Precious Cargo
by Maxine Mayer

 

4/20/97


I was working away in my basement hideaway in the American bookstore in Paris, "Shakespeare and Company." Nobody'd visited me there for quite some time, and I didn't expect anyone for a stretch into the future. That was as it should be. I was alone again. Pretty comfortable, that. I was used to it. Best this way, I mused to myself, for the four hundredth time in a month. Best this way.

Of course I knew they were looking for me - Dawson and MacLeod. Plus every Watcher in Europe. Plus Amanda, but only just for my safety's sake, not for revenge or sport. But they hadn't looked here for weeks, and I imagined they wouldn't again. The first week after Bordeaux, they'd sought me with heat, and broken into this place. I'd watched from the darkness, until they departed. Then I'd bought some provisions and settled myself in. I'd been alone since then.

What do they want?

That's my damned question. What do they want?

Or is it 'need,' as Kronos would have it? Do they somehow 'need' me? To validate something inside them. Their purpose. Their usefulness. Their lives.

Well, I shan't be a pawn in their emotional chess game. I gave them the Horsemen. That's it, that's all.

I'm through.

Good to be alone here, I thought. Work on the manuscripts. Write a few journal entries. Read some good books. Keep to myself.

They'll get over it. MacLeod and Dawson and the rest. Even Amanda. She can wait. When it's safe, I'll let her know I'm well. She can wait.

So can I.


"We've been here already, MacLeod," I heard Dawson's voice through the floorboards from the bookstore above, and I panicked.

"I know. But maybe he came afterwards." MacLeod. Damn.

"Don't you get it, Mac? He doesn't want to be found. Why can't you respect that?"

"I do. I respect it. As soon as I see he's okay, I'll leave him be. Until then, I gotta know where he is."

"MacLeod, you're gonna be the death of me. Give me a hand with these steps."

I heard them clumping down the staircase, then the noise of Duncan moving the fake wall to one side. I composed myself in a chair with a book. All right. Very well. If that's all he wants, to see I'm all right, he can know that. He can see for himself. I'm fine, thank you very much. Now, get the hell out of my life!

There they were.

"Methos, you are here!" MacLeod gasped. "Are you all right, man? We've been searching for you for weeks."

"Whatever for?" I asked, with a smile. Perhaps my eyes were dead, but I still could bring those face muscles up up up - practice over centuries makes perfect. "You saw me after the Horsemen were killed. In the cemetery. Wasn't that enough?"

Dawson said, "Now, Methos, don't be ungrateful. Mac and I just wanted to check on a friend. Maybe buy you a beer - or whatever passes for beer here in Paris."

"Thanks, Joe, but - no thanks. I'm fine just as I am. Actually, I'm expecting company in a little while. So I'd appreciate it if you two ran along." It seemed like a good idea, at the time, that white lie.

"Anybody I know?" MacLeod asked.

"No. Nobody you know. A woman - a mortal - I've just met her. Rather she finds me here alone, MacLeod. So, if you don't mind -"

"Okay, okay, we're leaving," Dawson said, waving a hand around. "As long as you're okay. You don't need anything, do you?"

"Nothing at all, Joe. Thanks."

"You're well?" This from MacLeod.

"Don't I look well?"

"Actually, you don't - but then, they say I don't either."

"You look just fine to me," I replied. He did. He looked a sight for sore eyes. Very dark, very intense. Very Duncan. I pulled myself inside again. No point missing that. We're through. That life's through. Nothing left there.

"Well, we're off. Come on, Mac," Dawson said, tugging at MacLeod's arm. "Let's go. I'll buy you dinner."

MacLeod continued to stare at me for a few moments. I met his gaze, with a cold look of my own. I dropped my eyes first, then lifted them and looked at him again. In my face I knew there was no sign of weakening. And I knew he read it clearly. That life is over. We're through.


When they'd finally gone I sat down in the chair in front of my computer. No need to keep "radio silence" any longer. They'd found me. I could write again, read again, about the world and all those wondrous souls in it. The mortals, the Immortals. The Watchers. I could link myself to the world, from the isolation of my hideaway. Breathe, again.

Not for long.

I should have expected it, but I'd no chance to think. MacLeod got rid of Dawson in record time, I thought. And he was back.

"You still there, Methos? I thought you'd have run away again by now."

"You didn't give me time to put on my coat, MacLeod," I replied, and watched him come down the stairs.

"Is someone really coming soon?" he asked.

"No."

"Another lie. No end to them," he said, taking his thick coat off and sitting on a box near some books. He lifted a volume, then put it down again without really seeing it. "What have you been doing, these weeks, Methos? Thinking up a new identity, new stories for yourself? New lies?"

"You said it." I turned away and started to boot up my computer. Then I sighed and turned it off. No point. "Why are you here, MacLeod?" I asked wearily. "You'd think you'd get the picture by now. I agree with you. I've always agreed. We don't belong together in one sentence - Methos and Duncan. I agree. We're through. It was a mistake. Now it's over. God damn it, can't you leave me be?"

"Not easily. But I could, except for one thing."

"And what might that be?"

"You carry precious cargo, my friend. And I've got to guard it - with my life, if need be."

"What on earth are you talking about?" I said, bewildered. "What cargo?"

"The other Society. The other Chronicles. The other History." Duncan looked at me with a smile. "All of it. All of you. It belongs to me, too, Methos. I want in."

My heart stopped, then rose into my throat, but I answered evenly. "I have no idea what you're talking about, MacLeod."

"Then I'll enlighten you." He stood and walked to the clothes line where I had manuscript pages hanging to dry. He flipped a page, turned his head to the side to read it, then turned away without studying the script. "Oh, and Dawson doesn't know, at least not from me. That's the truth. This time, I've kept what I've discovered to myself. I thought I'd wait for your explanation before I took any action."

"Looking for answers again, MacLeod? Never learn, do you?"

"Nope. Never."

"There is no 'other Society,' MacLeod. At least, not that I know about."

"Oh yes, there is. You're the mouth of the river. Through you the stories flow and get disseminated throughout the Immortal world. You carry precious cargo, Methos," he repeated. "I want in."

"Where'd you get this fantastic idea?" I asked, still keeping secrets.

"Does it matter?"

"Yes, it does."

"Okay. I went back to the marine base, after you walked away from me. I searched the place from top to bottom. Found Kronos' books, his papers, his notes. It's how he tracked you. The other Society. How Cassandra probably found him. You slipped up, somehow, Methos."

"God, MacLeod, if I hear that phrase again from anyone, I believe I'll take his head!"

"Who's in charge, Methos? Not you. I know that. You're Iago to Otello, if ever I met one."

"There's nobody 'in charge,' there's no such thing. You're insane. Kronos was insane. Whatever he wrote, whatever he believed - I don't understand how you could accept his words over reason."

"I have proof, Methos." He reached into his breast pocket and drew out a piece of paper no more than a few inches square. It was pale lavender, and tissue thin. It was a slip of decrypted code. I recognized it as one of our papers. Precious cargo, indeed. How on earth had Kronos got hold of it? Whom had he killed for it, that I didn't even know was dead?

"Might I see that, Duncan?" He handed the lavender slip to me. "Thank you." I looked at it quickly - just a few words, but I realized they'd been sufficient to lead Kronos to me. The paper said, among other things, "let Adam know." Any old Immortal familiar with the Watchers knew about Adam - Methos' researcher and tracker. Like Duncan and Kalas before him, Kronos went looking for Adam Pierson and unearthed me instead. Such are the ironies of life.

"You gonna tell me, Methos? Or do I need to follow you till you slip up again, and lead me to him - or her - the leader of your Society?"

"There is no leader. There is no Society." I repeated the words but I knew I wouldn't convince MacLeod.

"Methos - don't you trust me?"

"Trust you? I don't even know you, MacLeod! The man I thought I knew died in a parking lot by my van. Along with his friend, I might add. Why should I trust you?"

"Because we didn't die. Not then. And not in Bordeaux. We survived."

I looked at him. Shook my head. Then I sighed. "Come here," I ordered, and swiveled another stool near to mine at the computer table. "Look at this." I plugged in a few codes and a page came up on screen. I pointed to the words. "This is in code. Wait, I'll throw in my decrypting numbers." I worked for a moment. The screen blanked away and then returned, in clear English. "There! There it is. The Glass Bead Society's Rules. Go on, read them. You'll see that there is no leader. Not in the terms you mean. Only an Arbiter of the Game. To select the Victims who are not challenged at random. He arbitrates in concert with the rest of us. He's merely the Keeper of the List."

I knew MacLeod would be shocked, although I'm sure he'd suspected something nefarious was going on when he'd found the lavender slip. "You're manipulating the Game?!" If his hair could have risen from his head, it would have, so appalled was he.

I shrugged. "I suppose that's one way to put it."

"You suppose? How else would you explain this - selecting the Victims who aren't challenged at random?"

"I'd call it - keeping the world safe for Mortals. That's what we call it. But I see how that wouldn't be your take on the Society."

"Methos, tell me - who? Who's died by your edict? Who's lived? How many? How long?"

I waited, in case he wanted to ask the most significant question - for whose sake - but he stopped at those few.

"I'm not sure how many. I can bring up the files on who, for you to look at. And the Society's been in existence since before the Gathering speeded up. Since before you were born."

"Who's in charge, Methos?" He was really angry. I knew he wanted to challenge whoever was in charge. Right now. This instant.

"Oh, I'm sorry," I said with a lilt in my voice. "I can't tell you that. There's nobody in charge."

"Then - the Arbiter of the Game. Who is that?"

"You want to meet the Arbiter?" I asked, smiling.

"Yes. I do."

"Very well. Get your coat. Come with me."

"Where we going, Methos?" Duncan asked, when he saw me take my passport out of a small strongbox.

"You've got yours with you, MacLeod?" I rejoined, not answering his question.

"Yes. I do. I was planning on going home soon."

"Well, we're not going home. We'll try to catch a plane to Switzerland tonight. If not, in the morning. Let's go."


I've always believed "God is in the details," and our Arbiter did too. We'd been centuries - no, millenia - coming to the realization that leaving the details to chance was absurd. Then we'd been another millenia trying to decide what to do. Finally, during the celibate centuries, we'd come up with a solution. The Glass Bead Society. Dedicated to the proposition that in the End there can be Only One, and we were damned if that One would be Evil.

At first, it was just Quentin and Lamartin, Erasmus Minor, Frederick the Falcon, Darius and me. Darius never knew he'd been selected by us from among all Immortals to be the One, in the End. For some time, he was Arbiter, from the safety he knew behind monastery walls, after the rest of us were long back in the world. Later, in the 1700's, we decided to switch off, and Lamartin was made Arbiter. He traveled widely and learned much about our Victims, those who'd taken the Evil Path. For the last century, Quentin has been Arbiter. I've always been Scribe, a job that suits me well.

At noon the next morning, after a drive from the airport of more than an hour to get there, we arrived in the small Swiss town where Quentin and Lamartin based their financial empire.

"You won't say anything more, will you?" MacLeod asked. "Not even a name?"

"The names will mean nothing to you. Suffice it to say, they're very old Immortals, like me. The oldest. The entire Society is composed of the oldest Immortals still living, who haven't taken the Evil Path."

"So, it wasn't Dawson alone who sent you to save me, at LeHavre, was it? It was this Glass Bead Society of yours - right?"

"Maybe. I don't need to be told what to do, MacLeod. I don't need anyone to 'send me' to save somebody. I'm five thousand years old. I can cross the street by myself."

"But I'm right - in that one case - aren't I?"

"Dawson sent me. The Arbiter called me too. Warned me how dangerous you would be. Asked me whether I thought you were worth it. Seemed to think I was worth more."

"You are. Precious cargo, indeed, Methos. You carry it inside your head. Inside your heart. Worth more than a Green Boy like me - to any objective person."

"Well - we can't all be as objective as you, MacLeod."

He laughed. "Right. Some of us are driven by notions that were trendy in our youth. Like loyalty and friendship."

"Don't rub it in, if you intend to live until we reach the Castle."

"Oh, a castle, is it?"

"Certainly. Only the best for my friends," I said, with a grin. "You don't think every decent Immortal lives on a barge or above a dojo, do you? Some of us don't believe our surroundings must stink in order to prove we're holy."

"Methos -"

"Oh, shut up, MacLeod. Get a grip on your sense of humor, and loosen your grip on your katana - or you'll make a fool of yourself when we get there."

"Yes, father." Duncan grinned.

"Well - they've never met you. You come highly recommended. Wouldn't want you to flunk your interview. You wouldn't want that, would you?"

"Is there an Initiation Ritual as well?"

"Wake up and smell the coffee, MacLeod! I've had authority to open up to you - should you stumble on the Glass Bead Society by accident - for years. We leave little to chance."

"I can see that."

"Yes. You can, if you look."


"Ah, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod!" Quentin exclaimed, as he strode down the enormous winding staircase to the front hall of his castle. I'd warned him we were coming, of course. "I'm Quentin - called Quentin of York. Good to meet you at last."

MacLeod was thunderstruck, I believe. He stared at Quentin with his mouth open. "You - you're the Arbiter?"

"Yes, I am. Why not?"

"You're - you're a boy!" MacLeod stammered.

"No, I'm not. I'm six thousand years old, MacLeod." Quentin was all seriousness now. "I achieved First Death when I was a youth of seventeen summers - in battle, as you did, but you were a bit older than me, of course. My body retains the youth of First Death. But I've lived, I've loved, I've grown, and I've changed, over the centuries. And thanks to your friend Methos here, I've achieved great wisdom."

"Why, thanks to Methos?" Duncan asked.

"Because he bought me out of the brothels and taught me to fight. Because he took infinite pains to teach me to read and write. Because he introduced me to Lamartin, who taught me to love. And -" Quentin sighed. "And because he relinquished my heart when it was time for me to leave him." Quentin paused. "Like you and Richie Ryan, perhaps? Something like that?" Poor Quentin, trying to speak in words a child could follow. To him, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod was a child, a Green Boy, whom he took on trust. Trust in me.

MacLeod was subdued. He said, "I see."

"I'm glad," Quentin replied simply. "Now, I'd like you to meet my good friend and partner, Lamartin of Bordeaux. Come upstairs with me, MacLeod. He's waiting in the music room."

We followed Quentin up the long winding staircase. MacLeod grabbed my arm. He whispered, "Methos - is what he said true? All of it?"

"Yes. All of it. Why should he lie?"

"I don't know. I - I seem to have lost my trust in everyone." He sounded troubled.

"It's a sign of age, MacLeod. And it's about time! Be grateful. It'll help you survive."

He didn't reply. I don't believe he liked that, not one bit. I couldn't blame him. When I'd learned not to trust, I hadn't enjoyed the ugly feeling, either.

We arrived at the music room. Lamartin stood and put out his hand to shake Duncan's. "I'm Lamartin. I'm very happy to meet you at last, MacLeod."

Lamartin is a lovely Latino type. Altogether dark and sensual - much like MacLeod in appearance but miles away in temperament. Lamartin is - a gardenia - uniquely sensual. There is no lighter side to him. No rational side. Yes, he's a genius, which keeps Quentin with him. But he's no intellectual. And he's no saint, nor would he want to be. Ah, well. He's Lamartin. Indescribable, really.

I believe MacLeod had enough, when he met Lamartin. The onslaught of buzz would knock over a horse, I admit. Duncan said bluntly, "You're manipulating the Game. That's true, isn't it?"

"We are." Quentin answered in Lamartin's stead. "What is that to you, MacLeod?"

"Are you saying, it's none of my business?" Duncan was growing angry.

"I'm saying, it's not wrong. Therefore, why should it bother you? Why should you care?"

"It is wrong. If it's true - in the End there can be Only One - that One must survive honestly. Fairly. He or she can't be manipulated into such a responsibility, such a burden."

"Why not?" Quentin asked mildly.

"Why not?!" MacLeod looked at me. I shrugged. After all, I agreed with Quentin, that we did nothing wrong. In fact, that we did something positively Good, even by MacLeod's standards.

"Yes," Lamartin asked, "why not? We do nothing you don't do. We challenge those who deserve to die, in our estimation. Thus far, we differ from you in no way. We kill those we can kill, one-on-one, in Ritual Combat. How does that differ from what you do? We take no one's head after they've received Quickening, but wait until they're ready to fight again, fairly." Lamartin shook his head. "I don't understand what is bothering you, MacLeod."

"You're in league to destroy other Immortals. It's not right. It's not fair. They challenge singly, you challenge as a group."

"That's not true. We never challenge as a group. We Battle individually. Always. We rarely even travel together. Rarely see one another," Quentin added. "But - let's talk about this more, later on. First, you are our guest, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. Stay with us a few days. I'll have a servant show you to your room. You too, Methos. Then we'll dine - shall we say, about four? Drink some wine, some champagne. Until then, rest, MacLeod. Try not to consider this matter. Think on other things. Over the next few days, we'll discuss this quietly, in a civilized manner. Perhaps we can come to an understanding after all. Some accommodation? What do you say?"

What could Duncan say? He nodded to Quentin, then to Lamartin, and followed a servant to his suite. I thought that Quentin would want to talk to me privately, but he let me go too. I was glad. I'd never had much to say to Quentin, not since Darius' murder, when we'd been forced to select another One. We'd disagreed then, and I was certain the two of them, if not everyone in the Society, disagreed still. They'd chosen me, while I'd chosen MacLeod. I wasn't sure if they'd kept me in the dark, lied to me, when they'd agreed to accept Duncan as the One. Wasn't at all sure.

To say I didn't trust the other members of the Glass Bead Society would be putting it mildly. But since Darius' murder, I never had.


The servants brought us to adjoining suites and within minutes MacLeod knocked on the closed door connecting them.

"Come in," I said. I was tired but not really sleepy enough for a nap. Besides, I knew there'd be many questions from MacLeod. No point in putting off trying to answer them.

Duncan came into my suite and found a chair near the French windows to sit in. He didn't say anything for a while. I pulled up a smaller chair close to his and straddled it. We both sat quietly for some time, looking through the gauzy white curtains at the bright Swiss sunlight. I wondered whether MacLeod felt as I did - like a black cloud shadowing a beautiful day.

"Well, we're dark, aren't we," he commented, answering my unspoken thought. "I can't even remember when I didn't feel this way. Dark. Dead. Alone."

I was shocked by his remark. Frightened. I tried for a light reply but no quip came. "Yeah," I said. "Dark. That about sums it up."

"You've been around a long time, Methos. Is it gonna last forever, or will it pass?" He glanced at me, half meaning the question.

"Oh, it'll pass, MacLeod. But it might take longer than we like. And it certainly can be just about unbearable. While it lasts."

Again, he didn't ask me the questions I was expecting. About the Society. About the Immortal Chronicles. The History. He was quiet for another few minutes. "They seem - friendly - your friends. Known them long?"

"Seems like forever. Then, nowadays, everything seems like forever. They're all right. If you like old Immortals. An acquired taste."

"They are friends, right? Not simply fellow members of your Glass Bead Society? Quentin certainly said a mouthful about you. When was it, that you rescued him? Before your 'survive at any cost' philosophy kicked in?"

"For God's sake, MacLeod - he was an Immortal. I came upon him in the male brothels - a few centuries before the Common Era. He would have lived forever in that hell hole or another like it. What was I to do? Leave him there?"

"What were you doing there?"

"What do you think I was doing there? Buying sex, of course." Sometimes the man made me so furious, I could spit.

"But you didn't simply buy him out, did you? You - rehabilitated - the boy."

"He wasn't a boy. He just looked like a boy. He was thousands of years old. Never had a chance. What are you looking to find out, here, MacLeod? Yes, I was good to him. Yes, I took care of him, loved him, taught him - everything he needed to know. Then - Lamartin wanted him, so I sold him to Lamartin."

"Sold him!" Once more, I'd shocked my friend.

"Of course. What else? He was my slave. I sold him to another master, one who would care for him as he needed to be cared for, at that time. Quentin wanted to go, you know."

"Did he?"

"Of course. You got a good look at Lamartin. He's the Antonio Banderas of the Immortal Set. Who wouldn't have preferred him to me? To anyone?"

"Perhaps, a man who liked women?"

"Quentin - Quentin didn't have that choice. By the time he was in a position to choose, it was too late," I told MacLeod bluntly. "Now, after the celibate centuries - when we all entered monasteries to preserve the Word - nobody does much of anything anymore. So it no longer matters what he is."

"Really?" Duncan's tone was one of dry disbelief, but I could feel the anxiety rising in him. His voice cracked like a schoolboy's. This conversation was far too frank for him. But I'd put off childish things, during the siege of Bordeaux, and I wasn't about to begin lying to him about who I was, what I was, again.

"Yes, really. We all entered monasteries. Every last one of us. We believed it was our duty. Not to save our skins but to save the written word. And we succeeded. Later, we left, one by one, when it was safe - I mean, safe for the word. A few remained - Paul, Darius, Kalas, Erasmus Minor." I paused.

"Yes?"

"When we left, we went our separate ways, always keeping in touch, preserving our History, as best we could. We supported the Watchers, too. They were doing good work, always."

"And -?"

I wondered what more he expected to hear. "And some of us found that we'd sublimated our urges all too well. That we no longer cared for things of the flesh. Kalas, for example, was one. For a long time, I was another."

"Was it because you were so old?" MacLeod asked, as ingenuously as Richie.

"I'm not certain. Why, didn't matter. That it happened, did. It frightened me. Just about, to death."

"I can believe that," Duncan said with a smile.

I nodded. "Yeah, I'll bet you can." I smiled.

"The Glass Bead Society," he said, a stray thought coming to his mind. "Wasn't there a book with that phrase in the title?"

"Yes. By Hermann Hesse. 'Das Glasperlenspiel,' 'The Glass Bead Game.' Sometimes called, 'Magister Ludi,' which means, master of the games."

"That's twentieth century -"

"Yes," I interrupted. "We originally called ourselves the Society of Trustees. Then one of us fell in love with that book, and it reminded us of another old Ritual - the Walk in the Glass Kingdom. So - gradually - the new name came into use."

"What does it mean?"

"The Glass Bead Game was a - device - to connect isolated bits of data and experiences. As we tried to connect isolated instances of Ritual Combat into a purposeful pattern, direct them towards an End. The phrase fit, somehow."

"I don't suppose I need to guess who fell in love with that book, do I?" Duncan asked with a smile.

"No. You don't."

After a moment MacLeod said, "So, besides manipulating the Game, you preserved our History, maybe better than the Watchers."

"From another angle, is more like it."

"I see."

"MacLeod, what we're doing isn't wrong. Darius was our Arbiter for a long time. You know his judgment was true."

"I didn't always agree with Darius."

"Come on, MacLeod, don't split hairs. Your whole life changed because of Darius. You sat out wars because of him. You trusted his judgment beyond that of any man you'd ever known."

"All right. That's true." But he still wasn't going to give in about what we did. "But - why did you start it all? What gave you the idea to band together to change the Game? To change the outcome of the Game?"

"The fact that things didn't go the way we thought they should go, not very often. And while we sat around drinking beer in the equivalent of Joe's Bar, we talked, and we thought. And we didn't like things the way they were. So we came up with an idea of how to change them. It took us long enough!"

"How long?"

"Centuries. Millennia. For bright boys, we were pretty slow." I grinned.

MacLeod didn't talk for a long time. Then he asked, "Does it work?"

"What do you think?"

"What'd you mean?" he said.

"I mean - what do you think? Does it work?"

"Well, it certainly could work - at preserving our History, our Chronicles."

"True enough. It works for that."

"But the rest -"

"MacLeod, Kalas nearly killed you. And me. You killed the great Coltec. Grayson came that close to taking your head. You killed Xavier St.Cloud. Darius was murdered by renegade Watchers. Kronos sent Silas and Caspian after you - and you almost died. I almost died. And that's just one isolated set of connections - to you. You tell me - does it work?"

"You're saying, it doesn't?"

"I'm saying, of course it doesn't! But it gives Quentin and the others pleasure to think so. To think they've got some say in the universe. That one person can change things. You know what I believe - I've told you often enough."

"You believe that history makes men, not men, history."

"You remember. Bright boy."

"So why do you play along?" MacLeod asked, genuinely puzzled.

I shrugged. "For the same reason I became a Watcher - and that wasn't just ten years ago - it was thousands of years ago. To keep an eye on other Immortals. So I might steer clear of them."

"Oh no. That's not all. I don't believe you, Methos - you're lying again."

"All right. To protect those Immortals I believe are too important to lose."

"Like me."

"Yes. And Darius before you." I turned my chair a bit to face him. "Look, MacLeod, I can't do much. I can't fight anybody's battles for them. But sometimes, I can do something. Not much. A little. And help. Not much. A little."

"Help." MacLeod smiled.

"So - sue me." I said.

"If you weren't my lawyer, I would," he replied, laughing.

I ignored his reaction and ostentatiously looked around for a clock. "Must be time to eat lunch, by now. Wonder why the servants don't come to tell us."

"Possibly, because their masters are enjoying this conversation too much to break in," Duncan said.

"What - you think they've got bugs in here?"

"You don't?" He laughed.

"Maybe you're right. Anyway, if they are bugging this suite," I said, raising my voice a bit, "I hope they're listening now. I'm hungry."

"They won't come yet, Methos. We haven't quite finished."

"Now what?"

"Women. What about Alexa? And Amanda - don't tell me you never had a thing going with Amanda, because I won't believe you."

"It comes and goes, MacLeod. And it needs a lot of encouragement - either from the other party, or from me. But - it happens. With women. And sometimes, with men."

"What happens?"

I stared at him. "What'd you think? I fall in love. I get the urge. The usual - insert tab A into slot B. It happens."

"But more often than not, it's insert nose into book? Is that what you're telling me?"

"Pretty much."

He stood up. Quickly. "Okay. That's fine. I can live with it."

"I beg your pardon - it's I who must live with it."

"Whatever you say. Come on. Let's see if we can locate the dining room. Give 'em a little encouragement to feed us. Let's go, Methos."

"What is it, MacLeod. What'd I say?"

"It's what you don't say that's the problem. But - as an old friend of yours once told me - I can wait!"

I'd no idea what he was talking about. For the first time since I'd met Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, I simply hadn't a clue. I followed him down the stairs and nosed around with him until we located the dining room. They'd redecorated since last I'd visited. Changed things around. Quentin and Lamartin were already into the soup course, while lovely ripe melons rested in splendor on golden dishes on the table before MacLeod and me.


At dinner - or luncheon, possibly tea, I'm not sure what meal this was meant to be, all twelve courses of it - Quentin put himself out in a way I've never before seen him do - to draw MacLeod to him.

It was not easy, either for Quentin or Duncan. And certainly not for Lamartin, who was jealous as hell. But when Quentin exerts authority, we all take notice, and he'd clearly exerted it to Lamartin before dinner. The Latino was meek as a lamb and silent as Death.

As I said, it was not easy, either for Quentin or MacLeod. Never was, for Quentin. All his power was within. On the outside he looked like a beautiful young rock star, with his long golden hair and bronzed skin. To take him seriously was difficult for MacLeod, whose Mortality was so close to the surface. Appearance still made a deep impression on him. But they both struggled against the grain, and I believe they succeeded far better than either hoped or expected. It helped that MacLeod has such strong respect for his elders.

"You've taken many risks with our friend's life, MacLeod," Quentin opened, after coffee was served. "I was appalled to learn you permitted Methos to be near you during your Dark Time. I'm aware you absented yourself from all your other friends."

"Quentin -" I tried to break in.

"Silence, Methos!" Quentin's voice was harsh. I sat back in my chair, silent. I didn't say another word for quite a while.

"It wasn't my choice," Duncan responded, as if to a legitimate task master who was entitled to demand answers from him. "I couldn't get him off my back. And I'm grateful he was there for me. I certainly would have been lost without him. As it was, I murdered a friend."

"We know that. You were well on the way to perdition, mon frere. Only a dedicated Glass Bead Game player could have saved your sanity, and your life. Only Methos would have dared try."

"I know that," Duncan replied solemnly. "I am grateful." He paused. "But if you think I consider saving my skin a legitimate excuse for manipulating the Game, you're wrong."

Quentin smiled. "Oh, I'm sure you do not. Neither did we - then - and I know some of us don't believe it's a good enough reason, now. Your skin is prized by no one as highly as by Methos Valerius. But then, he always had a weakness for children and - others who cannot defend themselves."

"Really? He could have fooled me."

"Apparently, he did. In more ways than one, I hear. Just exactly how did you imagine Methos survived for fifty centuries? By the exercise of charm alone?"

"I didn't think. I didn't consider it any of my business. He was there. He was good to me. I trusted him. Took him on faith. Naively, I suppose."

Again, I almost spoke. This was torture - for MacLeod, of course, but for me, more so. But I didn't interrupt. I think I was fascinated by the interaction between Duncan and Quentin. How far would MacLeod go? How much truth would he tell this stranger? I could smell MacLeod's distaste for Quentin - Quentin, who made few concessions to the times, and none at all to Duncan's sensibilities.

"Then again you put him at risk, with the Horsemen."

"I had nothing to do with that. He chose to engage Kronos and the others."

"He chose nothing. He begged you to leave it be. He would never have involved himself with the Horsemen at that time, had you not refused to accept his counsel."

"You're saying, it was my fault he joined Kronos, put the Horsemen back together?"

"Of course."

MacLeod didn't speak for a minute or two. "At that time," he murmered, finally.

"That's correct. Not at that time. Do you follow?" Quentin inquired in a kindly tone.

"Yes. Yes, I do." Duncan moved a bit in his chair, then took a sip of wine. "I followed my nature. I saw no other choice."

"But you do see now? That you had a choice? And left Methos none?"

"Not if he wanted to protect me -"

"Exactly." Quentin looked long at Duncan, then glanced at Lamartin and me. I didn't quite understand what his regard meant, but the fact that he was going to move up and on to another level of distasteful intimacy was evident. I shivered.

"What are your feelings for Methos now?" Quentin asked quietly. "Now that you've heard his story, or at least, some portions of it. Unsavory portions. You still regard him as a friend?"

"Not still. Again." MacLeod is nothing if not a quick study. That sort of precision is Quentin's forte. And mine. That Duncan grasped the need for it and was able to supply it on demand, was very satisfying to me. It went a long way towards vindicating my choice, and I knew Quentin would feel the same.

"Why? What has changed? Certainly, nothing in Methos' past can be absolved by his taking Silas' head."

"No. That's not it. It's -" MacLeod looked hard at Quentin. "It's me. I've changed. It's only a feeling, I know. But that's who I am. A man of feelings. Before, I couldn't believe Methos could change, or that who he is now is a different person from the Horseman he was three thousand years ago. Somehow, I do believe it, today. I believed it when I saw him fighting Silas. It - made a difference."

"Yes, MacLeod, I know. You're a simple man. Someone's either for you or against you. It's not a bad philosophy. There are worse. And if tomorrow, for reasons you cannot imagine, Methos took the side of someone you thought was Evil, took what amounted to The Other Side, you'd change again. Despise and abandon him again."

MacLeod looked at Quentin, then at me. He said, "Yes."

Quentin laughed. "An honest man! N'est-ce pas, mon cher?" he said, turning to me.

"Vraiment. Absolument," I responded. "You said it."


I didn't know what would happen to us all next. What Quentin had planned. As it turned out, we spent a few more days at the castle, MacLeod and I. Lamartin took pains to ignore the growing rapport between Duncan and Quentin. Instead, he spent hours with me, effectively preventing me from hearing what further transpired between my friend and Quentin. It was maddening, but I could have done something about it, had I chosen to do so. I didn't.

This was what I'd dreamed of for years, since Darius' murder. That Quentin would accept MacLeod as the One. My feelings were as nothing compared to that desired outcome of this visit. I sublimated both my curiosity and jealousy - as did Lamartin - and permitted myself to be dragged by him to see every Swiss village for miles around. I drank enough Swiss chocolate to float the Good Ship Lollipop, I think, and smiled and made conversation with Lamartin for days at a stretch. Lamartin, with whom I have less in common than I have with Richie! Lamartin, the sensualist, on whom the celibate centuries had had no effect whatever. Damn the man!

"You love him, Val?" Lamartin asked one day, suddenly, out of the blue.

"Who?"

"MacLeod, of course!" he replied, looking his wonder at my question.

"Yes, I love him. What's it to you?"

"You never loved me as you do him," he stated.

"You were always impossible, Lamartin! Who could love such a peacock?"

"Quentin does."

I nodded. "Quentin led an impoverished perverted youth. He knows nothing of love - only beauty. You qualify. Therefore, he stays with you."

"Not for beauty alone, Methos," Lamartin responded, a dangerous glint in his eye. "For my passion."

"Yes, yes, I concede! For your passion, Lamartin. We must all bow before your passion! I wonder, though, does it make you more of a man, or less, that you remain a rutting animal when your peers have turned from the flesh to the mind."

"Temper, temper, mi figlio," he said, laughing. "You follow the Highlander for his passion. You must not pretend not to prize it."

"In MacLeod, yes. There's a place for it, in a boy. Not in an Immortal your age." I'd be damned if I'd let the Latin Lover get the best of me.

"Ah well, we all have our priorities, my friend. I myself lean towards the Egyptians. 'Brother, as long as you burn, you belong to life.' That is my philosophy," he replied smugly.

"Because it matches your cock!"

"Methos!" I'd actually shocked him.

"What, you think I care? What you think of me? What any of you think of me?" I said belligerently. "Harm a hair on his head and you'll die, Lamartin!"

He stepped back. Answered mildly, as if to tame a child throwing a tantrum. "Not I, my friend! You put MacLeod in harm's way, as he does you. You feed on the danger, and the gift you give each other - the risk of your lives. You prefer that to truth, to love, to joining in the other intimacy." He shrugged. "Chacon a son gout! For me, I prefer love to war. Why you choose this - dangerous way of evading the truth of your love, I cannot begin to conceive. It will be the death of at least one of you. Think on it, mi figlio."

"I've thought, Lamartin. Believe me, I've thought." I sighed. "It's impossible. It can go no further. You've met him. You must see."

"I see only what Pascal said: 'Men are so necessarily mad, that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.' This resignation of yours, is madness. You will both suffer for it. Think, I beseech you, Methos!"

I repeated stubbornly, "It can go no further. You must see that."

"Then you'll die, both of you," he said, simply.

"Then we'll die, both of us," I replied.


I couldn't get what Lamartin had said to me out of my mind. That night I couldn't sleep. I couldn't read. I couldn't think clearly, either. I was torn with longing and fear and dread of the future.

We are unbalanced, we Old Immortals. And the older we get, the more unbalanced we are. Shifted right out of the frame of reference of humanity, Mortality, which is, of course, our only possible frame of reference. We lose our connection to people, to time. We begin to wander, lost, alone, grieving, mourning, through the centuries. Some snatch hold of the Game, to remain sane. Some take the Dark Path, into Perversion - again, strangely enough, for the same reason - to stay sane.

I'd done something different. I'd become one of Them, as best I could. I'd become Mortal. A Watcher. And in the course of my watching I'd found MacLeod and in him, a purpose and passion for life which had long ago deserted me.

I simply couldn't make that miracle into something less, something small, by taking advantage of a child like Duncan MacLeod, in the way Lamartin suggested I ought. I couldn't do it. Something in me refused, absolutely, to take the Sensual Path. To let it play itself out in a healthy way. I just couldn't.

And as a result of this distortion of nature, I'd changed my life - and MacLeod's - into a thing of such risk, such danger, as I'd never before known. How could this have happened? How could I have let it happen? More to the point, what must I do to stop it?

The answer was simple. I must give MacLeod up. In all his glory. Give him up.

Christ, mercy!

Is it any wonder I couldn't sleep?

Was this the purpose of Quentin's little chats with MacLeod, to bring him to the same conclusion, albeit, more subtly than Lamartin brought me? To divide us, then conquer us, then sever our tie?

If so, I must admit, they'd succeeded admirably, with me.

Never before had I recognized so clearly the risks I'd taken for MacLeod. To me, it was worth it.

So far, Duncan's life had not changed appreciably for the worse by knowing me - he'd always been a high profile, high risk person. One had only to ask Joe Dawson! In a way, because of my love, my care, MacLeod had been safer than ever before. A side effect, a benefit, of the Glass Bead Society philosophy. Which I embody, in all its ambiguity, in myself. That is the precious cargo, the heritage, of the Old Ones. My risk-taking for MacLeod.

But never before had I realized quite so clearly the converse - that MacLeod would do the same for me. Which was insupportable. Love could not support such a thing.

I'd give him up.


Once I'd made the decision, I felt better. I lay down, exhausted but exhilarated, and fell asleep immediately. I slept like a babe for fourteen hours. When I woke the next day, slightly disoriented, I remembered my decision and packed my duffel bag quickly. I put on my coat and secreted my sword in its folds. Within minutes of waking I was out of the castle and on the road toward the nearest village where I might find a cab to the airport.

MacLeod caught me up. He was also on foot.

"Methos, where you off to?" he asked cheerfully.

"I'm going away, MacLeod. Probably to China. They'll let Westerners in now. I've a yen to see the old places again."

"Me, too. I really would like to walk the hills I walked with Mei Ling Chen, again. I miss her very much."

I turned on him, exasperated. "MacLeod, I'm going alone!"

"No, you're not. Sorry." He smiled.

"What do you mean, I'm not! I'll make this clear. I don't want your company. Go away."

"I cannot," MacLeod replied.

I sighed. "I'll play. Why not?"

"I'm a Trustee, now. I've been entrusted with your safety, and your true ongoing History. To protect the 'precious cargo' that is you. By Quentin of York and Lamartin of Bordeaux, as representatives of the Glass Bead Society."

"MacLeod -"

"Don't worry. They wouldn't think of letting me become a member! I'm just an Adjunct, for now. I suppose, until I live another thousand years. And I'm charged to stay close to you. Guard your head with my life."

I stared at him. Then I started walking again. He caught me up and strode along by my side.

"This is nonsense, MacLeod. You cannot fight my battles for me. I've survived fifty centuries without a nursemaid."

"I know. I told them. They wouldn't listen."

"Why are you doing this? What game are you playing, Duncan?"

"Me? You introduced me to the Arbiter. I'm not playing a game. I'm your - Squire - I suppose."

He'd caught me up short. My Squire. "To serve the servant." It was MacLeod's instinctive response to me from the first. There was awe - for my age - then service. "Stay close," he'd said, but I'd dismissed his offer of protection. Turned the tables and set out to serve him. Nevertheless, it was Duncan's finest role - to serve what he loves and respects, to be bound by the honor he gives another. To lay down his life for his friend. He inspired me to do the same, and I'd offered my head to him in an insane gesture, before I'd realized what I was doing, within hours of meeting him. But this! My Squire, indeed! What was Quentin thinking?

When I didn't answer immediately, MacLeod added, "What can I tell you? It works for me!"

"Well, it doesn't work for me!" I answered explosively, exasperated.

"Sorry about that. Tell you what. You take my head, then you're free."

"Not funny, MacLeod."

"Not terribly funny, no. But as funny as your plan."

"What plan?" Now I really was furious. Why does everybody think I'm made of plans?

"To leave me behind. Leave me for good. Do you really believe that's an option for us?"

"It's a choice. I made it. You can't unmake it for me."

"And I made my own choice, to be with you." He took my arm, stopped me walking on. "Methos, it really won't work, you know. I can't do without you. You are my friend, despite everything. Or maybe, because of everything."

"It's too dangerous, MacLeod. We're too dangerous - together."

"We'll work it out. You'll see. We'll work it out."

"You're worse than Amanda, you know that?" I said.

"And look how well Amanda and I worked it out!" he replied, laughing. "Could do worse, you know, Methos, than Amanda and me!"

I had to agree. I could do worse than Amanda and Duncan. A lot worse.

I looked him in the eye. "Ground rules."

"Yes?"

"No fetching cats out of trees. No rescuing damsels in distress. No giving peace a chance."

He didn't miss a beat. "I promise to try." Then, "Ground rules."

"Yes?" I asked.

"No lying to your friends. No lying to yourself. No lying, period."

"No fair, MacLeod."

"Agreed?"

"I don't like this -"

"Agreed, Methos?"

"All right. Agreed."


We turned around then, and walked back to the castle. Said our goodbyes and left in the car we'd rented. I think we both felt subdued after the emotional roller coaster of the last month's events. But I didn't feel dark, dead, or alone any longer, and neither did MacLeod.

I'd begun again to wonder what was the purpose of my life. MacLeod seemed oblivious, still, to the truth of our love - and its dangers. But it tore me apart - the unending need for abnegation and suffering being with him required of me. I posed the question to MacLeod on the way to the airport. Maybe a young perspective was needed, I conjectured.

"What's the purpose of my life, MacLeod? If you're my Squire, who am I?"

Duncan took his eyes off the road for a moment, to check if I was seriously asking him such a question. "I don't know, Methos. Do you really need a purpose?"

"I think I do. At least, today I think I do."

"Then we'll discover it together," he replied gently, with a small sweet smile.

"Yeah, maybe that's it."

"What?" he asked. "What's it?"

"Together," I repeated ambiguously. "That's the purpose. That we search together."

"You think?" MacLeod asked, smiling broadly now.

"I think." I'd made him happy. Not so shabby, for so few words. It was not a lie. I do think, don't I?

 


End