by FF Calliope
This story is chock full of sex and violence. Therefore, if you are a minor (under 18 years of age) or are squeamish about sexual content, drop this like a hot potato. If you continue to read after this warning, don't blame me.
You don't have to read the first three Methos/Delphyne stories in order to understand this one, but it would probably help. They can be found at http://members.aol.com/hlx01/hlx.html
The Other Legalities: Highlander is the property of Gaumont Television and Rysher TPE, based on the character created by Gregory Widen and the underlying characters and concept of Davis/Panzer Productions, Inc. I just like playing in their sandbox; no copyright infringement is intended. Delphyne is my own creation.
Many thanks to Emma B., Ann Stephens, and Cindy Deas for their beta-reading, and of course to my writing partner, JakeStone. They all helped me to improve the story immensely. Any errors, grammatical or otherwise, are my own damned fault and none of theirs.
Unfamiliar terms and historical notes can be found at the end of each section of the story.
Constructive criticism welcomed. Destructive criticism ignored. Send either, or just general comments, to my email address: email@example.com
"My feet hurt," Delphyne grumbled. The black leather collar around her throat itched, too, but she didn't mention that. "Why can't I ride now and then, and you walk?"
Methos looked down at her, eyebrows raised.
"You forget," he said, and pointed a finger at his chest. "Master." The finger swung around to point at her. "Slave. That's why."
They'd been travelling for several days, heading towards the coast, where they planned to find a ship bound for Iberia1. Methos rode atop his grey stallion and she walked at his side, wishing they had two horses instead of just the one. Even immortal feet ached after a while. She didn't understand why she couldn't ride with him, as she had when they'd left Alexandria several years ago. Perhaps he wanted to strengthen her legs and increase her stamina. Or perhaps he was doing it for some other unfathomable reason; she never could tell with him.
The track they were following emerged from the forest to wind down into a green, lush valley. Crops grew in orderly fields, sheep and cattle grazed in well-tended herds, and in the distance, the sunset framed a small village. The sound of metal jingling snagged her attention, and she looked up.
"We need provisions." Methos tossed a string of silver rings2 to her, and she caught it one-handed. "Go into the village while I look after the horse. I'll meet you there later."
"Yes, Master," she replied, and sketched an exaggerated bow.
Methos chuckled, and dismounted. Giving her a hard kiss on the mouth, he said, "Good girl," then swatted her behind hard enough to propel her forward a few steps. She glared at him over her shoulder and rubbed the injured spot before continuing down the road. His laugh followed her.
In the distance, she heard singing. At first, it was only a phrase here and there, but as Delphyne walked down into the valley, she was able to pick out more of it. The singer moved through the nearest field, swinging a sickle and gathering up stalks of wheat. Did he know that the song was hundreds of years old? She'd sung it herself, long ago, when harvesting a different kind of crop. Instead of grain, she had harvested the heads of her tribe's enemies. A song once sung in the heat of battle was now a farmer's ditty, and the heads of warriors were the heads of wheat waving in a field.
More than ever before, the memories stirred within her. This valley, this village, could easily have been one that she conquered with her people. So much blood, so many mortal lives cut short, as if they weren't already short enough. And even now, though she had been made to feel the pain and horror she had inflicted, she could not help but recall the mad, sweet power of battle. A thousand memories surfaced and solidified into the sensation of her sword cleaving flesh and bone, the warm gush of blood over her hands, the taste of it in her mouth, the smell of fear and the drunken ecstasy --
No. No more. Delphyne firmly pushed those old feelings into the hidden dungeons of her mind, where they belonged.
People bustled around the village, going about their evening business. The blacksmith hammered away at his forge, working by the light of glowing metal, while the potter closed up his kiln; women chattered as they carried buckets of water away from a well, and children played games of hide and seek. Delphyne smiled at the picture of domesticity. A peaceful place, this. Perhaps, like her, the Keltoi people had changed.
The smell of baking bread made her mouth water, and she inhaled deeply, then followed the scent toward its source. The village didn't have much in the way of a marketplace, and what few shops it had were closing for the night, but the delicious odor drew her towards one which remained open. Delphyne nodded to the villagers as she made her way towards it.
She reached the doorway before she realized that the chatter and laughter had ceased. Delphyne frowned, and looked around. People stared at her, some whispering to each other behind their hands. Were strangers so rare here? She was hardly an astonishing sight. With her fair skin and red-brown hair, she could have been kin to any one of them. Their inexplicable reaction unnerved her.
With a shrug, she went into the shop, prepared to haggle for fresh bread. The baker's wares were laid out on a long table, and she selected a loaf that still steamed from the oven, along with several hard, thin wafers of journey-bread.
"How much?" she asked the shopkeeper.
A hiss of indrawn breath made her look up. The man shook his head several times before he was able to speak, finally answering, "It - it's yours, Lady, take whatever you wish."
"But I -- "
"Please, accept my humble offering." Terror masked his face. Sweaty hands twisted together, and she could see him trembling.
She didn't like this, not one bit. Delphyne nodded slowly to him and accepted his gift, more to reassure the poor man than for any other reason. Tucking the bread into a pouch that hung over her shoulder, she left the shop, only to be confronted once again by the stares and whispers of the villagers.
What in the name of all the gods was going on?
Before she could decide what to do, a woman pushed forward, and the crowd parted to make way. Delphyne recognized her white robes as the ceremonial garb of a druid, and realized that she must be the local priestess.
The woman stopped within a few feet of her and stared. Then, to Delphyne's astonishment, she dropped to her knees and held up her arms, crying out, "The goddess has returned to her people!"
"What - what are you doing?" she stammered, shaking her head in denial. Even as she protested, the rest of the village followed the example of their priestess. Every man, woman, and child knelt before her.
This couldn't be happening. She hadn't ridden with the Keltoi for centuries; none of these people could possibly recognize her. Even when she had fought beside of her warrior-husband Nemed, when her banshee cry froze the blood in the veins of their enemies, her people had never knelt before her like this. Desperately, she grabbed hold of the druidess's plump arm and tried to pull her to her feet. "Get up. Stop this!"
"She rejects our worship!" Someone in the crowd whispered loudly. "Has she come to destroy us?" A murmur of voices followed, and the small hairs at the back of her neck rose in alarm.
"Lady, we have kept your temple in order. Come, take your place there, let us honor you as is your due!" Desperation colored her voice, and the woman looked up, her iron-grey eyes glittering with awe and fear. "Hear our prayers, Nemaine!"
The name hit her like a fist to the belly. Voices of the dead roared in her ears, and the madness that had been her punishment and her redemption so long ago at Delphi threatened to engulf her once more. No. No, she had left all this behind! The gods had already exacted a terrible price; were they not yet satisfied? For a moment, her world tilted on its axis, and Delphyne swayed dizzily.
"A sacrifice!" The shrill cry was barely audible above the thousands that had awakened in her skull. "We must make a sacrifice to appease her! Only blood will satisfy Nemaine!"
She had to think. None of this made sense. Delphyne put her hands to her head and clutched it hard until the fit of madness passed and the voices within faded. Getting them under control was harder than it had been in hundreds of years, and that terrified her. Again, she wondered how these people could have recognized her, and her mind focused on what the priestess had said. Temple. Yes, she would go to this temple; perhaps it might yield some clue, some hint as to how she should deal with this.
"Very well," she said. "Take me there."
The priestess stood and backed away, bowing, before turning to lead the way. Delphyne followed her to a large, rectangular building on the edge of the village, set apart from the round houses in which the people lived. Surrounding the outside of the temple itself were a series of thick, cylindrical posts, and atop these posts stretched a thatched roof. This open-air structure was big enough for the entire village to gather beneath it, around the smaller building in which the priestess kept her shrine.
The crowd trailed behind her, eerily silent now. When the druidess stopped just outside the door of the temple, Delphyne hesitated . . . then went inside.
Several torches provided heat and light, banishing all shadows from the place. Two thick pillars rose up at the back of the building, and the niches hollowed out in them contained human skulls. Beneath these niches, crude renderings of human bodies were carved into the wood, so that it looked as if the skulls were attached to them. She had seen such things before, many times. The Keltoi kept the heads of their enemies to show them honor and respect. Delphyne gave the pillars only a brief glance; it was what sat upon the altar in between them that drew her attention.
Her own face stared back out her, carved from marble and polished to a fine gloss. The mouth stretched with a grin that she must have worn into battle countless times, and the hair flew about in a wild, tangled mass as if it had a life of its own. How had it gotten here? The statue was nearly life-sized and the detail and style were not at all like the symbolic, stylized figures done by Keltoi artisans. It was Greek, without question.
She even remembered when it was carved. Before the trip to Delphi, she and Nemed had spent time in Ionia where a new school of sculptors was evolving a style unlike anything that had been done before. Instead of stiff, corpse-like figures, these men carved images that seemed to move. They invoked the illusion of wind fluttering through folds of clothing, showed the ripple of muscle, even captured emotion in the faces of their creations.
Nemed had been fascinated. He'd commissioned one of those sculptors to make a statue of her, and they spent days at the man's studio. She didn't pose, but at the artist's insistence she and Nemed practiced their sword play while he watched, capturing her movements and expressions in his memory. When he was confident that he could re-create her, he set to work and produced this: a marble rendering of a woman in battle-frenzy, muscles standing out as she wielded her sword, an expression of fierce joy twisting across her face.
That was four hundred years ago! How had this cursed thing survived all that time? How had it arrived here? Perhaps Nemed had come back to Pretani3 after leaving her for lost at Delphi, and brought it with him. She would probably never know for sure.
"Why would such a peaceful people worship the Goddess of Panic?"
Delphyne didn't realize she'd spoken aloud until the village people let up a wail of protest.
"We are the descendents of great warriors!"
"She thinks we have forgotten her worship - we must prove to her that we are still her people!"
She tasted their anxiety, and shivered at the budding violence that vibrated towards her. Again, her walls slipped, letting emotions and thoughts and images tumble through her mind until she was disoriented, unable to focus. Delphyne put her hands to her head as if to keep it from splitting apart, and a whimper of pure, animal fear stuck in her throat. Please, gods, not the madness again. Shrill screams of murdered children, wailing mothers, the accusing hatred of the men she'd cut down, all impaling her upon spears of guilt, please, not again! She couldn't endure it.
The senses-jarring warning of another immortal's approach broke through her nightmare, and she clutched at it in desperation, using it to help her shut everything else out. Methos. He would know what to do, he would get her out of this.
A body fell in a tangle of long limbs at her feet.
Several of the larger men of the village crowded into the shrine, surrounding their captive, and the druidess shoved forward to examine what they had brought. One of the villagers handed her a sword.
"The gods have sent us a sacrifice!" she declared, holding the weapon up high. "Only the head of a warrior can satisfy Nemaine, and here is one, a stranger, come to our village in the same day as the goddess herself. It is a sign!"
The sacrifice groaned and tried to sit up. A dozen hands pushed him back down, and he glared at them, then at her, his dark eyes narrowing in angry recognition.
Delphyne only hesitated for an instant. Then she grabbed the weapon out of the priestess's hands and pointed it at him.
"Some warrior," she sneered. "To be captured by a bunch of shepherds and gardeners. Do you know who I am?"
The villagers jerked him onto his knees before her, cuffing him roughly when he tried to shrug them off.
"Of course, I know who you are," he growled. Before he could go on, she stepped to one side so that he could see the statue. Methos took it in, then flicked a measuring gaze towards her.
Delphyne motioned the villagers away from him. It all came back so easily. The strut of a conqueror, the commanding voice of a deity. Taking control. The old power swelled and sang through her, and her curse surged up to battle it in a cacophony of pain and emotion until she thought her skin would burst, spilling forth boiling blood and sheer insanity. Every muscle in her body tightened as she somehow held it all inside.
Keeping the sword level, its point inches from his neck, she walked a slow, arrogant circle around him. "I am Nemaine, Battle-Goddess. My people would do you the honor of sacrificing you to me."
"Let a feast be prepared!" she commanded. "Leave him here with me. I will see if he is worthy of a goddess."
"But Lady -- " the druidess began, only to be cut off by the thundering voice of her deity.
"DO YOU QUESTION ME?"
Silence. The woman and all of the villagers cringed back, shaking their heads, many falling to their knees again in terror.
"Then do as I command!"
Whispers resonated outside the shrine, a hiss of "Yes, Nemaine!" followed by the scampering of feet as they hurried to do her bidding. The druidess backed out of the building and closed the door behind her.
Delphyne strode to the door and listened. Nothing. Cracking it open, she was relieved to find no guards, not even the priestess. After all, what need did a goddess have of their aid against a single warrior? Closing the door, she turned back to Methos.
"Nice statue," he said. On his feet now, he brushed the dust from his clothes and examined a torn sleeve.
"What is the matter with you?" she demanded in low, furious tones. "How could you let a - a bunch of farmers capture you?"
"There were too many. I would have had to kill them."
"So, why didn't you?"
Falling still, he cast a long, searching look over her face. "I've had enough of killing. I thought you had, too."
The voices in her head rushed over her like a tidal wave, accusing, lashing her with whips of guilt. Oh, gods, what was happening to her? The sword fell to the floor, and she leaned back against the door, doubling over, clutching at handfuls of hair.
Methos picked up his sword and sheathed it, then his long fingers hooked under her chin, pulling her head up. "Delphyne -- "
"Do you know what is done to warrior sacrifices?" she cried out, slapping his hand aside. When he didn't answer, she pointed behind him, to the skulls set into the niches in the pillars. "Beheading, Methos. Are you so sure you don't want to kill?"
His eyes flashed dangerously, and he grabbed her arms, giving her a hard shake. "Only if there is no other way."
Delphyne stared at him, and slowly, slowly, the voices receded to a murmur.
He was right. She had made the same choice long ago, or rather, the gods had made it for her. No more killing, not if it could be avoided.
"Let go of me," she whispered. "I have to think."
His strong hands slid away from her, and Methos backed off a step. Pushing herself up, she began to pace. "What did they do with the horse?"
"Put it in a stable, next to the smithy."
"Good." Because of the noise, the blacksmith plied his craft on the outskirts of the village. That made things easier. "It's dark out; we'll steal away before the moon rises. If anyone sees us and asks questions, I'll have to bluff my way through it. Will you trust me?"
"Considering the options? Yes."
It didn't occur to her to question his deference to her. She was Nemaine, a goddess; it was only natural that she lead and he follow. Opening the door, she slipped out into the night and motioned for him to join her.
"Wait here." At her words, Methos turned sharply and looked at her, his features silvered by the light of the rising moon.
Sneaking to the stable had been easy enough, with everyone distracted by preparations for the feast. They'd skirted around the lit areas, crossing fields and gardens, and once at the stables, she chose a roan gelding for herself, ignoring Methos' muttered comments. Using straw and burlap bags, they muffled the beasts' hooves, then led them to the road where they could ride without fear that one would step in some animal's burrow and break its leg. Once out of the valley, though, she slowed to a stop.
She had to go back.
The dead still lived within her, their pain and rage ripping away any hope of peace. She had to lay them to rest, before they reduced her once again to gibbering madness. Before she begged Methos to take her head.
"Wait here," she repeated, and wheeled her horse around. Methos didn't answer, just halted there at the fringe of the forest overlooking the valley, his gaze making her scalp itch as she rode back towards the village. Her own internal battles demanded all of her attention, leaving no room to wonder what waited behind his silence.
Delphyne kicked the horse into a gallop and concentrated on the rhythm of its hooves, the wind in her hair, anything to distract her from the chaos that ravaged her mind. Reaching the shrine, she tied the beast to one of the posts outside, then grabbed a torch and strode into the center of the village.
Her call echoed through the valley. She doubted anyone here had ever heard it above the clamor of battle, rallying warriors to their goddess's side, but that made no difference. From legends and songs, they knew its meaning, and came to her. Forgetting feast preparations, a river of villagers poured around her, and she led them, torch held high, back to her shrine.
The voices inside and outside of her head roared as one. Delphyne channeled that madness, ruthlessly drawing strength from it, focusing it around her intent. Seeing the druidess, she grabbed the woman's hand and thrust the torch into it.
Then she drew her sword.
"Hear me!" she cried, and the crowd fell still, eyes gleaming at her in the flickering light. "I am not a goddess of farmers and herdsmen. Once you were warriors, but no more! My time is done. You no longer need me. What you need, I cannot give, but there is another who can. Therefore, I accept your offering, and leave with one final command: burn this shrine to the ground, and build another, dedicating it to Brigid."
"But, Lady!" the druidess stammered. Delphyne shoved past her, leaving the door of the shrine open so that her actions could be clearly seen. Raising her sword high, she slammed its hilt into the marble face of her statue, throwing the weight of her body behind the blow. Its battle-grin exploded into shards of stone.
A wail of protest arose, and the druidess rushed into the shrine, followed by a few of the men. Delphyne rounded on them, her sword pointed at the woman's face.
"Do you dare to oppose Me?" she demanded.
The woman sobbed aloud. Strands of grey hair slipped down into her face as she shook her head, and the men fell back, confused, not sure what to do.
Delphyne lowered her blade and turned back to the sculpture. Setting her shoulder to it, she shoved with all her strength, muscles screaming in protest, until it tipped, upended, and fell to the ground. The thing shattered under its own weight.
A scream of grief tore through the air. Whirling about, she found the priestess on her knees, her expression every bit as shattered as the image of her deity. The torch lay on the ground, forgotten.
"Out!" she ordered, pointing to the door. The men scrambled to obey, but the woman did not move, just buried her face in her hands. Cursing under her breath, Delphyne clenched her fist in the priestess's white robes and hauled her to her feet, propelling her out of the shrine. A hard slap across her face cut short the burst of hysterics.
"Your people have need of you," she snarled. "Lead them!"
"I - I know little of the goddess Brigid..."
"Then learn!" Ducking back into the shrine, she grabbed up the torch. The woman's hand shook, but she took the thing when Delphyne held it out to her.
"You have heard my command. Fail to obey, and I will return to slaughter every living creature in this valley." Closing her fingers around the priestess's hand, she guided the torch to the roof of the shrine.
Smoke ghosted up into the night. An instant later, flames raced through the thatching. Delphyne locked eyes with the priestess, and at last the woman nodded her head, visibly gathering herself together.
"It shall be done." Her voice carried over the snapping of the fire, and Delphyne released her hand.
The crowd skittered out of her way as she strode to her horse. A single sweep of the sword cut the rope she'd used to tie it up, and Delphyne leapt onto its back. Slapping its flank with the flat of her blade, she screeched out a banshee wail and fled into the night.
She didn't stop, or even pause, when she reached Methos. He fell in beside her, a silent companion on her wild ride through the forest. Some miles down the road, though, he shouted, "What are we running from?"
"Me!" she sobbed. "We're running from me!"
Methos reined in his mount, and she reluctantly followed suit.
"We'll kill the horses this way. Come, there's a clearing through here. Make camp." Sliding down to the ground, he led the panting creature away from the road and into the forest. More than anything, Delphyne wanted to keep running until she dropped with exhaustion, but she forced herself to follow him to the clearing.
"Prepare some food, then see to the animals," he ordered.
Tying her horse to the branch of a tree, she tore open their packs to fling bread and dried fruit at him. Methos caught them without comment. Before eating, he cleared a spot of ground and gathered wood to build a fire, then sprawled beside it, his dark eyes following her as she roughly brushed the horses.
"Who is Nemaine?"
Was that his idea of a joke? Stunned, she turned to stare at him. His face was closed to her, revealing little.
Delphyne shook her head. "You never have listened to me, have you?"
"I listen. Sometimes."
"What am I to you, a warm body to fuck?" Her voice rose to a shout, and she stalked around the fire to loom over him. "Someone who'll sit meekly at your feet and hang upon your every word? I was the goddess Nemaine. I was panic itself! One look at me and hardened warriors froze in terror! DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THAT?"
Methos surged to his feet, his lips set in a grim line. One callused hand slammed across her face hard enough that she stumbled, nearly falling to the ground. "I understand your pain, but you forget your place."
Her sword was in her hand before she even realized she'd drawn it, and she sneered up at him, "My place, oh yes, can't forget my precious place!"
Methos drew his own blade and took one menacing step forward before her harsh laugh stopped him in his tracks. Delphyne threw her weapon at his feet. Tipping back her head, she jerked the leather of her slave-collar down as far as she could, baring her throat to him.
His jaw tightened, and the angles of his face stood out sharply as he kicked her sword back to her. "Pick it up. If you want to fight, then fight. Get this out of your system."
Delphyne just shook her head. He didn't understand her at all, had never bothered to try. Letting go of her collar, she dropped her chin to her chest and wrapped her arms around herself. Hurt choked her voice as she spat out, "You stupid bastard."
"You're not angry at me, Del." Methos sheathed his sword and moved closer to her. "I'm just here."
"Yes," she answered bitterly. "You're just here."
Dropping to one knee, he grabbed hold of her arms with bruising force, as if he feared she might slip away and disappear. "Let me help."
"I stopped killing. I stopped. I changed. Yet, they still worship what I was, they still... it never ends.... " Words and tears poured out together, and she leaned forward to butt her head against his chest, clutching at his clothes. Long arms folded around her. "I changed, but my legacy remains, a legacy of murder and pain -- why -- why can't -- why won't it ever end -- "
"You know better than I that it never ends. You just have to learn to live with it."
Pressing her face into his shoulder, Delphyne let him hold her as she cried. Live with it. She had thought she could, but now she wasn't so sure.
"It felt good," she whispered. "The power, the worship, it comes back so easily. The gods were right to condemn me."
"But you didn't give in to it."
"I would have. It was the curse that stopped me. I still hear them, Methos, still feel them inside of me, their hatred and anguish, oh, gods -- "
Cutting off abruptly, she jerked away and dried her face. Why tell him? If he'd never listened before, what made her think he'd start now? There was no point in baring her soul this way, or so she told herself. "I'm sorry."
He watched her, frowning, as she picked up her sword and placed it back in its sheath. Unable to meet his gaze, she looked instead into the fire.
"Do you finally see me for who I am, Methos?"
"I always have."
"Have you?" Her shoulders shook in a silent, humorless laugh.
"You don't think so?"
"No. You've seen what suited you."
"What have I missed?"
Wearily, she shook her head. "If you had seen me for myself... if you had listened to me, you would not have had to ask who Nemaine was."
His fingers grasped her chin, and Methos turned her away from the fire to stare intently into her eyes. "That is who you were, not who you are. Maybe I didn't see it because it's not there any more."
"It will always be there."
"Only in your memories, slave. In your thoughts and actions, it is long gone."
Delphyne dropped her gaze to his chest. It was more than just a memory, it was a living, breathing part of herself that she must always fight to keep at bay. He still didn't understand, maybe never would.
"Forgive me, Master," she said, a hint of sarcasm lacing her words.
He considered this for a moment, then stood. "You forgot your place for a time, and for that, you need to be punished. I wouldn't want you to forget it again."
She suppressed another laugh. Her "place" was where she chose to make it.
Would he ever be willing to admit that? He had seen what she could be, what she had been, yet he refused to acknowledge it.
"Make us a bed," he commanded.
He needs to re-assert his power over me, she thought. He needs to remind me who is the Master... or, perhaps, to remind himself. Well, why not. It isn't as though I deserve any better.
Gathering leaves and pine needles, she made a pile and covered it with blankets to form a crude mattress. Methos finished seeing to the horses.
When she was done, he told her, "Remove your clothes and lay face down."
Shivering, Delphyne hung her clothes from the branches of the nearest tree and obeyed. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw him draw a leather strap from one of the packs, then watched the approach of his feet as he came to stand over her.
Hurt me, she begged silently. Her heart and soul were a knot of agony; physical pain might provide a way to unravel it. She didn't just want to be punished -- that was part of it, yes, but more than that, she needed to externalize the bleeding wounds within her soul.
"Count," Methos ordered her. "I think twenty will be enough."
When she didn't answer, he brought the strap down over her back, so lightly that it hardly stung at all.
Again, he brought it down, and again, pausing for her to count, never hitting her very hard, and she growled in frustration.
"Was that an order, slave? We'll make it twenty-five."
Another light blow. Curse him, why wouldn't he give her what she needed? Digging her fingernails into her palms, she snarled up at him, "Harder!"
The next one was better, but not enough, not nearly enough.
"Count!" he demanded, angry now.
"I'll count when I can feel it!" she shot back.
The strap landed with a loud crack, sending a jolt of pain down to the very core of her being, and the knot inside her loosened just the slightest bit. Yes, finally. Don't stop. Begging for more, she resumed her counting, and the blows fell, almost hard enough to give her the release she craved, but before it came, he stopped, throwing the strap to the ground.
"No! If you really want to be punished, then I will have you sleep alone tonight."
Delphyne pounded her fist down in frustration. If only she could let it out, if only she could purge this inner torment! Half-sobbing, she crawled off the makeshift bed. "I deserve to be alone."
"Get over here, slave."
She shuddered. He wouldn't hurt her, nor would he leave her be. What was the point of this? Still, once she had command of herself, she stood and went to him.
"It will pass," she said tightly. "Give me time."
Methos folded his arms over his chest and glared at her. "You don't want comfort, and I won't hurt you. What is it you need? Perhaps you no longer wish to be my slave? Should I kneel at your feet now?"
Delphyne stared up at him, stunned. The knot in her chest became a knife, and at the look of fury in his eyes, it twisted cruelly.
"Are you casting me aside?" she asked, voice faltering.
"Are you casting yourself aside?"
She saw his anger for what it was, then: desperation. He feared that he was losing her. Asserting dominance was the only way he knew how to hold on, to keep her as his. He isn't the only one who's been blind, she thought. He's trying to help, and I've done nothing but shut him out.
"No," she whispered, and pressed herself close. Unfolding his arms, Methos held her, and she softened, giving herself to him all over again.
"Then let me in," he pleaded. "Tell me what you need."
You, she realized at last. I need you, as much as you need me.
"Hold me." Her voice broke. "Make love to me. Remind me of what I am now."
The tension in his shoulders eased faintly. This was something he understood, something he could do for her. Twining his fingers through her hair, he drew her head back and caressed her lips in a long, tender kiss, coaxing rather than demanding a response.
Why was it so frightening to let him in? All these years, she had pushed and pried her way into his heart and his mind, but now that it was her turn, she wanted to run and hide. Trembling, she started to pull away, but he refused to let her go. Methos soothed her with gentle touches until she ceased to resist and simply stood, acquiescent, in his arms. Then he guided her down onto the bed.
An arrow of loneliness shot through her when he backed away to remove his clothes. Delphyne watched him hang them beside hers on the tree branch, and breathed a sigh of relief when he returned to lay down next to her.
Stretching out onto his side, Methos drew the blankets up over them, then slid closer so that the heat of their bodies mingled, banishing the chill of the night air. At the first brush of skin against skin, she gasped aloud. His touch affected her more deeply than the hardest stroke of the lash.
In spite of what he'd seen that night - or perhaps because of it - he treated her as though she were fragile, his hand softly stroking up her side, then cradling one breast. When his head dipped towards her, she shut her eyes and raised her chin to meet him halfway, lips parting for his kiss. He didn't rush, just caressed her, sliding an arm under the curve of her waist to hold her gently to him until she turned onto her side and arched closer.
The hard silk of his erection nudged at the juncture of her thighs. Delphyne hesitated, strangely afraid. He offered an intimacy that went beyond sex, one she had given him many a time, true, but was she ready to receive it? Gathering her courage, she draped one leg over his, opening herself to him, and the tip of his cock nuzzled its way between her moistened lips. Pleasure shuddered through her. His kiss deepened to urgency, forcing her jaws apart, tongue delving deep, and Methos curved one hand around her hip as the other one guided him home.
A part of her still wanted to withdraw, to pull away, but that last wall melted into mist as he filled her. Softening, she welcomed him deep inside her body and her heart.
Methos groaned. Pulling her tightly against him, he molded her flesh to his, hands splaying, and the bed rustled beneath them as he rolled her onto her back. The weight of his body pinned her down.
He hadn't given up on her. He could have, so easily -- gods knew she'd made it difficult for him -- but all her anger and fear had not pushed him away. Delphyne wrapped her arms and legs around him, tightly, binding him to her with the strength of her gratitude and need.
The heat of his mouth shifted, branding her face, her throat, and the bedding whispered secrets with every thrust of his hips. She realized then that he had silenced the voices of her past, replacing them with something sweeter and far more powerful. Once, she had thought that she stayed to help him. Now she knew that she stayed to help herself.
Lean muscles shifted, and Methos raised up onto his elbows. Her nipples hardened as cool air flowed over them, and Delphyne opened her eyes to look into his, stroking his hair, his shoulders, his neck, unable to get enough.
A rare smile curved his lips. "I want to see your face."
She couldn't smile back, not yet, but the corners of her eyes creased in acknowledgement, and she traced a fingertip over his mouth.
"You are beautiful," he told her, curving a hand around her cheek. "Beautiful here..." the hand moved down to rest over her heart "... and here."
Her vision blurred. Tears spilled, staining her cheeks, and he brushed them away until she turned, pressing her lips into his palm, closing her eyes against a wave of emotion. Without warning, he clutched her to him, mouth taking hers in a passionate, almost violent kiss. Delphyne responded, holding nothing back.
He gave her no chance to shut him out again. Crushing her down into the bedding, he deepened his thrusts, as if to crawl inside her skin. Bellies and thighs slid together. Fingernails clawed over his back. Blindly groping, he caught her wrists to drag her arms down until her hands curved over the taut muscles of his ass, and Delphyne pulled him into her as hard as she could, planting her feet for leverage.
Pleasure surged up from the joining of their flesh to spread through every inch of her body. Methos stiffened, moving faster, impaling her relentlessly, mouth grinding against hers with bruising force. So soon, how could she be ready so soon? There was no denying it, though, not with those little tremors rippling out from the center of her being. Her movements became frantic as she reached for completion.
Methos broke off the kiss. Teeth scraped over her ear, followed by the hot rush of his breath.
"Give in," he urged, "Do it for me. Do it for yourself."
Her sharp, thin cry cut through the night. Delphyne went still beneath him, and he grunted with effort as he drove into her, pushing her over the edge.
Even as his arms tightened around her, she arched hard enough to lift him off the ground. The knot of agony burst apart at last, and she screamed, exploding into a chaos of sorrow and hope.
"Yes!" he growled. Spearing into her to the hilt, his cock leapt and jetted forth in release. Methos squeezed her so tightly she could scarcely breath, until the torrent slowed to a stream, then a trickle, and finally ceased altogether. Only then did he loosen his grip.
Long after the spasms died down, she continued to tremble beneath him, dizzy and emotionally exhausted. She would need time to sort through this, to understand what had just happened between them, but that would have to come later, when she remembered how to string two thoughts together. For now, all she knew for sure was that the accusing voices in her mind were at last silent, leaving her in peace.
Methos rolled gently onto his side, taking her with him. Though he was soft now, she held him loosely clasped within her, and twined a leg over his hip to keep that connection secure. Bringing his mouth to hers, he relaxed into lingering, velvety kisses.
Sleep tugged at her, heavy as lead. She wanted to thank him, to tell him what he meant to her, but what words could possibly convey it? Drawing back just far enough to look into his eyes, Delphyne whispered simply, "You're a good Master."
Water shimmered over his lashes. He didn't answer, just stroked her hair slowly and watched as she sank into deep, welcome sleep.
2. The first coins appeared in the British Isles around 125 BCE. Prior to that, currency was either in the form of cattle, or silver and gold by weight. Swordblades were also used as currency, but seem a bit bulky for a trip to the market. Silver and gold were usually carried in the form of crude rings, to be weighed by the merchant when making a purchase.