Saturday, April 2, 2016
The previous day’s dockside party was a rollicking success, lasting well into the night. I managed to pace myself, alternating between watered down Scotch and full glasses of water. Waking up wasn’t a problem. Swede did pretty well, too. Eilidh, not so much. When the electronic bell tolled eight times, a throbbing head persuaded the rest of her body to sleep it off and she stayed below until the crack of noon.
After breakfast, we started the engine and headed into Loch Dochfour. Our journey was to take us through the length of the Caledonian Canal, through the Great Glen, before emerging on the west coast, finishing a loop around the top third of Scotland.
It was sunny, still warm for that time of year, about 45 degrees F, with a light SW wind. Swede set the throttle at 3 knots, engaged the autopilot and began to tell me all the details, everything I needed to know, ahead of the life changing event taking place after midnight.
Swede had no idea how to begin. Who would? Life changing, cosmic events don’t happen all the time. It’s not like he had any practice doing this. Since there was no good way to begin, he launched into it, cold…
“I’ll just come right out and say it. Magnus, I’m a Time Pilot.”
“OH, SHUT UP!” I exclaimed. “We’ve been out here, sailing around the world for, what, two weeks now, and you’re just getting around to telling me this little detail today? Why didn’t you tell me before?”
“It wasn’t a priority. You weren’t going anywhere, not with a trip to John O’ Groats on the menu. And then there was the whole Viviane adventure; that kind of took priority over…”
“Yeah,” I interrupted, “What’s up with that? You two disappear for four days while Eilidh and I had to handle the boat. And then all you said was she left the boat. What gives?”
“Fair questions; all of them. Viviane will be rejoining us shortly, sometime after midnight. It will all make sense. Until then, there’s a lot I have to go over with you and we’ve just got the rest of today to do it. Let’s buckle down and get to work.”
“Does Eilidh know about any of this?” I asked.
“NO, and it’s important it stays that way. That’s another reason why I didn’t tell you. Once she came on board, I didn’t want some conversation between the two of us to give it away. I thought it best to keep quiet until it became necessary.”
“Whoa, man, you’re screw’n with me here, Swede. Don’t you think it’s a bit early in the day to be freak’n people out?”
“Brother,” said Swede, “hold on to your bawbag; you ain’t seen nuth’n yet. Buckle up; you’re going for a wild ride.”
“Really?” I said. “Like what? I think you’ve already met your freak quota for the day.”
“How’s this. Swede’s not my real name,” he said.
“Yeah, I know,” I said, coldly. “You already told me; it’s Sven. So what; lots of people change their names.”
“It’s not even Sven,” he said.
“OK, I’ll bite. What’s your real name, then?”
“That’s nice,” I said, with a good dose of snark in my voice. “You’re mother gave you a bird’s name. Gee… thanks, mom.”
“I don’t think you understand. It’s not about my name. It’s about me. I…am Merlin.”
“Merlin,” I repeated. “You mean like King Arthur’s wizard friend?”
“NO, not LIKE King Arthur’s wizard friend. I’m not LIKE him; I AM him. I’m Merlin, as you say, King Arthur’s wizard friend.”
“Merlin…really? OK, that’s cool.” I said, thinking this conversation was headed straight towards stupid.
What was this? Some kind of day late, April Fool joke? Was Swede still drunk? Or was he about to drop a Gullible Gotcha on me and have a good laugh at my expense?
“Where’s the King, Merlin?” I continued. “Is Arthur going to pop out from behind the next castle? Sur-priiii-iise! ‘Hello, I’m King Arthur, nice to meet you, Sir Magnus. Are you here to join my Round Table?’… What the Fuck?”
Neither of us said anything for a few moments. The silence helped me cool off a bit.
“See what I mean?” said Swede. “It’s a wild ride… and it’s just beginning.”
I nodded my head, yes, but still said nothing. After a few moments, when he didn’t break out in a triumphant smile and say, ‘Gotcha,’ I said, “You’re not shitting me, are you?
“No, Magnus, I wouldn’t do that to you. What else worries you?” he asked.
“OK,” I began, trying to think my way through this blockbuster. “So if you’re the real Merlin and I’m here and you’re here to guide me, then, [deep breath] does that mean I’m some kind of modern King Arthur? Is that who I am?”
“An excellent question, Magnus. Let me reassure you. NO; you’re not Arthur.”
Swede waited for me to exhale and relax, knowing this non-news came as a big relief.
“But that begs the next question,” he continued. “Who is Arthur? Or, more properly, where is Arthur? The answer is: I don’t know.”
I shook my head side to side, attempting to clear the cobwebs out of my mind. I was coming around to accepting this more than rejecting it so I asked Swede if we could just back up so I could get the big picture.
“Swede, I don’t know if you know this but I emerged unexpectedly. No preparation, no advance notice, POOFFF, I just showed up when I met you in Dumbarton. I don’t know what’s going on. Why am I here? I wasn’t supposed to emerge till 2025 and it feels like I’m coming in on the middle of this story.” I said. “Can you back up and take it from the top?”
“OK; here goes,” he said. “1908 changed everything. The Tunguska asteroid impact screwed things up more than you can imagine. There was so much dark matter inserted into this corner of the galaxy that the whole space/time continuum warped a few degrees and everything got thrown out of whack. But it didn’t just warp the space time continuum, it woke up some people who have a similar DNA structure as us, a class of people we thought were extinct. They’re called Capacitists. The Pharaohs and The Mayans are two examples and you probably forgot about this third group, The House of Pendragon.”
“You’re right, who are they?”
Pendragon is Arthur’s last name. His father was King Uther Pendragon. Arthur had the enabling gene because he got it from his father and some of Arthur’s direct descendants have that gene, too. Even though history has seen fit to let the Capacitates die out, the Tunguska Event shook things up so a dormant gene in one of the Capacitates descendants has been awakened. He’s a direct descendant of King Arthur.”
“Does that mean you were awakened, too…Merlin?”
“No. Time Pilots never went away, we’ve always been here.”
“So if you’re Merlin, why can’t you just do some of your hocus pocus and find this modern day Arthur?”
“Because all that hocus pocus stuff never really happened. Magnus, we’re just real people, you and me. It’s just that we know a lot more stuff than the average guy.
Put yourself back in the 6th Century. You remember everything you learned over your multiple lifetimes, a thousand years as a Time Pilot. To the people of that era, you would be the smartest kid in the room. Of course they would look at you differently, think you were a magician or something. So the legend grew and became a myth and here we are today with you still thinking Merlin is some kind of magician. I’m not; neither are you.”
“What’s that mean,” I said, surprised yet somewhat scared by what Swede said.
“What it means, Magnus, is I’m going away and the Merlin franchise will fall to you.”
“Merlin franchise? What the hell does that mean?” I exclaimed. “Is this your idea of Gullible Gotcha? I’m not buying it.”
“No, Magnus, I’m on the level,” said Swede.
“Franchise?... No; it’s a fast food nightmare,” I replied. “G’Day, ma’am; thank you for choosing MacMerlin’s. Your order is a 6 piece dragon nuggets. What kind of sauce would you like? Merlin’s Mustard? That’s fine, ma’am. Would you like some crisps with your dragon nuggets?”
Swede laughed, “That’s good. I like it. You’ll do well. No, seriously, Merlin is like a franchise. I wasn’t actually the guy back in the 6th century when the original Arthur lived. But that first Merlin was a Time Pilot too and when the House of Pendragon got activated again, it fell to us to fulfill our role, loyally, just as we had before.
These past 35 years, I’ve been Merlin hiding behind this other name. I inherited the job from my predecessor and he from his. So there’s always been a Merlin on Earth. It’s just that some of us have kept a lower profile then that first guy who set the bar so high that none of us who follow can hope to match his wizardry. So here you are and it’s my time to return to Time Keeper Central. Congratulations, Merlin, the gig is all yours.”
“And what if I told you to Fuck-off and go back to Planet Camelot?” I said, still pissed.
“That’s OK,” said Swede, “you can do that. But you’ll find yourself right back at Time Keeper Central, confined to that velvet jail you know so well, this time for 99 years, with no promise you’ll ever emerge again. You have a choice: pay the price now or pay the price later.”
“Damn, this is juh-st great! Hey there all you groovy teenage guys and gals. This is your old friend, Merlin, spinning the tunes here on olde Camelot radio. We don’t play the hits, we play the shits. FUCK ME!”
“Magnus, don’t take it so hard. This is actually a nice promotion for you,” said Swede.
“PROMOTION? How is this a promotion? What did I do to deserve this?
“Look. We all know the world is screwed up. Right? Has been for a hundred years. Human Ethics are a total mess. It’s our job to try and fix things and, believe it or not, you’re one of the best guys for this job.
The suits back at Time Keeper Central reviewed your file. They were very impressed with your work. Your 18th century emergence was hard, you had to demonstrate patience, and you did. In the end, you developed a wonderful body of work. You built on it in the 19th Century. Your work with Woodrow Wilson was brilliant. Even your 20th century emergence. I know you believe it was a failure when the League of Nations treaty wasn’t ratified but they reviewed the case and everybody back there thought your work was top notch. While you might not think you deserve this promotion, everybody else trusts you, completely.”
I didn’t know what to say. Swede was right, I didn’t feel worthy of any kind of promotion. In my mind, the last 90+ years were psychological torture. I hashed and rehashed every failure I made during the early 20th century and dug myself into a great depression, despite the good work I knew I did over the previous 200 years. Depression is a terrible thing.
“Why me? There’s other guys who can do this,” I protested. What about Mustapha al-Ibrahim? His work in Palestine became a case study.”
“Maybe he’s available, I don’t know,” answered Swede. “But the bad situation the world finds itself in is morphing and changing, even as we speak. Even the Master Time Keeper realizes we had to do something. Actually, this was his idea. It’s called The Earth Ethics Reboot Program and when he first introduced the idea he said it wasn’t about changing people’s politics, it was about changing people’s hearts. The Master Time Keeper said, ‘The people on Earth have to rediscover their Virtue.' And that, my young friend, is why you were chosen for this mission."
I remembered being introduced to the Earth Ethics Reboot Program because a partial memory of it came back to me during my emergence, so Swede was telling the truth. But I wasn’t persuaded.
“Ughhh, I don’t know,” I said, not really embracing this new scheme. “I’m not all that virtuous, you know. If I go telling people they have to be virtuous when I’m not pure myself, they’ll scream, ‘Hypocrite! Hypocrite!’ They’d be right.”
“You’re not expected to be perfect,” said Swede.
“It’s not about being perfect; I’m just not qualified,” I said. “I drop too many F-Bombs. That’s got good. I dropped one on you a couple of moments ago. This won’t end well."
“Don’t be so sure,” he said, trying to accentuate the positive. “But even if the execution isn’t there yet, it will improve, trust me. What’s important are the ethics living inside the core of your being. Your gut; that’s where justice grows strong. It’s the home of virtue. I know you possess that core ethic in great quantities.
When Eilidh and I were in Inverness the other day, the day I sent you to Culloden, she told me about the fight you two had. She said it began when you asked her to stop dropping so many F-Bombs. Remember that?”
“Yes, I do. I also remember the hard smack she laid on my jaw. It still hurts,” I said.
“That’s her growing edge,” said Swede. “That’s stuff she has to work on. But for you, Magnus, where did that virtue come from? Asking her to stop with the F-this and F-that? It just came out of you, naturally. It was your core speaking. YOU’VE GOT THIS, MAN! You’ve just got to believe it.
Here’s a story that might help. In the Bible, Jesus picks Simon Peter to be the leader of the Church when he’s gone. He calls him his ‘Rock.’ Why would he do that? Simon Peter was prone to violence. He proved it after Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsamene. The Bible says, ‘Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear.’ And he wasn’t very reliable, either. Later that night, on three different occasions, he denied Jesus, trying to save his own neck in a difficult situation. But Jesus could see into Peter’s core, the real man on the inside. After Jesus left, Peter grew into the job. He wasn’t qualified at first, but his core ethics were right and he eventually became the man he was supposed to be.
It can be like that with you, too, Magnus.” said Swede, now putting his hand on my shoulder. “You might not think you’re qualified, and you might be right, for now. But you’re a good man, Magnus, a REAL good man. Virtue is your partner and you can grow into this job, just like Simon Peter grew into his.”
These teaching moments continued throughout the day, Swede patiently trying to cram as much as he could into my swollen head in the limited time he had available. Throughout the day he kept referring to, “after midnight,” not answering some questions, deferring others. I’ll give him this much, it certainly built the drama.
What seemed strange was our course, or should I say, lack of course. Loch Dochfour was only a mile and a half long and we could have sped through quickly. We didn’t. Most of the day, while Swede continued his School of All Things Merlin, sometimes we drifted, other times we’d head back in an easterly direction. But we never went past the Bona Narrows Lighthouse at the end of the Loch. When I asked him why, his response was always the same, “after midnight.”
The ship’s electronic bell tolled eight times; midnight was now upon us. Swede asked me to retrieve the trident, which still rested quietly in a closet since the beginning of our journey. I gave it to him, he tied a rope to one of its prongs and threw it off the boat’s stern.
Now about to exit Loch Dochfour, we passed one of the two lighthouses in all of Scotland.
“And now the fun begins,” said Swede.
“What’s that mean,” I asked, not knowing we just entered Loch Ness.