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2013 by Wayne Faust
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2013 by Wayne Faust
King Arthur did what he always did when he found himself in a rather tight spot. He called for his Wizard. Not that he enjoyed doing that. Merlin had been a thorn in his side for who knows how long. But the old fox was sometimes useful, especially at times like this. To put it bluntly, Arthur was suffering an attack of the wobblies. Why? Because the landscape around him had just changed in the blink of an eye. Again.
Oh, there was no doubt that the new scenery carried with it a certain rugged beauty. Waves crashed far below the bluffs where he stood. A bracing, salt spray blew into his face, just like it did in the former location of Camelot, in northeastern England where he had been just moments before. But this was not England at all. It was as remote a spot as he had ever seen. He recognized the place, for he had campaigned here with his knights back when Guinevere was a spring chicken.
"Merlin, what are we doing in Wales?" said Arthur to Merlin, who had just raced up the hill, ready as always to answer the call of his King.
Wheezing, Merlin tugged on his beard and scrunched up his face like a man who just bit into a gooseberry. "It's another one of those changes, My Lord. I don't fancy it any more than you do. But here we stand."
"But Wales? Am I now supposed to be King of the Welsh then?"
"Apparently so, Your Highness."
"But there are not sufficient vowels in Wales! As King, must I now be expected to pronounce words like Pontrhydfendigaid? Or Nantyffyllon? You must be joking."
"I only wish I was, Your Eminence."
Arthur sighed heavily and glanced back at the towers of the Camelot fortress, which had also just been transplanted from England to this bleak place. The towers were no longer majestic, having gotten at least twelve makeovers since the Days of Olde. Now they were some sort of pointy abominations made out of white canvas that frankly looked like they could have been sticking out of Lady Guinevere's corset.
"What happened to the towers this time?" asked Arthur.
"They are more energy efficient this way, Exalted One."
As usual, Arthur had no idea what his wizard was talking about. That seemed to be happening more and more lately, but Arthur was sure it wasn't because of his advancing age. Actually, 'advancing' was probably not the right word. 'Galloping' was more like it. Galloping like Arthur's best steed.
Standing there on the bluff, Arthur found himself again longing for the Days of Olde when towers were made out of good English stone. And that wasn't all. These days he longed for a whole world full of things, a world that had disappeared into the good English mists.
"Why does everything have to continually change?" pleaded Arthur. "Should I not be able to fight off the invading Saxons again, lopping off heads with Excalibur and riding to the rescue of English civilization?"
Merlin shrugged his stooped shoulders, shifted his purple Wizard's hat, and pointed up at the sky. "Don't blame me for all these changes. It's Them."
"Them?" asked Arthur. "I thought we only worshipped one God. At least since we became Christians."
"They're not gods, Your Grace. And we don't worship them, not hardly. I don't like it any more than you do. But we simply have to do what they say. Because they're Them."
"Who?" asked Arthur.
"Them," answered Merlin. "The people that decide these things."
"But who are they and why do they keep making me do these things? First I am a hero - a young boy pulling Excalibur from the stone when all the best warriors in the Realm could not. Then I am wielding Excalibur as a young man, winning battle after battle, single-handedly slaying a thousand enemies in one day. That's what the Chronicler said and why should he have lied about that? I remember the blood and guts all over the field. Extremely distasteful but satisfying in an odd sort of way.
"But was I allowed to remain that way, happily slaying my enemies? No! The next thing I know, I am forsaking campaigning all together to gallop all over creation with my knights, looking for a dish. Or a cup. Nobody knows what it actually was because we were never able to find it. I wasted the prime years of my life on that one.
"And then I found myself dressed like a namby-pamby, bowing down to maidens while lutes played and Lancelot ran off with my wife. The flower of chivalry and all that rot.
"But even that was not the worst of it. Suddenly I found myself breaking into songs of romance at the slightest prompting. Songs to Guinevere. Songs to the weather. Even songs to Camelot. I was singing to my own house! Full orchestras behind the potted plants, accompanying me as I sang, with my knights harmoniously singing backup while still dressed in armor. Positively beastly! But they made me do it. And I simply could not stop.
"And now this. King Arthur a Welshman? Ruler of a bunch of savages dressed in animal skins and peeing on the ground? They are worse than the Saxons! What a miserable way to spend my final days."
Merlin brightened. "Oh, these aren't your final days, Your Greatness. You'll never see your final days, if you don't mind my saying. They'll always bring you back, won't they then?"
"Every story must come to an end, no matter how bold," muttered Arthur. "And I do not mind saying that with the way things are going these days, I will be grateful to see it all fritter away to its sad conclusion."
"But your story will never end, Your Grey Eminence! Or mine, for that matter. Things will simply change."
"But that is the problem in a nutshell," complained Arthur. "Every time I get used to something, it changes. I think there is a voice in the sky that says, ''ere you go Arthur! Put on these tights, that's a good lad! If you bloody hell don't like 'em - too bad! And when you get used to tights, we'll change 'em into knickers! Because we know better!'"
Merlin chuckled in spite of himself. He had never seen his King this worked up before. Nor had he ever heard him use the colloquial accent.
"You'll get used to it like always, Your Wonderfulness," said Merlin soothingly.
Arthur shook his head. "How can I get used to anything when things are changing faster than ever? Was it not just a few years ago when we roamed the countryside on pretend horses with people throwing dead cows over the walls at us? Brilliant! Why don't we put the great Arthur in a comedy! The people were laughing at me. Laughing! The great Arthur, Slayer of the Saxons, Conqueror of All the Island, an object of ridicule. And now this...Welsh thing. It seems to have come out of nowhere."
Merlin pursed his lips. "Yes, events do seem to be accelerating. Maybe it's because there are more of Them now."
"But who are they?"
"They are Them."
Arthur grunted. "That is terrible grammar, Merlin. You would never have let me get away with that when I was just a young sapling and you were my teacher."
Merlin continued patiently. "Them are the ones who decide things. I can't discern all the details. I just know that they're multiplying, and each one is looking for ways to reinvent us. They're making movies about us. And TV shows. Not to mention internet blogs. And tweets."
Arthur covered his grey, bushy head with his hands. "Whatever are you talking about? Are you speaking Welsh?"
"No, Your Wiseness. It's English. Sort of. From America."
"America?" asked Arthur. "Where is that?"
"It's after your time. You're not supposed to know."
Arthur grunted. "If America is after my time, then by definition I am dead. But you said that they will always bring me back again."
"And so they have."
"Very well. So now I can know what is going on and you can answer my questions in English. Or rather, real English."
"You can only know things to a certain point, Your Graciousness. If you knew everything, you might rebel against Them and go your own way."
"I always go my own way - I'm the bloody King, aren't I? Master of all I survey?"
"You can only survey what you can see, My Lord. You can't see Them. Even I can't see Them. Even with my magic."
Arthur's face turned as red as a plague sore. He made a sound in the back of his throat like a rooting pig. He began to pace the edge of the bluff and mutter to himself. Merlin was afraid he would actually jump off the edge. But he didn't.
"Am I still King?" asked Arthur finally.
"Indubitably so, Your Exaltedness."
"King of the Welsh then?"
"Then I still have power." It was a statement, not a question.
As if to confirm the King's words, a wave thundered loudly on the rocks below. Arthur seemed to gather strength from the sound. He took a deep breath and thrust out his chest. He looked off to the west, out over the churning grey waves. He held Excalibur high into the air like he once had in front of an entire Saxon army. He thrust out his chin and shouted at the top of his lungs, his voice echoing.
"I am Arthur, Conqueror of Saxons and Subjugator of Scots! On this day, the Year of Our Lord..." he paused and looked at Merlin questioningly.
"I'm not sure what year it is, Your Powerfulness," answered Merlin. "With all the changes, I've lost track."
"Never mind then. On this day, in the Year of Our Lord Whatever, I resolve to start a Great Crusade to find Them! And when I do find Them at last, I will slay Them, every last one. And I will scatter their pitiful remains to the four winds so that they can never change anything again!"
And with that, Arthur raced off the bluff and into the fortress of Camelot to prepare for battle as he had done so many times before.
Merlin watched him go and remained on the bluff alone, gazing down at the surf. He sighed. His job was to comfort the King but there were some times when even the most powerful Wizard was helpless in this regard. No one could stand against Them. Arthur had a better chance of finding the Holy Grail.
But there was no more time to dwell on these great matters. Merlin sensed that things were indeed accelerating. Something was coming on fast, something very big. It was moving in from far to the west, changing the pressure in the air like a winter gale. But it was much too black, much too jumbled with mysterious, churning images to be a natural occurrence. Merlin knew instinctively that this was like no other storm before it and that Arthur's reign as King of the Welsh would be very short-lived indeed. In the next few minutes, a monumental change would come to Camelot that would dwarf everything that had come before.
An ominous rumbling could now be heard far out over the water, from way beyond Wales, from way beyond even Ireland. Like a tidal wave the change came on, engulfing the whole world. In seconds, it had engulfed Camelot. Again.
To Merlin, it had simply felt like a blink. One second he had been standing on the cliff over the water and the next second he was somewhere very different. Or rather, somewhere very different had come to him. The rocky, moss-covered ground beneath his feet had given way to some sort of smooth, hard surface. It was like nothing Merlin had ever seen or felt before. The ocean had disappeared, only to be replaced with a jumble of buildings, infinitely taller than any structure in London Towne. The sound of the wind had been replaced with a dissonant clamor that was louder than the battle of armies.
Merlin was standing in the middle of a huge city. It was not a medieval city surrounded by walls, but a place of endless stone, glass, and steel, with carriages moving down the road on their own power, not a horse in sight. There were a few trees, but they were not like the green trees of England. These trees mostly looked tired from trying to live in air that smelled like the air behind Camelot when Galahad was tanning hides.
Even though he was undoubtedly the Greatest Wizard of All Time, Merlin didn't quite know what to make of this whole scene, in spite of his vast knowledge of foreign cultures and worlds. But he was nothing if not adaptable. And when it came right down to it, this wasn't any stranger than some of the cities he had seen on the quest for the Grail. He gazed around, looking left and right, high and low.
He heard a voice in his ear. No, that wasn't right. He heard the voice directly inside his mind. It was Them. He cocked his head and listened intently. Then he began to laugh.
Moments ago, Arthur had been asking about America. Well, here it was. They had not traveled to America, but instead, America had come to them. And Arthur was not going to believe what his newest quest was going to be.
Merlin looked to the east where Arthur's Camelot fortress had just been standing. It was still there of course, like it always was wherever Arthur went. Only this time it too had changed, a change more radical than any of the others before. Instead of a castle with flapping canvas towers, it was now a very tall, dilapidated building with endless rows of windows, many of them broken or cracked. On the front of its worn stone facade were these words:
CAMELOT TOWERS - CHICAGO HOUSING AUTHORITY
Merlin took off his Wizard's hat, which had now become a wide-brimmed, round blue cap with a red 'C' stitched on the front. He scratched his head. Finally, he shouted up to the sky, "You've got to be kidding!" But he knew it was no use. No matter how much he pleaded or prayed to Them, it was like arguing with a contrary wife.
Merlin let out a huge sigh. But he knew what his role was, no matter how many changes they had all been through. It was time to do his wizardly job. Lately he was becoming less and less Wizard and more and more Royal Counselor. And his King was certainly going to need counseling now. Lots of it.
As Merlin looked on and tried not to giggle, Arthur staggered out of Camelot Towers. He was wearing baggy pants that sat halfway down his thighs, making him waddle like a duck. The top of his underwear was showing around his ample, royal behind. Instead of Excalibur, he was carrying some sort of tapered, wooden club. His neck was weighted down with enough shiny baubles on gold chains to rival the Crown Jewels of England. As he weaved unsteadily towards Merlin, something like music was blaring from everywhere. It had no lilting, medieval melody. In fact, it had no melody at all. It was composed chiefly of throbbing beats, relentless bass notes, and shouted, angry words.
Arthur swayed in the middle of all this chaos, mouth opening and closing like a cod on the beach. His frightened eyes found Merlin and the wizard was reminded of the small boy who had once pulled a sword out of a stone. Merlin was no longer amused, but took pity on his King. He walked forward and put his hand upon Arthur's shoulder.
"Where in God's name are we?" asked Arthur. "What year is this?"
"This time I can give you that answer. It is the year of our Lord two thousand and sixteen, and it is springtime."
"But where are the blooming daffodils, the foxgloves, the marigolds? And more importantly, why are we here?"
"You've been given a new Quest," said Merlin.
"Another Grail?" asked Arthur, eyes darting back and forth in misery and fear.
"Much more difficult this time," said Merlin.
"Good God," said Arthur. "What is it?"
"You are here to inspire a whole gaggle of knights."
"Knights?" asked Arthur hopefully. "Are we to gather at a round table?"
"Regrettably, no. They show their athletic prowess on a diamond-shaped field of play."
"Do they play a game? As in jousting?"
"Something like that," said Merlin. "The players on the Field Of Wrigley seek the Sacred Chalice."
"It is to be a chalice this time? What kind?"
"A chalice that has been lost to this city for over a hundred years. It can only be hoisted by Champions of The World."
Arthur's face brightened in spite of himself. "Champions of the entire world? Of every realm and country?"
"Well, not exactly. It's just champions of America but they like to flatter themselves."
Arthur sighed. "I feel that this will be exceedingly difficult."
"You have no idea," muttered Merlin. "But at least you still have Excalibur."
Arthur looked at the wooden club in his hand. It was wide at one end and tapered at the other, with a natural, smooth handle. These words were carved into the widest part:
EXCALIBUR - BASEBALL BAT OF CHAMPIONS
Arthur wielded the club with both hands and swung it back and forth. "It feels rather formidable. Am I to hit my rivals over the head with this?"
"Not exactly," said Merlin. "You're supposed to hit a ball."
"A ball? But where is the honor in that?"
"You'll see," Merlin assured him.
In true fairy tale tradition, Merlin and King Arthur inspired the Knights of Wrigley to do something forbidden them for one hundred and eight years. Arthur played the grand game on the field under a different name, while Merlin spent the season in the training room, masquerading as a team doctor, using his magic whenever it was especially needed, to change the trajectory of a ball, or to cause hated opponents to make a key mistake. When the grand competition was finally over after seven games and extra time at the end, they hoisted a gleaming trophy amidst flashes of light far brighter than any Arthur had seen back in England. Arthur thought that if they had ever found the Holy Grail, it might have looked exactly like the chalice they held aloft.
Two days later, they rode on top of a long, horseless carriage, surrounded by over five million cheering subjects who filled every street and pathway.
"It pains me to admit this," chuckled Arthur as the carriage crept slowly along, "but I think Them finally did something worthwhile."
"Indubitably, Your Championshipness," answered Merlin.
"And I suppose we shall live Happily Ever After?"
"Perhaps," said Merlin with a smile. "Or at least until next season."
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