The Ark of Apocalypse

CHAPTER TWO

Merlin, the Hermit

Simon quickly stepped down from the Apache, checked his overcoat for the letter, and began walking up the hill. About halfway to the top, he saw the entrance to the cave.  He laid his gun on the ground, took off his overcoat, and then retrieved his weapon. Under his coat he wore a long, white, sleeveless robe with a large eight-pointed white and gold cross on the right side of his chest. Between the arms of the cross were two lions and two horses in gold, trimmed with a gold circle on a black background. He walked over to the entrance of the cave.

Inside the cave, an old priest turned and saw the silhouette of the huge man with the cannon in his hand. The old priest was sitting, facing the cave entrance, when Simon entered. Simon could not see the priest, but he could see the eight candles surrounding the simple altar of homemade statues. They illuminated the cave, but cast shadows around the old man. Finally, Simon spotted the outline of the seated priest, but his face remained obscure in the shadowy darkness.

"Are you the priest they call Merlin, The Hermit?" asked Simon.

After a short silence, Merlin replied simply, “Yes.”

"I have the letter," Simon informed the stoic figure.

"Are you Simon?" Merlin inquired.

"I am," he replied.

Merlin stared at Simon for a long time. Through the dim light, Merlin could tell that he was a Herculean man. His height was obvious, but the priest could also see that Simon was also very unafraid. He said, "Come in."

Simon entered slowly and stepped into the candlelight. His white robe with the bright eight-pointed white and gold cross sparkled in the flickering lights. His double barreled machine gun seemed to magnify the light and reflect it brightly in every direction. His immense arms strained against the sleeves of his black shirt. Despite his imposing presence, Merlin was not at all disturbed and remained seated.

Simon could now see The Hermit he had heard so much about. Although Merlin remained seated, Simon guessed him to be above average height. He could tell that the old man was extremely thin and Simon estimated his age at round ninety years. The old priest had a commanding air about him that filled the room. His eyes twinkled as he looked at the letter as though he was looking forward to the events that were going to unfold. Eventually, Merlin rose up authoritatively and approached Simon. He was about six feet tall and walked with a slight limp. His hair and beard were very long and white as snow. His face and hands were very rough, Simon observed, probably from living this way. “It can’t be an easy life for such an old guy”, he thought.  He was dressed in a simple brown wool robe that had an attached hood. Around his waist was a rope tied in a knot at one side. Strung through the rope was a three foot long cord Rosary. Merlin extended his hand, "You have The Letter?"

"Yes sir" replied Simon, handing the leather folder to Merlin. “Oh damn, he thought, he is a priest, not a Colonel, I should have said, yes Father.”

Merlin checked the seal against his ring. "Ah! The time has finally come!" Merlin paced back and forth in the cave, looking at the folder and the Seal, shaking his head and letting out long sighs of near disbelief, "So long! So long!" Finally he looked at Simon. "Where is The Ark?"

There was a long silence. Simon had guarded The Ark for the last two years and had never followed any other orders except to keep silent about what he knew, silent except for the man standing before him. It felt strange now to be free to share the secrets he knew. The words would be hard to say; they had remained secret for so long. He also did not even know why he was to reveal the information to the old Hermit, but Merlin seemed to understand much more than Simon did. Actually, Merlin seemed to know a great deal without having Simon say anything at all. He knew Simon's name and he knew that the letter was for The Ark, even without Simon telling him. But now, the words had to come out. It was an order.

"He's………He's on the Island of Madeira."

"Madeira?” … “Madeira?” … Merlin paced back and forth in the cave.

"Why Madeira?"

"He was in Southwest Germany...Sternberg.  But the civil war was getting too close to him. It was getting harder and harder to protect him from the mobs. We moved him and his family to Madeira."

"Does he know who you are?" Merlin queried, as he ran his hand down his long pure white beard and stared with one eye at the tall black man.

"No sir, I mean Father, He has no idea. We took him, his wife, and his children during a stormy night. They fought us and did not want to go.  His father had just died the week before and The Ark wanted to stay near his grave. It was very hard to move them.  On Madeira at least they are safe."

"OK! OK! How do we get there, way out in the Atlantic? This is an unfortunate surprise to me; I did not expect this! What do we do now? How will I get to him?"

Even though Merlin stopped pacing, it was quite obvious that he was provoked by the news. Merlin understood the need for security as his own Monastery had been bombed years before, forcing him to move into this cave for protection. His real name was Abbott Chardone, but he had taken the new name, Merlin, matching the secret task he had been assigned. He w   as the “keeper of the secrets.” Only the “Order” called him Merlin.

"We must go now,” said Simon, “but the journey will not be quick. We will take our time as we must be very cautious. Everything is arranged just as it has been for many years."

"Yes! Many, many years, more years than you think!" Merlin picked up a small, round bag and gestured to Simon to the door. "Let's go! The world is waiting."

Simon stepped out of the cave and was taken aback when Merlin limped right behind him, so close as to seem to be pushing him to move faster. They walked down the small mountain towards the black chopper. In the distance, Simon could see two men with AK-47s, one on each hill, on both sides of the chopper. He knew they would be there, even if he did not know who they were. They had one job and only one job: to protect The Hermit. At last, their task was coming to an end as Simon took charge of the old man.

Merlin looked ahead to the chopper. "I suppose I'm going to have to get into that metal contraption, aren't I?” Merlin murmured in an irritated tone. “I've never been in one before and I don't think I'm going to like it. No! I'm definitely not going to like this. Will this thing get us to Madeira? Are you sure you can fly?” Even as he ranted, Merlin never stopped hurrying towards the chopper. His chatter seemed to simply calm his fears.

"No, this chopper could never go that far,” Simon replied when Merlin stopped to take a breath. “We will be going by ship. But this will get us to that ship where we will continue our journey. It's not far from here, in that direction."

Merlin turned to see where Simon was pointing. "In the Mediterranean!"

"By ship?” Merlin protested again. “That is going to be slow. We must get there as quickly as possible. Even though time has waited for this moment for thousands of years, and waited patiently, from now on time is our enemy. Let's go!"

Simon looked at him incredulously. “This old coot was full of piss and vinegar,” he laughed to himself.  Simon had a lot of questions, but kept silent. He helped The Hermit into the chopper respectfully. Simon knew only one thing; the Hermit had all the answers. All the rest of The Order had bits and pieces, but The Hermit, and only The Hermit knew everything. No one else on the face of the earth could put it all together except Merlin. Merlin was the guardian of the principal secrets. Simon knew some things, other members knew more, but Merlin knew it all. This was the reason he was called “keeper of the secrets – Merlin.”

Simon stared at the man he had wanted to meet for so many years, but still didn't ask any questions. He knew that within a few days he would know all he needed to know, since he was the guardian. From now on, everywhere Merlin or The Ark went, Simon would be there also protecting them. Simon would soon know more than any other member of The Order.

Simon started the engine and Merlin stared up at the blades as they began spinning, faster and faster and faster. Simon pulled back on the stick and the helicopter began rising off of the ground rapidly. Merlin grabbed the sides of his seat, closed his eyes and gritted his teeth, but said nothing. Simon looked at him and smiled with admiration and pride. Admiration, because he could tell that Merlin was terrified from never having been off the ground before, but he was determined! Proud, because Simon was now in control of the situation! This was his expertise and The Hermit had to trust him and Simon knew that he was right to do so.

They rose up to above two thousand feet and then headed out to sea. Merlin shut his eyes as they sped toward the open water. Within what seemed like only a few minutes, Simon saw the Mediterranean. He looked for the old castle along the shore and when he saw it, he turned out toward the sea. After exactly twenty minutes, he saw an old rundown oil tanker drifting in the water. He hovered over it for a few seconds. An eight-pointed white and gold cross flag was spread out on the deck between four men. Simon lowered the chopper down until he set right on top of the cloth. He turned off the engine.  ……. Merlin started to climb out of the cab, looking sick.

“Wait!, said Simon. "Not yet! Just a few more seconds!'

Suddenly, the deck of the oil tanker began to shudder and the entire section of the deck that the chopper had landed on began to sink. It descended very slowly until the chopper was below the upper deck. A crew of men pushed the chopper off the lowering platform onto the lower deck and then Simon turned around to watch the platform rise back to its original place at the top deck.

"OK! Now we can get out." He reached across and opened the door for Merlin. Two men helped Merlin from the chopper.

Simon and Merlin found themselves in what used to be the oil compartment of the ship. They followed the men over to an iron ladder leaning firmly on the side of the tank and gestured for Merlin to climb up. Merlin never hesitated. Even though he was quite old, he grabbed the ladder and began what Simon thought would be a difficult climb for the old man. Without help, Merlin made it to the top and was led to his small, simply furnished room. He immediately began to set up a table for Mass.  Simon and the six others were privileged to attend The Holy Mass. Then very reverently and quietly they departed to leave Merlin alone to pray and rest.

Simon went out on the upper deck to look out to the open sea and think about all of the things that had happened so far. The Mediterranean was not a safe place to sail. American ships moved up and down trying to keep order on the open seas, but getting through the Straits of Gibraltar would be the toughest part. An American F-116 shot across the sky, probably from a carrier.  Simon wondered how this ship could protect The Hermit if attacked by pirates or even good people looking for food or oil. He offered up a prayer for the safety of all of them.

Two hours went by and Simon remained on the deck looking out at the open sea. He made no attempt now to hide his robe. The white robe was just a cotton cloth ten feet long and four feet wide with a hole in the center for his head. It had an eight-pointed white and gold cross on the front.

Simon had received his robe two years before, but this was the first time that he could wear it openly. An alarm sounded. Suddenly men started running all over the tanker. One section of the deck, about ten by ten, opened up, and a strange-looking gun popped up from below with no gunner at the seat. Judging by the looks of the thing, no gunner was needed.  It had over 100 50-calaber barrels banked in 10 rows of 10 and a radar disc on top.

Simon looked out to sea.  A dark, ominous looking vessel was rapidly approaching. Simon grabbed some binoculars from a table nearby and scanned the other ship for people. He could see no one. Everyone on board Simons’ ship looked prepared for battle. Several Knights pointed hand-held rocket launchers at the ship.  After a few minutes of tension, another ship appeared as if out of nowhere. Simon let out a sigh of relief as an American aircraft carrier charged and almost ran over the other ship. The unfriendly ship turned and ran off into the darkness.

The carrier turned and slowly moved along side of the oil tanker. They stayed side by side until they reached the mouth of the sea, the Straits of Gibraltar. The straits were mined, but passage through was possible if you knew how. The ship captain knew exactly what to do.

The American carrier turned back into the Mediterranean, never even knowing who it was protecting. The oil tanker maneuvered itself through the mines and out into the open ocean of the Atlantic. Three hundred more miles to go! The tanker turned south and headed out to sea.

Simon finally went below deck to his room next to Merlin’s. The room consisted of a small bed, a chest of drawers and a lamp. There was also a small writing desk with a lamp. He lay on the bed with his knees bent so that he could fit his enormous length on it. He knew he would not be able to sleep even though he had not slept for the past two days. He knew he would not sleep, because this was what he was waiting for all these years. He knew he wouldn't sleep, and suddenly he lost consciousness and fell asleep.