King Bartholomew and the Diving Bell Incident
Though Iona was struck dumb by her fear for the King, secretly she admired his bravery, his conquest of greater and more impossible feats, and she wished that she could descend the deep water to the abysmal depths and terrors that waited below. As expected, the lower and middle orders of the Manx were there to watch and cheer for the King after his successful dive in his newest contraption—a diving bell as it was being called.
This was during the fifth year of the reign of Bartholomew. Many curious Manxmen referred to him as, Bartholomew the Restless, because of his tireless and singular propensity for exploration and adventure, but mostly for his utter folly and misadventure. There was great expectation for this new adventure by the King, now once again bored with the foxhunt and resuming his study into the field of ghosts and lost souls and satyrs, witches, wizards, lost sheep and infinity, after a period of indolence out of which he was only beginning to emerge. Food and beverages were brought down from Peel Castle in anticipation of a giant celebration that was to follow the King’s success. Presently tables were being laden with breads, nuts, cheeses, roasted chicken, a slaughtered calf, grouse, beets, artichokes, potatoes, mulled wine, cinnamon, pies, pastries, fish soup, fish pie, fish custard, fish beverages, and noble fare to which the Manx were unaccustomed but for these adventures by the King. Tents were erected and children chased rabbits and lame dogs through the field, yes, this was truly a day for celebration.
This new folly of the King involved the penetration of the sea in an enclosed booth. Six of the strongest lads of Man were recruited to handle the block and tackle. They were given explicit instructions from the King, but from where he received his instructions none could say, openly. It was generally agreed that the sea floor was littered with a myriad of treasure that could make even a King blush, but the King declared that he was after something else and that rubies and topaz and Norse silver were of no use to him. The King’s closest friends, even Bishop Jacob begged him to know what could be so important on the bottom of the sea to risk such an endeavor.
“Some people say that the sea is endless,” said the King with a wink. “The sea is not endless,” he replied. “Were the sea endless, there would be no place for the water to move and the sea would be frozen and unmovable. Everything comes to an end. All things come to an end, and that is precisely what I hope to discover.”
Murmuring in the crowd spread. “The end of the world! The King is going to find the end of the world. Are you looking for the end of the world?” the excited voices of his subjects begged to know.
“All is one,” replied the still smiling King decked out in his most colorful tunic and purple gaiters for the occasion. “I am looking for the beginning of the world! The world is one thing,” he said, “not two things or many. Everything is part of a single thing, a single event of spectacular consequence, and we are all reverberations.”
“Hooray!” the people cheered, and even though they did not know what a reverberation was they cheered for the honor of being a reverberation. They all loved the King—even through his strange days.
Something of an amateur inventor, the King designed all his own contraptions. Most failed, but the failure was usually in such spectacular fashion that the King endeared himself to the simple people of Man, for failure to the simple man is a sign that God is watching. His Sea Urchin, as he always referred to it, was encased in metal because of the intense cold and pressure and the possibility of attack beneath the waves that his endeavor presupposed. The Urchin had a single small window from which the King would see the watery depths of his Kingdom. Inside the Urchin was very different than from what was hinted at by the tortoise shell of a hull that enclosed it. One thing that was absolutely necessary for the King to be able to make all the many decisions beneath the waves was a comfortable chair, so the Urchin was supplied with a comfortable chair. Most of the other equipment was mysterious and secret. The King also designed these instruments, as they were called, although he had some help from an unknown source that lived in the interior of the island and was reputed to be a wizard. Other folk believed that he was an ancient alchemist or hermetic philosopher because of the strange light that sometimes could be seen emanating from his solitary window that looked out to the sea. Perhaps he consulted with antediluvian creatures that lived in the sea, none could say, but every few years another story would emerge and be debated into the wee hours of the night in the taverns of Man. The blacksmith shook his head and refused to speak about the strange smoke that could be seen coming from his shed. All that he would ever say was, “That was a curious smoke for an honest man. The color was all wrong, but the smell was very curious.” But as for the instruments, no one knew what purpose so many levers and dials and glass-enclosed instruments and gears could have at the bottom of the sea, and the King kept this secret safe.
With a salvo of cheers and oaths and the breaking of glass and the scattering of seeds and wheat and corner-dust, the King disappeared beneath the waves with a smile and vanished into the murk. The strong lads lowered the King slowly and carefully. A single tug from a line controlled by the King would indicate that they were to lower him faster. A double tug would mean to slow down his descent. Three quick tugs would mean to stop, and four quick tugs would mean to abandon all prudence and raise him back to the surface.
The first few leagues were uneventful and but for the sight of a shark or an eel or a giant flounder the King would have died from boredom. Down he went into the unknown depths from which no man had ever returned. After a few hundred leagues however the scenery began to change, and as if he had suddenly entered a new season or unknown constellation, the temperature plunged and the King had to put on a woolen sweater. At these depths the sea creatures changed as if a different zone had now been reached. A giant sea horse nearly collided with the Urchin causing the King to spill his coffee and he tugged on the rope to slow his descent. It was time to pay closer attention.
Now the sea began to brighten with an uncanny iridescence from beyond the scope of his limited vision. Sea plants and schools of glowing shrimp drifted past his window and for a moment the King thought he saw millions of tiny translucent eyes watching him. Down he went, emerging for a moment into a ring of underwater life only to suddenly once again be plunged into nothingness. The sea was filled with layers and layers of separate systems of complicated life patterns that was not unlike the mysterious rings of Saturn so speculated about by the astrologers and necromancers.
Suddenly something attached itself to the Urchin with a small impact and a thud. The King put his face against the cold glass to get a better look but the surrounding sea was teeming with infinitesimally small life and his vision was fuzzy. He peered through the cloudy glass and had to wipe the condensation away continuously. Then with a jolt he saw a hideous face staring at him from outside the Urchin. It was a monster! So frightened was the King that he tugged at the rope several times before he realized that he couldn’t remember the code he had instructed to the lads up top. The Urchin plunged violently as if he had accidentally given the signal to cut the line. Down he went. Something was terribly wrong. Down down down, faster and faster the Urchin plunged. The King pulled the rope with all his strength and it snapped. Side to side the King was pitched as the Urchin sunk to its perdition. There was nothing to be done.
Then the Urchin crashed into the sea floor and stopped violently and the King was pitched to the floor. He lay still and waited for the side of the Urchin to implode, but it remained solid. The King was alive, but the King was in mortal danger. Now he was burning with an inner heat and the window was completely fogged up. Never before had he known such suffocating silence, and he knew that the silence of the grave could not differ noticeably from this watery grave and that the two were one.
The King went to the window and wiped away the fog. No more than thirty meters from his position he could see a trail of giant lobsters coming directly for the Urchin. They were treading along in perfect formation the way an army or an honor guard would march. Suddenly they broke formation and formed two groups that quickly flanked the Urchin fore and aft. Then the largest lobster, the King quickly surmised that this would be the leader, went to the window and with its giant pincer pounded on the hull of the Urchin. Startled, the King recoiled, but when the lobster continued to hammer on the hull the King knew that the vessel would be torn apart if he did not acknowledge. Fearing that he may lose his only chance to survive, the King sat down in his chair and grabbed hold of a set of levers that were designed for just such a predicament. And so began the great lobster battle with the King of the Manx. The King cranked a wheel extending a pair of long, mandible like pincers toward an already excited creature. They immediately locked claws and a great battle ensued. The lobster fought hard, but his crushing, tearing, pinching vices could not damage the metal arms of the Urchin. The lobster freed itself from the grasp of the King and disappeared around the corner out of sight. Suddenly the King felt his vessel being lifted off the floor and he realized that he was being transported on the back of a company of lobsters. There was nothing he could do except wait.
They took him a short distance across the agitated seabed and entered a crevice that was concealed between a rock formation. Slowly the water began to clear and the King could see where he was being taken. Up a short platform they went. The urchin was set down and a long procession of lobsters could be seen retreating. Then, before the King could even move or scratch his beard, the hatch was opened and the face of a man peered down into the compartment.
“Hello there,” said the man. “Please come out here, it is really quite safe and I think you will find the air quality much to your satisfaction.”
The King was astonished. “Where is the water?” he shouted.
“There is no water in this Kingdom,” said the man. “Unless you would like to see our lake which we use for bathing.”
“Who are you?” demanded the King. “I am the King of the Manx, and I demand to know to whom I am speaking.”
“You are far from home,” said the man. “You do not belong here, so it is you who are trespassing, and I should demand an explanation from you. My name is Archeon if you must know.”
The King softened. “Forgive my choice of words,” he said. “I am on an adventure, and as you can see . . . well, it has not turned out for the best.”
“That is true.” said Archeon.
“Is this the end of the world?” said the King. “Have I reached the end of the world?”
The man laughed. “No sir, you have absolutely not reached the end of the world. That is on the other side of my Kingdom, and if you would like me to take you there . . . but I do not think you really want to go there. You are still living, I pray?”
“Yes. Yes, indeed, I am still living,” said the King. “Why do you not wish to take me there?”
Archeon smiled sheepishly. “You do not belong here. This is a most extraordinary breach of ethics, but I will tell you a secret, and then you must go home. You have come to the land of lost souls. This is the land where all lost souls go before they are taken to their destination.”
“What do they do here?” asked the King.
“They wait,” said Archeon. “They wait and they dream about what they will do back on earth if they ever get there.”
“On earth?” said the King with trepidation.
“Come with me,” said Archeon.
And then he began to walk out toward the sea where the lobsters went. The King followed. Archeon walked very slowly and stately. He led the King along a thick carpet into a dim room. Then he turned.
“It is almost time for you to leave,” said Archeon. “Do not attempt to come back again. Do you understand?”
“Just tell me one thing,” said the King with as much humility as he could muster.
“Ask, if you must,” said Archeon, with growing impatience.
“Is this the land of the dead? Is this where I will go when I am no longer living?”
Archeon thought for a moment. Then he answered. “Know this,” he said. “You have entered the land of the living, not the land of the dead. You have been given a chance to go back home again from which no other man has ever left alive.”
“I don’t understand,” said the King. “What is this place, for heavens sake tell me where I am.”
Archeon was very apprehensive. “I fear only that I will tell you too much and that in some way I may do you more harm than good. This is a difficult subject to introduce you must understand.”
“These lost souls, Archeon . . . tell me, are they dead?”
“They have lost their body,” said Archeon.
“Where is their body?” begged the King. “I must know.”
“Their body is in your world,” said Archeon. “This is the place where souls go when they can no longer recognize their own body and their own life. They wander here, sometimes forever, or until their body calls them back when they are . . .”
“Dead?” cried the King in horror.
Then Archeon put his hand in his pocket and brought it out. In it was a coin. He stretched out the coin to the King and held it there for him to take.
“Keep this coin in your pocket,” he said. “It is magic. The next time you meet me you must show me this coin so that I will remember you. If you ever begin to forget your body, you must rub this coin for it will save you. I hope that I will never see you again. Farewell, King of the Manx.”
Archeon turned quickly and walked down the carpet from which he and the King had come. Then he raised his hand and waved, and when he did this, suddenly the walls collapsed and the King was thrust into total darkness. Then he felt the floor beneath his feet move and he fell to the floor in confusion. The carpet was wet! When the King felt it he thought that it felt like flesh of a peculiar kind. Then everything turned to chaos and motion and more confusion. He had the feeling that he was moving at great speed. This lasted only a few minutes until it stopped. Then the walls slowly opened, and the King now knew where he was. What he took to be a wall was the giant maw of a whale and the red carpet, a tongue. He started to protest when his breath was knocked out of his body by a great concussion and he was hurtled through the air and went crashing down on the Isle of Man. So ended the adventure ofKing Bartholomew and the island of lost souls.