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An Alternative History Enacted as a Trilogy
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"…Any one who has common-sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light, which is true of the mind’s eye, quite as much as of the bodily eye; and he who remembers this when he sees anyone whose vision is perplexed and weak, will not be too ready to laugh; he will first ask whether that soul of man has come out of the brighter life, and is unable to see because unaccustomed to the dark, or having turned from darkness to the day is dazzled by the excess of light. And he will count the one happy in his condition and state of being, and he will pity the other; or, if he have a mind to laugh at the soul which comes from below into the light, there will be more reason in this than in the laugh which greets him who returns from above out of the light into the den.…"
The Republic Book 7 by Plato
CHAPTER 1-THE CRYSTAL CAVE
His eyes opened into blackness, a blackness so complete, that had Merlin placed a hand close to his eyes he would have seen absolutely nothing, a blackness undisturbed, such as might have been from the beginning of creation. It was as if he were lying in a container filled with black water, in which his body was totally immersed, but Merlin had not moved so much as a finger, let alone a hand. His eyes simply opened of their own volition; the old wizard had not consciously moved a muscle. He lay flat, as he had lain for the last one and a half thousand years, just as the burial party had laid him with all due ceremony. With candles at the four corners of the bier, and coins on my eyes to pay the Ferryman’s fee. They must have fallen off when my eyes opened.
The mind however was slower to function than the eyelids had been to open; yet slowness was not a perception of which he was presently aware, because in the Crystal Cave Merlin was suspended outside of time. In fact the Cave was, like the Time Tunnel his old disciple Finn had once known, a place existing between times, and therefore in itself a condition of timelessness. So anyone who stepped across its threshold was, by an unfelt yet inevitably experienced progression leaving behind past, present, and future.
Why then should Merlin make haste to move, before some aspects of physical sensation, and some of his scattered memories had once again lodged themselves in his bodily form? Yet content though he presently was, the restoration of mental and bodily functions could not be indefinitely delayed. Though perhaps I might have wished they could have been.
It was the body that spoke first, signaling the return of awareness with a sensation of weight. He became aware of heaviness-light though his body actually was as it lay flat on a firm, but slightly yielding surface. His state defined itself as an awareness of materials laid upon him amounting to more than the weight of the white, priest-druid robe in which he had been dressed. Instead, consciousness told him a voluminous mantle of some heavy material had been draped across the bier.
It was his making of the first deliberate movement after the undeliberate opening of his eyes, a slight turning of the head to either side that made Merlin aware of another material hindrance, the golden torc around his neck that slightly snagged the skin when he moved. Cold to the touch, not that such an insignificant detail matters. But did a sluggishly responding mind perceive the significance of this movement?
He had lain out of time for one and a half thousand years. Merlin had departed at the height of Arthur’s reign in the dark ages. The Middle Ages had come and gone, the Renaissance, Enlightenment, the imperial and romantic nineteenth century. Two world wars had come and gone, a third was threatened, the modern world was passing away, and Merlin had moved his head.
The coldness of that torc had caused him to react with his mind as well as his body. Mental processes were becoming engaged, making him consciously focus his eyes as a means of gaining information. As if knowledge could be gained from observing a blackness so dense that even the crystals in this translucently CrystalCavecannot be seen. Yet some gain there was. After a while Merlin became aware of a tiny pinpoint of light above his head; the slow, returning tide of memory was sweeping back, like small waves advancing across flat sand. He remembered that the crystals within this cave did not depend entirely upon an outside source of light for their visibility, because they possessed light within themselves; not however such that just anyone blundering into the cave would see.
The light within these crystals was perceptible to the eye of spirit alone, and the recollection of this knowledge elicited from Merlin another slight movement, a smile. I realized my psychic capacities were being restored, along with the other aspects of my being. And so it was, as other minute pinpoints of light appeared, seemingly suspended in the blackness like small stars above his head.
Of course Merlin knew, even at this early stage of returning awareness, these pinpoints were not really suspended. The roof and walls of this innermost of caves consisted entirely of crystals, and these, in the light of a lamp or candles would blaze with a blinding, but unconsuming rainbow-faceted fire, of which these pinpoints in this present blackness were but a minimal reflection. But the recollection of this reality was beginning to tell him that he had not opened his eyes after fifteen hundred years merely to prove material life can return to a body it once departed.
Merlin sighed, yet another movement, a slight lifting of the rib cage under the weight of still invisible robe and brocade, this condensation of immaterial blackness into material substance. His head turned restlessly from side to side. Why, after all this time, am I summoned to return at the end of one age and the beginning of another? For he was recalling another aspect of universal truth he would have preferred to forget. True prophecies must be fulfilled because truth alone is real, and all else is illusion.
Prophecies had surrounded him all his days, ever since he was found, on the Mountain of Fire in long-lost Atlantis by Belasius. So long ago that I can scarce measure such a span of years. Yet with merciless precision he was recalling the reason for this awakening after so long a sleep. In the cusp of the ages, as Pisces passes into Aquarius, at a time when, as a wise man had written, though not in my last lifetime but in the twentieth century that ’all things in the universe’ seem to be ’coming to a point’.
However, the wizard’s mind still instinctively recoiled from the contemplation of prophecy, like a hand from the touch of hot iron. The challenge of those centuries looming just beyond this cave was too overpowering, too intimidating a presence to be confronted without some acclimatization. Let there be at least a small concession to material frailty. So his gaze searched the encompassing blackness, as he sought to re-identify himself with his surroundings, for he who would transcend the once familiar, must first reacquaint himself with it.
Even as this thought formulated itself in a now fully alert mind, reacquaintance began to manifest itself through his returning senses. The blackness for instance was an almost substance-like presence, but Merlin realized this was not merely because it was black. He had been buried in the heart of a hollow hill. Above the roof of the Crystal Cave was earth, and above that grass, over which sheep might be grazing. Moreover his burial place was a small chamber, recessed into a much larger cave where once he had made his home, but the entrance to it was now blocked off from the outer world and from the passing of time.
After they-at King Arthur’s command-had laid him here in state, earth and stones had been pulled down over the entrance so he might rest in peace within his hollow hill. But this hill was, so they had imagined, a tomb. Not all those who contemplated it thus were sorry to think of it as such. Therefore, if he groped his way out of the Crystal Cave into the main chamber he would be still in darkness, under earth and stone, barred from the light of sun and moon by the substance of the planet itself. And could Merlin, after fifteen centuries of inactivity, summon the strength to burst through this barrier?
Of course to ask that question was to answer it. He would need help, but from whom, after all these centuries could help be expected? The problem was becoming acute, because at every level of his reactivated being, Merlin experienced this weight of earth as a presence. It was not just pressing down, rather was it interpenetrating his consciousness. He was like a sponge soaking up water, expressed not merely as a substance-like blackness but also as a silence absolute, all-pervading and unchallengeable; a speaking silence importuning him, masterfully overruling any attempt to ignore its dictatorial reality.
Not that he sought to ignore it; rather did Merlin want to understand, to communicate with this incommunicable thing. And if he must take up the burden of a material existence in time once more, in fulfillment of the last prophecy of the age-already beginning to unfold as the Climax of the Ages-then he must understand, must reach in mind and spirit back into the past. He must bring that past forward, bring it from outside time back into it, knitting past and present together as one, now, at the onset of Aquarius. Because this was the onset that some were trying, either to prevent or divert, for evil ends. With a sigh of resignation, Merlin sent mind and spirit backwards, reaching for his memories.