Merlin got out of his car, closed the door carefully and silently and slowly walked towards the entrance to the Portsmouth Dockyard tourist site. The smile on his face was one of celebratory anticipation as he found the energy signature of his staff ahead of him.
He’d dressed for the occasion with his oldest, and most favored clothes – old, leather hiking boots, blue jeans and scuffed leather jacket over an old, faded blue, button-downed denim shirt. His faded clothes matched the mood of the cold, storm-threatening night.
The power was strongest here, but he still couldn’t get a decent enough reading from it to pinpoint the staff’s location. He knew he was close, but after all the years apart neither he nor the staff could quite get their signals to match. He had to get closer.
Merlin wasn’t a poor man; one couldn’t live for centuries without accumulating a significant amount of money, but he was delighted to be here at midnight to avoid the £35 entrance fee. The gate opened at his touch and he walked unseen with only the night security lighting attempting, unsuccessfully, to produce his shadow.
Once through the requisite shop at the entranceway, his excitement increased and he deliberately stopped his feet from breaking into a dance step. He held back any premature expression of the joy as it would interfere with his focus. He knew he and his staff had a lot of catching up and celebrating to do later tonight. Turning towards every part of the dockyard in a slow circle, he felt for the source of the weak signal. It was stronger straight ahead of him.
He walked down the roadway, past the various museum buildings, towards an area where he could see masts jutting towards the sky. He raised his hand as if he was shielding his eyes from the glare from the sun. It may have looked out of place on this midnight incursion, but doing so gave him a clearer picture of which one of the three ships was the critical one for his search. The signal was strongest from the middle ship and Merlin increased his pace in that direction.
The ship was partially hidden as it was in dry dock behind other buildings, but the three tall masts clearly stood out against the night sky overlooking the Thames. He ignored the rest of the jutting masts from the other vessels on display, focusing instead on the faint signal coming from HMS Victory the most famous ship in the British navy.
That signal didn’t increase in strength or tempo as he approached but continued a steady but intermittent noise below the normal human threshold for hearing. Merlin wondered if whales could hear and recognize the subsonic, drum-beat pounding or whether it was simply aimed at him.
He looked at the grand old ship with her freshly painted hull and upper decks and shook his head ruefully at how low this historic sailing vessel had sunk to become a tourist trap. Gracing the waterfront, he knew the wood and ship herself would have preferred to venture out on one last voyage. She would’ve preferred to die as she lived, a powerful memory and force on the world. Instead, she sat as one whose time had come and gone and now moldered in a dry dock as a frozen reminder of what she’d once been. He pushed back against the threatening sadness.
He stopped walking, looked at the ship, and wondered whether he was thinking about the ship or himself. “Am I relic on display as well, or am I still a force to be reckoned with yet?” he said out loud.
He quickly looked around, investigated every shadow and then smiled because there was no one in earshot to hear the ramblings of an old man. Imagining he was having yet another conversation with Admiral Nelson, he clasped his hands behind his back. He slowly walked the length of the Victory, turned at the magnificent bowsprit and paced, as if he was inspecting the ship, to the stern. Having accomplished this, he smiled in triumph because in doing so, he had triangulated the location of his staff. It stood squarely at the center of the sailing craft in front of him.
Pulling himself erect and squaring his shoulders, he marched to the gangplank. He stopped there and looked up at what was now a metal ramp with fenced-in sides and handrails instead of the simple wooden gangplank that was used when the boat was first launched.
Things change, he thought as a wave of sadness interrupted his triumphant reunion. Things change and not necessarily for the better. Taking slow steps, one by one, he ignored the handrail. I’m not at the point of needing a handrail. Under his breath, he said, “Stupid bureaucratic rules.”
On deck, the interpretive signs were clear about where he should go and what he might consider looking at but he had only eyes for the mainmast. It was too large to have been constructed out of a single tree. As a made mast, it was considered a work of art as the shipwrights had carefully joined some of the straightest-grained spruce in the entire Empire. He sent his power into the wood feeling deep within its core to the source of the signal – a length of good old English oak – put there for strength by those long-dead shipwrights. And within that 12″x12″ oak heart was his staff.
He smiled to himself with he thought it was a good thing they didn’t try to saw his staff in half. If a metal saw blade tried to penetrate or release the power within that wood, there was no telling what mayhem would have resulted. He laughed out loud and then guiltily glanced around. There were no other people within earshot.
Merlin walked smartly to the mast, looked at it, smiled, reached over with his right hand and leaned up against the mast. He bowed his head, closed his eyes and focused all of his attention and power through his hand. He felt his power slice through the spruce like boiling water through a cube of ice and only stop at the center of the mainmast when he touched the chunk of old oak.
A warm comforting feeling filled him completely as he touched the wood with his open, questing fingers. As he directed all of his energy and power towards it, he called his staff’s name. It was one that only he knew and he pulled it out from that locked vault in his mind he’d just freed from the Lady’s grasp.
His hand tingled as the power surge went through it into the wood. The spruce gently vibrated around his arm as it transmitted the call through to its oak heartwood.
The staff lay in the heartwood, right at the center of that magical strength. It quickened. It felt Merlin’s call and in responding, drew upon the strength it had been husbanding for centuries.
Merlin imagined his hand opening, pictured the staff moving away from the heartwood, felt it smooth well-worn surface touch his open palm. He closed his fingers around it and felt the staff’s recognition.
The moment the staff felt Merlin’s energy, it fully awoke from its deep hibernation. It recognized the hand, it felt Merlin’s energy field and it surrendered itself as one does inside a marriage. In a very real sense, Merlin and the staff had joined themselves both physically, spiritually and mentally and had supported each other down through the ages. The parting had been hard for both of them and had only been accomplished so successfully by mutual agreement and need.
While not fully sentient by itself, the staff had a unique form of energy that enhanced Merlin’s abilities. In turn, when in full partnership and contact with Merlin, the staff became self-aware. It was indeed like a loving marriage where each has its own powers and abilities and characteristics as individuals but joined together, a good partnership lends each of them strengths beyond what each can achieve as individuals.
The staff pulsed in rhythm to match Merlin’s heartbeat. The two stood as one for ten seconds as every molecule in their respective selves rebuilt into their old partnership. When Merlin opened his eyes, they were once again a unified team of energy and persona.
Merlin’s joy knew no bounds. Gathering his concentration, he closed his eyes again to center all of his newly recovered power on the staff. Slowly but surely he pulled the staff out towards him. As the staff moved through the wood, the two of them filled in behind them with wood of an equal density so the mast would not be weakened. The closer it got to freedom, the stronger the staff became. A smile erupted on Merlin’s face and he laughed out loud. He felt his feet want to break into a dance but he restrained them.
Merlin smiled and addressed the old ship in a soft whisper. “Old girl, my goal here today is to simply reclaim my own. My goal is not to hurt you. Please let it go.”
The staff moved a little quicker, quarter inch by quarter inch, towards Merlin. Merlin drew on their combined power and brought that magnificent piece of magic out into the modern world and freedom for the both of them.
Again, Merlin’s laugh echoed around the shipyard as the shape of the wood appeared on the outside edges of the mast. Small sparks danced along every inch of his exposed skin with the immense power he and the staff were generating. There was a crackling in the air and Merlin smiled as he congratulated himself for being smart enough to do this at night to avoid the tourists.
The staff stopped very briefly as it touched the wide iron bands encircling the mast. Merlin concentrated on the iron and created holes in it. It was a myth that pure iron stopped his power, but he didn’t advertise the fact.
When the staff emerged into the moonlight for the first time in the ages of modern man, the staff released an energy burst, a shout, and exultation to the universe. That cry of freedom was so strong it threatened to deafen all who existed in the fae realms.
Merlin stood silently looking at and, once again, falling deeply in love with his staff and its energy. There was no blaze of light, there was no visible manifestation of the union. A human observer would see only an old man resting his forehead on the wood as if in prayer.
In the world of fae, however, it was if a signpost had exploded. It was the human equivalent of spotlights shining on the magical pair and fireworks exploding high in the sky. It was a burst of exuberant energy and love so great that none in the fae world could or would ignore.
On a long forgotten lake, 30 miles from any civilization with the blue water sparkling in the full sunshine, the energy easily covered a small island.
When the energy burst reached the Lady of the Lake, she stopped moving and took a sharp breath. It was then, and only then, she recognized that Merlin had willingly given up his power, had willingly been enslaved for those ages because he recognized he had made a mistake and needed to hide away. It wasn’t that she was more powerful, he simply didn’t want to have to do battle with her and reveal the extent of the power he controlled. For his mistake and for all their futures, he had given her the victory.
His staff had saved him and his energies for the long centuries of his imprisonment by the Lady. Those days were over. With his staff, and restored to his full power, Merlin was now more than a match for the Lady and for what lay in front of him.
In their mutual love, the staff didn’t hesitate at all and sent its message across the fae realms. It announced Merlin was reclaiming his rightful place in this age. And Merlin’s words followed, “This was my land it was named after me, and now it is mine again. So say I.”
Merlin pounded the deck three times with the butt of the staff as if in emphasis. In reality, he sent the words resounding into the ether for all to hear.
The world of fae stood silent for a moment. Then one by one all dropped their eyes and heads in silent salute to the return of the first and greatest lord.
The Lady was the only one who stood, head unbowed, eyes blazing, staring up and out into the energetic firmament.