The sun was breaking over the horizon, turning the sky red to grey to black in the early dawn hours. Aoife was slumped over her horse with her cloak drawn around her against the chill. She wasn’t asleep, but she wasn’t fully awake either. She yearned for a warm fire, tea in her belly, and someplace to stretch out and sleep. It didn’t even have to be soft as long as it was motionless.
Alexander Black led the party through the heavily forested hills. They had been riding through the night, desperate to find safety in the cover of the forest. Plenty of legends and real stories wove together to keep most wanderers out. His legend had been enough to keep the villagers at a distance. Exiled for heresy, witchcraft, and dark magic he’d gone beyond being a pariah. He was moderately feared at a distance and liked it that way. The group climbed up an embankment that slowly pulled them out of the valley and onto a rugged mesa that was still dense with the overgrowth, but just inside the shadows was the familiar shape of a home, old and worn but still a home.
He slipped off his horse, “You are welcomed to The Holy Respite, my home for the last…well, many years.” He ambled to the door and whispered a phrase, and it duly clicked open. He stepped inside and tossed his hands at the various candles. Fire lit from them, and after an incantation or two, the fireplace was alight and breathing warmth into the room as he went about the work in his kitchen on the far side of the home. A tea pot was placed on the stove; a fire breathed to life underneath.
Aofie pulled down the bag of their meger rations and followed Black into the cottage while Nicholas stripped the tack from the backs of the horses and rubbed them down. After tuning them out to the corral he forked hay into the pen and they eagerly started munching on their breakfast.
Inside Aoife removed the cloak and hung it on a peg on the wall and watched their benefactor move about the kitchen. She couldn’t understand his energy. She was dead on her feet.
“The power of Merlin can be controlled.” He rolled up his sleeves to reveal crude devices that echoed the one they had brought, “I must charge them in the sun, but I have been able to craft multiples so that I am not without my limited powers.” He ruffled through his pantry, “Tea…tea…Ah, yes. Merlin’s Beard is some of the finest.” A moment later, he had the tea steeping in the kettle, and within minutes mugs of steaming warmth were in the hands of his new friends as he found his supply of dried meats and slipped them onto a warming pan.
While the tea was brewing, Nicholas entered the cottage smelling of hay and horses. He looked as tired as she felt. They all slid into chairs as the tea was being poured. Aoife was ordinarily an avid tea drinker, but she just sat there with her hands wrapped around the cup, feeling the warmth. After a moment, she spoke, “What you call the power of Merlin is what we call a tachyon beam. The fact that you have been able to replicate the technology is fascinating.”
Black shrugged at her use of the unfamiliar word, “It has taken many years, many tries, and many failures. Your device has a certain…beauty to its look – it was designed intentionally with a precise function. Mine were experimentations based on the various sites I’ve journeyed and the limited information I found.” He returned to the pan and began to dole out the steaming meat onto plates as he snagged two warm potatoes from the front of the fireplace and laid them gently on the table, gesturing for them come to the table, “You are weary and in need of refilling. If we are to find a way for you to do what it is that you need – we will need to be ready for what comes next.”
“And what is it that you think we need to do,” Nicholas asked out of curiosity.
Aoife glanced at Nicholas and then to Black, “I think we all should start at the beginning. You seem to know us Mr. Black, but we have never met.”
Alexander smiled quietly, “An understandable question. I am Grand Cleric Alexander William Black, Order of Merlin and Keeper of the Flame of Arthur.” He shrugged, “Well, I was. Until I was exiled out here thirty years ago. The Order of Merlin are the greatest clerics – only the supreme can pass the gauntlet of tests required.” He caught a look from Aoife, “And yes, Keeper of the Flame of Arthur – I was the champion and carrier of the soul of the Great King. I wore him around me in a large necklace…his spirit was contained in a box that hung from it.” He gestured around the room, “All that was taken from me. I theorized that Arthur was more than just a man…that he was a traveler of sorts. Many of the scriptures I’ve encountered in my exile from the various sites I’ve visited hint at a much larger…something. Merlin was a magician and a wizard…but his history is as cloudy and confusing as his King’s.” Black went to a shelf and pulled off several manuscripts and placed them on the table for the two to read, “There is mention of bridges, passages, caves, and more – all referencing a world beyond our own.” He sipped at his tea, in thought, before he spoke, “These ideas were quickly disowned by the Clerics of my town and the county – I keep all of it here, study it, and set out to search for the things mentioned.”
“There are worlds beyond this one,” Aoife said. “Nearly as many as there are stars in the sky.”
“I have always wondered what lay beyond the stars.” He thought for a moment and then the Cleric went to the shelf and searched for a moment for a notebook and shouted with glee when he found it and placed it on the table, flipping pages until it settled on one about a bridge. He pointed at the device illustrated, “It is very similar to what you have. I have seen such things in the ruins…but I cannot charge them or restore them like what I have on my arms. They are uniquely powered…and I cannot discern how.”
“It is electrical power… it is well it is lightning though the processes that are at play are different,” Aoife replied. “It has what we call a battery which harnesses the power of lighting and stores it for later. Let me ask, have you ever seen a device… an artifact that is multifaceted and the general shape of a sphere about so big,” she demonstrated the size with her cupped hands.
Black furrowed his brow and returned to his shelf as he answered her while searching the spines, “There are references to a ‘ball of power’ or a ‘sphere of destiny’ or in some cases ‘Destiny’s Sphere’. So many people wrote about it the true name is lost to history.” He took a few minutes until he pulled out a thin book and set it on top of the other books and papers on the table. “See…here.” He flipped the thin pages carefully until a page illustrating a spherical object appeared.
Aoife took a single look and showed it to Nicholas who raised an eyebrow at that. “That’s the artifact,” he said.
“That’s what brought us here with the use of the emitter,” Aoife added.
Alexander nodded, lost in thought as he unraveled what he knew, “I’ve been searching for this very artifact for the last year. This planet has plenty of sites and places to look – I’ve managed to narrow it down to three remaining possibilities.” He glanced at the book, “But I think we can narrow it down to just one.” He went to another shelf where rows of journals sat lovingly organized and placed. He muttered his way through two shelves until he found the one he was looking for and pulled it out, flipping quickly through the pages. His eyes searched each scribbled page until his smile broadened and placed the page before them, “There’s a site that has a mention of a bridge and an orb…it is called The Palace. I had initially dismissed it because it seemed too good to be true.” He sighed, “But you’ve convinced me this is the way.”
“The Palace? And where would this be?” Aoife asked.
He moved across the room to the massive map that was hung, “It is a day’s journey from here. We could set out in the morning.”
“Home of the Knights of the Round Table no doubt,” Nicholas said with a chuckle. “If we’re lucky we’ll get to meet Lancelot.”
Aoife gave her XO a dirty look and turned her attention back to the map. “Tomorrow sounds good. We all need time to rest. What can we expect? Not only in the journey but once we get there. As Nick so tactlessly pointed out: who lives there?”
Black frowned, “No one lives out here…or there.” He thought for a moment and chuckled, “Perhaps the question is who lived there, I suppose.” He filled a mug with some hot tea and sat roughly in one of the chairs, “The Palace is rumored to be a place where King Arthur is to have stayed in his travels. It wasn’t his castle…I’ve been searching for that these years and no luck.”
“So it’s a ruin,” Aoife replied. “The…well where was Merlin rumored to be? I would think that should be the first place we look. Was it at the palace? I got to be honest my knowledge of Arthurian Legend is a bit limited, but wasn’t he tied to Camelot?”
Alexander nodded sagely, “Camelot – the holiest of sites in the legends of Arthur. I do not think it lies here on our planet, but there are numerous references to bridges that would take you to Camelot.” He glanced at each of them as he spoke, “It is spoken in the books and studies that there are multiple Camelots out in the…’beyond’ is how they phrased it. You seem to be saying there might be planets out there with a Camelot site on them.” He mused, “It truly is bigger than we ever imagined.” He flipped through some more pages, “As for Merlin, the last place he was rumored to be here was a stone structure that has a unique design – its purpose is lost to time, but it’s on the way to the Palace. We may find more with what you know and what I’ve learned from you today.”
“Then I guess it is decided. What dangers if any along this journey? Bandits or other foul creatures?”
Black chuckled wryly, “Among other things. I’ve managed to scare the bandits out of my paths, so they won’t be a bother. Foul creatures are a certainty – the village knowingly drives them away and into the hill and mountains.” He shrugged, “We are all capable in the face of danger.”
Aoife nodded, “Not sure how capable I am, but I have you two strapping lads to protect me.”
Black chuckled, “Lad – haven’t been called that in some time.” He gestured to them both, “We need to rest and prepare to leave at first light tomorrow. I’ll get started – you both take some rest – no exceptions. My home, my rules. No point in running out with our feet barely able to carry us.”
“Wise words,” Nicholas said. “Wake me for next watch.” With that the two Starfleet officers rolled out their bedrolls and curled up next to the fire and both were immediately asleep having ran on adrenaline only for hours.