Question for Merlin: Did you See what would happen with Guinevere? Did you know she and Mordred would bring about an end to what you had worked so hard to achieve with the Pendragon line? What would you do differently if you could?”
I thought it was a great question, and I looked forward to our meeting and the answers.
Apparently, Merlin was in no mood for sitting in a hotel room and he told me where we should meet.
I found myself in one of the sleaziest bars I’ve ever been in. I’m no shrinking violet and I’ve had my time with one or two beers too many, but this bar was a step below anything I’d ever experienced. Come to think of it, it was two or three steps below any other bar I’d been in.
But it was quiet – the only patron there besides ourselves was fast asleep or drunk with his head on the table. The fragrance of stale beer, sweat, and urine was soaked into the wooden floor and it took a few minutes before my brain ignored my nose. I ordered a pitcher of beer and sat there, a woman by herself and feeling more than a bit exposed until Merlin walked through the door.
The heels of his cowboy boots clicked across the old wood floors as he sauntered towards me. His head swiveled around checking for other patrons but we were in the only one in the bar besides the bartender and the snoring drunk. He was careful to pull out the chair facing the door, and only then with his feet up on one of the other chairs, his chair tilted back on its back legs, he pulled my pitcher of beer over in front of him, and he smiled at me.
“And how is my favorite scribe this fine afternoon?” he asked after filling then draining a glass of beer.
“I’m fine,” I said, “You? You look like you’ve lost weight.”
“Working out. Gotta stay in shape,” he grinned. He did a double take at his empty glass. “Must be American beer. Damn thing is close to water,” he said. He looked at me, snorted and said, “Did you hear…”
I interrupted, “Yes. The entire world has heard that joke.”
He gave me one of his loudest harrumphs and I confess I laughed at him. I think that may have been one of the first times I interrupted him.
He raised one eyebrow and smiled at me. It was that same enigmatic smile that appeared whenever he had a thought he wasn’t going to share with me so rather than prolong his self-satisfied, smug feeling any longer, I jumped right in with a question.
(I wasn’t in the best of moods and I will not go into why. Just understand that life gets in the way of doing your job sometimes.)
Let’s get the questions out of the way. “Did you see what would happen with Guinevere? And what would you do differently?” I asked.
And with the most irritating look on his face, he said, “How could I? Who can see the future? I can’t. And nobody I know can. There are just so many stories about what I can and cannot do that it amazes me. I once thought about getting a public relations agent to help me, but then realized it was so far out of control that my image can neither be improved or destroyed. It just is.”
He shook his head at me and continued before I could respond.
“As for Mordred, he tried to marry Guinevere, but she wasn’t having any of it in the last iteration of the story. The reprobate Sir Thomas Mallory got it correct. And he did wound Arthur with a death blow, but Arthur killed him outright.”
“And the Pendragon line?” I asked.
He paused and said, “Between us, the Pendragon line is not dead. I won’t say any more about this, I’ve probably said too much now, but we haven’t reached the Seventh Council yet, and by the way, you had better hope we never do.”
“You’ve mentioned that Seventh Council before,” I said meeting his eyes. “Tell me more about this.
He ignored me as he often did but continued answering the first question. “What what I do differently? I’d go back to Tahiti and never come off the island again. Between the English, the French, the Welsh, and the Scots, I’ve had just about enough of all you lot,” he said. He paused and then added, “Toss in the ever-belligerent Americans and it’s a reason to find another planet.”
He waved at the bartender who nodded and filled another pitcher of beer. “It’s terrible stuff this American beer but when it’s all you have…” He paused while the bartender plunked the pitcher down on the table without spilling a drop. A twenty-dollar bill appeared in Merlin’s hand, “Keep the change,” he said. The bartender looked a lot happier with the bill in his hand than he had just moments before. He and Merlin exchanged that look men have between themselves and nodded at each other. That was all the thanks he offered and, seemingly, it was enough for Merlin.
Merlin waited until the bartender was out of earshot and began again, “I have far more than enough reasons to hang it all up on some deserted island and wait until you all do yourselves in. The decisions you people make about your own future amazes me.” He drained his glass and refilled it, then offered to fill mine but I covered the top of the glass with my hand. He nodded and put the pitcher on the table.
And relaunched what sounded more and more like a lecture rather than a conversation. “There is some unfounded rumor I can control humanity, that I can make you do what I want you to do. While it is true I can influence some of your decisions, I’ve learned that trying to control a human is like trying to put toothpaste back into a tube. It can be done, but it’s messy and the effort is seldom worth it.” He shook his head, erased the wry look on his face while he drained another glass of beer.
I opened my mouth to ask a followup question but never got the words out before he began again.
“I confess with the Seventh Council staring me in the face, I am working to stuff more of that toothpaste than I ever have before. That’s probably not what you wanted to hear, but that’s my story and I’m sticking to it,” he said the words clicking out with every word emphasized and enunciated. I hadn’t had enough beer to need that kind of emphasis on each word and I wondered what was bothering him.
Merlin gave me one of those looks I’ve come to expect, their best described as part dare, part refusal, and part who gives a…
“So what is it you expect we mere mortals to do?” I asked. My tone may have become exaggerated or sarcastic given I’d tried to keep up my end of the beer drinking.
“And you’re not helping any,” he said. He drained another glass of beer without spilling any or getting it on his mustache.
“In fact, you’re likely one of the worst of them…” He said as he disappeared with a snap of his fingers.
He was obviously having a bad day, and that made two us. I wondered what he’d have to say about it the next time we met. I chugged my glass of beer – hadn’t done that since college – laughed at myself and called a cab.