THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XVI: MERLIN
My next recollection was the heady taste of strong warm wine mulled with currents, honey, and spices. A man was gently pouring a draught of this strange, delicious mixture into my bowl, crooning softly as he did. “Easy, there, old fellow. Just relax. We’ll have you fixed up good as new in no time. Here, have another sip.”
The creature holding me was an unimposing man on the unkind side of middle age. His hair and beard were long and peppery grey, but combed and neatly trimmed. Deep wrinkles crisscrossed his face, telling tales of long exposure to the elements; beneath the tan he looked more like the inhabitants of Atlantis than the people of Palestine. But his best feature was his eyes which sparkled with flecks of fire.
The man dipped a soft rag in the wine and began polishing my outside. He worked at it a while, so apparently I’d been out long enough to tarnish. But I didn’t know if that meant a hundred years of five thousand, having no idea where I was, much less when.
His kindness and the delectable tipple made me incautious. “That’s delicious. What is it?” I thought out loud without bothering to consider the possible consequences.
“You can talk!” he exclaimed gleefully, his feet dancing in his excitement. Noting the sand he kicked up, I stole a quick peek around and observed that I was still in the same cave where Mary M and Joseph A had lived. “By the Great Mother! I’ve never heard of an object that could speak. Not even Excalibur, although it’s the most powerful inanimate creation I’ve previously known.”
He was speaking telepathically, something it had taken Jesus months to learn.
“Who are you?” I blurted out like some kind of newborn cup.
“My goodness. Here I’ve been prattling on like an apprentice with his first wand and have quite neglected to introduce myself. My name is Merlin, and I hail from Greater Brittany.”
Wanting so to make a good first impression on this extraordinary man, I didn’t even have a name to introduce myself by. But I gave it my best shot. “I don’t actually have a name, but I am originally from Atlantis.”
The revelation of my origin touched off a whole new round of exclamations of wonder, and we talked long into the night. I told him about myself without reservation. He inspired the sort of confidence I’d never known before. Not his intelligence so much, impressive as it was, but rather his depth of understanding really captured my cool metal heart. He possessed the ancient wisdom of the earth, as if he had been there at the moment of creation and experienced it all firsthand. I was completely won over, and at that moment desired nothing more than to be his.
Merlin told me he’d known I was buried there in the sand the moment he’d entered the cave, and had probably been subconsciously drawn across the desert to me. He explained that the presence of such strong magic, even dormant, disturbed the “naturalness” of both the ground and the air.
“Any Celtic child could do the same thing,” he added, downplaying his feat. “Although most adults have lost such fine connection with nature.” But I was awed none the less. Hell, I’d been handled by plenty of people who never had a clue that I was magical.
The Grail and Merlin took turns sharing their stories during the months they spent traveling to his home in Britain. She was surprised to learn that he was a master druid, the highest rank in the ancient Celtic priesthood—up to that point, her only real exposure to religious leaders was to the Pharisees as seen through Jesus’ eyes. Plus he was more than a hundred and fifty years old. Members of the upper class on Atlantis sometimes passed the century mark, but in Judea forty was quite old and sixty downright venerable. Merlin told her that old age among Celts was every bit as rare as among the Jews, but that any necromancer who died before he was ready was either a charlatan or unduly accident-prone.
On her part, she related her own history. There was a lot of give and take, but his questions got more intense as she covered the years of Barnaby’s ministry. About the time she got to the changing of water into wine, he finally asked, “Is it possible that this Barnaby was also known as Jesus?”
Yes. How do you know about him?
Merlin told The Grail that the Romans had gone from persecuting the Christians—he had to explain to her what ‘Christians’ meant—to naming Christianity their official religion. With the death of the empire and the incursion of pagan barbarians into former territories, the numbers of adherents had shrunk somewhat. But missionary priests were even now venturing back into those lands. “Although we haven’t seen any as far as the Isles of Brittany yet.”
The more I thought about Barnaby as the founder of a cult that had lasted almost five hundred years, the funnier it seemed. He’d sworn that he was going to be the best goddamned messiah that the world had ever known, and he had actually done it!
By the time we had exhausted the subject of Jesus, we were less than a day from the sea. The landscape of Judea that we had crossed seemed little changed by the passing of the centuries and the Romans, except that many of the larger towns had been destroyed by warfare. That night, camped outside Jaffa, Merlin finally told me what he was doing in that part of the world.
* * *
Based on my conversations with The Grail, over the years I have compiled a two-hundred-page history of Britain from the withdrawal of the Roman legions around 410 AD until the mid-sixth century. Some of it agrees quite closely with current thinking; other parts are radically different. Maybe it will be published after I die, when my agreement with the U. S. government will be truly over; who knows? But history is generally only of interest to historians like me, while you readers of fiction—remember: this is fiction (are you paying attention, censors?), sort of—would be bored with all the minutia. So what follows is a very short summary.
After the legions departed, Britain was in immediate danger of being overrun by invaders from the sea. Merlin had been an advisor to a pair of brothers, Aurelius Ambrosius and Uther Pendragon, who had in turn been declared ‘high king,’ uniting the lesser kings and nobles of Brittany and successfully holding the Saxons at bay for more than twenty years. But while Aurelius was refined as well as a natural leader, Uther was a man of large, unrefined appetites. Disgusted from trying to advise a king whose interests were pretty much limited to battle—although he was the mightiest warrior on the island—wenches, feasting, and the hunt, Merlin had taken an extended vacation and gone traveling. Despite his age he was endlessly curious; had he been blessed with a little more sense of irresponsibility and little less love of his homeland, he probably would have just spent the rest of his life wandering.
When I asked Merlin what his hopes were for his land without a strong king, he let me in on his secret. He had a powerful claimant to Uther’s throne carefully hidden away while he grew to manhood under the strict tutelage of Sir Ector, one of Uther’s faithful companions. In fact, in a land that admired fighting prowess and respected royal blood and not all that much else, he was the only real choice to regain the throne. Now that he had grown a little—Merlin wasn’t one for changing nappies—we were making our way back home to become a part of his upbringing and his education.
Of course, it’s no secret to you that the boy was Uther’s bastard son, Arthur.
THE GRAIL’S STORY, PART XVI: OUTTAKES
I was as blown away by the word ‘Merlin’ as I had been by ‘Jesus Christ. ’ More, even. While I’d grown up with Bible stories, I’d had long since strayed. But the legend of King Arthur was as real to me as any fiction could possibly be. And now that was real too?
However, I wasn’t the same gawking rube I’d been before. She could ultimately rummage around in my head and find out what I was thinking, but I wasn’t going to make it easy for her.
“I suppose you’re going to tell me that Merlin was a Lebanese hashish addict begging for alms around Palestine before you turned his life around.”
I actually managed to shock her.
Heavens, no. Merlin was far and away the most intelligent being I’ve ever encountered. You and Razuni are highly intelligent, and The Boomer is a true genius. So you mustn’t be insulted if I tell you that even The Boomer is below Merlin in the brilliance department.
“No way. If he was a genius, he would have managed to make something of himself.”
About that time she realized I was kidding and ceded the point. My last of the day, but what the hell.
* * *
Beneath the tan he looked more like the inhabitants of Atlantis than the people of Palestine.
“If you wanted to make a good impression, you could have said, “Funny, you don’t look Jewish.”
Don’t think that joke had been invented then.
* * *
I was surprised to learn that he was a priest. Up to that point, my only exposure to religious leaders was to the Jewish priests and Pharisees.
“And unlike them, he didn’t line his own pockets at the expense of his the people?”
Exactly. Which was remarkable enough, considering they constantly attempted to shower him with food, wine, and anything else you could think of to show their devotion. But even more, except for a powerful sense of reverence about the earth, he didn’t hold anything sacred. In fact, he was shockingly irreverent. Like somebody else we know.
I was speechless at being compared to Merlin. Fortunately, her hero worship was on par with mine, and she continued her praise.
And not only a druid, but a psio-maestro as well.”Merlin the Enchanter,” his people called him. He had dedicated a long life to the grey arts and was believed by the common folk to be the greatest that ever lived. Who knows, perhaps he was. It’s hard to compare him across eras with the practitioners that lived on Atlantis.
“Like trying to decide whether Ty Cobb or Pete Rose was a better lead-off batter.”
In Atlantis there were whole libraries on psionics, universities that taught it as just another science, and a forum for the exchange of ideas and new discoveries to counterbalance the tendency of the masters toward jealous protectiveness. Whereas in fifth century Europe, magic was already well in retreat, looked down on as an inferior practice by fighting men, persecuted by the growing power of the Christian church, and hindered by the general state of barbarism of the continent. And the correct answer is Ty Cobb, of course.