Two Days Later
"But it was so real. Sydney, I can give you every minute detail about the box. It was a pale alabaster rectangle, about one hundred centimeters by seventy centimeters by fifty centimeters high. A gemstone representation of the solar system was embedded in the lid, a moving pictorial. It had the same Etruscan writing around its perimeter as was on the stone disc."
Sydney eased a hip onto the side of the hospital bed, scooting in next to him, brushing his hair back with her fingers. "Then it couldnít be Merlinís journal, you know that. Merlin and Arthur lived in the fifth century. The Etruscan language in the style of the disc didnít materialize until eight or nine centuries later. We assumed the glass coin was created later, solely as a marker. If not, then itís a hoax."
"You had a delayed reaction to the antibiotics," she explained patiently. "You went into anaphylactic shock in the lobby of the theater. I went back and searched. There was no hidden chamber beneath the stage, no trap door, nothing." She caught his hand, interlacing her fingers with him, a detail that immediately captured his full attention. "It was a hallucination. Iím sorry."
A soft knock sounded at the door and an uncharacteristically timid Claudia tiptoed in. "Hi," she chirped to Nigel, then turned to Sydney, shoving a large box into the darker womanís arms. "This came in from Middlesbrough, in England, from Professor Harris. He called ahead and said he thinks it might be important, something about Merlin. I figured, all things considered, youíd like to open it here." Her attire was subdued for her: a simple fuschia mini sheath skimmed her slender curves. Matching pumps and purse completed the ensemble.
"Merlin? Thanks, Claudia. Talk about timing!" Sydney frowned at the heavy tape. After a few fruitless moments of picking at it with her fingernail, she asked, "Claudia, you have a metal nail file, one with a pointed end?"
Nigel propped up on one elbow, eyeing the container. Something rumbled at the back of his brain, igniting a shiver that ran from toe to scalp. There was no conscious thought, merely the incoherent demand for caution.
"Watch out!" he warned. "Itís dangerous!"
"What makes you say that, Nigel? Itís a box. You donít even know whatís in it yet," Claudia retorted. "Donít be silly."
Something in his tone must have reached Sydney, because she stopped prodding at the tape. "I donít know how weíre going to open it without cutting through the tape," she said. At that instant, the file pulled a section of packing tape up and free, allowing her to access the contents without cutting at all.
Nigel watched her eyes go wide. "What is it, Syd?"
She first withdrew a letter. She set the box next to them on the bed, allowing him to see the alabaster lid, embedded with its gemstone solar system. She unfolded the letter and read aloud:
I wanted you to authenticate this, because it is such a remarkable find. Well, for that and other reasons Iíll explain in a moment.
Two months ago, we discovered an old theater, predating Shakespeare by a couple of centuries. Such a find here in the northern UK was monstrous good luck in itself, but beneath that structure was another, much older, hidden passage. It opened into what was once an extraordinary chamber, though sometime recently it was burned. You could still smell the smoke, in fact.
Oddly enough, there was a roughly circular patch in the middle of the floor that seemed untouched by the flames, and in its center sat this box. My assistant, Paul, died while trying to open the bloody thing. I assume there is some sort of protective mechanism engaged. Hope that you can find a way to disable it, but for heavenís sake be careful.
I realize that the etchings on the side come from a later age. In the manuscript that lead us here, it said that the Druids hid Merlinís journals from the day of his imprisonment, and stood guard over it until the middle of the thirteenth century. Then they believed his secrets were best buried, so they created a charmed box and hid it away until he could reclaim it for himself.
I wonder if that means Iím a reincarnated Merlin! Wouldnít that be a kicker?
Nigel dug out the alabaster artifact, careful not to touch its sides until it was completely free of its packing. He arranged fingers to touch four shallow depressions in order, while his lips chanted silent litany, the gemstones began to move beneath the surface, reenacting the rotations of the planets. Finally the lid angled open, allowing them to see the age-yellowed scrolls. A small flat page, a piece of the same materials as the scrolls, lay atop the rolled journals.
With a reverence reserved for only the most remarkable relics, he withdrew the loose leaf and began to read a translation.
"I am Merlin, son of royal blood and magician to the Great King Arthur. I hid away this journal until the time of my imminent imprisonment is ended and my soul and spirit are reunited. I am betrayed by my heart." Nigel paused as grief poured through him. Even the great magician wasnít immune to the human condition. "But my Lady knows not what she does. She will not relent nor will she falter. Her imprisonment, methinks, is the far more grievous. And yet I love her through eternity. When these journals again come to light, our journey together will resume. When I hold this page in my hand again, her eyes will be reopened and her heart restored."
Go to Part Thirty Seven.