Jacob opened the door and was greeted by an image of an energetic looking woman sitting in his chair doing her best to spin as fast. The chair had been moved to the center of the room for maximum room and was spinning with great speed whilst the woman was holding on to the armrests whilst her legs were extended out whilst the chair spun her around. Her straight blonde hair held together in a ponytail flowed wildly behind her and her green eyes sparkled with joy.
The woman in question was the professor in Archeology Paula Balduin. The same professor that set him on his mission to translate the Ogham texts.
As her eyes set upon Jacob her feet slammed on the ground and she came to a halt.
“Jacob, my friend!" She claimed enthusiastically.
Jacob winced. He wished she wasn't so loud in this large quiet room. It was as if the sanctity of the ancient secrets here was disturbed by such callous behavior.
The woman stood up slightly unsteady and took a second to regain her balance.
“I entertained myself a bit whilst I was waiting for you. I hope you don’t mind, but there’s nothing to do here when you’re not here” she said with a renewed wide grin on her face.
“No problem professor, my apologies that I wasn’t present. Do you need some documents checked out?”
The professor walked to him and flung her arm around his shoulders and pulled him down to her and she gestured to the room before them
“Do you know why I set you to translating those documents? I was looking for something without knowing what it specifically was what I was looking for, more like stabbing in the dark hoping to get something”
The professor unwrapped her arm from Jacob and stepped in front of him and poked him in the chest.
“Today you found something that I was looking for. A hint of ancient magic, an unknown belief that gives me something to chase”
She turned around and clapped in her hands excitedly.
“I had you transliterating all those rocks and skins because I didn’t have the time for it, but now with your help, we have a solid lead at something interesting that will make my name famous!”
She looked over her shoulder and a twinkle was in her eyes.
“Don’t worry, you’ll be credited too when I go public with what we found.”
Jacob felt uneasy confusion building up in him.
“Uhm, what exactly are you talking about?” Jacob asked tentatively.
He suspected it had to be the curse stone, but it could have been numerous documents he had translated. Maybe it had been something else, something with that war description he had translated last week.
“I’m talking about your translation of the Newgrange marker of course!” The professor exclaimed.
“The text here has no reference at all to known mystic texts or old religions as we have known them, it was found at a location where it’s unsure what it’s original purpose was and it references the crystal cave.”
The professor started walking back and forth excitedly whilst painting a picture in the air around her with her hands.
“The crystal cave is in my mind a very likely reference to Merlin's cave. We have other texts that hint to his cave as a crystal cave or a mirror cave. But then the references to the others that are sealed and a gate!”
The professor whirled around and pointed to Jacob and her eyes glowed with passion.
“This is a thing of history equal to king Tutankhamun's treasure if we can find this crystal gate. It would send shockwaves through the community! Our names would be famous forever.”
Jacob coughed politely to interrupt the exited monologue of the professor.
“I get that you are feeling excited professor, but why do you keep saying we? As far as I know I just translated that documented for you with the help of miss Mortimer. With that, my role in your side project is done as far as I know.”
Professor Balduin stared at him for a moment and an annoyed frown slowly built upon her face. She walked towards the storage cabinets and slapped them with hand letting a metallic clang resound through the room that made Jacob wince. She slammed them again, even harder this time.
As the echoes of the slams had faded away the professor spoke up looking earnestly at Jacob
“Do you hear that Jacob? Do you hear the silence after the bang?”
Jacob was unsure how to respond to the erratic behavior of the professor that just had pummeled the storage cabinets of priceless archeological artifacts so callously. He settled on a slow nod.
“That silence after the bang are the boring parts of history, nobles stealing some lands, a revolution in an area, some king killing another king. Interesting in itself, but relatively boring and more of the same, just history repeating itself over and over, just different players.”
She slammed the cabinet again letting a loud clang resound through the room again.
“The bangs, the periods of history where really large changes suddenly happen to upset the long-held status quo are the interesting parts. The parts that are hinted at by not making sense initially. The parts worth investigating and investing time in. Why did Babylon rise so suddenly and become so huge early on with no rival to its name? How could Alexander the great or the Mongol empire spread so fast and so far? How could a simple assassination in a backwater country lead to a world war?”
She walked backed to Jacob and looked him sternly in the eyes.
“That is in part why this university was founded. To research new things, to build new paths. To walk roads that conventional universities don’t dare to walk afraid of reputation loss. That's why I work here instead of a university where I would get a lot more salary.”
Jacob nodded again, unsure how to handle this sudden lecture. The professor noticed his insecurity and her face mellowed. She pointed to the chair.
“Please sit down Jacob.”
As Jacob sat down on the chair that still stood in the middle of the room, the professor took an envelope from her jacket and handed it to Jacob.
“Here, read that.”
Jacob opened the envelope and took the letter from it. It was printed on official university stationary, the same kind his contract was on that he signed to start this job. An eerie feeling came over him.
When Jacob was done reading it he stared at the professor who was beaming broadly at him brimming with excitement.
“Why?” he asked keeping his eyes locked on the professors.
The professor smiled and waved around the room
“Because this isn’t a place for you dear Jacob. Sitting in this room, drinking the awful coffee from that machine in the hallway. When we first spoke you mentioned your interests, your urge to know more, your self-motivation in translating things. This will give you the option to explore even more with even more freedom.”
Jacob shook his head.
“You are interpreting my interests incorrectly professor. I just translated the texts because I thought it was fun. It’s a hobby that I happened to make my work. I’m perfectly fine here in this spot. You can find someone else more suitable for this.”
Surprise flashed over the professors face. She had probably expected him to jump at the opportunity. But he was serious. This was the ideal job for him. Nobody disturbed him here most of the time and he could just do whatever he wanted.
“Jacob, you’ve been invaluable to me the last few months that you helped me. That’s why I’m doing this.”
She sighed and then spoke on a softer tone.
“I don’t know if you know already, but your job is going to be automated next year. They’re investing in an automatic copy and delivery system which is in the final stages of being tested.”
She pointed to the isolated server at the back of the room.
“That thing is going to be replaced with a newer model so that when people scan their code a USB stick will drop out the slot like a vending machine. You’ll be fired then as a cost-saving measure”
Jacob’s just stared at the professor and shook his head in disbelief.
“No, they would have told me. I asked them when I was hired if they were planning on doing something like that. They said they didn’t want to invest the money in the development of such a system. That it would be too expensive for a third party to develop such a system”
A sad look came over the professor’s face.
“You have been lied to by them, Jacob. It was the reason your predecessor left. When he got the news he went job hunting and left here as soon as he got an offer. To the dismay, I might add, of a lot of the students and staff here. No more cellar Dungeons and Dragons. If you doubt that you can ask your friend Briss. Everybody here knew. I assumed you knew too that this job was temporary.”
Jacob stared at the letter in his hands and felt as if the floor had vanished under his feet. He had finally found a dream job he had believed to be secure. A nice job, away from people and distractions where he had so much time to do what he loved. It was too good to be true. Every good thing is followed by a bad thing. You could never relax and take it easy. He felt tears coming up in his eyes.
“It's unfair” he muttered under his breath
“Yes, you’re right. They should have told you from the start. They must have thought that you wouldn’t take the job if you knew it was only temporary. They have had a lot of rejections on the job posting.”
The professor approached him and put her hands on his shoulders. Jacob looked up at her from the chair he was still sitting in.
“That’s why I made you this job offer. I have a free spot for an assistant and my last assistant left three weeks ago. I got permission to hire you as an assistant from the board on the condition that you continue to work from here mostly until the new server is installed.”
She tapped the paper in Jacob’s hands.
“Really, I won’t ask that much for you to do and a lot of your work will still be translating a lot of things for me as you have been doing so far. You’ll also accompany me when I go on a field trip to help carry things and to serve as a witness and some other things.”
The professor stepped behind him leaving her hands on his shoulders and pushed him to his computer. The chair started rolling and Jacob lifted his feet a little bit. He could just as well go with the flow at this point. It seemed a choice was really taken from him.
“Please log in Jacob.”
The professor asked as they had arrived at his computer. Jacob did as he was told and unlocked his computer.
The translated text popped to life on the screen where it had been before he had gone on a stroll, which now seemed like ages ago. He felt as if the world had flipped and he had missed it flipping.
“Excellent. Now, look at this. I’m planning to visit Merlin’s cave at Tintagel castle today. Maybe that’s the crystal cave referenced there in the text. Maybe it’s not, but it’s worth a shot and it’s been ages since I was out there. Maybe we’ll find another related clue there.”
“Wait, what? Isn’t that cave just a normal cave at sea level. There’s nothing crystal about it”.
Jacob knew it was just a regular cave. He had been there as a child on a family holiday. It was a cool cave, but rather normal as caves go. His father had told him some stories about Merlin probably living there, doing his magic preparations there and the like. He remembered that time fondly of when he still believed that things like magic and knights were real.
“True, but it’s the best lead we’ve got we can act on quickly. Look at this text `sealed by crystal gate in crystal cave`. I’m very curious about this crystal gate in this text. Maybe it’s a crystal cave in Ireland that’s meant, but Tintagel is just a little more than an hour away and it’s worth taking a look there isn’t it. Plus, I haven’t had a valid excuse to get out there in a few weeks”
Professor Balduin stood up and looked expectantly to Jacob.
“So, what do you say. Wish to keep working here and help me discover interesting things or do you feel like looking for a new job somewhere”
Jacob thought back to his job at McDonald's, the midnight shifts and the weekend shifts and really didn’t need to think long to weigh his options. What professor Balduin had said sounded logical and probably also in the line of expectations really. Plus it might be nice to get road trips somewhere and to see a bit of the world.
“I don’t have a study in archeology or know anything really except what I just read about online and such. I’m sure there are more qualified people out that could serve as better assistants. Why choose me? I’m sure there must be plenty of archeology students who’d like that position.”
The professor relaxed and smiled warmly to Jacob sensing he was about to say yes to her proposal.
“Well, for starters, you work hard and you don’t complain about tedious tasks like translating hundreds of texts, and you have an interest in the field and I like working with you. Plus you won’t bother me all day long with questions about your thesis or research subjects.”
Jacob put the contract on his desktop and opened a drawer. After rummaging around in the drawer he had found a ballpoint and put his signature on the contract.
“Alright, guess you have an assistant now then,” He said wryly.
“Awesome!” The professor exclaimed whilst grabbing the freshly signed contract.
“I’ll get this to HR immediately. You prepare for the road trip, I’ll pick you up in 30 minutes at the parking lot.”
With that said the professor rushed out the door and just like that she was gone and the room was empty again.
Jacob looked around in the suddenly empty room around him and let out a sad sigh.
“I guess it was too good to last forever.”
Jacob turned to his computer and opened his email program. He started typing an email to Briss.
So, I just found out that my job is about to be automated away next year.
Professor Balduin made me an offer to continue to work at the university as her assistant.
I’ll still be in the cellar until my job is automated away, after that I guess I’ll work at the professor’s offices.
Now we’re going on a road trip to Tintagel to visit Merlin’s cave because of that text you helped me translate.
I’ll let you know how it went. I doubt we’ll find something there.
Having sent the email he locked his computer and sat back to overthink what just had happened. One moment he had enjoyed the winter solstice fire show, had a nice chat with Briss and even had her help translate the text with her being really near him. That had been nice. The next moment he had learned his job was about to end, and he had gotten a job offer to work as an assistant to a professor. This was a weird day, to say the least.
Looking at his watch he saw that only thirty minutes had passed since he had gone on his walk. It was way too early for so many things to happen on one day.
Jacob stood up from his chair and went to prepare for the road trip. Not that there was much to prepare. He had sent Briss an update so that if she came looking for him she would know where he was. He checked his jacket to see if his wallet was in there. He had his jacket, his wallet. He was ready, but it was still too early to go to the parking lot.
He took his coat and went to the central lobby and sat there and looked outside. The sky was still very clear and the sun warmed his skin through the glass walls. Inside the lobby, you could think it was summer still with the azure sky above and the sun burning on your skin.
He decided to take one of the reclining chairs in the lobby and took his mobile phone out. If nothing else he could read up on the location where they were going. With the sun warming him he started reading the Wikipedia entry about Merlin’s cave.
“Alright Jacob, you go get the camera bag from the back”
Professor Balduin told him as she got out of the car.
Jacob unbuckled and got out of the car. That’s my life now he thought to himself. Getting things for the professor and do the lifting and other little jobs. He would probably have to fetch her coffee too.
He shuddered in the cold wind and put on his coat. It was the beginning of winter and they were now no longer protected by the high walls of the university against the cold wind here. Luckily it was dry and not a cloud in sight in the bright blue sky above. Still, a few degrees above freezing would have been nice.
The trip to Tintagel had been largely uneventful with the professor explaining to him what his duties would exist of from now on and what she expected him to do. He had asked a few questions, she had clarified and that was about it.
The professor had talked a lot about that this might turn out to be something really big, or really small, you could never know, but if you didn’t follow up on hunches and leads, you shouldn’t become an archeologist. None of the important discoveries had been made by staying still in a laboratory.
The professor was bent over rummaging through the things in the back of the car as Jacob approached. She got up and handed him a pair of rubber boots.
“Are you a size nine? I believe so. I hardly think you’re a size ten”
“I’m a size nine or nine and a half, depending on the shoe really. Sometimes the one fits better than the other one.”
“Well then, these are nine, try them on if they fit. If not we’ll have to go to town to get new ones.”
The professor put on her boots and Jacob untied his shoots and shoved his foot in the boot. His toes pinched first, but as he worked a bit of his sock loose that was dragged tight by the rough inside of the boot, it fit him perfectly.
“These boots are fine, professor. They fit like a glove.”
Jacob got the camera bag from the back of the car and followed the professor down the walkway to Merlin’s cave.
“So professor, what exactly do you expect to find here that tens of thousands of tourists haven’t found here yet?”
“Please Jacob, call me Paula. We’ll be working a lot together from now on, it would be awkward if you kept calling me professor all the time.”
The professor stood on the walkway and looked over the ocean. The ocean breeze played with a strain of hair that escaped her ponytail.
“We are here because it’s the best lead we have that can be quickly checked out and excluded. We may find a hint to that gate here because we are looking for it. Just recently they found a window ledge with engravings that had gone undiscovered for ages here.”
Jacob looked towards the ocean where the professor was looking but saw nothing but clear skies and some distant boats making their way over the ocean.
“So there are definitely new discoveries to be made here still, even after all the masses have walked here and found nothing. And we’re here with a goal in mind, to find a clue or a reference to this gate that was mentioned in the text. This cave is the first thing that comes to mind when the word crystal cave is mentioned. I know there are a few other caves that are filled with crystals and such, but this is the most iconic one.”
She smiled wryly.
“I know, I’m letting myself to be led recent authors and not much historical fact. This hasn’t always be known as a crystal cave. But there is this notion in the writings of Thomas Mallory that there was something of great wonder there in the cave. There’s one sentence here that has tickled my brain over the years and immediately sprung to the foreground when I read your translation. Here, let me look up the exact wording”
She pulled out her mobile and started to search through her notes.
“Right, no, maybe, ah yes. Here it is.”
She looked at Jacob to check if she had his attention and started to read from the display
“And so on a time, it happened that Merlin showed to her in a rock whereas was a great wonder, and wrought by enchantment, that went under a great stone. So by her subtle working, she made Merlin to go under that stone to let her wit of the marvels there; but she wrought so there for him that he came never out for all the craft he could do. And so she departed and left Merlin.”
The professor put her mobile away and started walking down the ramp to the cave.
“This is the tale of Merlin’s love Nimue trapping him in his cave because she didn’t feel like having sex with him. This story was written several hundreds of years after Merlin was suspected to live. But who knows, maybe Mallory had some other inspiration or some other text on which he based his story, or maybe he made it all up. But it's worth checking out if only for the fresh ocean air.”
Jacob nodded and shifted the camera bag on his shoulder.
“So now you want to go look at the cave and see if you can find where Merlin was trapped under the rock?”
“If you put it like that, yes, I want to find the wizard under the rock.”
They continued the way down to the sea line. The high tide was receding Jacob saw. The water line on the rocks was significantly higher than the height the water was currently splashing against them. In an hour, maybe two, a big part of the beach would be visible.
With their boots on, they would be able to make it in the cave without any problems or worries to get wet. That way they got in before any mind winter tourists would get the idea to visit the caves and had the cave completely to themselves.
They waded through the water, keeping one hand against the rock wall for support and made their way slowly to the cave.
Jacob could feel the cold water crash against his ankles as he made his way through the water. He wondered if Merlin had done the same, making his way through the water of the high tide to get from his cave or to his cave before the low tide had made the beach clear. Maybe he had his own walkway so that the tide wouldn’t concern him.
They had arrived at the cave entrance. The professor pulled two flashlights from her coat pocket and handed one to Jacob.
“Give it a few good shakes and it will light for 15 minutes.”
The professor started to shake her flashlight furiously. Jacob turned his face away because the thoughts that shot through his head as he saw the professor’s body move as she shook the flashlight up and down in short rhythmic movements. He started shaking his flashlight in a hopefully less sexual way as the professor was doing and was apparently oblivious to as how it appeared.
The batteries charged by their shakes they turned on the flashlights and entered the cave.
Support "When hell freezes over"
I decided to try my hand at writing the story I had rolling around in my head for twenty years. English isn't my native language so some obvious errors might occur in my story but I hope that the readers will be forgiving.
If not, nobody forces you to read my mangled English. I recommend you read the wandering inn instead if my English bothers you. :-)
Attribution: The cave picture in the book cover is made by Stanislav Sedov and is licensed under CC-BY-SA-2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/ This picture was modified from the original with an overlaid moon and sea picture to be found at https://www.flickr.com/photos/ssedov/26342569905 The photographer has no affiliation to Tschallacka nor can be held accountable for the use of this picture the way as it is here.