The Birth of Modern Merlin

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Chapter 24

Show time. Though we had less than thirty minutes till the solstice, we were confident we could deliver the stream of liquid nitrogen in time to stop Excalibur from inducing whatever scheme Black and MacLean had in mind.

Marcus flew Nessie back to her standing position near the fence. Arthur completed her positioning, walking her in close. I went beneath her belly to administer the rub down.

“Look, Nessie,” said Marcus, pointing towards the tower. “See the stone? See it? Stay, Nessie…Good girl. Stay.”

Nessie locked in, the angle of her head higher than before, staring at the coveted rock. She didn’t move a muscle.

Marcus placed the side of his head directly atop Nessie’s armored skull and looked towards the tower, looking to see if her aim was true. It was. She had a clean shot.

“Punch it!” yelled Marcus.

I drove my clenched fist into Nessie’s belly as hard as I could. Clear sub-freezing liquid spewed out as Nessie’s powerful abdomen contracted and expelled the precious fluid. Further and further it flew, some of it vaporizing into gaseous nitrogen before it reached its final destination. Unfortunately, the liquid nitrogen never made it as far as the tower and the clear stream of dragon snot expended all its forward momentum before reaching its target.

“Not enough pressure,” exclaimed Arthur, as he ran to my side beneath the dragon. “We’ve got to rub her down longer, more of her belly. Maximize the abdominal pressure.

You, twenty fairies, front and center.”

Twenty fairies flew forward, ready to execute Arthur’s command.

“Go ten yards east of Merlin’s position,” ordered Arthur. “Start rubbing the dragon’s abdomen as hard as you can; as much as you can. Go! Magnus. Keep doing what you’re doing.”

Nineteen of the twenty fairies moved into position. But one of them stopped to speak with Arthur, hoping to ingratiate himself, hoping to curry favor with the King.

“Your Majesty, I just want to thank you for this opportunity to serve you and your noble cause,” he said, laying it on thick. “I remember, once, when I was a boy…”

“GO! NOW! Get the fuck out of here,” screamed the angered King. “Don’t give me any of that ‘I love you so much’ crap. Get your arse over there and get to work. NOW!!!”

The chastised fairie, now scared to death, ran back to the group of nineteen.

Though he tried to explain himself and made four or five excuses for his behavior, the wisdom of the collective nineteen immediately saw through his schtick and they proceeded to shun him in accordance with classic fairie forms of justice.

We rubbed Nessie’s abdomen for well over a minute. Arthur called up to Marcus, to ask if he was ready for a second shot.

“Aye, Captain, Arghh!” replied Marcus, the pirate. “Me pirate ship’s a good one; solid and steady as she stands. The gun’s still aimed, straight and true, Captain. Arghh!”

“Very well, then Mr… [turning now to me] Does he have a last name?” asked Arthur. “Marcus, I mean. I never got his last name.”

“It’s Puddinghead, Your Majesty. Mr. Puddinghead,” I said.

“Very well then, Mr. Puddinghead,” said Arthur, totally buying into the insult. “Prepare to fire… Merlin… fairies… you may fire at will.”

On the King’s command, Arthur, the fairies and I all began to pound on Nessie’s abdomen as hard and as often as we could, followed seconds later by that cool, clear stream of liquid.

But something was wrong, very wrong. After just a few seconds, the stream of liquid nitrogen stopped and Nessie’s nostrils began to spit and sputter white mist. In less than ten seconds, it was over, nothing more came out. All we heard was the gaseous sound of expelled air, plain old air, as if Nessie belched.

“What’s wrong?” asked Marcus, now climbing down from atop Nessie’s head.

“We’re out of ammunition,” said Arthur. “Her tanks are dry. She doesn’t have as much capacity as an adult dragon. We used up all her nitrogen in practice.”

“I assume we don’t have enough time to fly to Arinagour’s petrol station to top off her nitrogen tanks,” I said, sarcastically.

“Wait a minute, folks,” said the newly focused and angered Marcus. “We’re not dead yet. GG hasn’t put Excalibur into place. We’ve still got time to figure something out.

Arthur, her nitrogen reservoir; it’s got to be some kind of natural process. How do they fill up, normally,” asked the newest Time Pilot.

“It’s just a function of their living here on earth,” he said. “Nitrogen is an annoyance to silver dragons; they filter it out as they breathe in the earth’s air. That’s why they like to hide under water and they build their nests in the deepest parts of the loch. It’s not harmful, but they’d rather not expose their babies to it. They keep them away from it as long as they can. It naturally accumulates in their reservoirs and the pressure builds until they expel it through their nostrils.”

“So if we just fly Nessie around for a while,” I suggested, “real fast, supersonic speeds, and cram a lot of air into her lungs, then her nitrogen reservoir might fill up enough to give us another shot. Is that possible?”

“It might work,” said Arthur. “But here’s the problem. It will still be gaseous nitrogen, ambient temperature; it won’t be chilled. It won’t do any damage. Hitting GG with a blast of gaseous nitrogen will be as effective as throwing a fan at him.”

“Then how does she chill the gas down to change it into liquid nitrogen, naturally. That’s awfully cold. How does that process work?” asked Marcus.

“Dragons are creatures of deep space,” continued Arthur. “That’s their natural element. Just by flying into the cold of space, the nitrogen gas condenses, turns to liquid and her internal physiology keeps it cold after she returns to earth. We’d have to get her into space.

In a dragon’s life, the pup’s parents have to drag them out there for their first space flight. The pups are scared; they won’t go on their own.”

“Arthur, how did it work when you were a kid?” I asked.

“It wasn’t a problem back then; I had two adult dragons. They just came and went as they pleased. They always returned to Camelot because they liked spending time with humans. They went into space all the time and the nitrogen chilled as a matter of course. We never even knew about this stuff back then. It just happened.

So unless one of you has a pressurized space suit in your backpack to protect yourself from the vacuum of space, I’d say we’re screwed,” said Arthur, now rapidly losing hope.

The magnitude of the challenge just became real. Gloomy silence fell over us as we stood beneath Nessie’s abdomen.

One of the fairies anxiously spoke up, desperate to offer any suggestion.

“Can’t Nessie just blast through that fence and eat that guy? She’s big. Nessie can do it.”

“That’s the problem, m’aam,” I said, addressing her question. “Yes, Nessie’s big. But she’s too big. She’ll touch that fence and get zapped. The high voltage might kill her. And her head is too large to fit into that small space where GG hangs out. She’d never fit.”

“Oh,” said the fairie woman, now understanding the big picture. She lowered her head in sadness. We all did, fresh out of thin straws to grasp, unable to see any way to stop GG from fulfilling his diabolical plan. So nobody noticed when Cedric walked forward and announced:

“Fifteen minutes, Your Majesty. Fifteen minutes.”

“Thank you, Cedric. Thank You,” said Arthur.

“Your Majesty,” continued Cedric. “Now that we have reached the final fifteen minute increment, how would you like to be informed about the passage of time leading up to 11:34?”

“Let’s go at ten minutes, five minutes and, after that, Cedric, please feel free to use your own discretion.

Thank you, again, Cedric, for your timeliness and your dedication. We all appreciate it.”

“Yes, yes,” came the affirmation from his fellow fairies. “Well done, Cedric,” they said and the fairies broke out in a subdued but polite round of applause.

The applause died down. It was quiet enough now to hear a small, weakened voice emerge from the middle of the solemn 10,000. The crowd parted as he forced his way forward.

“Merlin, Su Majestad… Merlin, Su Majestad.”

It was Gregorio, the wiry bespectacled gaucho who didn’t have the arm strength to throw the heavy bola. Nevertheless, he possessed the heart of a champion and was unfamiliar with a quitter’s mindset. He was determined to push through the crowd of his brothers and sisters.

“Su Majestad,” he began. “No puedes montar la gran bestia en el espacio. Morirás. Pero soy un fairie; Soy capaz. Yo monto el toro. Yo monto el caballo. Puedo montar el dragón.”

Arthur translated. “He said, ‘You cannot ride the great beast into space. You will die. But I am a fairie; I am able. I ride the bull. I ride the horse. I can ride the dragon.’”

News of the bespectacled fairie’s offer to ride the dragon into space swept through the 10,000. Within seconds, their collective affirmation swelled to a crescendo.

“Sí, sí,” they shouted. “Gregorio y hazlo. Deja que vuele el dragón.”

“They say he can do it,” said Arthur.

Antonio stepped forward to boost the case of his friend.

“Sí, Su Alteza, Gregorio es un ganador. Pampas campeón por tres años consecutivos.”

Arthur chuckled and looked at us. We heard this line before.

“Pampas champion. Three years in a row,” he said, wryly.

Arthur’s eyes rolled back into his head. He knew, we all knew, this was one high stakes roll of the dice.

“OK,” continued Arthur, “since we are almost out of time, I’d say our options are down to…No, No, Nope, Nada and… Gregorio. What do you say, gentlemen? It’s your funeral, too.

Merlin, do you believe in second chances?”

“I do, Your Majesty. It’s the American way.”

“And you, Mr. Puddinghead… Does he really call you that? That’s not very nice.”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” said Marcus, his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. “He does. It’s all a conspiracy. He hates me. They all hate me. You’re the only decent human being left in the world, Your Majesty.”

“Oh, I see,” said Arthur. “Then can I assume you’re in favor of granting second chances, Mr. Puddinghead?”

“Yes,” said Marcus, “and third and fourth. But not for him. [pointing at me] He’s dead.”

“Oh, I see,” said Arthur, again. “I guess you’re done, Magnus. We’ll say nice things about you at your funeral.

Gregorio, ¿Dónde estás?”

“Aquí, Su Majestad,” said the bull riding, horse riding, bola throwing champion.

“Todas nuestras esperanzas y oraciones van con usted, amigo mío,” said Arthur. {trans. All our hopes and prayers go with you, my friend.} “Viaja como el viento.” {Ride like the wind.}

A roar of exultation rose from the 10,000.

Gregorio and Marcus climbed to the top of Nessie’s head. Arthur stood on the platform below, ready to translate Marcus’s instructions as he attempted to cram the short version of the Dragon Riding 101 textbook into Gregorio’s head.

We knew the stakes were high, the odds, long. One final chance to stop GG. One final chance for Arthur, Marcus and me to stave off certain execution. One final chance for a half blind fairie to reclaim his rightful place as a champion. And it all rested on the back of a precocious young dragon who didn’t know what was about to hit her when she first tasted the vacuum of deep space.

Nessie took off. Gregorio rode atop her head, in the pilot’s position. It didn’t go well. Nessie didn’t recognize Gregorio and she began to thrash and buck, trying to throw this unknown intruder off her head.

Gregorio would not be deterred. His true nature shined as bright as the full moon and he reacted with all the experience and skill of a three time champion. Nessie bucked. He held on. She tossed from side to side. He went with it. The epic battle between the gaucho and the young dragon lasted for more than thirty seconds, thirty valuable, precious seconds. This was much longer than the wimpy eight seconds the rodeo circuit demands of its successful bull riders. But when those thirty seconds concluded and Gregorio still rode atop the dragon’s head, another cheer went through the crowd.

The champion gaucho made the most of his second chance. Gregorio was the new Alpha dog. Nessie would obey.

Standing atop her head, his fist pumping, shouting loud so we all might hear, Gregorio urged his young steed to fly high, into the night:

“Levántate, querida, y vuela. Besemos la luna,” he announced.

The dragon and the three time Pampas champion screeched into the sky to the sound of heart felt cheers, the mass adoration of the 10,000.

“Perfect,” said Arthur, “Era perfecto, señor champion. Perfecto.”

Though Gregorio and Nessie were out of sight, somewhere above us, gathering and cooling just enough nitrogen to take one final shot, our strategy had to change. We were running out of time.

“I told Gregorio to go supersonic for three minutes, then head to deep space,” said Marcus. “We’ll only have about two minutes to cool. I hope that’s enough time to chill the nitrogen. We might get a couple of gallons. Not much. We’ve got to get closer.”

“I agree,” said Arthur. “I don’t think we’ll have enough time to position Nessie, pressurize her abdomen, aim and fire enough liquid to do any damage. We’re going to have to fly her right into GG’s face, pull the trigger, point blank.

Marcus, right before you made your attack run, you flew high and hovered in front of the moon. Do you think you can get her to hover where GG is standing?”

“I don’t know, Arthur. That was a heads up hover. Pretty easy move for a dragon. If you want to get off a shot, you’ll need her to hover, get her head pointed down then aimed. That’s a lot more complicated. Not easy for a young pup.”

As soon as Marcus explained the situation, an idea flashed into my head. With only ten minutes to finish the job, I couldn’t take any time to explain it. I just had to go, now…

“I’ve got this,” I said, springing into action. “You two get Nessie into position to take the shot. I’ll aim the dragon. Trust me.”

I made a few quick steps toward the fence, then stopped. I did some quick math in my head. I was going to need fairie help. I approached the first fairie I saw.

“I need 500, no, make that, 1,000 fairies to join me at the fence. Can you make that happen?” I asked.

“I have only 25 men in my group, Merlin, but we can make it happen; Yes,” said the young commander. “You, thirteen on the left, head out, fifteen degrees of separation between you. Tell everyone. Merlin needs 1,000 volunteers. You, the 12 on the right, same thing, fifteen degrees of separation. ASAP. We’re running out of time. Meet at the fence.”

As the twenty-five fairies moved forward, executing their orders to perfection, a buzz went through the crowd as they extended their wings. As I ran towards the edge of the electrified fence, three thousand eager, obedient fairies were waiting for me when I arrived.

“I need to get inside that fence,” I said to the collected group of hardy, willing fairies. “The whole mission depends on it.

Here’s what I need you to do. We’re going to build a pyramid of fairies, half on this side of the fence, half on the other side. The first course will lie on the ground. These should be the biggest strongest men you have. The new course will stand atop their backs and the next course likewise, building and building, body upon body, higher and higher, until the top of the pyramid is taller than the top of the fence. When it’s finished, we’ll have a pyramid of fairies with the fence in the middle. I’ll climb on your backs, up and over the fence. Do you understand?...[No questions, not a word. Everyone seemed to understand.] Good, then off you go.”

Wings began to flap. Thousands of fairies moved as one. Some fairies took up their positions inside the fence, others outside. The smallest, lightest girls seemed unafraid as they flew to the top and assumed their positions. In less than a minute the pyramid was complete. I was up and over in a flash.

I reached the ground, turned to the multitude and beat my fist on my chest above my heart, then extended my palm to all.

“Thank you, fairies. I love you all. Thank you.”

Off I went, sprinting towards the tower.

Just as I reached the base of the tower I looked back and saw Nessie descending, landing next to Arthur and Magnus. The assembled crowd of fairies cheered in unison, “Gre-gor-i-o…Gre-gor-i-o.” I had no way to know if they were successful. None of us would know until it was time to take the shot. I couldn’t be concerned with that.

My immediate focus dangled above my head. What seemed like such a good idea a few minutes ago, now presented itself as yet another challenge to overcome. The green marble from Iona, the glowing and enticing stone which so captured Nessie’s attention, blew gently in the night breeze as it dangled beneath the braided cords made from the Gaucho’s textiles. I needed to retrieve it.

Luckily, I had not been observed crossing the open space between the fence and the base of the tower. But climbing thirty feet up the tower, unobserved, that’s altogether different. I was pretty sure GG would spot me. There was nothing I could do about it; I had to go.

I reached the small ladder leading up the tower and began my climb, as quickly and quietly as I could. I hadn’t climbed more than ten feet before GG saw me and walked to the base of the ladder.

“Well, look who it is?” he said, “the gut puker himself. What brings you to these parts, Mr. Cook?”

“Oh, just tak’n in the night air,” I said. “Don’t worry about me. Pretend I’m not here.”

“I wish I could, Mr. Cook; I wish I could. But you’re making far too much noise up there. You’re ruining the peaceful ambiance and serenity of this occasion. But the real party is less than seven minutes away so if you think I’m going to climb up there to throw you off my tower, you’re sorely mistaken. Nevertheless, what goes up, must come down. Goodbye, Mr. Cook.”

What happened next was totally illegal, by any galactic standards. That never stopped Gordon Graham MacLean.

During the drilling process for the receptacle, Black and MacLean saved the tailings from the drill hole. All the dirt and pieces of crushed rock were fortified with extra amounts of Coll’s unique geological calling card, an abundance of dark matter. When the excavated material was transported off site and reprocessed, the final result was a small batch of enriched dark matter, which was reprocessed a second, third and fourth time, producing weapon’s grade dark matter.

That’s what filled the cylinders of the small revolver GG pulled from his coat pocket: five, illegal, quantum tipped bullets. These were ordinary .38 caliber bullets, their leading edges coated with highly enriched, weapon’s grade dark matter, enough to kill any human, fairie, or Time Pilot, no matter what dimension they inhabited. GG was proud of his bullets. He used them now, on this momentous occasion, as a badge of honor in his war with “eejit environmentalists,” not believing their use might lead to catastrophe within the space-time continuum.

BOOOMM!! A bullet whizzed by.

I started to climb again, as fast as my legs would carry me, trying to keep the triangular framework of the tower between GG and me, using it like a metal screen between us.

BOOOMM!!! A second round careened towards me, ricocheting off the tower just below my foot.

With the pistol and Excalibur, GG was well armed. But he could only use one weapon at a time. As he focused his anger on me, high above, he couldn’t use the sword and an intrepid, enterprising young fairie noticed.

Xun Qiang’s destiny was set the day of his birth. His name meant “very fast, strong man” in his native language. From the time he was a toddler he lived up to every expectation his name implied. If he grew up in America he might have become a strong side linebacker for a championship football team. But he grew up in China where they had no such sport and, in due time, he became a fairie. But now he was just one of the thousands who made their way to Coll, answering Arthur’s summons for help. This was his time to shine.

Peeling himself off the ground from his position at the bottom of the dismantled pyramid, Xun Qiang heard the familiar sound of gunfire and raced towards its origin. Seeing GG take aim, about to release a third round skyward, Xun Qiang accelerated towards the fat man, his stubby wings folded close to his body for maximum speed.

Before GG could squeeze off another round, the Chinese fairie lowered his head and slammed his powerful right shoulder into GG’s chest at full speed, bowling him over, knocking the pistol out of his hand. But GG was strong, too. Though he was knocked to the ground, he was not disabled and he quickly crawled the five meters to his left to retrieve his gun and aim it just as Xun Qiang rose to make a second attack run.

BOOOMM!!! BOOOMM!!! GG squeezed off the third and fourth bullets from the five round cylinder, hitting Xun Qiang squarely in the chest with both rounds. The Chinese hero collapsed. He was dead before he hit the ground.

“Fuk’n chinks,” exclaimed the raging racist.

GG’s attention returned to me, calling my name as I reached the tower’s thirty foot mark.

“I’ve got one more left, Cookie. It’s all yours.”

BOOOMM!!! The gun’s fifth and final bullet hit the tower just above my head. Luckily, the flying lead and pieces of the metal tower didn’t hit me. But I doubt I was ever as scared as I was at that moment, hanging high over the granite fields of Coll.

Bullets spent, the revolver cast aside, GG returned to his hiding place, out of sight. That was fine with me. I was right next to the bola which held the green marble in its pouch.

The cut was easy. I placed the stone in my pocket and began to climb down the tower.

I looked over to where Nessie landed. There were hundreds, if not thousands, of fairies flying all around the hulking dragon. Their swarms obscured my view; I couldn’t see Arthur or Marcus. Most seemed to be flying circles around Nessie’s mid-section as if they were wrapping her up, clothing her in multi-colored yarn. Still others held Gregorio high on their shoulders, parading him around in celebration.

How much time was left, I wondered? I hadn’t checked my smart phone in hours, relying on Cedric’s countdowns for most of the last hour. But he wasn’t here. We must have less than five minutes, I guessed.

Why hadn’t Marcus and Nessie taken off? Even if I placed the green stone where Nessie could see it, it was all over if the dragon didn’t make it here on time.

Toc, tic, toc…Toc, tic, toc.

Finally, the bottom. Just as my second foot hit the ground, I looked towards the east to see Nessie rise. With one or two flaps, she headed towards me. It was time to fulfill my promise to the team.

I knew GG wouldn’t venture far from the receptacle. I felt confident I could maneuver, even if he saw me. Though he still held Excalibur in his hand and could slice me like a pot roast, his options were limited. I walked quietly to a place about twenty feet behind him, still far enough away so he couldn’t reach out and cut me.

GG wasn’t going to look my way. To his utter amazement and horror, Nessie swept down from the blinding light of the full moon and hovered, heads up, screeching and roaring as only an angry dragon can. Furious white mists shot from her engorged nostrils, her beady eyes, bloodshot with righteous anger. This was one pissed off lizard.

Marcus sat atop Nessie’s head and gave GG one last ultimatum.

“Last chance, Mr. MacLean. Surrender or die,” said Marcus.

“Pooch me hame, Mohammad,” cried the evil Time Pilot in one last blast of self-righteousness. “You terrorists cannae win. After tonight, aye, oan yer trolley.”

“You had your chance, GG,” said Marcus. “Ask for Adolph when you get to hell.

Light him up, Magnus; let’s freeze this roaster.”

Nessie hovered inside the electric fence, twenty feet high; her head up. She was no more than twenty yards in front of MacLean, wings spread in full fury. I stepped forward and caught Nessie’s attention, holding the green rock in my open palm so she could see it. In front of me stood GG, holding Excalibur high above his head with both hands, its point, down.

The stone glowed green; the oscillation, rapid, like the pulse of my pounding heart.

“Nessie, stay,” commanded Marcus, sitting atop her head. “Stay.”

It was my turn.

“Nessie, look here,” I said. “I’ve got a treat for you. Stay, Nessie; stay. Good girl.”

This was new territory for the intelligent young dragon. Hovering was not the problem. Lowering her head to see the stone while not breaking command was the hard part. She flapped and wavered, not wanting to loose altitude and crash into the frightening fence. It was a process. She had to move through the steep part of the learning curve to figure it out.

GG was ready, set to drop Excalibur into the drill hole at precisely 11:34pm.

How long would it take her to get it? How long? I could see the gears turning in her head, learning and analyzing, accessing and experimenting, but she had no idea about our time constraints. This was still a fun game for the pup, not a life and death drama seconds from being resolved, one way or the other.

But then, in a blast of dragon intuition and brilliance, Nessie did what no human could teach. She figured it out on her own. She flipped, 180 degrees in the vertical, head down, tail up, wings flapping in the other direction. Then she rolled 180 degrees counter-clockwise so her head, though upside down, now faced GG with just a slight tilt of her neck. Once she stabilized her position, relative to the tower, she caught sight of the precious stone. It was all she really wanted.

I tossed the green piece of Iona marble towards GG’s position. It stopped at his feet, my job, complete. I backed off and cleared the area. Now it was up to her.

“Nessie, stay,” I called out. “Good girl, stay.”

“Arthur, we’re good; give her a kick,” yelled Marcus, hoping the King could hear him over the buzz of thousands of airborne fairies who accompanied our flying tank into battle.

“Ain’t summer yet, bawbag; ye gonna need a warmer coat,” I yelled. “LOUSE ’EM!”

Instantly, a clear, frigid stream of liquid nitrogen spewed cold from Nessie’s right nostril, traveling straight and true those twenty yards before hitting Gordon Graham MacLean in the balls. He screamed a terrible, agonized scream as the -195 degree liquid splashed on to his chest. The flood of chilled nitrogen continued. A second, two nostril volley followed, nailing the fat man in the face, the frigid liquid running down his chest, onto his legs, freezing his shoes to the ground. Yet a third blast erupted which ruptured the outer membranes of his cells, wrecked all his biological processes, turning his frozen legs into brittle slices of bacon.

GG MacLean was dead.

The flying fairies were not about to take any chances. Two of them, still crying over the murder of their beloved friend and hero, Xun Qiang, roared into the tower area and slammed into the fatally frozen Time Pilot, just as their martyred brother had done. This time, GG did not fall over. The impact hit GG’s whitened body so hard, his ankles snapped and his body ruptured, leaving behind two frozen ankle bones inside a worn out pair of cross trainers. But more importantly, his smoking body lay off to the side, well away from the empty receptacle. The dead man still gripped the powerful and mighty Excalibur in his frozen hands, pointlessly raised over his frosted, shattered head.

“11:34, the solstice has arrived,” announced the always prompt and stoic Cedric as 10,000 ecstatic fairies began to scream with joy, celebrating our great victory.

Nessie still hovered, upside down, above the receptacle, ever faithful, always maintaining the discipline of her command. It wasn’t fair to deny her the coveted treat. After all, she was the real hero of the day. I moved towards GG’s frozen, still smoking feet, picked up the stone and showed it to Nessie. The dragon didn’t miss a beat; she still held position and would continue to do so until I gave her the release command. But releasing her while she was still inside the confines of the electric fence was dangerous so I reared back and threw the stone as far as I could. It cleared the eastern fence and came to rest near where Arthur and I first arrived on Cnocan na Ban earlier that evening.

“OK, Nessie,” I said. The ecstatic young dragon righted herself and dashed off.

How did Nessie fire the fatal and decisive shot? Unknown to me, Arthur had the fairies tie him to the dragon’s belly. That was the wrapping I observed from my position high on the tower. The fairies removed all their clothes, torn them into thousands of cloth strips, tied and braided them together so there was enough cord to attach Arthur to the dragon’s belly. When the time came, Arthur was in precisely the right position to rub Nessie’s belly and deliver the decisive punch. But he was still tied to her belly, trapped beneath the dragon. Now that Nessie scurried to the east, splitting the 10,000 before her like Moses parting the Red Sea, I heard Arthur’s exuberant cry fill the night air, like he was caught on the most thrilling roller coaster ride on the planet. Who’s to say he wasn’t.

The crisis passed, a half hour went by and calm returned to the quiet island. We were exhausted; all of us, except Nessie. While the three of us sat down for a much needed rest and the fairies retreated to other places, where, I do not know, Nessie continued to pester Arthur. She retrieved each toss, faithfully returning it to his feet for another round.

“You know, she’s going to keep doing that forever, don’t you?” said Marcus.

“That’s OK,” replied the exhausted King, “she earned it. I don’t mind.”

By this time the fairies had cleaned up the battle’s mess. The dead bodies of the fallen fairies were removed. Where they were taken and what ceremonies would take place, I was not privileged to know. The body of Gordon Graham MacLean was also removed.

But if you were one of the few residents of Coll who lost their internet service for a few moments on the night of June 20, 2016, and you went to the cell phone tower to check for technical problems the next day, you would never know one of the most important battles ever to take place in this quadrant of our galaxy happened here, on this small island.

There was one final job to do. The last two faithful fairies walked in our direction; one last presentation for their treasured King.

“Your Majesty, I believe this belongs to you,” said the first fairie.

“We love you, sire. We always have; we always will,” said the second. “We are so happy you summoned us. It was our honor to serve you in your time of need.”

Each fairie held one end of the great silver sword. They gently placed it in Arthur’s trembling hands before bowing and beginning their retreat.

“With your permission, Your Majesty, we will now take our leave,” said the first fairie. Good night to you, sire. And to you, Merlin. And to you, Mr. Puddinghead.”

Three smiles began to creep into the corner of our mouths, but not one of us dared to show it while they were still here. They were so sincere; so thoughtful; so brave. The fact that they didn’t understand humor wasn’t their fault. As soon as we were sure they were gone, we began to pound on Marcus and have a good laugh at his expense.

Mr. Puddinghead; Mr. Puddinghead,” I began. “Arthur, you’re the expert on foreign languages. Does that translate into Bengali?”

Arthur roared his approval while Marcus took it all in stride.

“They’re kind of literal, aren’t they?” he said.

“They take a little getting used to,” said Arthur, “but I love them all, with every fiber of my heart. I mean that.”

“I know you do, Arthur, I know you do,” I said, putting my arm around his neck, pulling him towards me and kissing him on his forehead. “I know you do.

It’s been a long, long week, let’s get some sleep.”

“Good idea, Magnus,” said Arthur, looking for a place to safely store Excalibur for the night now that it had been returned to his possession.

“Marcus, don’t forget to check the invisi-valve on Nessie,” he added. “It might have gotten jostled during all that commotion tonight.”

“What’s an invisi-valve?” asked Marcus.

Arthur had just fallen back on his sleeping bag, ready to go to sleep. When he heard Marcus ask this question he sat up, straight away.

“You don’t know what an invisi-valve is?” he asked, surprised at Marcus’s ignorance.

“No,” he said, “never heard of it.”

“Neither have I,” I added.

“Oh, shit,” said Arthur, bluntly. “Come with me.”

The three of us walked to Nessie’s side as she rested quietly atop Cnocan na Ban.

“Nessie, down,” commanded Arthur, and the gentle beast lowered her head until it was slightly off the ground.

“Nobody ever told you about this?” asked Arthur, pointing to a small, circular dragon scale under her chin. It looked misaligned with her other scales and seemed out of place.

“No,” said Marcus. “This is new to me; what’s it do?”

“When the valve is horizontal,” said Arthur, “silver dragons become invisible to all earth bound humans. When it is vertical, like it is now, Nessie becomes completely visible to everyone. How long were you flying around before you came to Coll?”

“Two days,” said Marcus. “I felt it was important to get a feel for how to fly her.”

“Good call,” said Arthur, “that was a good decision. But when you flew around, did you see people below you? Or were you flying over the ocean? Maybe barren, empty mountains?”

“Oh, we went everywhere, said Marcus, proudly. “We flew over Manchester and Glasgow, Liverpool and the Lakes Region. Yesterday I took her over to Belfast. It’s a beautiful land we’ve got here, Arthur, beautiful.”

“Oh, shit!” replied the King. “Shit, shit, shit. If I’m not mistaken, you flew with the invisi-valve in the off position. Over the last few days millions of people saw a flying dragon over their city, a sight unseen in a thousand years. Even the people on Coll saw her.

Boys, get some sleep, I think our lives are about to change, starting bright and early tomorrow.”

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