Book One of the Merlin’s Gambit Trilogy
… And of the Secret Never to be Told
Once I’m calm again I start to look at this Arian thing, trying to find some explanation for Theodosius’ enmity towards anyone professing to believe this theological point. The point itself is, in my opinion, trifling – the trinitarian belief of the Nicene creed is that God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three persons in one, all of the same substance and equal by nature; the non-trinitarian belief is that Jesus is not the same as, but is distinct from, God the Father, as he was created by God and did not always exist – but makes a lot more sense, given that he was supposed to have been human. Sense, however, is not a thing one sees over much of in any context arising within Nicene Christianity. There are never any clear answers, only fudged explanations of letting faith and the Holy Spirit show farers the Truth and the Light along the Christian Way. That’s reason enough for enmity, I would imagine, having no substantial thesis with which to fight your way out of an argument, but I do not think that Theodosius’ anger can be explained away so easily. It’s as if he were punishing every Arian merely for existing, or searching for something beyond earthly power that he knew to exist and thought to find it in the hands of every Arian he persecuted. That’s when I saw it, hiding deep in the darkness of the man’s subconscious.
“It’s the bloody Ark!” I exclaim. I’m as surprised at this revelation as I’m sure Francesco will be once I’ve managed to liberate this little gem from my own subconscious. “Well, it’s the equivalent form of it that every generation searches for once an understanding of it is reached, at any road.”
“All Greek to me, boy. Just let me know when you’re talking Latin again, will you?”
“It’s the way the mind works, Old Man.” I grin broadly at him as the final pieces of this particular thought process slot together in my head. “People have to have something to search for. Usually it’s unattainable, so the quest is never-ending, you know, like the Ark of the Covenant. And that’s what Theodosius’ secret is all about, what the secret inner circle of his bodyguard was set up to search for. Which, incidentally, was called The Order. At least that’s what they called themselves, and the name’s stuck … sticks … fast, for centuries.”
“Myrddin, slow down! I can’t keep up,” he huffs and puffs in irritation. “And I don’t understand what the Ark of the Covenant has to do with it, it’s over a thousand years old!”
“Yes, ok, bad example. Think of the Holy Grail, then. The cup that Jesus drank from, which Joseph of Arimathea brought with him to Glastonbury and which is said to have been hidden in the foundations of the abbey that was built there.” Long gone now! All the stone looted, even the foundations are all grown over with grass and weeds.
“Ah, yes, the infamous Cup of the Last Supper. Now that I understand. Carry on with the story, my boy. I’m interested to hear of what it was that Theodosius was searching for.”
“Well, it’s something he believes to be as powerful an object as the Ark or the Grail Cup. So great, in fact, that it will bestow unimaginable gifts upon its possessor. But it’s also a thing of great Christian significance. Arian Christian significance, perhaps. He believed that the Arians possessed it, whatever it was … is. Which means that they still do, or at least that The Order believes that they do. And that’s why The Order’s still in existence, why it will go on existing through the centuries. As will the object – let’s just call it the Grail for now, for the sake of convenience, if nothing else.” I’m thinking fast, the words tumbling out without finesse or the reality check of analysis. Falling over myself and bubbling up like an eager spring … never a good way to present new ideas. So I sit silent for a while to reflect, let the words come and the edifice of reason appear in my musings. His intention was to kill Arians! His purpose was never to convert Arians, but to kill them. While I was getting to know Theodosius, in my seeing, I felt this very strongly. So, he would kill Arians in order to take possession of this powerful thing that they had? Yet, whatever this thing was, he had no real notion of it? That was about the strength of it, yes. There was one other little detail that I could see in the mind of the man …
“I don’t know what it was, only that Theodosius was prepared to kill every Arian in existence in order to possess it, that it still exists in the minds of The Order, and that they still search for it with the same zeal as did their creator and first leader. But I do know how he learned of it, and how he knew it to be in the hands of the Arians. And I know why he could not nor ever would be able to find it.” I stopped for a moment to catch my breath, and to smile at the simplicity of the thing, the utter beauty of it, just for a second.
“Well, boy? Don’t hold an old man in suspense for too long. He may die of the anticipation, and how dreadful would that be?”
“It’s very simple. The secret was, and still is, kept by the women! No one ever thinks to search among the women, far too many issues involved, especially when the men are so used to being away at the wars, as Theodosius was. Theodosius’ second wife was the beautiful, and Arian, Galla, with whom he was said to have become so completely besotted when she appeared before him in tears to plead refuge for her fugitive mother, Justina, following her brother, Valentinian II’s, final set-to with Magnus Maximus.” Francesco looked at me quizzically, himself piecing together the complicated network of the Imperial houses of the Valentinians and Theodosians. “Yes, Galla was the daughter of Valentinian I, he who burst a blood vessel whilst shouting at those querulous Quadi in Brigetio,” (You must forgive me my conceits, but I do so love this phrase on so many levels, and simply have to include it yet again!) “And who ordered the execution of Theodosius’ father after his disgraceful dismissal from the army. In return for the hand of her daughter, Galla, the deceased Valentinian’s second – and twenty years junior – wife, Justina, had made the condition that Theodosius attack Maximus and restore her son, Valentinian II, to his throne. This would be the same Justina who, whilst her second husband was alive, could not profess her Arianism, but who did so with great gusto upon his death. Like mother like daughter? Galla boasted to Theodosius, her new – and also twenty years senior – husband, that she was indeed privy to the greatest secret the world had ever known. No doubt she thought to inflame his desire for her all the more by seeming to be the mysterious proprietrix of some arcane wisdom. Given all Theodosius had to put up with from the House of Valentinian it’s a wonder he didn’t kill her, and her Arian mother, too!”
“So, we do not know what the secret is, but we do know that it’s the women who keep it,” Francesco says, stopping me from going any further down a Theodosian path of lamentation. “Hearken to me, boy. It’s always the women who keep the real secrets.”
“Well, whatever it is, it’s been the Empresses who’ve been keeping it secret since the reign of Vespasian, roughly. Roughly forty years after … after Jesus … departed the Holy Land … for distant shores?” The Voice has returned! And as I look up at Francesco in astonishment, it continues. “That’s what my visions of Justina’s thoughts are showing me. A line of Empresses since Antonia Caenis … umm, strictly speaking, she wasn’t an Empress but the mistress of the Emperor Vespasian … an extraordinarily clever woman and the initial archivist of our unknown secret … they’ve been curating the material pertaining to it and disseminating it to their successors.” I’m a little confused here, and don’t mind admitting it. I must be pulling another of my faces as Francesco begins to laugh at me.”
“You find that hard to fathom, do you, Myrddin, my boy?”
“Yes! I may not hold with a lot of the theology I hear – it’s all made up by men who want to pave the road with their own egos, in my humble opinion – but the things I thought to be fair sacrosanct were the crucifixion and the resurrection.” As I say this even more confusing pictures are setting my mind on fire with their revolutionary possibilities. Thingness, remember? Once I really think of a thing, I see it for what it truly is. What should not surprise you is that, on this basis, I don’t bother to really think of that many things that often! My face must be a picture right about now, and Francesco seems to be revelling in the dawning of my perceptions.
“What if the crucifixion and the resurrection were but reworked fictions put about to control the world order? Maybe by Constantine’s new presbyter-generals? How hard would it have been to have meddled with the order of theological things so that people came to believe false doctrines as truths? Would not a body of men, with their egos wind-filled, and bent on one outcome, not have been capable of such a thing? Maybe at some council or other? Nicaea, for example? Wherein the biblical canon was closed and the Word made finite.”
His uncustomarily long speech and the peculiarities it contains make me look at him with eyes that burn. And, as he speaks, it is as if the scales fall from them, and I am seeing him for the first time, like I’ve not really seen him at all until this moment. Now I know my Old Friend, Francesco. He is indeed one of the Sainted Souls. But no longer one who inhabits a tree!
The next in-breath I take is so sharp that it hurts my lungs as it passes into them. “That’s it!” I cry, as I jump up, arms raised as if to do battle, yet empty-handed. He watches me, the Sainted One, blue eyes cool in the moonlight, not a hair out of place, just the hint of a satirical smile beginning to play around the edges of his mouth, clearly unimpressed. “Not Nicaea, then?” He shakes his head and motions to me to sit back down with him.
“Not Nicaea, boy. God’s will is God’s, man’s is man’s, and you’ll neither change nor divine either by turning up at the end of the game. The trick is to get in there at the beginning and find out what the real rules of engagement are. That way at least you’ll have the full picture, and what you do with it is up to you yourself. Just remember that destiny is also destiny.” He fumbles in the pack at his side before handing me what looked like a gnarled, old piece of wood. “Should you ever be in doubt, this will remind you which is which.”
“A piece of old oak?” I take it from his hand and wish that I could eat those words, for as I do so, it begins to change shape as Francesco’s erstwhile Ent magic courses through it. What was short and ragged, elongates and becomes smooth. Complicated designs begin to appear, writhing, until at last they reach the broader end where, as the heads of two magnificent dragons emerge from the now polished and fine-grained wood, I can see that it had been their bodies entwining themselves together along the length. They turn to face each other and the heads bow almost imperceptibly as their eyes meet before turning outwards, their evolution complete, and I see eyes of sapphire and ruby burn brightly before setting in their fixed positions. Liquid gold threads pour from their mouths, and in fluid movement trace intricately knotted patterns into the shape of their intertwined bodies back along the length to the tails, which are whipped into place by gold so fine I’ve never seen the like. “I’ve seen these patterns before, in the art of the Celtoi, but nothing so fine as this, and never unfolding right before my very eyes, upon a branch of ancient oak that once took Ent form on Tor Anda.”
“You’re not the only one who can perform magic, boy. This is a small token of my own to take with you on the next stage of your journey. A part of me always with you, for when you may need it, and for when you may not.”
“You already know what I am capable of, don’t you, Most Ancient One!”
“That you can slip through time like a salmon through water? Control the elements at will, and see the truth in all things just for the asking? Yes, Merlin, my friend, of course I do. I taught you well, for you are like the leaf and blow in the wind, young master.” He grinned that broad, childlike grin of his, eyes twinkling like dark sapphires in Mother Moon’s light, and it occurred to me that all this while we two had been talking, no light had we needed besides her shining beams. I twist my staff so that her light shines full on the ruby eyes of the one dragon and the sapphire eyes of its twin, glinting softly along the gold highlights of its shaft, and marvel as much at my new gift as at its giver. Then I remember why She shines so bright! “So, where then? And you’d best be quick in answering if it’s some time else than now, for Mother Moon’s much-needed moment of magic is fast approaching. Would be a shame to miss her fullness and have to wait around another cycle, much though I’d enjoy your companionship.”
“To the time and place where it all began, Merlin, my boy. To learn from those who taught the master. And if you can manage to get close enough, to learn from the master himself, whom you will know as Yeshua. They’re known as the Essenes and live in a community at Mount Carmel in Judaea. There are various communities but the Carmel Essenes are the ones who live in community as families, men and women together, as it should always be. You must look for a woman named Anna, who is the Grandmother of Yeshua. She will tell you all you need to know, and show you how to be a good man. For, wizard or no, you are still but a man and, like other men, you will need to have a care not to become so filled up with your own self that you forget to temper wisdom with the steel of your resolve. And Anna will always give you counsel of that kind!” He glances up at Mother Moon, who is indeed only minutes from the fullest point of her orbit, and smiles, a little tightly, in my opinion.”And now, my boy, it is time.”
I shoulder my pack, already filled with my few belongings, and bend to pick up the dragon staff. I do not have to bend far, it jumps to meet me half way. But as I do so I get sideswiped by something that feels like a wet fish, only warmer, and which leaves a residue of moisture along my cheek. “Hey! So quiet I’d almost forgotten you were there, eh, boy?” I muss his rough hair as I look into the depths of his light blue and infinitely intelligent eyes, and let my hand slide down his neck to rest on strong, muscular shoulders. He really is an extraordinarily well-built sort of a chap, it strikes me. “Goodbye, Friend! It’s been a pleasure to meet you.” I’m stalling for time, I know it. Now all I have to do is stand up, lift my arms and my face to the heavens, and think myself gone … no more goodbyes!
No, of course it doesn’t go that way! That would be too easy.
“Get a move on, Merlin, you waste precious seconds,” Francesco chides.
And I stand.
I panic as I try to remember … “Wh–”
“Mount Carmel … Roman Judaea … AD30,” he almost shouts, as if I’m inside a sound-proof box and cannot hear him. Then he rushes at me, and I’m caught up in his embrace – I might have thought I did not want it, but it is the hug of a lifetime and I shall never forget it, the more especially since the last hug had been when I was a boy and he a gnarly old tree – then he is as quickly gone and I do indeed stand with my arms raised to Mother Moon, my face bathed in her light, seconds before her fullness. My dragons begin to move, I can feel them in my left hand, sense the glow of their red and blue eyes as they turn to face Her too. They hiss softly, to Her, or to each other, I do not know, too taken up in my own moment am I by this time. Then there is a soft but firm brushing of something against my thigh, and the last thing I hear is Francesco’s steady voice coming at me, strongly, as Mother Moon sings Her Song …
“… For you are Merlin, and you will change the direction of the world.”
And now for the normal bit of post-scene chat:
As you might have noticed, there’s been a rather long break between Scene Thirteen and this one. I stopped to complete another project and, as is always the way with me and these things, didn’t get started on this one again! Hopefully, I’ll be back on track with a scene a week soon – it’s important to me to get this first draft down as soon as I can. As always, all comments in the form of constructive criticism or mistakes you’ve noticed that I might not have noticed yet, whether typos, spelling or grammar, will be very gratefully received and appreciated – although I think spelling and grammar ones are most unlikely, but you never know, I might have done it all juuuuust a little too quickly and boobed … I’ll post the next scene in a week, and thank you very much for reading.
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