The Birth of Modern Merlin

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Chapter 4

Sails up, wind off the Atlantic from our port side, Poseidon’s Trident settled into her routine. We began our crossing towards Oban. Soon thereafter, it occurred to Swede we would need to change plans if we were to extricate Viviane from Iona. It was in the complete opposite direction. We were still short on provisions and Iona was a small island, too small to meet our needs. We’d have to put in somewhere else to fill up on fuel, food and water, which meant two stops, two changes in direction and a lot of wasted time. Swede was anxious to get to John O’Groats and, frankly, so was I, so he came up with a new plan.

“When we get to Iona,” began Swede, “it could take a whole day before we find this crazy woman. That’s even IF she wants to be found. So let me ask you this,” he said, looking at the two of us. “I know Eilidh can handle this large boat, but Magnus, how confident do you feel handling this boat without me on board?”

“I’m fine, boss; do what you need to do,” I said.

“OK, then,” he continued. “We’ll pull into Fionnphort on the Isle of Mull. It’s only a mile across from the wharf on Iona. Marcus and I will get off, find ground transportation and head towards Tobermory. We’ll shop for some new clothes for Magnus, do some grocery shopping, then after you pick up Eilidh’s crazy friend…”

“She’s NOT my friend,” interrupted Eilidh.

“Oh, sorry; Eilidh’s crazy BEST friend…”

Eilidh rolled her eyes but said nothing. It was just Swede being Swede.

“Then,” he continued, “once she’s onboard, you two head around the west side of Mull and pick us up in Tobermory tomorrow. We can dump Miss Lunacy off with the professionals, fill up the tanks with petrol and water and we’ll be off. We’ll have to head around the west side of Scotland for a couple of days, but we should make good time. The Great Glen tour will have to wait for another day. How does that sound?”

“Fine with me,” I said. “I just want to get to John O’ Groats as fast as I can.”

“Good. Let’s do it,” said the confident young woman. “I haven’t done an offshore sail in a while. Bring it on. Maybe teach the Yank here a few things, like about this windlass here,” she said, priming the pump, ready to stoke the competition between us again.

“That’ll be fine, Miss Eilidh,” I said in my best dufuss idiot voice. “Since I don’t know nuth’n ’bout no wind lass, meybbe you can learn me how to be a smart ass, like you.”

“Ohhh, this is going to get good,” said Swede. “I wish I could be here to watch you two wail on each other. I ask just one thing. When I’m gone, no knives; I don’t want to come back to a deck awash in blood. No drowning either. Last thing I want is some polis wanker sniffing around my boat. Promise me, both of you; TRY to be nice to each other. PLEASE???”

Eilidh went over to Swede and kissed her uncle on the cheek.

“Don’t worry, Uncle, I’ll be good. He’s start’n to grow on me; I’ll cut him some slack.”

“Magnus?” asked Swede. “And you?”

“No knives; got it,” I said. “But you said nothing about Glocks at ten paces. That’s still OK, right?”

Swede shook his head and headed below, towards the galley, knowing he’d lost, again.

“Marcus,” he bellowed, “I need ice cream. NOW!!!”

So old and so important to their history, Iona holds a special place in the hearts of every Scotsman or woman. St. Columba, newly arrived from Ireland, which in those days was joined with portions of Scotland as part of the kingdom of Dál Riata, came to Iona to set up an abbey in 563, bringing Christianity to Scotland.

As the despairingly cruel and bleak Middle Ages settled upon the Western world, Iona and other monasteries became islands of education, beacons of light and hope in an otherwise darkened world. More specifically, Iona also became the burial place of many Scottish kings, the most famous include: Donald II, Malcom I, Duncan I and Macbeth.

In these more modern times, Iona is a destination within the ecumenical Christian community, welcoming pilgrims from all over the world who seek a deeper relationship with God within the walls and amongst the rocks and waters of this ancient and holy place. It was to this spiritual community Viviane came and from this sacred community she would now be expelled.

After Eilidh and I dropped off Swede and Marcus in Fionnphort, we motored to the island’s wharf, tied up and began to look for Viviane. The good natured teasing and jousting between Eilidh and me was over now. We were both mature enough to realize such levity would be inappropriate at this time of sadness and sorrow.

“Do you know what she did to get herself tossed out of here?” I asked.

“No, I don’t” responded Eilidh. “But whatever it was, it had to be big. The people on Iona are a pretty forgiving lot. I’m certain they would have worked with her and tried to guide her and mentor her and do everything they could for her before it came to this. Expulsion must have been their last option.”

We walked the short distance from the wharf to the Iona Spiritual Development Centre’s community building, where we hoped to find Viviane. There wasn’t much I could say or do in this situation. I was along for moral support, to help if Eilidh needed it.

We entered the community centre. Eilidh introduced herself to the middle aged man behind the desk.

“Hello. My name is Eilidh MacEachern. I received a call from a Mrs. Huisman yesterday.”

“Yes, Ms. MacEachern. We’ve been expecting you,” said the man. “Thank you for coming. I know this must be difficult for you and your family. If you will excuse me for just a moment, I will return shortly and we can conclude this matter quickly. Excuse me…”

Eilidh and I waited patiently until the middle aged man returned. When he did, he was accompanied by a thin, middle aged woman with long, hardly combed, gray hair hanging below her waist. She wore a willowy, homemade garment, half flower child dress imported from 1967 and half Roman tunic fashioned from a worn out, silk shawl. Its pastel patterns were well faded, dulled by countless voyages through the washing machine. It looked like she hadn’t updated her wardrobe in years. I assumed this was Viviane.

When she came out from behind the desk and saw Eilidh, Viviane was embarrassed beyond tears, shame written all over her aging face. But Eilidh, being the sweet, caring person she was, said nothing, approached her and took her into a kindly embrace. Viviane buried her head in Eilidh’s shoulder, her sobs flowing freely.

“I’m so sorry,” she wept.

“It’s alright, Viviane, it will be alright. You don’t have to say anything, let’s just get back to the wharf,” said Eilidh.

The middle aged man behind the desk interjected and said, “Miss, if we could just tidy up a few things, you can be on your way.”

He pulled out some paperwork which, I assumed, Eilidh would need to sign. I knew Eilidh just wanted to leave, as quickly as possible. Not wanting to put her or Viviane through any more discomfort, I came forward and asked the man if this was something I could handle. He said it was; the paperwork, a mere formality. As soon as the two women heard this they began to leave. Not before Eilidh looked at me and mouthed the words, ‘Thank You’ as they quickly exited the building, Viviane’s arms tightly grasping Eilidh’s waist.

The two women were gone now and the room’s tension exited with them. The man behind the desk relaxed.

“If you can just sign a few papers here, you and your wife can be on your way,” he said.

Wife??? It hadn’t occurred to me that the man’s positive response, when I asked if I could step in for Eilidh, was based on his false assumption we were married. “Oh, no,” I thought. I wasn’t going to run after her and get her to return just to sign something. That would be cruel beyond cruelty. I ignored the minor marriage detail, said nothing, and proceeded to sign whatever papers he put in front of me, signing with the most illegible scribble imaginable. In the future, if some pin headed bureaucrat questioned it, no way would he or she understand what I wrote for it was intentionally designed to be ignored.

As I signed the papers to release Viviane into our custody, I remembered what Swede said about Iona, how he acquired his green marble rocks here. I asked the man about it.

“Oh, yes,” he said, “The green marble is quite beautiful. The quarry is hard to get to; it’s at the other end of the island. In the old days there wasn’t any access from the land side so you could only get the marble out by ship. It was worth it, I suppose.”

I finished the paper signing; Viviane was all ours now. After thanking the man and complimenting him for a job well done, I made my way back towards Poseidon’s Trident.

Before I arrived at the wharf I saw a group of twenty people exiting the old abbey, walking past MacLean’s cross, on their way to….somewhere. They were singing; the harmonies, perfect, the language, unknown. Was this Gregorian chant? I’d heard of it but didn’t know what it was. Nevertheless, it was beautiful and I sat on a nearby rock to listen as they walked by in slow procession. Was this how it was done in the ancient days when one of Scotland’s kings died and was to be buried nearby?

That musical moment, coming on the heels of all the anxiety generated by the Viviane extrication, calmed and reassured me, as if everything would be alright.

When the green, marble, cocktail cooler Swede gave me a few nights ago began to vibrate, after languishing in my pocket for a couple of days, I took it out and saw it glowed with the same soothing green color the trident had the night I first met Swede. This rock, quarried from Iona’s sacred cliffs, glowed and vibrated at the same pace, with the same rhythm as the harmonies from the passing choir. Something special was going on at this holy place. What it was, I did not know.

Once the procession passed out of sight, I stood up, strangely refreshed, and began to walk towards the boat. I approached the wharf and noticed Eilidh standing on the land, alone, waiting for me with a concerned look on her face. I quick stepped towards her, trying to close the distance between us, fast.

“We’ve got a problem,” said Eilidh. "Viviane locked herself in the aft stateroom. She won’t come out and didn’t answer when I asked her to unlock the door. What do you think we should do?”

“That’s just wonderful,” I groaned. “That’s Swede’s stateroom; I don’t think he’d like it if he knew she was in there."

Eilidh agreed. She shook her head side to side, breathing that sigh you make when you know you’re screwed. Not a time to lose our heads, I tried to downplay the situation.

“Let’s not jump to any conclusions. I’m sure she is exhausted and needs a good night’s sleep. Maybe it’s nothing more than that. Did she say anything when you walked down here?”

“It wasn’t what she said, though that was weird, too, but it was how she looked,” said Eilidh. “Her eyes were rolled back in her head and all I saw was white. She mumbled some guy’s name. ‘Myrrdin Ambrosius,’ she kept saying. ‘I feel your spirit. Where are you, my love?’”

“You’re right; that’s weird,” I said. “More like, freaky. Who’s the guy?”

“I don’t know,” lamented Eilidh. “I don’t think I want to know. The less I’m part of this one woman circus, the better I’ll feel.

Let’s get underway and get to Tobermory as fast as we can. The sooner we get there and get her to a hospital, the better it will be for her, and for us.”

We cast off the lines tethering us to Iona and began to motor towards the north, towards tomorrow’s rendezvous with Swede and Marcus. I didn’t know how much fuel we had on board but motoring through the night was the right call. We’d make good time that way.

The original idea was for each of us to take an overnight shift while the other slept. But, under the circumstances, neither of us could asleep. We both gave up and stayed awake through the night, keeping each other awake.

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