Merlin has agreed to share some details of his life with me.
I can’t give you the exact details of locations because he doesn’t want Security to track him. There are a few other details we worked out but mostly, what you’re reading is his story as he tells it.
He agreed to my condition I would not show him the stories before publication. There’s no editing to make him look better. (Other than his own as he’s telling the story. He swears he’s only telling me the truth. But I advise you to take all these stories with the proverbial grain of salt.)
I’m only passing along the things he’s told me. You’ll have to sort out fact from fiction yourself.
#####Editor Notes: not for publication.
This is a big man. He’s about 6.6 feet tall (2.1m). Broad shoulders and slim waist. Muscled and obviously strong. The closest I could come would be to imagine a well-built basketball player. His hair appears to be gray or pure white depending on the lighting and at the moment, he’s sporting a well-trimmed beard. No glasses. Handsome in a rugged way – never going to be a model but if you like the outdoor types, he’s your man. Expensive blue, shirt. Well worn blue jeans and old/worn tweed jacket. Sensible walking boots but not heavy duty hiking types. Has his sunglasses tucked into a pocket but isn’t wearing any kind of prescription glasses I can see. Contact lenses??
Sexy as hell. There’s something about him – confidence? Energy? Work at identifying this! How to describe this? Charisma? Sex appeal? Wouldn’t kick him out of bed for eating cookies.
When he’s relaxed, you feel he could be your best friend. But when he’s annoyed, you know you want to be somewhere else. It’s like he’s living on the edge and some days the edge is wide and some – it’s razor thin.
It’s all in the energy he throws (Try to explain this better to readers) Aura? Energy field?
We were in a nondescript hotel room. I can’t give you any location details but I will say it wasn’t the best one I’ve ever been in. The walls were that inoffensive, faded, pale-blue seen in many hospitals. Stains on the faded carpet under the heat/air-conditioning unit didn’t impress me and I turned the unit off because the fan made an ungodly squeal like a bearing grinding itself to death. The ashtrays were empty but not clean and I, a former smoker, shook my head at the stale smell of smoke that was likely embedded in every bit of fabric in the room. The window was streaked where someone had used a rag to wipe it clean but the view wasn’t (edited to remove details of the view to protect the location) scenic.
I didn’t want to sit on the bed because I had just finished reading an article about the kinds of stains found on bedspreads if you shone a u-v light on them. Instead, I pulled out the black plastic armchair tucked under the desk because it looked like the cleanest thing in the room.
Merlin leaned against the wall on the opposite side of the room. I have no idea if he noticed the rundown nature of the hotel but given he was standing and didn’t perch anywhere, I’d like to think he felt the same way I did.
This was our first meeting and I confess as soon as our eyes met I had trouble remembering the list of questions I spent so much time preparing. Meeting his eyes for the first time was like sticking a finger in an electrical socket – a jolting, paralyzing rush of energy. I sucked in some air and the sound of rushing air sounded loud to me but his face never changed. It was as if he didn’t hear me, but I have a sense that not much gets by him.
I avoided his eyes and luckily a thought occurred to me it would be a good idea to get a sense of his true age. I started there.
Looking everywhere but his face, I said, “So you were born 4000 years before Jericho was settled and the famous wall built. That makes you 14,000 years old.” My tone of voice sounded incredulous even to me.
But he nodded and stared at me without saying a word.
I pulled my thoughst away from how he might be thinking about me and asked a simple question, “Was there really a wall?” I gathered the courage to meet his eyes.
(Let me interject. When Merlin laughs, you feel you must laugh. There’s something in his smile that’s contagious. We all know people with that kind of personality but the most contagious laughter you’ve ever experienced would only rate a 5 out of ten compared to Merlin’s joy. It’s the same with his sadness or any other emotion. They all seem more intense and there’s almost no way to describe them that doesn’t sound melodramatic. )
Merlin chuckled. “Testing out our Bible stories, are we? Oh yes, there was a wall and it was the first one I’d ever seen. You can check the archeologists on this but Jericho has had several walls in its history. Each successive one was taller and thicker than its predecessor but some army tore down and destroyed each one in its turn,” said Merlin.
“Can you give us a picture of that first wall?” I asked. I forced myself to breathe slowly.
“Well,” said Merlin, and he hesitated, took a breath, thought about it for a second and then spoke as if he were giving a lecture.
“Many people think of a walled city as they’re shown in movies. They think of a massive structure, a hundred feet tall, crowned with parapets and walkways for defence. And the fight happens when attackers lean ladders up against the walls and then climb the ladders. Defenders pour boiling oil down on them and lots of people fall screaming to their deaths.”
He stopped for a moment and looked at me, “Is that how you see a walled city?”
“Pretty much, yeah,” I agreed. I’d seen enough movies to recognize those walled cities.
“Thought so,” said Merlin. He stood, took a few steps to the hotel room wall, turned and leaned against it. “The reality is different for these early walls. Think about it for a minute. Up to this very first wall, we nomads had been attacking villages to rob and pillage the place. Nobody had built anything other than houses and barns. They’d hoped that if there were enough men to band together and defend the town, we’d leave them alone. In tough times, we’d find food somewhere else.”
He stopped for a moment and closed his eyes before speaking again as if he was recreating a picture in his mind. “That tactic worked better than you might think. If there were more of them than there were of you, would you go wildly riding into the middle of all those angry men?” Merlin chuckled, “It only took doing that once before we decided that wasn’t such a good idea.”
His voice turned serious again, “Our response to that was to join other tribes so our raiders were as numerous as their farmers.”
I watched him out of the corner of my eye as I made notes. He frowned and stared down at the floor for a minute before beginning again. He raised his eyes, and when he spoke again, it sounded as if he to force each individual word out.
“A few years before it had a wall, we sacked Jericho. We took all the cattle and food we could find, killed a ton of men, and took as many of the women and children as we could and made them carry the food for us. It was a brutal fight as the men fought back more than any previous group,” said Merlin. “Even the women were fighting and let me tell you, those were witches to subdue.” Merlin shook his head as he replayed the memory. “But we were the tougher as we’d always been.”
He shook his head and a soft grin creased one corner of his mouth.
“What’s funny?” I asked and met his stare.
“Nothing relevant,” said Merlin. “It was just something that happened to one of our tribe when he tried to force himself on the wrong woman. I think he talked an entire octave higher for a month and I’ve never seen swollen male parts like those since.”
I confess I chuckled, “Served him right.” If I’d been with friends, I would have said more but Merlin went silent so I shut up.
Merlin stood motionless and silent for what seemed like a long time, then said, “Different times.” He paused and repeated, “Different times.”
Merlin stopped talking again, clamped his lips together and closed his eyes.
Ten seconds of silence later, he reopened his eyes to meet mine, shook his head and said, “It’s tough to compare those times to today. Many things have changed – mostly for the better. And things continue to improve now, but they were different times with different rules for survival and it’s hard for some folks to understand this.
We still have a long way to go but at least we’re moving in a much more civilized direction now. I should also note I include myself as having a long way to go.
My only advantage is I’ve seen worse and know it. I also have a much better sense of where we’re headed. But you must trust me on that one.” A rueful grin accompanied his last statement.
“Did you ever own slaves?” I blurted out the question before my mind caught up to my mouth. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know, but it seemed a good idea to get this out in the open.
“No,” said Merlin.
I suspect my eyes opened wide at the anger in Merlin’s voice. It was raw emotion, and I thought there had to be a story there. I raised an eyebrow and hoped he’d continue. He did.
“That was one thing I never did before I had my abilities even though others in the tribe did. And after I got my powers, it became unthinkable that anybody could even contemplate it,” said Merlin.
He continued, “But the problem is you can only do so much – even when you have my powers – to change an entire civilization. Again, and I’m getting as tired of saying this as you likely are of hearing it, we’ve come a long way but still have a very long way to go.”
“Somebody will ask you though, why did you take people for slaves if you didn’t own them?” I asked. A stray thought rolled through my mind that I enjoyed watching this man tell stories. I shoved it down.
Merlin snorted. “The option was to kill them outright. Slit their throats. In those days leaving a defeated enemy to rebuild and give them another chance to kill you wasn’t a good survival tactic. As I said, different times.”
I thought about this as he was talking and agreed, I’d rather be a slave than dead. I’ve thought about it since though, and I’m not sure. It would depend on other circumstances.
I changed the subject.
“Did you ever go back to Jericho?” I asked.
Merlin nodded. “We did indeed go back,” said Merlin. “It could have been a few years or a decade or two. My memory of going back is clear but the timing between the visits isn’t so definite.” He laughed, “I’ve got a good memory. It’s short, but it’s good.” He stopped talking and closed his eyes.
“So you went back,” I repeated.
Merlin didn’t respond.
This was one of the times it’s better to wait, so I sat, still and quiet, my head facing out the window but watching him out of the corner of my eye.
He began again. “With the size of our tribe, we stirred up a good amount of dust as we approached. But, Jericho had changed. It wasn’t an open city with rows of houses with barns behind for the animals or crowded streets of clay hovels. A wall surrounded it,” said Merlin. “You have to understand, this wasn’t a wall like in the movies, it was only about 8 feet tall. There was a berm behind it so the wall wasn’t a stand-alone thing but more like what you’d now call a retaining wall.
But it was a wall, so we couldn’t just ride in unchecked. They built it out of stone and surrounded the entire city. And it wasn’t one wall but three – like a giant staircase. It dumbfounded us. Who would have thought about building a wall?”
Merlin stood and paced as he told the story. His face was unlined and relaxed as he continued, “So, we were looking at a stone wall, about eight feet tall. Again, my mind is hazy about the details but I remember when we got there, men lined the walls. They had seen us approaching and were ready for us.”
He stopped, looked directly at me and said, “Think about it, we had expected another easy fight and these folks had invented a new system of defence. In retrospect, it’s a wonder nobody did it earlier but…” Merlin considered this thought, grinned and said, “Makes you wonder what we’re not doing right now we’ll be doing in a few years.”
“What did you do?” I asked. I congratulated myself on my professional tone of voice.
“Well, the long and short of it is that we couldn’t figure out how to jump eight feet high when there was somebody there with a club to greet you and whack you over the head. We backed off, set up camp and got drunk,” said Merlin.
I confess I laughed at this. He seemed to appreciate my response, so he continued.
“In a fit of genius, I have them now and then you know, I suggested we pour cooking oil on the big wooden gate and light it on fire. We did that the next morning. They had no way of putting out the fire so the gate burned right down.” Merlin stopped speaking but his face continued changing as he remembered the details of the battle.
“We went through the embers and charged the townsmen. They’d lined up with their spears and cudgels in the confined space right behind the door. It was a brutal fight that left many men of both sides screaming with their guts hanging out. Being skewered alive or beaten with a club is not a pretty or pleasant way to die. Modern armies do not understand how easy they have it. Today, mostly they get killed immediately or there’s a medical team to help them survive. In those times, it often took days of screaming agony before the wounded died or their friends helped them cross.”
Merlin paused and in a low voice said, “Both sides lost good men and good friends. I doubt the survivors forgot that fight for the rest of their lives. I know I haven’t.” He stopped talking.
I let him have his memories and didn’t try to get him talking again but sat and stared at him in silence.
After a few minutes, Merlin shook his head, looked at me and nodded. “Yes, remembering the deaths of friends and family was no easier for those of us in those days than it is now.”
A curious smile then appeared on his face. “I will tell you the one thing that came from that battle that has been used ever since was the shield. A few of the Jericho troops had them and they were the last to die. I don’t know who thought of using a shield, it seems like an obvious thing to do now, but somebody thought of it first and that was the first time we’d seen it. Within a few years, every one of us and every soldier in the new cities – new cities were popping up like flies on horse droppings – had them.
While Jericho was the first of the walled cities and their wall wasn’t overly high, the cities learned from them. Each successive wall grew taller and thicker.
And every new wall – Jericho had a bigger one a decade later – was more advanced in defensive technology. It became harder and harder to conquer cities and we had to invent more and more technology ourselves to do this. Our tribe was one of the last major tribes to give up our wandering, predatory ways and build a city of our own. But that’s a story for another day as it too became one of the great civilizations of that ancient world.”
Merlin paused, looked at me and said, “I’m dry and could use a beer. You?”
I have to tell you when that mug of beer appeared in front of me I almost jumped out of the chair. I took a deep breath because I could see Merlin reaching for the one in front of him. He took an enormous first sip and after seeing him do that, I tentatively reached out, grabbed the handle, pulled it to my mouth and took a tiny sip. Best damn beer I’ve ever tasted.
I turned to thank him and he’d disappeared. Just like that. No goodbye. His beer mug disappeared with him. I stood, took another sip and watched as my beer mug slowly disappeared as well.
That was the most disappointing part of the entire day. I would have liked to finish that beer.