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Spirits from the Vasty Deep

By Rebecca Ann Brothers
Page 1 of 1

previously published in WHOMSOEVER HOLDS THIS SWORD, 1992

Crouching in a cave, peering out at a rainswept landscape of rock and scrub brush, Roj Blake was not feeling like a happy rebel. "Why haven't you said I-told-you-so yet?" he asked, not bothering to look around at Avon. There was no need to do so; he could feel the other's stare piercing him somewhere around his shoulder blades.

"I rather thought it went without saying," was Avon's reply.

Blake rather supposed it did.

They had teleported down to this dismal planet in order to meet with some potential allies. Avon had predicted a trap, but as Avon always anticipated dire proceedings, Blake hadn't listened. One of them had not been surprised when the whole thing did, indeed, turn out to be a trap, sprung by Travis. Both of them had escaped by the skin of their teeth, forced to take refuge in these mountains when their calls to the LIBERATOR brought no response. Curiously, given his nature, Avon's assessment of that development was moderately optimistic: he believed Jenna would have had the sense to see that something was amiss, and take the ship temporarily out of orbit.

Blake wanted to believe that as well, but his normally sunny outlook on life was somewhat overcast at the moment.

He moved away from the mouth of the cave, seeing that there was nothing to be gained by getting any more drenched than he already was, and sat down a little ways from Avon. "I'm sorry," he said.

"I agree. Pitiful and pathetic, as well." Avon sounded more bored and resigned than anything else. "I'm curious. Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps the rest of the galaxy doesn't want you to save it?"

"It has, actually." When things were looking particularly bleak. When a hard-won victory was nullified. When someone's life was lost.

"Yet you persist," Avon said.

Blake shrugged. "I don't know any other way to live." He shivered again, drawing his knees up to his chest. "Could you change what you are, Avon?"

There was just enough light within the cave to let him see the smile Avon briefly flashed. "It has been suggested."

"And met with unyielding resistance."

"Ahh, but I do not run around insisting that everyone else should be like me, Blake."

"The hell you don't. You promote cynicism every chance you get."

"As a survival technique."

"As a means of staying uninvolved."

"And what have you gained by being involved?"

Shrugging again, Blake said, "Maybe nothing. But I tried." He was too cold and too uncomfortable to argue with Avon now. "If you can't stomach it, Avon, feel free to leave. Just let me be." Unaware of the perplexed look on the other's face, Blake lay down, huddling against the cave wall. All he wanted was to sleep, having no dreams or nightmares, but just resting his mind and body.

#

Frowning at the rebel's sprawled form, Avon shook his head. The only thing he found difficult to stomach was the sight of Blake feeling sorry for himself. Admittedly, their present situation was far from encouraging, but neither did it have to be a harbinger of doom. Blake was brooding out of all proportion. He'd get on a good deal better in life, Avon thought, doing things a little less larger than life.

Avon got up and went to the mouth of the cave, standing back so as not to get wet. The rain was still coming down in sheets, as lightning cracked across an ever-darkening sky. Spending the night here was not an appealing prospect, and he tried reaching the LIBERATOR again. There was still no answer, however, and he began to wonder if he mightn't have over-estimated Jenna's acumen.

Not that there was anything he could do about it, except rage futilely at Fate for stranding him on this forsaken world, with only a mercurial rebel for company. Preferring to conduct himself in a more productive fashion, he decided to explore the cave a little more. There might be some portion of its interior that offered superior protection from the elements; freezing to death might be one of the easier ways to die, but he'd as soon skip it if at all possible.

Finding that the cave began to curve, Avon slipped a mini-torch from his pocket, and followed the passage, having the sense that he was also descending. Then he came to a dead stop, eyes dazzled by a sudden brilliance.

He had reached a cavern, lit by phosphorescent lichen that covered the walls, giving off a greenish glow. A fall of fresh water streamed over a rockface to collect in a deep pool----with a jug and a cup nearby to gather the water in. Investigating further, Avon found a few packets and tins of food, as well as utensils, matches and dry kindling, a first aid kit, and even several blankets.

Whoever'd last had occasion to use this place as a bolt hole, Avon appreciated their leaving it so well-provisioned for whatever unlucky traveler next chanced by.

He hurried back to fetch Blake, wincing at the blasts of wind coming through the cave entrance now--and where the hell was Blake? The rebel was not where Avon had left him. "Blake!" Edging nearer to the cave's entrance, Avon looked out, squinting against the icy droplets, and saw his companion standing on a point of rock that jutted out over a rocky chasm, seemingly oblivious to the storm that raged.

"Blake!"

Damn the man; what did he think he was doing? It would serve him right if he got hit by lightning, Avon thought, even as he found himself making his way along the ledge, out to the point where Blake paid homage to the elements.

"What the hell are you doing out here?" he demanded, his voice almost lost in the wind. He took Blake's arm, resisting the urge to shake him. "What's the matter with you?"

The man turned to look at him then, saying something in a language Avon could not understand, save for a name--Myrdinn*. Avon thought that it was an ancient Welsh name, although why Blake should have used it to address him now was more than he could fathom. And why was the rebel babbling in some long-dead tongue anyway? Was he ill?

Getting drenched like this wasn't going to do either of them any good. Avon got a hold on Blake, trying to shift him around and get him back to the cave. Thankfully, the rebel proved cooperative for once, and came along quietly. Once they were out of the rain, the cold became more intense, and Avon couldn't tell which of them was shivering more by the time he got Blake to the cavern. Pity a change of warm, dry clothing had not been a part of the survival kit left by their unknown benefactor, but Avon supposed that he should be grateful for what was to hand.

First things first, he decided, as he dumped Blake and set about building a fire on the hearth provided for that purpose. When he had the blaze going to his satisfaction, he got down to the business of looking after Blake.

There was something Cally had told them about once...hypothermia, that was it: how, if a person were cold and wet, the shock could lead to death. And, if Blake had been ill to begin with.... Avon quickly set about very matter-of-factly stripping Blake, then wrapping him in one of the blankets and settling him by the fire. He then lay another blanket over him, trying to combat the chills making Blake tremble.

Now what, Avon wondered, before remembering the first aid kit. Quickly, he fetched it and did a quick inventory of the contents. Nothing fancy, but enough to serve their needs for the moment. He popped a thermometer into Blake's mouth, then went to fill the water jug, bringing it and the cup back.

Checking the thermometer, he frowned at the reading it gave: 99.5 degrees. That wasn't dangerously high, he knew, but the man shouldn't have a high temperature at all, given how cold he'd gotten.

"...Avon?" Blake was looking at him, bemused. "What's going on?"

Well, at least he'd regained his wits, such as they were. "We're in a cavern I found," Avon explained. "You appear to be ill."

"I feel awful. Too hot." Blake tried to push the blankets away, but Avon stopped him.

"Stop moving around, Blake. You have to rest."

Fretful, Blake demanded, "Where's the LIBERATOR?"

"I don't know. Blake, rest, don't talk. Take these," he added, handing him a couple of aspirin. "They may help your fever."

Blake made a face, but took his medicine. "Are you all right?"

"Yes." Just freezing in his wet clothes.

"Hmm. Must be true: only the good die young."

Avon gave him a sharp look, but all he said was, "Shut up and rest."

Looking chastened, Blake lay back, quiet for a while, then murmured, "Avon...that was uncalled for. I'm sorry--and thank you."

Avon sighed. "You're welcome. Now go to sleep."

Waiting until Blake at last fell into a restless sleep, Avon then got out of his sopping clothes and wrapped himself in a blanket. He huddled near Blake and the fire.

This was going to be a very long night.

#

All he wanted was to be left alone, to be miserable in peace; for the insistent hands to stop prodding at him, the voice to be silent. "Leave me alone...just let me be..." If only he could get away by himself, run far, far away....

Opening his eyes, he looked quickly around the cavern, shivering and drawing his cloak more closely around him. The cold and damp penetrated too easily to his bones these days, and he could hear the creaks and cracks as he rose to his feet, going over to the pool. As he peered at the reflection given back to him there, he had a sudden sense of something amiss. Why did it seem as if his face should be clean-shaven, that the image should be youthful still, with no grey in the dark curls?

In truth, he was sixty-two years of age in this year of 1416, and looked and felt it. But not dead yet, no matter what the English put about. Prince Harry may have sent him off to these Welsh mountains to wage a smaller battle, but he'd not been defeated.

"Such determination is admirable, Glyn Dwr, but then why have you come to me?"

Owain Glyn Dwr started at the voice and turned to behold a dark figure emerging from the greater darkness of the cavern. "I have old bones in need of the draughts I'm told you offer," he told the man--for man this was, though some had whispered wizard. "Come near so that I may see you," he commanded.

Obeying, the man came full into the light. Something more than average height, slender in build, he had dark hair and eyes, but was very fair of complexion. He put Glyn Dwr in mind of some fierce bird of prey, swathed all in black. "Do you have a name?" asked the one-time Prince of Wales.

"Many."

"One will do."

A smile briefly dazzled. "Emrys, then."

Following Emrys to an alcove further on into the cavern, Glyn Dwr looked about him at the accoutrements of the alchemist. "It is said you're a wizard, Emrys."

"Simple minds view as magic whatever they do not understand."

"What do you seek after?"

"All knowledge has its uses," said Emrys, indicating that Glen Dwr should be seated on a divan while he busied himself with powders and liquids, mixing and measuring with care. Finally, he seemed satisfied. "Here, drink this down," he said, handing the old warrior a cup.

Sniffing at the brew skeptically, Glyn Dwr asked, "What will it do?"

"Bring you rest, and ease from pain, my King," Emrys replied, and Glen Dwr had drunk the elixir down before the odd form of address registered.

"Only prince," he corrected.

But Emrys watched him intently and gently shook his head. "King, once and always. But you've done for now, and it is time to take your rest again."

Whatever did the man mean? Glyn Dwr made to rise from the divan, but found his limbs too heavy, a languor creeping through him. "What have you done, wizard?"

Emrys came over to him, eased him down on the divan. "Do not be alarmed," he soothed. "You'll only sleep 'til the world has need of you again. I'll see you back to Avalon. Trust me now, as always you have."

Back to Avalon...? "Your name...?"

That smile again. "Myrdinn Emrys, my King."

"Merlin Ambrosius," Glyn Dwr murmured. The man was quite mad, of course, living out some delusion of being that ancient Merlin; believing he was Arthur come again. "I'm no Pendragon," he said, voice dropped to a hoarse whisper.

"You truly do not remember?" said Emrys. "Well, no matter. you still accomplished what was needed. Sleep now."

Sleep, and never waken. Perhaps it was best to end this way, Glyn Dwr considered, though it was still hard to feel grateful to this madman; strange to have come to such a pass after all that he had done in his life.

But the sleeping draught was too strong, and his eyes slid closed; he felt comforted and wholly at ease for the first time in such a weary while. It would be good to have a respite form the battlefield again.

Perhaps next time he awakened Jenny and Lance would be there again. He'd trust to Merlin...the old wizard always knew what was best...

Struggling out of a tangle of dreams, Blake surfaced to find himself wrapped in blankets and held in Avon's arms, his head resting on the computer tech's shoulder. "Avon?" His voice came out a weak whisper, not likely to catch the attention of anyone--yet Avon's eyes flickered open and looked at him. "What's going on?"

Preferring an oblique answer, Avon said, "Sometimes I wonder if you're worth the bother, Blake."

But he kept on bothering, just the same, Blake thought, and was warmed as much by that realization as by the fire. "I remember a storm...."

"You caught a chill. You've been delirious and raving all night. Not," Avon had to add, "that it made for a marked change in your behavior. Where did you learn Welsh?"

"What?" Blake shook his head. "I don't know Welsh."

"You did in your sleep."

"I had a dream...you were in it."

"Was I?"

"Umm-hmm. You were some lunatic who claimed to be Merlin, and I was supposed to be King Arthur, but I was really Owen Glendower...." He fell silent, realizing that he was babbling. "It was all very strange," he added lamely.

"No doubt," was Avon's noncommittal reply.

"You could probably let me go now," Blake said after a while. He was surprised that Avon hadn't immediately pushed him off, put up his boundaries again.

"It was the only way to restrain you," Avon said, by way of excusing his actions, shifting around until Blake was stretched out by the fire.

"I see," Blake said, watching Avon--who seemed uncomfortable with what Blake thought he saw. "Do you think that dreams have any significance, Avon?"

"If you want them to."

"Have you ever thought you may have lived before?"

Avon's smile was tight. "Once has proved sufficient."

Blake couldn't help wondering, though. He'd always had this feeling, for instance, that he had known Avon somewhere...sometime...before. "It could be reassuring to know that we have more than one shot at life."

"To make all the same mistakes?"

"Or correct them?"

Whatever Avon might have answered to that was lost in the chime of a teleport bracelet, and Blake wondered if Avon were relieved or disappointed that the moment was lost. He couldn't quite decide for himself.

"Blake here," he said into his bracelet. "Where've you been?"

"Long story," answered Jenna. "Are you ready to teleport?"

Blake glanced at Avon, who had doused the fire and gathered up their still-damp clothing. They would no doubt arouse curiosity by showing up on the ship in only blankets...but what the hell.

"Yes. Bring us up, Jenna," he said.

And so it was back to life as it was, with no more thoughts--not serious ones, anyway--of what might once have been.

the end

Glendower: I can call spirits from the vasty deep.

Hotspur: Why, so can I, or so can any man. But will they come when you do call for them?

Glendower: Why, I can teach thee, cousin, to command the devil.

KING HENRY IV, PART I

William Shakespeare



*pronounced Mur'-thin
(Back to where you were in the story.)


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