by Philip-Todd Franklin
The next morning found Matthew Stone up quite early, already in the process of setting the tiny explosive charges that he and Dr. Knight always brought with them whilst on any archaeological dig. He knew that if the amount was too much, he would risk the chance of not only removing the stone from their path but also causing the ground round the so-called cellar to come crashing down, in the process destroying whatever was hidden behind the stone wall blocking the way.
Roger Knight awoke to the sound of birds and tried to stretch before even rising from the ground. He winced as he felt a sharp pain in his right shoulder and along his lower back. I’m definitely getting too old to be doing this. Even my aches have aches, he thought to himself as he slowly rose from the ground and got dressed.
In his long, lustrous life, he had been many things whilst living in England. An archaeologist was just one of his many roles, which included being a member of Parliament, leader of the Labour Party, and Prime Minister Roger Knight. Now he was feeling older and lonelier in his life than ever because of his estrangement from his ex-wife and two children. Not for the first time he wondered if it had all been worth the price he had paid in order to prove a youthful tale that he had found in a couple of old family diaries passed on to him when his parents died.
If the fantastic tale that had been held within each of the volumes was true, almost his entire family history as he had known it was merely an elaborate fiction, and he — a man entering his sixties — was in truth descended from the very line of Pendragon, a line from which the whole mythology of Camelot, King Arthur, and the Knights of the Round Table (along with the mystery of a man known only as Merlin) held their attachments.
The oldest version of this almost-unbelievable story told of how his many-generations-removed grandmother — a regal lady known as Guinevere, queen of Camelot — had secretly borne her husband Arthur Pendragon a true son before the costly destruction of the dream and following the death of King Arthur himself.
This once-unfathomed child, left in the care and safety of the sisters of an unnamed nunnery, was raised there without any true knowledge of his own true heritage until he was finally considered a man and able to perceive the reason for keeping his existence hidden. The tale was to be told and the family records meticulously kept, according to Guinevere’s instructions, from father to eldest son as each new generation reached adulthood.
The final diary that was passed to Roger from his own parents, though, also contained the story of this family that — for reasons he could not understand — had decided that the centuries-long entrusting of the family history from generation to generation would no longer continue. On the pages of this diary, penned in his mother’s own handwriting, were descriptions of many of her arguments with his father along these lines.
Still, for Roger, little of the knowledge held within the diary changed much more drastically than the last entry that his mother had written. It seemed more like an apology letter than an entry in the diary. It was as if she was trying to make amends for the truth having been kept from him for so long.
Now, as Roger made his way to the site of the blocked-up cellar, he spotted Matthew Stone already at work placing the explosives. Taking a second to look over his companion’s work, a smile came to his elderly face as he said, “I see that not all of the teachings I’ve tried to give you have been for naught.” Roger grinned as Matthew turned and looked up at his mentor.
Matthew’s own smile lit up his whole face as the deep feelings of being praised washed over him. “I’ve tried to remember all that you’ve taken time to teach me, sir.” Looking back at his handiwork one more time, he continued speaking. “All is in place. If you are ready, sir, I believe we’re ready to discover the hidden past of this place.” Roger could only nod in reply as the two of them slowly walked away from the spot.
After they had gone at least fifty feet from the blast site, Matthew reached into his shirt pocket and removed the detonator for the explosives and handed it over to Roger. “I feel that you should have the honour and pleasure, sir, of casting our lot.”
Taking the proffered device from his companion, Roger took a long look at the site and sighed at the thought of the real and potential damage this act would cause. Then, without giving it a second look, he pressed the lone button upon the device.
On an island in the South Seas that was believed to be deserted, a young man strolled along the tree-line of a beach, gathering coconuts. He wore a red shirt and blue jeans with white sneakers and a floppy white hat. His arms were loaded with his finds as he took a well-worn path upon the island toward the huts of his companions. As passed two very large trees whose tops had grown close together, almost forming an arch, an odd sight caught his eye.
“What the–?” he gasped out loud as he dropped his load and stared at the image of a ghostly looking old man wearing the tattered remains of a white robe and holding a large staff in his right hand, his long white beard looking unkempt.
The figure slowly looked round the island before finally seeming to take notice of the young man, then grinned and winked at him before turning his full attention to the two trees in front of him. Raising his arms out wide, the figure began to speak out ancient words in Latin, which the young man could not understand, and the space between the two seemed to begin to swirl. After a moment, it was as if a white mist had formed between the two trees, and the figure in white slowly floated into it, disappearing right before the young man’s eyes.
The young man stood very still for a long time after this, continuing to stare at the two trees before he slowly rubbed his eyes. After a second, he took off and ran away from the trees, screaming as he ran, “Skipper!”
“So it has once again begun,” said an elderly looking man dressed in a full-flowing, deep red robe with a rope belt tied round his waist, who had a full beard and snow-white hair hanging low round himself. He sat on a high stool in a large chamber and gazed into a large crystal ball that was resting upon the cluttered table before him.
Within the chamber he heard a soft tinkling sound of bells just to his side, stealing his attention away just seconds before the white flash heralded the arrival of the tiny fairy. It was dressed in what looked like an ancient jester’s costume accompanied with all the bells and trimmings.
“Great one!” exclaimed the fairy. “We’ve had an arrival through the portal.” His report was interrupted as a figure in tattered white robes suddenly appeared within the chamber, standing just behind the fairy.
“Yes, Giggles, I do believe we have, and he’s actually right on time,” the elderly man replied, taking in the appearance of the new arrival. With that, the fairy known as Giggles softly bowed before the two men and quickly vanished in a flash of light, leaving a tinkling sound in his wake.
The figure dressed in tattered white robes looked at the other man for a second and then softly began to speak. “Seems ye had an easier time with thine own task than did I.”
Nodding softly, the old man locked his blue eyes with the very same blue eyes of the figure before him. “There is yet much to be done, and being in twain ill fits our needs now more than did once long ago.” The other figure slowly nodded his own head in reply.
In unison, the men faced each other and raised their arms out wide, each mirroring the other. Softly at first, both men began to chant in an ancient forgotten language as a multitude of coloured lights began to swirl round the two of them. Each second they continued, their voices rose in volume, and the amount of lights surrounding them doubled until they were indistinguishable from each other.
After a few more seconds there was a loud clap of thunder in the great chamber, and when the swirling lights of colour vanished, only one figure was left standing there. He was dressed in deep red robes that were trimmed in white, and in his right hand he was holding a long staff of oak, whilst his white beard barely reached the top of his chest. His deep blue eyes seemed to shine for a few moments and then returned to normal.
“Ah, it would seem that he did have better success with the ancient plan than was thought possible, but it would seem that the price was more than was expected,” he said to himself. As he began to slowly pace back and forth in front of the table, he continued, “It also seems that Morgana has survived at least once as well. That could cause unexpected problems if not watched for.” Absently, he began to stroke his beard before he once again rested upon his stool and started to return to his crystal ball. Instead, he reached over and pulled out one particular book with an ancient binding from a stack of them and began to slowly thumb through it.
It had been cold, and there was a heavy pressure all round that he couldn’t place at the time, and it wouldn’t allow him to move. Roger Knight had tried to open his eyes at first and yet found them pressed shut; it was then that he noticed the overriding need to breathe but found that something had been keeping him from doing even that most natural of bodily functions. Although he was unable to move, he had thought at first that someone had been calling his name, only the sound was very muffled and seemed so very far away.
A few minutes passed, and just moments before darkness began to grasp his consciousness, he found that he was suddenly able to take a breath, so he gasped in a large lungful of air as he continued to listen to the sounds round him. For a few moments he had thought himself still a student in the dreadful public school that his parents had sent him to, and that he had fallen asleep once again during lessons. Then he really began to listen to the sounds, and he picked out the clanging of two rather heavy swords clashing together. But that distinctive sound and the voices that spoke with their many colourful words decidedly did not belong with his school memories.
Slowly opening his eyes, Roger blinked, trying to clear away the fine film of dirt that had fallen upon them. Distantly he remembered the explosion that had occurred after his assistant Matthew had set the charges, and he could dimly recall trying to duck behind a blast shield they had erected, but after that everything seemed to be a mystery. Besides, in the present there seemed to be a more important issue to draw his full attention.
A turn of his head allowed him a view toward the site they had been trying to excavate, except the picture before him was not empty. To both his shock and horror, two figures dressed in what looked much like ancient, full-plate armour were locked in what Roger would have to guess was mortal combat, and both seemed to have more than a couple of bleeding nicks and scratches already.
One of the armoured figures was the colour of fresh snow from head to toe and carried a brightly glowing broadsword in his gauntleted hands, whilst the other was the colour of shadow and carried a dark blade. Roger found that the voice of the one in the white armour was the same one that he remembered, but if he was not hallucinating all this, he would have sworn that it belonged to his assistant, Matthew Stone. Yet that couldn’t possibly be correct; it didn’t fit anything he had ever learned of his companion over the past few months.
As the two armoured figures continued to circle each other, trading blow for blow, they continued to banter back and forth. Roger’s ear for language and dialect placed the speech and accent of the figure in the black armour as that of someone from the early seventeenth century, which didn’t seem possible. Yet neither did the very combat that was taking place before his eyes.
“I do have to give you credit on your swordsmanship, my nameless foe,” said Matthew as he lunged forward toward the figure in black. “Do you not have the common honour of a knight to at least give me your name, so I shall know who it was that I had to vanquish?”
The figure in black parried as he had the last couple of times with his own dark sword, his steps slowly pressing Matthew back toward Roger. “Death is thine only needed name, ye second-rate gaffe who sullies thy very name of knight by speaking thy very word,” he said, quickly raising his black sword over his head, then just as quickly swinging it toward the helm guarding Matthew’s head.
Matthew Stone was unable to bring his guard up quickly enough to block what to him had been an unexpected direction of attack, so the sound of ringing metal could be heard among the cries of birds among the valley and the crash of the ocean waves upon the rocks. Down to his knees was the blow able to drive him as he tried to stop the painful feeling in his head and bring his own sword back to a blocking stand once more.
As the battle moved across the field, Roger finished removing himself from underneath the debris and slowly made his way round the battle, trying to inch his way toward the excavation site. Feeling as if by some instinct that salvation would be found within, he was just beginning to enter the now-empty passage into an old cellar when the loud ringing sound of metal crashing upon armour reached his ears. For just a moment Roger turned back toward the sound, and the look of worry covered his face as he gasped at the sight before him. “Oh, no!”