The Birth of Modern Merlin

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Chapter 5

Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull, is a beautiful town of 1,000. It’s colorfully painted homes stretch along the waterfront, making demands on all photographers, insisting on wide angle lenses to capture the totality of her sea side beauty.

Swede and Marcus finished their shopping trip and waited with an ungainly assortment of boxes piled high on the dock: fresh vegetables, fresh fish and chicken, the finest cuts of beef and enough canned goods to fill every cupboard. There were cases of carbonated beverages and cocktail mixers, six different kinds of cheese destined to top six different kinds of crackers, staples such as flour, sugar and spices, purchased to replenish the boats dwindling stores and, of course, all the ingredients to make Marcus’s Eternal Nocturnal Raspberry Ice Delight.

It was the little purchases and courtesies which made Marcus the standout steward he was, a seagoing magician who organized the best parties in the North Atlantic. If Marcus knew a guest had a particular favorite, he’d make every effort to get it or manufacture it. If he didn’t know a guest’s preferences, he always had enough ingredients on board to make something so special, Swede’s guests remembered it for a life time. There were the unique, trident shaped marshmallows resting comfortably in small, rectangular, blue and white bowls, painted like the flag of Scotland. There was the dessert sauce which changed color as the sweet confection transitioned from hot to warm to room temperature.

But mostly, Marcus was well known within the sailing community for his Presentation of the Haggis at the beginning of an elegant seagoing banquet. Resplendently attired in a one of a kind kilt, tailored from the plaid tartan of the mythical, Clan Poseidon, Marcus would enter the boat’s narrow dining area to the sounds of pre-recorded bagpipes playing Scotland the Brave.

For those not in the know, haggis is a much maligned, long standing, Scottish culinary tradition. It’s a spicy, nutty flavored mix of organ meats, onions, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt stuffed into a sheep’s stomach and cooked. Then, the real drama begins.

The haggis would be placed on an 18th century, silver salver from pre Culloden Scotland. Marcus, in his deep and aggressive baritone voice, would begin his performance of the Robert Burns poem, Address to a Haggis, in the old West Central Scots language used in Burns’ day. Guests were provided with a modern translation on top of their salad plate. Then, after taking the guests through this 3 minute tornado of 18th Century Scottish poetry, Marcus would lift the salver high and stab the haggis with a ceremonial knife before returning to the galley to serve it up, exiting to thunderous applause.

Swede loved the post-performance part the best, prodding his reluctant guests to eat the disgusting stuff, shaming silly debutantes and their prissy mothers to “man up and chow down.”

Yes, Marcus was one of a kind. Swede appreciated everything he did to make a voyage on board Poseidon’s Trident a memorable experience.

The biggest compliment I could give Marcus was that all of this: the five star meals, the party prep, the world class skills of a seagoing butler, the acting, the ability to effortlessly move amongst the rich and famous, everything except for his innate ability to become Eilidh’s trusted confidant… none of it came naturally to this immigrant from society’s lower classes. It all had to be learned, even his communication skills because English was a second language for the steward. All in all, it was a remarkable showing for Marcus Baul, the son of a rickshaw peddler from Barisal, Bangladesh.

It was easy for Swede and Marcus to spot Poseidon’s Trident as she entered the harbor. Her tall mast rose far above the other vessels resting at their moorings. Eilidh maneuvered the long craft up to the floating dock before I jumped off to secure the bow line to the dock’s cleat. After also securing the boat’s stern line and seeing Swede and Marcus there to greet us, I made my way towards them, to start loading their mountain of boxes.

“I see you’re both still alive and didn’t kill each other. That’s good,” said Swede, happy to see me. “No obvious cuts, no physical scars as best I can tell.”

“Hello, Mr. Cook,” said Marcus. “I trust your crossing went well.”

“Please, call me Magnus,” I answered. “The crossing was…uneventful. I guess that’s the best way to describe it. There is one, small issue. Swede, if I could talk with you, privately, for just a moment?”

We walked a few meters away. Swede said, a bit under his breath, “Does this have anything to do with our crazy new shipmate?”

“It does,” I replied. “I’m not sure if it matters, but I wanted you to know before you boarded the boat. As soon as she arrived, Viviane went into your stateroom and locked the door. Eilidh asked her to come out but she got no response. Maybe Viviane just needed a good night’s sleep. Maybe it’s not a big deal. But she’s been in there ever since we left Iona.”

“I see,” said Swede. “I made arrangements for the local mental health professionals to meet me here but you made such good time they haven’t arrived yet. I guess we’d better find out what’s going on before they get here.”

Swede and I began to walk towards the boat but were soon interrupted by the loud, screaming voice of Marcus as he flew up the sailboat’s steps, jumped off the boat and ran towards us.

“CAPTAIN!!! CAPTAIN!!!! Don’t go aboard. You cannot go down there, Captain.” pleaded the middle aged steward, freaking out.

“Marcus, calm down,” said Swede, “What is it?”

“It’s her… the one you told me about. I know it’s her. You can’t go down there, Captain. Please, just walk back towards town; stay as far away as you can!”

“Who is this woman?” said Swede, a bit puzzled, looking towards me for an answer I did not have. “Why are you so scared, Marcus? What’s her name? Viviane? She’s just some crazy old friend of Eilidh’s mother. What’s the big deal?”

Marcus did something he never had to do before, ever. I guess it was a sign of how serious and scared he was if Swede met Viviane. He grabbed Swede by the shoulders and looked directly into his eyes, “Captain, please, come with me. Let’s go, just the two of us.”

Swede was not one to get all defensive and offended, even when a subordinate grabbed him by the shoulders. He just went with the flow and began to walk off the dock, towards town, just as Marcus asked.

If they had another 30 seconds to make their way towards Tobermory’s shops, things might have played out SO differently. It was not to be.

I turned around to look towards the boat. There was Viviane, emerging from her 24 hour isolation. She looked SO different. Her hair, cut short, was now off her shoulders. It was still gray but with a much more styled, professional appearance. Gone were the faded wraps and crazed looks. Although the clothes were too big for her tall and thin frame, what she borrowed from Swede’s closet was a vast improvement over yesterday’s attire. She wore bright, white slacks, a navy blue blazer and a white captain’s cap provocatively tipped towards the back of her head. The blazer had a Poseidon’s Trident logo stitched on the breast pocket. Viviane wore the jacket open, buttons unbuttoned, revealing a seductive yet tasteful amount of cleavage because she did not wear a shirt beneath the blazer. Viviane looked like she could blend in with the upper class crowd at a yacht club or the posh estates of the rich and famous. She was a women transformed.

Standing on the stern of the boat, Viviane called out in Swede’s direction before Marcus could escort him out of range.

“Please, tell me it’s you, my dearest love,” flowed the siren’s call, “and not another phantom that’s plagued my search all these many years.”

Swede stopped dead in his tracks, standing motionless for ten seconds while his brain processed what he just heard.

“Sir,” said Marcus, more gently now, hoping to get Swede to refocus and continue walking away. “I think we forgot to pick up some of the clothes we were to get for Mr. Cook.”

Even then, as he made his final plea, Marcus knew it was over.

Swede turned 180 degrees, looked back towards the boat and gazed upon Viviane’s smiling face for the first time in decades. They both aged well, he thought. He quickened his pace towards her. Swede passed my position on the dock, ignoring me like I wasn’t even there, concentrating on eliminating the distance between him and his life’s one true love. His zombielike focus continued as he jumped into the cockpit, ignoring Eilidh who stood at the helm.

Swede moved in front of Viviane and placed his hands on her waist. Her arms wrapped around his neck and they entered a two person cocoon where the world was not welcome.

“It is you,” he said, relieved, as if a great weight lifted off his shoulders. “I didn’t think I’d ever see you again.”

Viviane began to cry a soft, weeping moan people make when one of life’s great hardships finally ends.

“Over the years,” she said, “there were a few times when I thought I saw you, when it felt like you were nearby. It was an illusion. But you’re here… and I’m here…”

Before she finished her thought, Viviane slowly lowered her head into Swede’s shoulder, tears of joy pouring from her reddened eyes.

Swede’s eyes were tearing. He took a step back so he could look her in the eye and said, “I know. It’s over now.”

That seemed to reassure Viviane and she smiled a small, sweet smile, looking vulnerable in Swede’s arms, nothing like the crazed and dazed women I met yesterday.

Swede emerged from his two person cocoon long enough to address us. I thought he might relax, introduce us to Viviane, perhaps tell us the story of how they met and fell in love, what forced them apart. It didn’t happen.

The happy go lucky Swede Mambo, the good natured, sea going, party planner I had come to know and respect was gone, replaced by someone I did not recognize: a cold captain, issuing one final order before they retired to Swede’s stateroom below.

“Finish loading the provisions. Top off the tanks with water and fuel. Head towards John O’Groats. Here,” he said, pulling a wad of bills out of his pocket and handing Eilidh 5,000 British pounds, cash. “This should take care of everything.

Take the offshore route, north then east. You should have good weather. I’m sure you can handle the boat.”

With that, Swede and Viviane headed below, closed the door to his stateroom and locked it, leaving the three of us dumbfounded, wondering what we just witnessed.

After a few moments of awkward silence, I turned to Marcus, looking for answers.

“What was that all about?” I asked.

“I tried to warn him,” said Marcus, resigned to the situation. “But once he heard her voice, there was nothing we could do.”

Eilidh wanted answers.

“THAT… is not the same woman I saw yesterday. Or even the same daft woman who was a friend of me mum. What got into her? Marcus, you seem to know what’s going on?”

“I wish I did, Miss; but this caught me by surprise. I didn’t think I’d ever see her again.”

Marcus was uncomfortable with all these developments and was in no mood to answer Eilidh’s questions. He changed the subject.

“Let’s get these provisions on board, top off the tanks, like the Captain requested, and go. I don’t want to talk about it,” he said, a sad tone now infecting his accented English.

I was in no position to argue. Neither was Eilidh. Despite these dramatic new developments, we were still on track and headed towards John O’Groats. Since Eilidh came aboard knowing where we were headed, nothing changed for her, either. We did as Swede and Marcus asked, loaded the boxes, topped off the tanks and motored out of the harbor.

I set the auto pilot and we settled into our journey to the north.

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