by Philip-Todd Franklin
A young woman lounged on the beach along the palm trees of a tiny island, just basking under the slowly setting sun, nearly oblivious to all that went on in the world around her. It was a private beach with no one else in sight, so she wore a tiny, two-piece bathing suit colored a deep mixture of black and red, which barely covered anything. The sound of several gulls could be heard feeding among the rolling, crashing waves. Yet one sound could be heard that didn’t belong. Sitting on the sand beside the young woman was a small metallic box, from which music could be heard.
At first the young woman didn’t make a move, and the sounds from the radio continued. After a moment, the music was interrupted by an elderly voice that sounded urgent and slightly upset. “Mary. What am I going to do with you, child?”
The young woman slowly opened her eyes and looked around, trying in vain to locate the source of the voice. “Grandfather?”
For a moment there was no response to her words, and it was only then that she realized the music had been silenced. “I need you to come to the chamber, Mary. It is very urgent, so don’t dilly-dally or stop off at the Temple of the Resting King.”
Mary looked around as she raised herself up on her arms from the beach blanket she’d been lounging on. After a few seconds she looked at the radio knowingly. Of course, she thought. Grandfather could easily interrupt the signals whenever he wants to. I’d better hurry. He normally doesn’t bother me when I’m lounging or studying.
Standing up, Mary brushed sand from her body. After a moment, she drew a few arcane symbols across the air, and a small white portal formed before her. From out of the portal came two small flying figures with tiny wings and little pointed ears. Without saying a word, they quickly went to work packing up Mary’s few picnic supplies before fluttering back into the portal just seconds before Mary herself entered and disappeared through it. The tiny island was left just as she’d found it: calm, silent, and empty, except for a few strange tiny human footprints in the sand.
Elsewhere, a portal opened in the center of a group of large round stones, and out of it flew the two tiny fairies, followed by Mary. “Thanks for the help, Pink and Blue,” she said.
Both fairies nodded and bowed before setting the basket down and fluttering away. Mary took the basket and walked between a large complex of buildings, each one marked by different arcane symbols. At the moment, only one of them was at the forefront of her mind. The chamber had no real name, but it was what her grandfather had called it after he’d first made this place his home. What it had been named by the original inhabitants had been lost, along with their origins.
As she made her way toward the large, domed chamber, she walked by a smaller stone building that had upon its large oak door the carving of a long sword. This was what her grandfather had called the Temple of the Resting King. And though she liked to spend some of her leisure time there, with its fountains and books, she hurried past and quickly made her way into the chamber, not even stopping long enough to change into more practical clothing. Oh, well, the price of fashion, Mary thought as she entered the chamber.
Within the large domed building there were rows upon rows of books, most of them written in languages that Mary had never heard of, even with all the time she’d spent with her grandfather. The many diverse topics that could be found in those volumes were almost unlimited, and she so looked forward to once more browsing a few of the great tomes and grimoires.
Making her way to the center of the chamber, Mary found her grandfather standing next to a large oak table. On the table was a large crystal ball, along with two small bowls filled with strange liquids. Her grandfather, who had snow-white hair and a long beard, was dressed in a full-flowing, deep red robe with a rope belt tied around his waist.
Waiting a few moments, Mary watched her grandfather as he continued at his work, switching his attention between an ancient book on a wooden stand, the crystal ball, and the two bowls of liquid. She knew the old man didn’t like to be interrupted, even if he had summoned her to his presence. After a few minutes had passed, she finally said, “Um… Grandfather, you needed me?”
Immediately, he gazed up at his granddaughter with his deep blue eyes, and he couldn’t help thinking to himself, So much like her mother. Indicating her bikini, he said in a gentle, kindly voice, “I’m not going to ask where you got that, child — only that your mother would not approve, and that it’s not very practical for what needs to be done.”
A short time later, after a wardrobe change, Mary came running back into the chamber wearing a blouse and slacks of alternating black and red. Her hair was tied in a ponytail hanging down her back, and in her left hand she held a long wooden staff of oak that was covered with arcane symbols.
Her grandfather was standing before the table, still at work. But now there stood on the table a tiny fairy dressed in what looked like a three-piece suit of dark blue, his tiny wings sticking out of the back; he was speaking as she entered, his voice almost musical in tone. “It is as you feared, great Merlin, and I fear that neither I nor my subjects can do anything to stop it.”
In a tone nearly as musical as that of the tiny fairy, the great wizard Merlin replied graciously, “I thank you, King Wingdore. You and your people have been of great help since I first arrived here.”
“Great Merlin, it has been my pleasure and the honor of my people to help you and yours since the great king did arrive so many centuries ago,” King Wingdore softly replied. “I did pledge to the sisters three that we would graciously guard over the resting king until his time came again. Your arrival has always been a great blessing.”
Mary slowly approached the table and continued listening to the conversation between her grandfather and the king of the fairies who called the isles of Avalon home. Respectfully, she sat down quietly on one of the many stools that surrounded the great oak table.
“I do remember them, old friend,” Merlin said softly, shaking his head as he remembered the tragic events that had brought him and his greatest friend to the shores of fabled Avalon. For just a moment Merlin glanced over at the crystal ball, and that which he could see within was nearly enough to send a chill to his old bones.
“Please pardon me, King Wingdore, Grandfather,” Mary said, looking at each of them. “I can’t help but wonder what is of such importance that my presence was needed.”
King Wingdore looked at Mary and softly nodded his head before turning back to Merlin. “She is right,” he said. “It is time that she knew before you try sending her anywhere.”
Merlin looked at the fairy king for a moment, looking worried. Turning to face his granddaughter, he softly nodded his head and said, “As always, old friend, you are right again.” With those words he waved his hands before the crystal ball and muttered a couple of arcane words. At that, the great crystal ball upon the table went dark. Indicating Mary, he asked the fairy king, “If you will, gracious one, post a sentry to watch and alert if anything changes. It seems that I’ve got a few things to discuss with my granddaughter.”
Without responding, the fairy king nodded his head and placed two of his fingers to his lips, blew softly, and created a nearly hypnotic melody. In moments, two fairies appeared before their king and bowed low. As they arrived, Merlin and Mary exited the great chamber and made their way toward another domed building that they used as a kitchen.
“You have need of us, sire?” asked one of the two tiny fairies.
King Wingdore regarded the two fairies before him. “Yes. Between the two of you, I wish this crystal ball and two bowls to be watched and not touched. If anything in any of them changes, you are to notify either me or great Merlin himself.”
Both fairies nodded as they bowed before their king, and in unison they replied, “Yes, great one. It shall be as you have asked.” With that task assigned, the great fairy king exited the chamber.
In the building that was their kitchen, Merlin spoke a few words in a language that sounded something like Latin, yet required clicking at nearly each vowel. The results of his words were fantastic, as pots and pans slowly hopped from their hooks and floated across the room to land upon a large, flat metal object. After a moment, a great whoosh could be heard as a flame emitted from it.
Merlin walked over to a small wooden table and, taking a hold of a butcher’s knife, began to chop up assorted fruits, vegetables, and meat, while Mary walked over to a large, stainless steel kitchen sink with a faucet. Turning one of the knobs, she spoke a word in Old Frankish and pointed toward the pots. The stream of water from the faucet immediately changed direction in midair, flowing all the way into the pots and filling them about halfway before Mary turned off the water.
“So, Grandfather, besides it being dinnertime, what is of such great importance that would require so many different scrying devices?” Mary asked as she made her way toward the small round oak table and began to set two places.
“There is a great threat towards your native Earth, my child, one that I’ve been aware of since before you were ever born,” Merlin said as he placed several ingredients into the separate pots as he made their dinner.
For a moment Mary was shocked, enough that she let slip a large crystal goblet from her grasp, letting it hit the floor. Mary found herself lost in thought for a few moments, indecisive as to what she should do — clean up the glass or ask about what her grandfather was saying.
That moment of hesitation allowed Merlin to make the decision for her. “I know this is not a topic I’ve been willing to talk about in a long time,” he said, “not since your parents were lost in the last Crisis that threatened so many realms of possibility.” With those words, a few small tears quickly rolled freely from his eyes before he was able to wipe them away. The Crisis on Infinite Earths that had threatened existence itself had only been a year ago, and the pain of their loss was still fresh in her mind.
Mary looked at her grandfather as she slowly knelt down and began cleaning up the shattered glass. “Grandfather, what did happen to my parents?” she asked. “You’ve never told me what drove them back there in the first place.” There was so much about their loss and life upon her native world that she didn’t know about.
With a great sigh, Merlin looked at his granddaughter as if the weight of the world, along with his many centuries of age, had become more than he could bear. Making his way to one of the chairs at the table, he slumped into it. “Dear child, I shall try to tell you all that I can, all that I have been able to learn over these years. But it shall be after we have dinner.” With that he fell into silent contemplation for a few moments before arising and returning to his cooking, while Mary finished setting the table.
A few hours later, they were strolling together beneath an open starry sky. Merlin leaned heavily on a large oak staff as they walked, neither of them saying a word.
Finally, they stopped and sat on a couple of wooden chairs placed just before the domed building called the Temple of the Resting King.
“Grandfather, what is so bothering you? I’ve not seen you like this since I was ten years old,” Mary said, looking worried as she waited for him to reply.
Turning, Merlin softly brushed his fingers through his granddaughter’s hair and tried to force a smile as he looked into her eyes and said, “It is so hard to know where to even start. So many secrets, so much promised, so long ago.”
Mary nodded without saying a word as she listened to her grandfather speak.
“I would go as far, child, to bet that you do not remember the date in which you, along with your parents, first came to live here in Avalon,” Merlin said, slowly rising from his chair and starting to pace as he spoke. “I know that your time here on Avalon has been mostly spent in the chamber with the books, or those times you’ve played hide and seek with some of the fairies and hid in the Temple of the Resting King.”
As Merlin spoke, Mary’s face began to turn a few shades of red as she thought to herself, I’ve never told him that we played anywhere near the Temple! Aloud she replied, “Grandfather, I never–”
“Do not worry, child,” said Merlin. “I’ve always known that you were playing in the Temple, not that those events even matter at this time. The Nazis have been consistent in their drive to control your Earth, and now they are making a bid to control it with mystical power — using items that could do more than unbalance the shift of powers and end up awakening things that have long been best left alone.”
Mary looked at her grandfather and slowly raised from her chair. “What shall we do, Grandfather? How can we save the world of my birth?”
Nodding, Merlin replied, “We aren’t going to do anything, my child. You are going to have to find someone there to help you. I cannot afford to leave here.”
At that moment, a lithe little female fairy with long blonde hair who wore a bright green dress appeared and bowed before Merlin and Mary. “Great one, there has been a disturbance in the great chamber, and my king has sent me to get you.” With those words, she vanished.