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The Merlin Factor. Chapter Three.
Topic Started: Dec 16 2015, 10:57 PM (89 Views)
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The Merlin Factor. Chapter Three.

Magic.

Camelot: 1940.

He was dreaming, again, he knew. But differently...
His mind was utterly quiet. Blank. And yet he was aware. He pondered this for a while.
Gradually, the background of nothingness grew brighter. As this brightness grew, he came to know that he was not thinking; that he had nothing with which to think. This was different...
He was not thinking, but knowing.
With the brightness grew a sound. Rather: a vibration. He could not hear, for he had nothing with which to hear, but he knew the vibration. Knew the Sound...
Light and Sound. But not seen, nor heard. Known...
He was joined, gradually, yet abruptly, by another presence. Another source of - what - energy? And communication began:
"Sorry about zat, mon ami. It was - ah - necessaire..."


I smiled, somehow, for how does nothing smile? But I did.
"What happened?" I wondered.
"Oh. Nossing much. You 'ave died, is all."
"Oh" I reflected. And communicated this. "I see."
"One moment, monsieur... Very soon zis will seem more naturel..." And very soon it did.

He cast his awareness down at what he expected to be his body, and sure enough, there it was. But not his body. Pure light. Still, it was his body. He began to see the voice that was not a voice, with his eyes that were not eyes. The voice was coming from a flickering ball of colored light, that resolved in and out of familiar images. He chose one of these images and held it for a while. It was a small hawk. A falcon. It was obviously not real, of course, but then again, what was?

"Who are you?" I asked.
"Ah," it said. "You can see me now."
"You are a falcon," I remarked.
"Yes," the bird said.
"Have you a name?"
"I have many."
"Am I playing this game well?"
It laughed, this falcon, a delighted, bubbling laugh. "But of course. The game, it plays itself well." And the falcon became myself and suddenly everything around me resolved into pure delight...

I stood upon the high ramparts of a mighty castle, gazing down at endless forests of emerald green, rolling away into the far distance. Beside me stood a short man, dressed in purple robes, his skin dark and swarthy. He was neither young, nor old. He smiled, well, actually, he grinned, a very, very big grin. One could not possibly dislike or ignore a fellow like this, and so I smiled back.

"Welcome to Camelot," he grinned, the big secret let out.
"Ah" I said. "Camelot. I had wondered."
"How do you like it?"
"Too soon to tell," I rejoined, still smiling. He shook his head and grinned away. A merry little chap.
"You must be Merlin," I ventured. It seemed fairly obvious.
"Indeed," he grinned. "At your service."
"Are you really French?"
"Sometimes."
"So I am dead?" I asked, knowing already that I was.
"But of course," he grinned. "It is fun, no?"
"Too soon to tell," I reminded him.

With a delighted laugh, he linked his arm through mine and led me off into the great castle...
The castle was filled with people. All smiling. Eager and happy to see me. I felt no surprise that I was just as happy to see them. For I knew them. Each and every one. I felt so happy to be home again.
A banquet beckoned from the great keep, open to the mild air. Food piled high on every table. All done with light. I reached for a leg of lamb, seeing the image of the animal it once had been, smiling at me, giving itself up for me. Pure light. I added it to my own light and felt terrific. It all should have been blinding, but it was not. No discomfort. No anything that was not light.

A friendly face appeared before me. "Gawaine," I smiled. "Or is it Bert? Or Antoine. Or Hermann."
"Angeline," he/she smiled back. "Fresh from washing the Pope's dishes. Humble stuff. You know. And you?"
"Johnny," I laughed. Such a simple name. "It was fun being a man again. Well, a boy, really. I only just was made love to, just the other day. Always nice, the first time..."

Merlin drew me aside. "How long can you stay, Johnny?"
"Why? What's up?"
"The war. You know. This is a big one. Important. Just had to drag you back for a little chat. You know how I love to meddle."
I shook my head, amused as always. So perhaps I was not really dead yet. Not yet done being Johnny. I remembered Marion. "Actually, I wouldn't at all mind going back. Who is Marion, by the way?"
He grinned and shook a finger at me. "Shame on you, Johnny! Why do you want to know?"
"She's bigger than me, older than me, and likes to spank me."
He laughed in delight. "Sounds like fun, no?"
"Certainly it is fun, but it is accompanied by a lot of confusion and guilt. Fear. Shame. You know. She hurts. So do I."
"Yes. I can see this." He pushed his lower lip out, to the extent that a lipless, faceless, ball of colored light can push out its lower lip. "You would ease her pain?"
"Well, you see," I said, "it's like this: I love her. She loves me. In a painful sort of way. She might have to live for quite a while yet. So might I, apparently."
"Oh, I wouldn't worry too much about yourself, old chap," he laughed. "Fighter pilots never last long, do they? But there are a few things I would like you to do before you get the chop. Do you mind?"
"Oh. Not at all. What had you in mind?"
"Actually, Marion..."
I rose a non-existent eyebrow. "Do tell?"

It turned out that he would, in fact, not tell me much at all. Being Merlin, he could not help himself. He simply had to mess with things. After all, what use is magic if one can not use it? No harm had actually been done, as he was quick to point out. At least, not yet. "You will be a sailor, one day," he informed me. "Have you ever been one before? No? Well it is fun. But it will be quite dangerous and risky. You will probably die too soon again. Don't worry. I will not become detained again. Everything will be fine."
I chortled. The plans of mice and men!
"Actually," he chided, "most of this is your own fault. Why do you always have to be so reckless? I can not begin to count the number of times you have expired ahead of schedule."
"What did I do this time?" I asked, surprised.
"Oh. Laidler, was it? Why did you have to fly so close to his tail? There was no need. It was pieces of him that made you lose control of your machine at a critical moment. Lunacy."
"You can talk," I reminded him. "No one else in history ever managed to fall for Morgan."
He affected great hurt. He had lost a lot of time on that one. Centuries had passed without the chance to mess with things.
"You are wrong," he said. "As a matter of fact, some other poor unfortunate just did." He clammed up, grinning still.
I found this difficult to imagine. She was just too horrible. But what did I know?
"Where is Morgan, anyway?" I looked through the happy faces, that filled the keep, feasting, drinking. Or whatever it was that was going on beneath the illusion.
"Morgan? Who knows? Probably she is moonlighting as some particularly dire housewife. Sure to be making some poor fellow's life miserable."
Probably. She always did love to make men suffer.
"Does she still mess with things, too?" I enquired.
"Oh, sometimes. But she is such an amateur."
"One that cost you centuries."
"Quite."
"Well then. Answer me a question."
"Ask."
"Why all the colored lights? Why all these faces? Why am I here, really? Hmmm?"
"Drama."
I had to laugh. But of course. Muy dramatico. How much more fun immortality is when one can be dramatic as well. But there was more to this than that. I fielded an aside:
"Why is Morgan always a woman?"
"Only women can behave like Morgan, and get away with it."
Sarcasm? From Merlin? Whatever next?
"Do you despise her?"
"Yes." He laughed again. "What do you think, hmmm?"
"So how about the truth?"
"Oh all right. Come with me..."

And so we wandered from the keep, through the great castle, and over the lowered draw-bridge. After a suitable amount of time, we found ourselves deep within the forest. Immersed in a realm of dense green. He stopped, finally, and flopped down on the leaves scattered deep on the ground. He yawned.
"The truth," I prompted.
"Meaning wisdom?" he asked.
"Why? Do you have wisdom, today?"
"Indeed I have some wisdom. How much would you like?"
"Enough," I said. "Just enough to get me by. Deal?"

He looked at me, his eternal grin momentarily suspended as he weighed the exact amount of wisdom he would grace me with.
"I need you," he said.
"Why?" said I.
"Because I am old and lonely. Because I am long dead. Just because."
I considered this.
"But Camelot is full," I reasoned, "with happy faces."
Suddenly he was sad. Truly sad. Never had I seen him like this. Never.
"Illusion," I said, knowing it was true. "Not just illusion, but fantasy."
He gazed into my eyes and nodded. I felt a chill run through what was not even my body. My awareness wavered.
"Come back!" he commanded. I came back, relieved.

"So who am I?" I asked, anxious.
"Merlin," said he. Just like that.
"I am YOU?"
He nodded. Yes.
"I didn't know that." I sat for a while, digesting this. The forest was very quiet. Nothing moved. It seemed to have no life.
"How can I be you?" I asked. "If I am you, then who are YOU?"
He smiled again. But it was the ghost of a smile. Not worn to reassure. Wistful. Lacking conviction.
"Legend. Just legend."
"You KNOW this?" I was shocked.
"You know it, too."
The forest wavered and lost substance. I felt myself falling. Desperately, almost in a panic, I willed the forest to solidify again. Believed in it. Made it so.
"Not bad," said Merlin. "Not bad at all."
"Magic?" I asked.
He nodded.

"Lesson number one. Make The Forest. Basic stuff, really, but a good start."
"So what can I do for you?" I asked. I felt strongly that I had a stake in this, after all. For I had no body. No life. If he did not really exist, then it was fairly safe to assume I would shortly be in deep trouble. I liked living, I decided. I would help him if I could.
"Be my friend," he said. "Would you befriend me?"
"Am I not your friend already?" I asked.
"How can you befriend someone who is mere legend?"
"I do not care," I said, "whether you are legend or not. I am your friend. Will you be mine?"
"I can not be your friend if I am only legend. Much as I would like to be." He stared into me, intensely. As intensely as a legend can stare into someone who no longer exists. He was trying to tell me something and I was not quite getting it. I knew little of this place of illusion, and its workings.

"Legends..." I murmured. "Are you real, Merlin?"
"I yearn to be."
How does a legend become real, I wondered. Why could he not make himself real.
"Befriend me," he tried again. He could say no more.
And suddenly I grasped it. This thing that was too simple to grasp. I constructed a suitably dramatic sentence:
"Old Merlin of Legend be gone. Great Merlin, Magician, Arise!"
And his eyes lit up like bright jewels. The smile returned like the sun from behind a cloud, bursting out once more into clear skies. The forest burst into noisy life. A stream bubbled somewhere nearby. A deer leaped into the little clearing and stopped startled. Merlin jumped to his feet and wept for joy.

"It is DONE!" he cried. "God be praised, it is DONE!"
"And just what," I asked, "was that all about?"

"Morgan, you know," he confided, "was a better student than I ever suspected. She had almost as much power as I had, in my prime. Imprisoned by her, I slept so long, became so enfeebled, that only after centuries of effort was I able to escape. And when I did, what did I find? Wars to end wars. Hatred on a grand scale. This war - your war - is the final battle. Oh, there will follow still more wars, but this one... This one is the one that counts. It must be won! By the right! It MUST!"

"I tried, with the powers I still had left, to make a difference. Your flying machine was powered by the engine born of a dream in the mind of a Rolls-Royce engineer. I put it there. He thought it was his own idea, of course, but still he named it after me. Do you see?" I was beginning to see. I waited for more.

"Without this new engine, your fighters would be powerless to stop the dark hordes. Your country - OUR country - would fall - would have fallen - and she would have never risen again. Do you see? And fall she still may, unless..."

I waited and waited, as his eyes gazed off into far places. I had all the time in the world. I was, after all, dead.
"My powers are almost gone," he finally went on. "Most of the magic has been used up. Even Morgan's has gone, now. Such a shame that she chose to waste her magic on punishing me. It could have been so different. Oh, what will I do when I can no longer mess with things? What will the world be like then? Do you see?"
I shook my head, still mystified. No. I did not see.

"I have always lived. Always. But so alone. Morgan was not my friend. Never was. But how I loved her! For all her power, she was just a Jealous Woman. Blind! Only Arthur truly loved me. And his love was given mostly to Guinevere and to England. I need Arthur's love again. I need a friend. For it is love that makes magic. Love is the force that makes the impossible possible. Do you see?"
And I saw...

Love. The power of love. Too simple. No wonder nobody but Merlin had ever been able to figure it out. It was just too easy.
"You mean that love is what gives you power?"
He smiled again, back in the here and now. Yes. It was love that gave him power. He needed love. So he could multiply it. And give it away.
"You want me to love you?"
"Would you? Would you befriend me and always love me?"
"Will you make me not-dead, in return?"
"You BARGAIN with Merlin?"

I laughed and laughed. We held each other and wept at the wonder of this simple thing, somewhere in an illusory forest.
"Is the forest real?" I asked.
"It is now," he replied. "You have given it life. Do you see?"
"Yes," I said. "I see. Do I get my life back, then?"
He placed each of his hands upon my shoulders and gazed lovingly at me.
"I can do better than that, my friend. Tell me, how would you like to be immortal?"

*****

We had time to spare, as it happened. Even now, the sailor I would someday be, was blundering his way across some ocean, an accident waiting for a place to happen. When this loop in time intersected that loop in time, momentarily brushing together, I would be able to continue living. And dying.
I wondered how the sailor might feel if he knew he was actually immortal. Just as well he did not know, for his genetic recklessness would then somehow manage to get him killed, anyway.

"Does he know who he is?" I asked.
"Do you know who you are?"
"I am Merlin!" I said, with great drama. He laughed and laughed. But still, I wanted to know.

"No," said Merlin. "He does not know himself from a hole in the ground."
But he would, I decided, then and there. Someday he would.
We played at being medieval again, back at the castle, which by now I had redesigned, for practice. Merlin pushed me in the moat, then pushed himself in, showing me how to be "Not Wet". After repeated demonstrations, I still could not quite grasp it, and he finally admitted that the "Not Wet" trick was actually quite advanced. We did other things, though. Like "Make the Woman", which for two men in a world of do-it-yourself, was a lot of fun. We became somewhat carried away, though, when he invented a whole new spell which I called "Make The Woman Crazy". We spent quite a bit of love on that one before deciding that maybe it was not quite fair to the Woman. So we Made The Woman Sleep instead.

Gawaine was worth keeping around, for he had been a good illusion. Merlin put a superb Lancelot together and they spent hours jousting and bashing each other around. And of course, food was never a problem with so much light around.
It was an easy place to be, was Camelot. Legends, after all, have their value. Soon enough, it would become time to forget, though. To become deadly serious again. For Life and Death always are such a serious business. To know pain and grief and suffering. I wondered if I might - in fact - be able to remember any of this when I got back to Coltishall. I hoped so. I asked Merlin about it...

"It would not be right - although `right' is not really the word - for you to remember much of this. For illusion to be effective, it must be maintained, no? And it is better you do not know what is illusion and what is not. But to find out as you go. This is the purpose. Do you need purpose?"
"I don't know," I admitted. "I think I would rather have knowledge."
"Then I will make with you a deal. I will come to you, sometimes. We will talk. Have some fun. Things will be fine. Do you agree? Do you trust me, my friend?"
I hugged him hard and said I did. I loved him.
"I mus' go," he said. "An' mess whizz zis marin - zis sailor. 'Ow you like ze french acc-son?"
"Ze french what?" I enquired. "Acc-SON! L'Accent. Do you not speak French?"
"Jus' a leetle beet, monsieur Mayor-Lann..."
"Zen I bid you adieu, mon ami."

He became, once more, a little falcon, and leapt from the battlements of the castle called Camelot, speeding away with rapid wingbeats, off over the forest I had created from mere legend. Back into the world of men.

*****
"Squawk!" said the crow, and then made space.
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