Blaise walked by the door and saw Merlin inside. He was working on a drawing. Something round, a circle with several concentric circles, one that contained a pattern of twisting vines, and a center section with what looked like ripples in a pool.
The boy was now seven years old, and looked indistinguishable from any other boy of his age. His head had a covering of light brown hair that spilled over his forehead in unruly waves, and his body was lean and athletic, honed by his constant rambles throughout the countryside and tireless exploration of natural things. He had never lost his intense manner or ability for extreme concentration.
“Blaise, I am happy to see you,” he said, and looked up. “The time is coming soon when you will need to move to Northumberland, so I suggest that you make yourself ready.”
The older man entered the room and approached the table. “It is coming time for me to move,” he repeated. “I have been expecting this a long while. Does that also mean that you will be leaving this town?”
“Yes,” said Merlin. “Men will soon be coming to take me away. But I am glad you are here, for I have wanted to ask you some questions.” Merlin finished the work he was doing, blew the excess charcoal off of it and showed it to Blaise. “What do you think?”
The older man looked with curiosity at what Merlin had created. He did not understand what it was, but this was not new, for the majority of the matters that Merlin interested himself in were largely beyond his comprehension. “It’s pretty,” he said. “What is it?” He had learned to be careful to keep his hands away, for Merlin was always very irate when one of his creations had been touched or altered in any way.
“It’s a table,” said Merlin.
“Oh,” said the hermit. He had not known that the boy was taking an interest in furniture, but nothing surprised him anymore. “Is this part of your little project?”
“Yes, and so are my questions,” said Merlin. “Please come sit in the sun so we can discuss them.”
The two of them moved over to sit in seats near the window, where the afternoon sun streamed in upon the older man’s face. Merlin settled himself in the chair opposite.
“What is it, do you think,” asked the child, “that creates a man’s character?”
The old man considered. “I suppose there are many things,” he said. “A mixture of what physical things he is born with, such as are inherited from his parents, but also what happens to him in his life, with his parents and other people he meets.” Blaise thought a bit more, as the child stared intently at his face, and finally decided he had no more to add. “I suppose it is a combination of all of these things.”
“I have been thinking on how my mother won me from the influence of the devil who had fathered me,” said Merlin. “It was because of her goodness, and her observance to our Lord’s will that even within the womb, I was able to know of the existence of God and to begin to see my way toward him, which your having me baptized completed, once I entered into this world.”
“Yes,” said the hermit. “And what have you thought on it? Well, actually,” he interrupted himself, “first let me say that you represent a very special circumstance, and it is unwise to extrapolate from yourself and compare that to the upbringing of ordinary people.”
“Well said,” mused the child, “and understood. But,” Merlin went on, “consider. As for my mother, there is her physical makeup, yes. There is her decent upbringing of me, yes. And there is in me both the physical makeup of my mother and also the semi-physical, semi-spiritual makeup of my father. But I was thinking specifically of her will, and of her goodness,” Merlin said, and here he raised his finger in the air, “and more importantly, of her wish to be good.”
Blaise looked out the window and stroked his beard as he thought about this. “Do you think her wish to be good had a great effect on you?” he asked.
“Well, that is what I wonder,” said the child, picking up a nearby book and flipping through it absently, for Merlin’s mind was usually going so fast he found it uninteresting to concentrate on just one thing at a time. “I wonder how much of an effect it has to be within the womb of someone, and soaked, as you might say, in their thoughts, and hopes, and dreams, and wishes,” said Merlin. “And from the father. Do all of his thoughts and dreams and wishes also travel through the sticky milk he produces to create a child?”
The old man’s eyes widened, as he still could not get used to talking of fully adult matters with a seven-year-old boy.
“It is impossible for me to say,” said Blaise. “There is so much that goes into the making of a person. And most people simply do it, without specific effort to create a certain person, except I suppose for,” and here he paused, searching for words, “for a generalized wish that their child to be healthy and decent, and such a person that will live out a good and worthy life.”
“Exactly,” said the child, “that is where it is difficult, for I am looking to create a very specific person, that will do very specific things. And will need to have a very, very specific character if he is to stand up to all that he must face.” He flipped through several pages in the book and tossed it aside. “I guess part of it will be a grand experiment,” he said, “but I have come to think that perhaps the desires of our parents can, and do, very much influence the desires and dreams of their offspring.”
“Is this… also part of your little project?” asked the older man.
“Yes, my little project,” said Merlin. “And we will see how my experiment works out, for the child I have in mind will spend no time with either of his birth parents, and therefore cannot pick up on their wishes and dreams through time spent with them.”
“And why is that?” asked the hermit.
“Well, I am also coming to wonder if a great individual must arise from an anomaly of birth, such as we saw with Jesu Christ, and then with the next great marvel to walk on this earth,” he said, “by which, of course, I mean myself.”
The older man said nothing, and his face betrayed no flicker of thought, for he had long been accustomed to Merlin’s extravagant statements regarding his own wondrousness.
“Do you think it is evil to use other beings for your own ends?” the child asked.
The old man thought. “I suppose it is,” he said. “Especially if you are deceiving them, and do not make them aware that they are acting out a part for you, or moving toward a goal that has been decided not by them, but by you.”
This interested the child, and he looked up. “So you think it is acceptable if I let them know?”
“Well, I suppose it is very highly dependent on the circumstances,” said the hermit, and waited, but it soon became apparent that Merlin was not going to tell him the circumstances. “The important thing is that you not be deceitful, and that you not lead them falsely toward an unfortunate end which they would not otherwise come to themselves.”
“A-ha!” said the child, and then he put his finger to his lips and sat in thought for several moments. “But now you get to the essence of what I am asking. What if they might come to an unfortunate end, but their suffering will bring much goodness—goodness for many thousands of people, far outweighing the sufferings of two—would that then be worth it?”
“It sounds,” said Blaise, thoughtfully stroking his beard, “when I hear you say that the goodness will outweigh their suffering, that you have already made up your mind.”
“That is not true, or I would not be asking,” said the child, mildly vexed. “I value your opinion greatly, for you are a very learned and holy man. I also value the opinion of my mother, who is a very just and moral woman.” He thought for a moment, and his finger tapped restlessly on his knee.
“Now think on it this way,” he said. “Mankind holds himself superior to animals, and for this reason he justifies forcing animals to perform toward his own ends, and cares little for the labor of those animals when they suffer for completing his designs. I am something more than a man, and hold part of my heritage from a being that is superior to men, and for this reason I myself am superior to mortal man.”
“The old tale,” said Blaise.
Merlin pulled up short. “I did not make it this way,” he said.
“No,” Blaise said. “But oft do you speak on it.”
The child glared at him pointedly. “Does this,” Merlin said, a sharpness in his voice, “in the like way, make it acceptable for me to use man as my animals to carry out my will, which,” he said firmly, “as we know, is one with the will of God.”
Blaise chuckled. “Does God know that?” he asked.
Merlin did not see the humor, and spoke in an even tone. “Everything that I do is with the intention of bringing the people of this country closer to God, for their own salvation and better ends.”
“I understand,” Blaise said, chuckling and reaching out to stroke the boy’s head, which he pulled away from. The old man thought. “It is true that mankind uses animals for his purpose, but I suppose even so, a good man is kind and respectful to his animals, cares for their needs, and does not use them in a way that would be harmful to them. And it is evil for man to use an animal cruelly, even if we accept that animals are inferior to him, for he should show respect and kindness for all of God’s creations.”
“I knew you would say that,” said the child, and slipped off his chair to walk in circles around the room. “What if,” he said, and raised his finger, “what if the animals did something that was harmful to themselves, but it was through their own decision?”
The older man stood and slowly walked over to lean against the wall opposite where Merlin was pacing. “But it sounds like what we are talking about will not be their own decision,” he said.
“Well,” said Merlin, tilting his head back and forth, “does it matter if they have made the decisions they do through being gently prodded in one or another direction?” He glanced quickly up at the hermit’s face. “Or based on certain information that they have been given? They are still making their own decision.”
“Well, it seems like it is not fully their decision if you have prodded them in one way or another to do it. Or supplied such information, or only certain information, that you knew would result in their making a specific decision.”
Merlin crossed his arms. “Does it matter if this prodding that we speak of was several layers removed, and of such great gentleness and subtlety that they never knew with whom it originated, and did in fact, for all intents and purposes, make their own decision?”
Blaise seemed confused. “Can you be more specific?”
Merlin shook his head.
“It may not be wrong in a court of law,” said the older man, “and it may not be something for which anyone can directly to be blamed, but if you, in your heart, know that you influenced them to act in a certain way…” Blaise considered, “you may never be discovered, and may never be blamed, but you will have to decide for yourself if you can live with the consequences of what you have done to those people.”
“There are many things that I must live with,” said Merlin. “This has been a very fruitful discussion and I thank you for your frank answers.”
Blaise hung still. “I have the feeling I have just given you permission for something I’m not sure I would approve of,” said the older man.
“Isn’t life funny that way?” asked Merlin.
Blaise looked down at the circular drawing and tried to imagine it as a table. “I didn’t know you had taken up interest in designing furniture,” he said. “Is this something that you plan to have made?”
“It is indeed,” said Merlin. “Although the making of it is very far off, and the path there is quite a winding one, although we stand at the very beginning of it! At this moment, seven clerics to the king are advising him to send messengers after me, with instructions to kill me. Those are the men who will come for me that I have told you about.”
“Messengers from the king—King Vortiger?” Blaise’s mouth dropped open. “Why, he is well known to be a bloody and ruthless tyrant! I hope you are not messing with something that is much bigger than you—remember you are but seven years old, Merlin! And these men are on their way this minute to kill you?” He raised his open palm to his forehead. “Does that not worry you?”
Merlin shrugged, squinting at his drawing. “Why would it?” he asked.