The Birth of Modern Merlin

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Chapter 26

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Isle of Mull

We relished the rest. Two days piddling around the campsite, catching fish and playing with the fire like a couple of flame obsessed, ten year olds. Bliss. Nessie remained submerged, out of sight. After 48 hours of self-induced down-time, Arthur, the perpetual motion machine, started to get fidgety. He looked for something productive to do with all this time.

“Give me a hand with the dingy, I’m going out,” he announced.

“What are you going to do,” I asked. “You shouldn’t go too far away from the campsite, it’s too dangerous.”

“I’m going to check on Nessie,” he said. “I want to get some of those cloth strips off her belly. They’re soaked with water; way too much weight. They need to be removed before we fly her again.”

Arthur rowed the short distance from shore, cast an improvised anchor into the water and dove down to where Nessie rested on the bottom. He began to cut the cloth cords, bringing them to the surface. It was painstaking work, but necessary. Each time he returned to the surface, his empty lungs screamed for a shot of oxygen. It took a minute or two to recuperate but before you knew it, he was back at it, diving deep, holding his breath for 45 seconds before exploding back to the surface.

After a few dives, Marcus and I started to feel guilty, watching a man in his 60’s do this hard, lung wrenching work while we two youngsters sat on the shore, high and dry. The guilt got the better of us so we joined him, taking turns diving down to Nessie’s side, cutting and removing all the cloth strips girdling her abdomen. Now that three divers were on the job, we made good time, the task completed in less than an hour.

After we returned to the campsite and stoked the fire, hoping to persuade the North Atlantic chill to abandon our bones, the conversation turned to Nessie’s health.

“Did you get a chance to look her over,” asked Marcus. “Does she look OK?”

“I got a quick look on one dive,” answered Arthur. “There’s not much you can do in 20 seconds. From what I could see, nothing looked out of the ordinary. I saw a few fish tails lying on the bottom. I assume she’s eating. She seemed calm. She was glad to see me, I know that.”

“Do you think it’s time to bring her up, get a better look? Maybe take her out on a test flight? We’re going to need her, eventually,” I said.

“I think a test flight is an excellent idea,” said Arthur. “But let’s give her the rest of the night to recuperate. Then, at first light tomorrow, before the Royal Navy’s fly boys have their second cup of tea, we’ll bring her up, check her out. Marcus, you can take her out for a short spin. How’s that sound?”

“Perfect,” answered Marcus. “If you wouldn’t mind, I’d…wait! Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?” I asked.

“That rustling sound, coming from the woods,” said Marcus, alarmed.

“No, I didn’t hear anything,” I said. “I was…”

Just then, two male fairies screamed into our little campsite, full flight speed, before coming to a screeching halt.

“Whoa there boy, dial ’er back; dial ’er back. Atta boy,” said one man before climbing down off…well; I don’t know what they were. Maybe horses; hard to say.

These two, middle aged fairies looked like they rode hard for a long time. Bow legged and dirty with a funky stink strong enough to kill small rodents, these were two tough hombres.

“Who’s the King? I’m here to see the King. Are you the King?” he asked, pointing at me.

“I guess that depends on who’s doing the asking,” I replied, not wanting to commit to identifying Arthur until we knew more about these two.

Before I said another word, the second fairie took off his hat and thrashed the first man with it, hard.

“Take your hat off. Mind your manners. It’s the King we came here to see.”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” said the now contrite man as he removed his dusty cowboy hat. “We ain’t got no Kings in Texas. Just a bunch of mule skinned uglies, like me and the Injun here.

Mr. King, my name’s Wilson Kilbride. Folks back home just call me Scratch. You can, too, if ya want. This here’s my pardner, Etchemin. Means Canoe Man. He’s Canada Injun. We ain’t got no canoes in Texas; none that I ever seen.”

“What brings you here to Scotland, Scratch, Etchemin? You’re far from home,” I asked.

“Ain’t it the truth,” said Scratch. “But you ain’t got no idea ’bout the half of it. They had me and the Injun here, well, actually, all the Injuns, bunch of Hopi shoved in the basement, they found seventeen Nez Perce hid’n under the roof. They somewhere else now. Then there was…”

“Don’t forget the Algonquins and the Iroquois,” added Etchemin. “They put them in the same hole, hoping they’d fight. They buried the hatchet, those tribes. That was good. But then there was the…”

“Whoa, boys, slow down, slow down,” I said. “This is all new to us. Come. Sit by the fire. Take a load off. Then take it from the top.”

“It’s OK, Magnus,” said Arthur, “I know what they’re getting at. You boys came from Glastonbury, didn’t you?”

“Yes, sir, that’s right,” said Scratch. “We escaped though, rode fast as we could.”

“You did well, boys; you did well,” said Arthur. “600 miles in just, when did you leave?”

“Two days ago,” said Etchemin.

“600 miles in 48 hours! Wow, that is a lot of hard riding,” said Arthur.

“Fairie horses. Fly’n fairie horses,” said Scratch. “We ain’t got no fly’n horses in Texas. Cept’n that red, gas station horse. But he ain’t a real horse. Not like these. Y’all ain’t seen horses go like these uns do. I’m fix’n to git me some as soon as…”

“That’s OK, Scratch,” said Arthur, cutting off the talkative cowboy. “Have a seat.

I guess I should introduce myself. I’m King Arthur. I know this doesn’t look like much of a castle but…”

“Bow. Bow. Like this,” ordered Etchemin, showing his partner how it should be done. “It’s the King; you gotta do this.”

“You mean like this,” said Scratch, attempting to bow, but bowing badly. “I ain’t never done much bow’n before. We don’t do bow’n in Texas. Cept at that square dance we went to in Pecos. That’s how you start, I reckon. Was you there? A lot of Injuns there that night…”

“It’s alright, Scratch,” said Arthur, putting his arm around the big cowboy, encouraging him to sit by the fire. “No need for that here. We’re a pretty loose group; we’re all friends. I can offer you two boys some fish, if you’d like. It’s all we’ve got, plus some good water. Rain water; that’s the best kind.”

“Don’t mind if I do,” said Scratch, reaching out to take the small piece of flat wood from Arthur’s hand with a big, cooked fish on it.

“Good,” said Etchemin” “You eat. I’ll tell His Majesty what’s going on.”

“So what is going on?” asked Arthur. “What’s all the rush about? What’s going on at Glastonbury?”

“The news from Coll, Your Majesty; it’s got Fairie Nation all abuzz. The word spread quickly, about your great victory, sire, and the news even penetrated the invisible wall. All of us trapped inside Glastonbury started to hope again. They say you’re coming to rescue us, to free us. Is that true, Your Majesty? Is your army preparing to do battle with the Black fairies?

“Oh, so that’s why MacLean was so interested in Glastonbury,” I said, looking at Marcus. “It makes sense now.”

“He didn’t want us to shut down the Glastonbury Tor,” said Marcus. “Remember how he freaked out about it? It’s a concentration camp. The Glastonbury Gulag. If we shut it down then their wall would shut down too, and all the fairies trapped inside would go free.”

“Free to go where they want,” said Arthur.

“Free to ruin Black’s plan to ‘Make the Garden of Eden Great Again,’” I said. “If Jameson Black wants to rebuild the Garden of Eden and make it a gated community, just for his people, he certainly doesn’t want flock of free form, independent thinking, creative fairies flying through it, now does he?”

“So the gulag stays,” said Arthur. “Maybe he builds a few more. It makes perfect sense.

I was trapped there for a thousand years. It was much smaller then, only a few fairies who tended to my care. It sounds like the conditions inside are horrible. Is that right, Etchemin?”

“Yes, Your Majesty,” said the Algonquin warrior. “In some places, we’re shoulder to shoulder. We can’t even spread our wings.”

“Then, gentlemen,” said Arthur, now addressing Marcus and me, “I’d say our plans have changed, yet again. It seems only fair that the Army of Camelot should respond to this call for help. When we were in our hour of need, the fairies came from everywhere to assist. Their work and sacrifice turned the tide of battle. Now they have requested our help. I see no other choice but to offer the prisoners of Glastonbury whatever help we can. Do you agree, gentlemen?” asked the King.

“We do, Your Majesty!” said Marcus and me, simultaneously.

“Where is your army, Your Majesty?” asked Etchemin. “Are they hiding? Are they resting? Perhaps they are training for battle. Can we join your great army, sire? May we fight for you as you fight for us?”

“Boys, I welcome your courageous offer,” said Arthur. “Your bravery and devotion to the cause are second to none. But you are looking at the Army of Camelot; it’s the three of us. That’s the bad news. The good news is…we have a dragon, a silver dragon. She might be all we need.”

As soon as Arthur said the word, ‘dragon,’ Scratch’s lower jaw slackened and a large piece of fish fell out of his mouth and on to the ground. Etchemin looked at him and began to smile that smile you make when you learn you’ve just been graced with a dose of good fortune.

“A dragon?” said Etchemin, now turning to Scratch. “They have a dragon. It was true. It WAS TRUE!”

“Whoa, there,” said Scratch, now standing up and smacking his ten gallon hat on his knee. “I hear’d that yuns had a dragon, but I din’t believe it. We ain’t got no dragons in Texas.”

“Was it Gregorio, Your Majesty?” asked Etchemin. “They said he flew the dragon to the moon. Many fairies don’t believe it. I do. Gregorio was four time Pampas champion.”

The three of us laughed out loud, simultaneously. The Myth of Gregorio was growing, embellished before our eyes, the wiry gaucho on his way to becoming an Hispanic icon.

“Yes, Etchemin, Gregorio flew the dragon. We are all very proud of him.

“I knew’d it. I knew’d it,” said Scratch, still slapping his hat on his knee. “I knew’d it were him. I saw that South Am gaucho guy ride once in Monterrey. We ain’t got no gauchos in Texas. But that bola throw’n dude rid that bramma bett’r than any Texan, any Injun, any Mex I ever saw. It were like he had gaucho glue on his ass. He weren’t com’n off that bull; no, sir.”

I loved these guys; what a breath of fresh air, especially after a few dull days when nothing much happened. If Glastonbury was full of trapped fairies like these two guys, then once they were free, Old Towne Glastonbury would never be the same.

“I still think we need to take it easy with Nessie,” said Arthur. “I’m concerned about how much of a load she can handle. It’s good we removed all those cloth strips; that will help. But I don’t think we should load her up any more than we have to.

Marcus, do you feel comfortable taking this mission by yourself? You can do that whole shutdown thing yourself, right?”

“I don’t see why he couldn’t,” I said. “Marcus and I are both Time Pilots, we have the same DNA structure. I’m guessing if he touches the sword of Robert the Bruce to the Glastonbury Tor, he’ll get the same result I’d get. I don’t think the shutdown is specific to me. But I could be wrong.”

“600 miles to Glastonbury, 600 miles back. That’s a lot of flying,” said Arthur. “If you don’t think she can make it, turn around and come back. We’ll figure out some way to get there by land instead.”

“I think she can do it,” said Marcus. “We did that much flying the two days before I came to Coll. If she’s healthy, she can go the distance.”

“Alright, then,” said Arthur, “that’s the plan. Let’s get a good night’s sleep. At first light, off you go.”

Early Friday morning Arthur went into the cold Atlantic, dove down to Nessie’s resting place on the bottom and coaxed her to the surface before walking the young, rested dragon on to the shore. She looked to be full of energy, snorting white mist from her nostrils, hopping from side to side on her two giant legs, first to the left side and then the right. She was so glad to see us all again.

Arthur looked over every inch of Nessie’s elongated body, looking for any abnormalities. It was a pre-flight inspection. He checked her invisi-valve. It was on; check. He smelled her breath, looking for signs of fatigue. He broke off one of her silvery scales and touched it to the middle of his tongue, hoping not to taste sugary sweetness, a sign of a dragon’s anxiety. But most interestingly, Arthur looked at Nessie’s feet, making sure her talons weren’t beginning to spot, the first sign these virtue driven creatures might be infected with a virus specific to dragons. It causes them to become gullible to lies and falsehoods. If not caught early and treated, dragons infected with Trumpitis might mistake lies for the truth and use their immense power to foment evil in the world.

“She looks good,” said Arthur, having completed the inspection. “Take her out, Marcus.”

Marcus climbed up to the platform on Nessie’s back and secured the sword of Robert the Bruce before climbing still higher, taking his pilot’s position astride her neck.

“I know she can do the trip,” said Marcus, calling down from his position high above the seaweed covered rocks of Mull. “It’s the trip back I worry about. It will be dark; we’ll be tired; we’ll just have to see how it goes.”

“What’s your course to Glastonbury?” I asked.

“I’ll keep away from population centers as much as possible,” he said. “I’ll take her over the Irish Sea, then over the mountains of Wales. I’ll keep to the same course on the way back. Hopefully, we’ll be back sometime tomorrow.”

“Alright,” said Arthur, “have a good trip. We’ll see you then.”

Marcus whispered something into Nessie’s ear. Immediately, the young dragon reared up on her powerful legs, spread her wings wide and began to flap. The brown skinned knight stood proud atop his faithful steed, raised his fist high to the sky and shouted, “Levántate, querida, y vuela. Besemos la luna,” the same call to action Gregorio made when he lifted off on his historic flight.

The great beast rose majestically above the waters of Calgary Bay and headed south. The Camelot Air Force was on the move.

“Yes,” yelled Arthur, loudly and proudly, as the valiant, Bangladeshi Time Pilot flew into the morning’s low hanging mist. “Yes! Yes! Yes!”

Though Nessie was invisible to the rest of the world, Arthur and I watched as the virtuous young reptile flew over the horizon and out of sight before we returned to the campfire. The hated countdown clock to “sometime tomorrow” began to tick.

I chuckled at the big, showy exit Marcus just orchestrated. It was so reminiscent of his long time mentor, Swede, the ultimate showman.

“What was that he said, right before they took off,” I asked the multi-lingual King.

“I’ve got a feeling it’s going to become his catch phrase,” said Arthur. “I can tell; he likes saying it. He said… ‘Arise, my darling, and fly. Let us kiss the moon.’”

“That works,” I said. “But if he’s going to keep doing that, he needs a mask or a cape. All superheroes have cool costumes like that.”

“And a sidekick,” added Arthur.

“Good point. But how do you find a sidekick these days?” I asked. “It’s not like there’s an experienced pool of talented sidekicks waiting at the union hall to get called into work.”

“That’s easy,” said Arthur, quick to respond, with a sparkle in his eye. “Craigslist!”

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