cut down the angle low enough so I can clear the fence, I’m going to have to stand back from the fence about thirty yards,” I said, bluntly. “Combined with the forty yards to the tower, that’s seventy yards. I don’t think I can make that throw.”

“How about if you only went back twenty yards?” asked Arthur. “It’s a higher angle but the distance is shorter. You threw it sixty yards in practice.”

“Maybe,” I said, not confident at all. “If I wrap it around the fence, it’s over; we’ll never get it down. If I overcompensate and throw too high, I’ll drop it short of the mark. I think the odds are too low. Marcus, what do you think?”

“I think I’ve got a way to increase our odds and shorten the throw,” he said. “Follow me, we’re running out of time.”

“Thirty minutes, Your Majesty. Thirty minutes,” said Cedric.

Toc, tic, toc… Toc, tic, toc.

I followed Marcus to where Nessie waited.

“Nessie, down” commanded Marcus and the huge young serpent lowered her head. Marcus climbed up on her back and stood on her platform, attached like a saddle so people could stand securely on her back.

“C’mon up,” said Marcus, “You’re going too.”

Marcus offered me a hand up and I climbed aboard. When I was on Nessie’s platform, secure, Marcus gave the command.

“Nessie, up,” he commanded and the huge beast lifted her head off the ground.

Arthur understood what Marcus was trying to do and moved right in front of Nessie to help. When fully extended, Nessie’s head was well above the top of the fence as was our position further down on her saddle.

“You’re taking her up to the fence, right?” asked Arthur.

“That was my idea,” said Marcus. “Magnus has a clear shot from here. It’s still more than forty yards but we’re in a lot better position than we were before.”

“Let me see if I can get you any closer.

Nessie, come,” ordered Arthur, now moving his hands forward, enticing the dragon to step forward. “Nessie, come.”

Nessie moved forward one slow step at a time, but as she got closer and closer to the electrified fence, she became acutely aware of its lethal power and stopped, ten feet away.

“Magnus, I think that’s as close as we’re getting,” said Marcus. “Why don’t you take that practice shot. It’s about fifty yards; I think you can make that.”

“OK,” I said, “here goes nothing.”

Just as I was about to complete my loop and release the bola, Nessie’s position shifted. Her instability affected my throw and the bola went way too high, too far to the right. The practice throw fell harmlessly to the ground, short of the tower.

GG watched all of this from his hidden place near the tower and when he saw the bola fall helplessly to the ground we could hear a loud and hearty laugh rise from its concrete base.

“Ah ha ha ha ha hah,” bellowed the fat man. “Artie, I thought you said you had a tank. A toy tank, meebee. What’s the matter? Is your dragon broken? No fire in his belly. Is that it, Artie? Ah ha ha ha ha hah. Throwing stones now, are ye? OOOOh, I’m scared. Ah ha ha ha ha hah.”

“He is such an asshole,” I said.

Now I was mad. I was ready to be done with Mr. GG MacLean, once and for all.

“Stable her up, Marcus; I’m going to take the shot. I can do this,” I said, confidently.

“Too dangerous,” he said. “I’ve got another idea. I’m going to get you in even closer. Hold on, here we go.

Nessie, Fly,” he commanded and the great beast’s wings unfurled and began to flap. Up, up, up we went, higher and higher.

I didn’t expect this. No way I wanted to fly. But now, at 3,000 feet and climbing, I seemed to have no choice.

I never flew before, not in an airplane, not in a balloon, not on a dragon, never, in any of my lifetimes. This was one hell of a way to earn my wings.

I stuffed the green rocked bola deep into my pants pocket and held on tightly to Marcus’s waist with both hands. We had one chance to get this right. I felt like I was about to throw up.

“I hate surprises,” I said, angrily. “I hate them.”

“I know, but listen, carefully.” said Marcus. “We’ve got one shot. Let’s make it count.

Here’s the plan. We’ll take one practice run, so Nessie can get used to what I’ve got in mind. She thinks it all a game. She’ll do better the second time around, once she understands.

We’ll come in to the tower on an attack course. As soon as we get to the turning point, I’ll turn Nessie to the left. That will give you a clean shot at the tower. You should have an unobstructed view. Then, let’er rip. Any questions?”

That seemed clear enough. We fly in, I throw the bola at the tower and off we go. Simple.

I gave Marcus the thumbs up. Then, with the same hand, I removed the bola from my pocket while still holding on to Marcus’s waist with my left arm.

Surprise! He didn’t tell me he was going climb up Nessie’s neck, mid-flight, and drive the dragon from atop her head, leaving me all alone on the platform. When he got to the top, he looked down at me, and I at him. Then I cursed his name to the highest heaven.

“I thought I told you… I hate surprises. I hate them. Hate. Hate. Hate!”

He couldn’t hear me. Marcus just smiled and gave me another thumbs up.

When Marcus finished his climb up the dragon’s long neck, he assumed his position, both legs straddling her neck. His right hand held one ear, his left, the other. This was how he steered the dragon in flight.

He put Nessie through a couple of practice turns, pulling one ear then the other, getting Nessie to obey his commands without hesitation. When Marcus was confident she would do as commanded, he looked down at me and gave me the OK sign, the indication he was ready.

I flipped him the finger.

We came in low and fast.

As we flew over Arthur and the fairies, on course for the cell phone tower, I saw 10,000 pumping fists, the multitude cheering madly.

As we passed the top of the fence, a mere forty yards to go, Marcus pulled down on Nessie’s left ear, up on her right. She responded instantly, turning sharply to the left on this final practice run. I feigned a throw, pretending like I threw the bola to get a feel for the timing.

We pulled up and Nessie extended her wings again, now flying higher and higher. I looked back at the base of the tower to see GG MacLean standing with Excalibur in his hands, probably wondering what the hell we were up to.

We rose to about 10,000 feet before Marcus called on Nessie to stop, mid-air.

“Nessie, hover,” he commanded, and the giant winged beast brought us to a full stop, her wings flapping gently, just enough to keep us stationary in the sky. It was effortless. She looked like an expert swimmer treading water. I bet she could hover for hours, if asked.

The place Marcus chose to hover was deliberate, directly between the cell phone tower and the moon. Her wings spread wide, her body stretched across the diameter of the moon, her wing tips touching its edges on either side, Nessie’s silhouette, back lit by the bright full moon, was an artist’s dream, a logo for the future.

This was Nessie visually announcing her presence, a declaration to frighten any adversary with impending doom just before she dove from on high, in essence, saying, “watch out sucker, I’m coming.” It was to become her signature move before the onset of battle.

“How was it?” asked Marcus, “are you OK? Feel comfortable?”

“I’m good,” I said, giving him the OK sign. “Let’s rope this hog.”

“OK, said Marcus, “This time it’s for real. Make it count.

“Nessie, fly,” commanded Marcus.

The young dragon tucked her wings, dropped her head and we began to fall towards the ground. She didn’t need to flap. We fell towards GG, picking up speed as we lost altitude.

We went much faster this time, close to terminal velocity as best I could figure. If we kept up this speed all the way through the attack run, the timing might be different than during our practice run. Then again, I probably wouldn’t have to throw it as hard because the bola would already be moving fast enough to cover almost any distance. All I had to do was launch it as soon as I saw the tower and the bola’s momentum would take it the rest of the way.

When we reached a thousand feet, Nessie extended her wings ever so slightly and maneuvered her tail just enough to set us on a glide slope towards the tower. She was so streamlined and accurate we hardly lost any speed as we made the transition to the horizontal.

As we got closer and closer to the turning point, I saw white puffs coming from Nessie’s nostrils: right then the left; right then the left. This was one happy dragon, I thought, totally relaxed, totally in her element.

We sped across the rocky outcrops atop the Isle of Coll, silently, stealthily, pausing for nobody and nothing. And when I felt Nessie’s muscles begin to tighten, I knew the moment was upon us. Sure enough, faster than I ever could have imagined, Nessie banked hard to the left and the island’s cell phone tower appeared directly in front of me, much closer and taller than before. I took the bola through one hard loop above my head and focused on where I wanted to cast the line. Since I assumed Nessie’s momentum to the left would skew my toss in that direction, I aimed slightly towards the tower’s right and let the bola fly.

Wow, did it ever! The Gauchos wouldn’t have been surprised. They knew their bolas flew straight and true, just as designed.

When we buzzed the tower, just ten feet to its left, I saw the bola wrap itself around the brightly colored lattice work on the metal tower. As we pulled away, GG MacLean looked up at the sleek flying reptile, distracted from the more important development which now hung high above his balding head. Swaying in the air turbulence generated by the fast flying dragon, the small green marble rock from Iona dangled cleanly off the tower’s side. Our mission was a success.

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