Among his many regrets, what was the one thing that will haunt Merlin’s soul forever?
I have to confess I’d wanted to ask Merlin that question but didn’t have the courage to go that deeply into his mind. And when I screwed up the courage (Thanks Bobbi for the prodding) he fooled me again with his answer.
“Interesting question,” said Merlin. “There are two things I’d want to comment on. The first is whether I have a soul left after all these years or whether I had one to begin with?
The existence or lack of a soul is a religious concept that’s shared by many religions. Humans have fought wars and tortured or burned individuals at the stake over the answer to this question.
So whether I had one to begin with or whether it still exists is something I suspect theologians are only interested in arguing. Short answer – nobody knows. I sure don’t know.”
His laugh when he finished this was more a snort than a full out laugh of joy.
I opened my mouth to ask a follow-up question, but he held up his hand to stop me. And when Merlin wants you to stop, let me tell you it’s a good idea to stop.
He continued, “But having said that, it’s possible your reader is asking what I remember most that’s a difficult memory. I don’t think she’s asking about good memories given she used the word ‘haunt.’
So what’s the memory I wish I could change?
To begin, you need to understand my abilities in the area you call magic are things I have to learn one step at a time. It’s not like I figured it all out in one moment. I’ve been learning and taking new steps my entire life and continue doing so. So some things I can do now, I hadn’t even considered doing then. And some things I’m still working on now,” he said with what I’d call an almost-evil grin.
“But I digress,” he said.
“The memory I wish I could change has to do with my life in the mountains you now call Switzerland. I had wandered there, met a woman, and we fell madly in love. Now, when I say madly, I mean exactly that. It was – and remains to this day – one of the most passionate and meaningful relationships in my life. We had a small farm and were members of the Helvetian tribe. That was one of the smaller Celtic groups of the time. I was tired of magic and deliberately kept a low profile and had not made my skills public.”
Merlin chuckled, “Oh, I used them to help our animals deliver babies and to make the crops grow bigger and better. Those were small things, but I stayed away from the priests and their beliefs. I wanted to live a simple life with my love, have children and just be normal again. I had avoided any of the leadership roles I’d had in the past and I wanted to live where nobody knew I had a gift.”
He stopped, looked at me and said, “There are things you have to learn the hard way. One of them is you can’t deny your own true self for very long. You only fool yourself unless you make a real change.” And then he laughed again but it was a mocking laugh rather than one of joy. “Damn, but I sound like a therapist I used to know.” He shook his head, looked right into my eyes, and said, “This is the hard part.”
He took a deep breath, his voice softened, and I felt his sadness increase bit by bit as he continued his story.
“So when the leaders of the tribe decided we’d have to move because there was far too many of us for our small mountain valleys, the entire tribe packed up.
Scouts had found a much better area where we’d be safer, the land was better for farming, and there was no competition for it. In case you’re wondering, that was up in northern France where there weren’t very many people and we’d be able to colonize.”
He took a big breath as if he was looking for another way to put off telling the story.
“But first, we had to get there. And that meant crossing a rather large area where other Celtic tribes already lived. It was also where a Roman known as Julius Caesar and his armies were in full control.”
Note To Editor: I deleted all the profanity and descriptions that Merlin used to describe Caesar. The lawyers would never have approved it.
“We sent emissaries to Caesar and the tribes who owned the land asking permission to cross the territory. We paid some kind of tax for this if I remember correctly, but you’d have to go to the history books to see what this was. As I said, I wasn’t in charge and didn’t worry about these things. I just wanted to get my wife, kids, and animals to the new territory.
If you’ve read Caesar’s account of this, you’ll know once all three hundred thousand of us were on the move, strung out for miles as we traveled, he “discovered” we had broken our promises not to raid or destroy the villages we were passing.
As an aside, Caesar made his fortune by capturing people and selling them on the slave markets. I give the man credit. He learned to share the incredible amounts of money he made with his troops so they were all behind the plan as well.”
Note to Editor. More profanity removed here as well so that accounts for the difference in the tape and transcript.
“As I said, Caesar “discovered “we’d broken our promises and attacked. The battles were short and bloody. We couldn’t abandon our families. We couldn’t amass a large enough body of men to fight his legions, and when we did, he’d engage us with some of his men and send other troops around to capture our women and children. It was a no-win situation for us. We turned back to Switzerland.
Out of the 300,000 who’d started the journey, only 30,000 of us won our way back to our homes and farms in Switzerland. The rest were dead or sold as slaves in Rome.
Back in Switzerland, we discovered someone had burned down our homes and barns.
Then winter set in. We had no food, no shelter.”
Editor note: profanity again
“Let me apologize for taking so long to get to the point of your question.
I couldn’t teleport. I had no way of moving quickly
I scrabbled through every gutted house and basement in our old village, looking for anything edible – no matter how rotted. I chopped out sections of frozen garden with my axe looking for insects or worms or anything edible. I found some rotting vegetables and roots to share but the pickings were slim. We’d harvested everything we could find before we’d left the mountains in anticipation of a long march.
I had no way of finding food. No way of moving my family given the deepening snow. No way of protecting them from the elements. I kept myself alive using my internal energy resources, but I watched helplessly as my wife and children faded. And one by one, I held them as they died.
I promised I’d be brutally honest in answering these questions so let me say I considered cannibalism. Briefly. I couldn’t bury my family in the frozen ground, so I dropped them down a crevice in the mountain where nobody could reach them. Where no animal would find them and where none of the survivors would be tempted to … Well, nobody could find them.
And yes, I’ve gone back and the crevice isn’t there. The glacier swallowed them up. Perhaps someday it will surrender them but for now, they’re as safe there as they would be anywhere.
I walked out of those mountains and headed east to China. And I learned to teleport while I was there.
His voice was almost a whisper, he closed his eyes and his face mirrored the pain in his voice as he finished, “But I couldn’t save the woman I loved or our children.”
Then it changed into one of pure joy. “When I came back, I killed so many of those bastards, their empire fell. And that felt as good as anything I’ve ever done,” he said and disappeared without so much as a nod, wave or word.