|The Ice Prince
by Maxine Mayer
DUNCAN'S VOICE - PARIS - ALTERNATIVE PRESENT
"Make it quick, Quentin," I told him, sitting at my chess table on my Paris barge, looking down at the pieces, fingering a pawn and avoiding his eyes. We weren't playing chess together. His was an unexpected visit and I had no idea what for. It wasn't a social call. That much I knew without a doubt. "Methos will be back soon. You don't want him to know you were here, I assume."
Quentin of York - six thousand year old Immortal soul lodged in a gloriously beautiful blonde-haired bronze-skinned seventeen year old body - was the epitome of an arrogant surviving Immortal. He fell just short of Evil, and I wasn't even certain of that. Only the fact that once upon a time Methos had been Quen's teacher and their bond of friendship still held strong made me give the man any trust at all.
As if he were reading my negative thoughts and didn't want to be outdone Quentin said, "It pains me to need you for a commission, MacLeod. Deeply. You are all that I despise in an Immortal."
"Yeah, and what's that?" I asked. Both Quentin and his lover Lamartin of Bordeaux had taken a dislike to me from the get-go, possibly because I'd put Methos through hell before I'd finally realized how much I loved the Old Man.
"You're young, arrogant, an exceptional swordsman, and a man who sees only black and white," Quentin replied without hesitation. "Not to speak of the dastardly way in which you've treated Methos Valerius."
"That was a long time ago, Quentin. And it's never been any of your business. Methos and I - we're personal. Nothing to do with you or Lamartin or the Game."
Quentin sighed, nodding his head. "True." He bit his upper lip, apparently not quite ready to let me know why he was visiting me in secret.
"Out with it, Quen. Time marches on."
"It's concerning Erasmus Minor - Rasmussen. He's gotten himself involved with someone quite dangerous. I'd like to help him out of the relationship - without his knowing of my interest."
I frowned. "What's Erasmus to you? The man's survived twenty-five hundred years without your helping hand. He'll know how to deal with it if some business arrangement's gone sour, Quen."
"It's not like that. It's a woman." Quentin smiled at my startled expression. "A Watcher."
"So? His love life is his own affair."
"Not this time, MacLeod. She's one of the Renegades, a Huntress who survived the purge in the Watcher Society by exercising an enormous amount of charm and excellent timing. No one knows what she is."
"You know. Why don't you just warn Ras? He's smart enough to take a hint."
"He's in love with the woman, MacLeod. You know how that is, for our kind. When we love a Mortal, we go all out. He'd never believe a word I say. Nor anything Methos or Lamartin tell him."
"He won't believe me, either. He hardly knows me."
"He knows of your involvement with the Watcher Society. And the Hunters. How you tracked Darius' killers and destroyed them. He would believe you if you spoke to him of their ilk."
"What's the catch, Quentin? Why bother convincing Rasmussen of anything? Why not simply pick the woman off, like a plum on a branch. Methos, you, or Lamartin. Why do you need to warn Erasmus? Just kill her yourselves."
Quentin squinted at me. He'd been standing near the door. Now he walked down the steps into the barge proper until he stood only a few yards away from me, his aura pulsing like a siren, making me feel faint. This was Old Aura, so strong when he unleashed it this way - as Methos rarely did his own buzz - that I knew Quen was scanning my mind somehow. Methos had let slip that Quentin was telepathic, empathic, psychic - the whole ball of wax. Until now, I'd only half believed my friend.
"Have I come to the wrong barge, MacLeod? You are Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod, are you not?"
"Make your point and get out, Quentin," I said roughly, pissed at the Old Man for fiddling with my head.
"My point is, we don't want the woman dead - simply out of Erasmus' life. She's Mortal. We don't kill Mortals."
I sneered. "Really." Then I laughed. "But you're not so very sure, are you? Or you're very sure indeed. That Methos or Lamartin would take the Huntress out if they knew about this. You're barely controlling your own urge to kill her and be done with it. You like the rules, Quentin, better than some. But you have a lot of trouble following them, old as you are."
"Yes, MacLeod, and that's why I've come to you. Your reputation precedes you. I know you won't kill a Mortal unless you must."
"And if I must kill his lover, you want Erasmus Minor coming for my head, rather than yours," I said, finishing the thought.
"You think I'm expendable. Which is why you don't want Methos to know anything about your little visit. Because he doesn't agree."
I was thoughtful for a moment, staring at the Old One, marvelling again how such an old soul could be housed in such a fragile youthful frame. No matter how often I saw him, Quentin always amazed me. His authority, dignity, loyalty, sense of honor and blunt truthfulness were anachronistic in these times, as they'd been throughout most of his life, I supposed. He'd never lost those qualities or hid them, but he struggled to maintain who he was - every day.
"May I ask a friend for help?" I inquired, thinking about Joe Dawson.
"Your Watcher, you mean?" Quentin asked, quick to grasp my intentions. I nodded. "If you think you need him. The fewer who know, the fewer who are in a position to betray, or be forced to betray."
"Joe can keep a secret, Quentin. I'd trust him with my life."
"Yes, Joe Dawson loves you. He would never do anything to harm you. But will he extend the same protection to Erasmus Minor? Remember Galati, Duncan."
"This is different. Galati was killing Watchers. Erasmus is a good man, a good Immortal. Joe'd protect him, same as he would me."
"Very well, then. Use Dawson, if you must. But find that Huntress and separate her from Ras, without him knowing why it's happened or how you've done it. In such a way that he doesn't spend the next fifty years of his life looking for her."
"You don't ask much, do you?" I said sarcastically.
"Is it too much, MacLeod? If so, I'll seek help elsewhere." He studied my face openly as he spoke, but nothing in his regard seemed intended to influence my decision.
"No, it's not too much. Methos loves Rasmussen. From the little I've seen of the man, he's worthy of respect and devotion. It's not too much."
"I agree. Erasmus Minor deserves all we can do for him. The Old Ones are in his debt. He protected us when he was only a Boy, ran dangerous errands far beyond the call of duty, friendship, or respect - thereby keeping our aging confederation of survivors alive. As they say nowadays, we owe him."
"There's more to it than that, Quentin, isn't there?" I knew there had to be. The Ice Prince did nothing without a selfish motive, in my experience.
"Yes. Erasmus was Lamartin's student, a very long time ago."
"Ah, now I see," I said with a grin. I put down the chess piece I'd been twirling and went over to my bar. "Do you like scotch, Quen?" I asked.
"I wouldn't mind, if you're offering," the Old Immortal replied, moving to an easy chair after a moment. Now that he'd reached an accord with me, he appeared to relax.
I poured him a drink and then sat down across from him on the sofa. After a minute I asked, "Do you want me to seduce the woman away from Ras?"
"Unlikely you could do that. The two of you are - very different men."
"I was thinking more in terms of the Game. She might find my - reputation - enticing. See me as a worthier target for assassination. Did you consider that?"
"You'd do that? Draw her fire?" Quen sounded amazed.
"It's what Rasmussen must have done for you Old Ones, in the past. To protect you. That was the kind of 'errand' you meant, wasn't it?"
"You didn't answer my question. Would you be willing to do such a thing for Erasmus Minor?"
"Yes, I would."
Quentin looked at me thoughtfully while he sipped his drink. At last he smiled. "Methos always did have a good eye."
"For what? Bait?" I asked sarcastically.
Quen laughed. "You might put it that way. But I meant something a bit more flattering, MacLeod. I meant he has an eye for generosity of spirit. Rasmussen was an early find of Methos' as well. Did you know that?"
"If you assume I know nothing at all about any of you, you won't be far off the mark, Quentin. Methos likes to play it close to the vest."
"Yes, of course. Well," he went on, finishing his drink and handing me the glass for a refill, "Methos 'discovered' Erasmus Minor. Ras was a Boy then - no older than you are now, I believe. And Methos was still with the Horsemen."
"I don't know anything about it."
"They met up on the road somewhere in the Middle East, as I recall. To hear Methos tell it, he recognized Ras' thirst for Justice immediately. And when Methos was free to do so, he sought the young fellow out - quite a task back then, on foot or horseback. The distances were enormous. He brought him to Lamartin for training."
"Why didn't Methos train Erasmus himself?" I asked.
"Because he was occupied with me. I was his student, Lamartin had been his lover. Ras became Lamartin's student, not that he had so much to learn. I believe Methos' intention was simply to draw Rasmussen into the fold. Our crowd, so to speak."
"When was this?" I asked, confused.
"Two thousand years ago, give or take a century. Roman times. Shortly before the birth of Christ, actually. That changed everything, for all of us, of course. Opened our eyes to the possibilities."
I frowned. "How?"
Quentin shrugged. "Suddenly, all the unimaginable, unfathomable, strange yearnings we Old Ones felt were given a voice. Power."
"Yearnings for what?"
"Oh, simple things. Love, sacrifice, self-sacrifice. Especially, poverty of spirit. What we'd discovered was truly valuable, as opposed to what we'd been taught to value. It was so - peculiar." Quentin's voice trailed off and I realized he was reliving the feelings he'd experienced two millenia ago.
"Why?" I asked softly, to encourage him to go on talking. The more I heard, the more I wanted to hear.
"The Game, the killing, the rules - they were all predicated on power, skill, physical strength. The strong dominating, eradicating the weak. As was all social intercourse, in those times. But we Old Ones sensed something different might be the true meaning of life. The Truth. We sensed that power resides in the soul, not the body. But we had no way to - understand - what we sensed. Not until Christ died on the cross and became the most powerful force in history. Not until the promulgation of the dogma that God became man - became weak - on purpose. For a reason that was incredibly hard to accept, yet - irresistible."
"And God's reason was?"
"Because he so loved the world." Almost jumping out of his seat, then, in his excitement to tell me what he'd discovered two thousand years ago, Quentin repeated, "God so loved the world! Imagine it, MacLeod! He incarnated, took flesh - thereby weakening the Godhead - because of love! Became Mortal, died for the love of such weak creatures as we are! Less than angels, we are! Yet God died for us!"
Was this really the Ice Prince, I wondered, astonished by Quentin's enthusiasm, almost more than by its cause. "Yes?"
Quentin shrugged and sank back into his chair, again blase and jaded, all the fire leaving his spirit. "Mind you, I'm not saying it's true, that it really happened. Or that Jesus of Nazareth really was God. Only - that the idea of it was revolutionary. And it made a shambles of our lives." He grinned. "And gave us joy and peace."
"By voicing what we'd learned over the centuries. That love alone has any worth. That love alone is the sole thing worth dying for, living for. The 'Prize,' if you will. That power, prestige, wealth, influence are nothing, that those visible - symbols of greatness - are without true value. Only goodness has value. Only love." Smiling, he added, "You can imagine how such a theory of the meaning of life insinuated itself into our long long lives. Especially, Methos' life."
"Why Methos more than the rest of you?"
"Mainly because he'd fought against the concept so hard for so long. And capitulated to the truth in secret, long before Christ was crucified. As time passed and the gospels spread - virtually wiping out every rival theory of meaning in the West - Methos was vindicated. And very happy."
"I don't understand."
"He could relax. And he did. Our Game lost its allure for him. Oh, it was still necessary, at times, to fight, of course, but the battle became secondary, a duty, a means to survive, not a reason to live. Life itself, living itself, became primary. How a man lived - how well he loved - became primary. Some of us who had long been revered as strong, were now seen to be Evil. Some of us who had long been considered weak, were now seen to be Good." Quentin raised his hand. "You see? Revolutionary!"
"And Erasmus Minor?"
"Was converted to Christianity. When the religious orders sprang up, he joined one or another, always keeping his secret - Immortality - from his brothers. He lived as a Benedictine monk for many centuries. Even after the Glass Bead Society was formed, he refused to lend his skills as a warrior to our Cause. When he was young - like you - he'd fought on our behalf. As he aged in years and wisdom, he thought only of Justice, became obsessed with it. Erasmus Minor remained a monk until the nineteenth century, when the Church's hold weakened and he finally recognized he could do more good out of robes than in them."
"But I thought Erasmus was a founding member of your Glass Bead Society."
"Yes, but as a non-combatant, like Darius. We valued Erasmus Minor's judgment and friendship. We did not insist that he fight. Methos was adamant about that. He'd say, 'Let the Boy be! He's done enough for us, over the years! Let the Boy be! He stands for Justice! That's enough!'"
"And now?" I asked.
"And now, Rasmussen is the only surviving Old Immortal who stands for Justice without compromise. And now, because Erasmus Minor is too Good to recognize Evil in this Mortal Female - ignorant fool that she is - he is in danger of losing his head! It's - unjust!" Quentin concluded with a small smile.
"You won't kill the woman because Ras wouldn't?"
"Exactly. 'Without compromise.' We must rescue him without compromise."
"What if it can't be done that way? What if you lose Rasmussen because you won't fight dirty?"
"Then he'd have died for something. Rather than been kept alive for nothing."
"I see why you don't want to get Methos involved in this," I said wryly.
"I thought you might," Quen agreed. "He's very practical, our Methos. Survival comes first with him. Particularly the survival of those he admires and loves. He'd kill the woman in a heartbeat, to protect Erasmus."
"You know, Quentin," I said thoughtfully, "Methos and I may not have a formal Teacher-Student relationship, but I'm as much Methos' pupil as anyone he's ever taken on. I'm not sure I don't agree with him about this. Survival comes first. It might not be noble but it's true."
"It's not true, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod! Methos doesn't live according to that dictum - 'survival comes first' - any longer, and you never have. But you're a lot younger than Methos and a great deal stronger in many ways. You won't waver, you'll keep to principle, though you might break down later. I want you to do this for us - save Erasmus for us. Without compromise. Is it too much to ask?"
I shook my head. "No, not too much. But you have to let me do it my way. And if, in the end, I'm forced to compromise, you mustn't interfere."
Quentin sighed. "Why is it that no one understands?"
"Oh, I understand, Quen, better than most. But Erasmus' life is more important than our integrity. Methos taught me that. It's a lesson I learned early on and one I've never forgotten. I'm surprised you disagree."
"When the going gets tough, I don't disagree! When the going gets tough, my survival instinct takes over, just as it would for Methos, or Lamartin, or any Old One! Which is why I came to you, damn you!"
"You got here too late, Quentin. Methos was here first. I can't unlearn what he's taught me. I don't want to."
"Very well," he said wearily. "Do what you must. Just save Erasmus Minor. And if you can save the woman's life as well, do it!"
"You've got a deal!"
I left my barge almost immediately after Quentin did, since Methos was due back shortly and I hoped I'd avoid seeing him when he returned. I didn't think I could keep my latest dangerous secret from him if we spoke so soon after my meeting with Quen.
Joe Dawson was setting up for the evening crowd in his bar when I arrived, but the place was still nearly empty. It wasn't dinner time yet and Joe's never got busy until seven or eight, anyway. I was surprised to sense Immortal aura as I approached the tavern but realized immediately it wasn't Methos. Turned out to be Richie, my good friend and former student. I hadn't seen him for quite some time - actually, not since he'd hared off with Quentin of York on a trip to Jerusalem about a year ago. I knew Quentin still kept in touch with Richie, but he'd never spoken about their friendship to me and I'd never asked.
"Mac - good to see you," Rich said warmly, putting out his hand and grasping mine in a firm handshake.
"Long time no see, Richie. How've you been?" I replied, smiling and clasping the younger man in a bear hug. I'd missed him. I slipped onto a bar stool and nodded my greeting to Joe.
"Good, Mac. Really good. Been in Israel the whole time since I left Paris. That's some place! Awesome! The history alone - it boggles the mind! And the women! Any one of them would make a great Immortal! Real Warriors, those women, big time!"
I grinned. "So - did you bring one back with you?"
"Nope. But I'm thinking about emigrating. They're big on refugees over there. Especially if you don't mind a little hard work and soldiering. I've got my eye on this one particular kibbutz where my skills might come in handy."
"Sounds great, Richie. Go for it."
Joe asked, "What brings you here, Mac? Haven't seen you in quite a while. Figured you and Methos were hibernating."
"Methos had business in London, been gone for a week. He's due back tonight. Before that - well, I guess you might say we were hibernating. But we were planning on coming by this weekend for sure."
"So, how come you didn't wait?" Joe inquired bluntly. He knew something was up. He'd been my Watcher for nearly half his life. I didn't have many secrets from him. Particularly, the non-verbal kind. He could read me like a book.
"I had a visit from Quentin of York this afternoon. He asked me to do him a favor. I'll need some help from you, Joe."
"Now what?" Dawson asked, less irritated than his tone indicated. I knew he enjoyed getting involved with Immortal problems, even if he did feel guilty about "bending" the Watcher Oath concerning non-interference.
"Before I explain, I've got to ask you both to keep this a secret from Methos. I'll tell you why later."
"Sure, Mac. Whatever works," Dawson said, and Richie nodded too.
"Good. Thanks." I took a deep breath and told them both the story Quentin had told me, carefully detailing the parameters of my "commission" regarding the Huntress who was after Rasmussen.
When I'd finished, Joe shook his head. "No way, MacLeod. Nadia Rosenthal is Edward Rasmussen's new Watcher. That part's true. She was assigned to him after his wife died and he moved to New York City. And for all I know, she might be his lover as well. But the rest of it - it's bullshit. I don't know what Quentin of York is really after, but I can tell you for a fact, Nadia Rosenthal is no Renegade Watcher, no Huntress. There's not a woman alive who loves Immortals more than Nadia does. I've known her for a whole lot of years. She was a good friend of Don Salzer's, too. For that matter, she was half in love with Methos - Adam - back when he was working with Salzer on the Methos' Chronicles. I'm sure she guessed what he really was, if not who he is. Nobody can make me believe Nadia's turned Renegade."
I frowned, both upset and angry with Quentin. "You're sure, Joe?"
"I'm sure," he replied grimly. "I don't know what game good old Quentin's playing, but he's targeted the wrong lady to pin this story on. Nadia Rosenthal's the best Watcher I know, and the most loyal. She'd take a bullet for an Immortal, if it would do any good. Quentin's story stinks."
"Then I better find out some more about what Rasmussen's been doing lately," I said thoughtfully, "to get Quentin's attention. Come to think of it, I bet the whole story's a lie, from beginning to end. It's less than two years since Ras lost his wife in that car accident. From what Methos has told me about him, he'll be in mourning for a long time. So it's really unlikely he's taken a lover."
"Mac," Richie asked, "you want me to get into this? Quen and I got pretty tight while we were in Jerusalem together. He trusts me. Not that I ever trusted him - who could trust a guy who's older than most civilizations!" I winced, thinking about Methos, and how completely I trusted him. "But I could visit Quen, sound him out, without him getting suspicious."
"Would you, Richie? I'd appreciate it. And try to find out what you can about Lamartin, too. According to Quentin, Rasmussen was Lamartin's pupil at one time. Supposedly, that's Quen's real interest in this - protecting one of Lamartin's students from a Renegade Watcher. If you could get up to the chateau, spend a little time there, maybe something would come to light."
"Can do, Mac. I'll just arrive - won't even put in a call. After all, we know Quentin's there. He's always there. But I think Lamartin's gone. He acted real funny about me and Quen. Jealous. As if he thought Quentin and I had a thing going. You know - a thing." Richie blushed.
"I know, Rich," I replied with a smile. "A thing."
"Yeah, well, we didn't. We were just friends. If you can call it that. We just hung out for a couple months. Quen showed me around the city - Jerusalem. On foot. We talked a lot. He's pretty smart. Got lots of stories to tell. But there was never anything more."
"I know." I glanced at Joe, who'd busied himself behind the counter, trying to keep a straight face while Richie babbled away, explaining how he and Quentin hadn't been lovers. As if anybody who knew Richie would think they had.
"Well, I guess I'll hit the road. It's a pretty long trip by motorcycle from here to Quentin's place in Switzerland. I'll call you when I find out anything, Mac. You'll be on the barge?"
"You can reach me there or just call Joe if you can't get through to me. But remember not to talk about this with Methos. At least, for now."
"I won't forget."
After Richie left Joe said, "You think that was wise, Mac? Richie's no match for Quentin of York in the smarts department. Don't you think the Old Man will realize you sent him?"
"Rich'll be okay, he's smart enough to play dumb. Quen won't figure he's in on this. Or if he does, he won't see Richie as a threat."
"I hope you're right. Because Quentin of York is dangerous, no matter how young and fragile he looks."
"Don't worry, Joe, Rich'll be all right. He can take care of himself."
After a moment Joe remarked, "You're gonna end up dragging Methos into this, too, MacLeod. You know that."
I nodded. "Probably, I will. Especially now that I'm almost positive Quentin's whole story was some kind of set-up. He made such a point about keeping Methos out of the loop, I'm worried that the set-up might really be for Methos."
"Wouldn't put it past him, Mac," Joe said seriously.
"Neither would I. Although it seems pretty strange. Quen's always been so protective of Methos."
"Between the two of them, the way their minds work, nothing they did would surprise me," Joe retorted. "Games within games."
"But I don't see Quentin using Erasmus Minor this way. Me, maybe. He doesn't like me. But he respects Rasmussen. And so does Methos. The whole thing is very odd."
"Odd's the name of the game, with the real Old Ones, Mac. You know that. They don't look at things the way we do."
"I dunno. Lamartin's all right, from what I've seen of him. He doesn't seem very - convoluted. But you're right about Quentin and Methos. They're on a different wavelength from the rest of us. And they bring out the worst in each other."
"If by that you mean they bring out the devious in each other, you're right on the money," Joe said.
"Sometimes I think it's just a macho thing with Methos - he's gotta do something 'manly,' once in a while, because of his past, the kind of person he used to be, the way the world was back then, to prove himself. To 'feel' right. But he can't do the things he used to do, to prove himself. He can't rampage and rape and make war now. So instead, he proves his power to himself by being more devious than any ten ordinary men."
"That's probably it," Joe replied. "And I guess the same is true for Quentin. It's like they're playing chess. They're both Grand Masters who don't have any other peers to play against. The games must get pretty hairy, when they get down to it."
"Methos must be pretty bored, if he's playing games with Quentin nowadays," I mused aloud, feeling hurt and insulted and angry at the realization. I was pretty much Methos' only companion lately. If he was bored, it had to be because he found me boring.
"I don't think that's it, Mac. Quentin started this, not Methos. And I don't think it's boredom, if Methos falls in with the game, when he learns about it. It's a power thing. At least, in his case."
"What do you mean?"
Joe was quiet for a minute, staring at his glass. Then he told me, "Methos has been subordinating his power to yours for what - four, maybe five years, now? Maybe he just needs to flex his muscles."
I retorted hotly, "Methos was playing mild-mannered Watcher Adam Pierson for years before he met me!"
"With strangers. But now it's personal. Up close and personal. You know who he really is but even so, he's still playing second banana to you. It's gotta stick in his craw sometimes, MacLeod."
I nodded thoughtfully. "Maybe so. But this is all speculation. Methos doesn't even know about any of this. Quentin's bullshit story to me. Whatever Quen's got up his sleeve for Rasmussen. His challenge - that's what it amounts to, Joe, a challenge - to Ras' Watcher, Nadia Rosenthal."
"That's right. And if Methos doesn't know -"
Joe left his sentence dangling so I finished it. "If Methos doesn't know, he should." I grinned. I had a perfect reason now, to bring Methos into the loop. I couldn't have been happier. I needed his help and I wanted his companionship in this. I'd be going to New York City very soon, to check out Erasmus and his Watcher. I certainly didn't like the idea of leaving Methos behind.
"Mac, Quen must have known that Joe would refute his story about Nadia. Or that I would. At the very least, the moment you met her yourself, you'd realize Nadia Rosenthal isn't a Renegade anything! She's also not the sort of Watcher who sleeps with her Immortal."
"That's not carved in stone, Methos. Anyone can fall in love."
"Not Nadia. Not with Erasmus Minor. Nor he with her. His wife just died. Believe me, MacLeod, he's gonna be a long time finding somebody new. He won't be looking, either. Maybe ten years down the road he'll trip over a woman and she'll capture his attention. But not now."
"So the entire story is a lie? Is that what you're saying? I can't believe it! If you'd been there, Methos, you'd have believed Quentin. Not only was he sincere -"
"Not only was he sincere, but he fleshed out his original tale and his request to you with so much convincing detail, with such fascinating historical material, that you'd need to be a mind-reader - or a very old friend - to doubt him for a moment. Am I right, Mac?"
"Yes. The things he spoke about - religion, philosophy, love, justice - so openly, with such feeling! I think it was all true - everything he said - that he really thinks and feels that way. It was all true, except -"
"Except for the plot?" Methos asked with a grin.
"I guess that's as good a way to put it as any."
"Well, that's my Quentin." Methos shifted off the couch and walked to the fridge. He took himself a beer and offered me one. "It's a test, Mac."
"A test?" I asked, bewildered. "For who?"
"Dunno. Probably, you. Maybe, me. Less likely, Ras."
"I can understand Quentin testing me - he never did trust me. But you? He's known you for more than two thousand years! He was your student. Why on earth would he test you?"
"Good question. Perhaps because of you. I've forfeited his respect by involving myself with you. Even before you and I became lovers, I put my money on you and Quen thought I'd lost my mind. Now -" Methos shrugged. "Now, he's certain of it."
"If he's sure you've lost your mind, then what's he testing you for?"
"To find out if I'll still come when I'm called. To see if I've still got the stuff, in a clinch. To make me choose. Something like that."
"Choose between me and him?"
"Quentin's a control freak, Mac. He can only love when he's in charge. That's why Lamartin suited him so well. Lamartin likes to yield and Quen likes to subjugate. They were a happy pair, until lately. Now Quen's alone. He's got lots of time to think, reminisce, wonder."
"Whether what he believes about Lamartin is true about everyone."
"I don't get it."
"He believes Lamartin doesn't love him any more. He wants to find out whether I still love him. He's calling in his markers. Quite the masochist, our Quen. He knows I'm not about to throw you over for him but he's testing, anyway."
"Quentin's your oldest friend. If he needs you -"
"Don't go there, MacLeod," Methos interrupted with a dangerous edge to his voice. "I'm not Quentin of York's nursemaid. If he's lonely, let him do what the rest of us do - find someone new. We can't go back in time. Quentin should know that. If he doesn't, he'll find out. I don't belong to him now. We're finished. There are no markers to call in."
"No markers, maybe. But there's love. You can't abandon him, Methos -"
"You're wrong. I can, I have, and I will again. He belongs with Lamartin. Let him look for love there. He can't have me."
"If you want to go to him, Methos, I'll understand. Share -"
"He's your student, Methos. You owe him a debt that doesn't go away with time."
"I owe him nothing. I owe you everything. But that's not the question. I don't love him as he wishes to be loved. I never did. He was my student. I can't be what he wants me to be, to him. I never could."
"Never. I was with Lamartin for two hundred years, Mac. Then I gave Lamartin to Quentin. Or maybe I gave Quentin to Lamartin. However you look at it, I was never 'with' Quentin. That's all they wrote."
I was quiet for a while. Finally, I asked, "But you'll play?"
"Yes, oh yes! If Quentin's threatening Erasmus and Nadia to get my attention, I'll play," Methos replied grimly.
"Then you'll win," I said confidently.
"I'd better win. Because if I lose, so will you, and that's unthinkable. It must not happen."
Methos' words filled me with terror. From the way he spoke, I realized for the first time that he considered Quentin a formidable opponent. So there was real danger in this challenge Quentin had thrown down. Danger to all of us, not just to me or Rasmussen. To Methos as well.
If Methos lost, I'd lose him. Permanently. Which was unthinkable. So I knew I'd be playing too. Harder than I'd ever played the Game we Immortals are forced to join. I loved Methos, so any threat to him was a threat to me. I'd be playing for Methos' sake. Quentin would lose all he had, this time, because I'd be playing with everything I had.
Suddenly, I hated Quentin of York with all my heart. The Ice Prince had made an enemy he'd always underestimated. Me. This time, Quentin would lose everything, including his head. I could already envision the cold power of his ancient Quickening entering my spirit, and I shuddered at the vision.
QUENTIN'S VOICE - SWITZERLAND - ALTERNATIVE PRESENT
I returned to the chateau as quickly as possible after leaving MacLeod. Despite Lamartin's absence, the old place was still home to me. Our servants greeted me with joy and relief that I'd survived my rare journey into the world and my bath was readied quickly, dinner served with dispatch, and my favorite late night drink awaited me on the end table near my armchair in front of the fire, whenever I wanted to drink it. There'd been no attempt by our butler to leave off the practice of setting up a drink for Lamartin next to his chair, as well, and I smiled when I realized how Bradley must agonize over the decision to place a glass there, each time he did so. Good, gave the man something to think about! Obviously, my habits were so familiar to Bradley that his service to me must be unspeakably boring by now. A bit of dither over so simple an action as this would do the man good!
In my mind I sequenced MacLeod's steps after I'd left him, trying hard to faithfully put myself in the Highlander's place.
First, he'd get in touch with Joe Dawson. Currently, my new friend, the young Immortal Richard Ryan, happened to be with the Watcher. So no doubt MacLeod would ask for Richie's assistance, too. Richie would come here, to me, to sound me out, and that would put the Boy well out of danger, which was excellent.
Next, Methos would return from his business trip to London, and Mac would tell his lover what had transpired. Methos would tell Mac that I'd lied about Nadia Rosenthal, confirming what Joe Dawson most likely had already told him. And Mac would conclude and believe that I was setting up Methos, for some reason. This would make the Highlander angry enough to kill me - or anyone who threatened Methos.
How little any of them understand me! I thought, smiling sadly at the truth. Not even Methos would dream of the reason I'd set this scenario in motion. He was too straightforward! They all believed Methos was terribly devious, of course, but compared to me he was open and innocent - as much so as Darius himself, in his day! Or as Rasmussen is, even now.
I pressed my hand to my heart, unconsciously trying to ease the pain there, then quickly took a sip of my brandy when I realized what I'd done.
Lamartin! Lamartin! How could you do this to me? Two thousand years, we were together! How could you believe I'd betray you with a Green Boy like Richie Ryan? How could you think I'd need anyone else? Want anyone else? How could you leave me, Lamartin?
Fruitless thoughts, when I knew the answer to my question.
Passion. Lamartin could never know what it was like to be without Passion, because Passion was the essential element in his nature. So he'd never understand me. Which didn't make me care less for him. Only made me need to work harder to keep him in line.
This time, I'd failed. For the first time - and the last time, I devoutly prayed - in two thousand years, I'd failed to keep Lamartin in line. Failed to dispel his misconceived ideas about me with gentle coddling.
Two years ago I'd done Methos a favor, to save Ryan's life, for MacLeod's sake. I'd abandoned Lamartin, for a short time, at Methos' request. And this was my reward! I'd lost my own lover, Lamartin!
Therefore, Methos and MacLeod must play a part in the task of getting Lamartin to return to me. However dangerous that might be for either of them.
I refused to consider the danger to Lamartin himself. He'd never been the warrior Erasmus was, never came close to being the kind of killer Methos had been. And Lamartin's swordsmanship didn't hold a candle to the skill of Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod.
But I could handle each and every one of them, if I must. And Methos would never harm Lamartin or Rasmussen. That left only MacLeod. Who was expendable. Whom I believed was expendable, if it came to that, though Methos disagreed.
I refused to imagine a moment when Methos would actually choose MacLeod over Lamartin. That was not possible.
On my certainty of that, all my plans were predicated. That Methos would not harm Lamartin, for any reason.
If I was wrong, I'd lose everything. If that happened - if Methos killed Lamartin or permitted Duncan to do so - I'd challenge Duncan MacLeod, then let him take my head, and be done with it all. With Lamartin gone, there'd be no reason left to live.
QUENTIN'S VOICE - ROME - CIRCA 200 B.C.
"Who are you?" I asked imperiously, glancing up at the stranger from the divan on which I reclined lazily while I waited for my next customer. The strength of the visitor's Immortal aura was incredible. I hadn't sensed the like in all my centuries. This man must be truly Old, I considered, though not older than I was, of course.
"My name is Methos Valerius. Who are you? What the hell are you doing in here?" the thin, hawk-faced Immortal demanded, raising his lantern high so he could look at me more closely. "Gods, you're a child!"
"I am Quintus Juvan," I replied curtly, "and I most certainly am not a child!" I stood, then, draping my spotless gold-trimmed white robe around me, and focused the full force of my Presence on the man who called himself Methos. Which meant, to our kind, the Oldest Immortal living. Which he was not. I continued to glare at him until he understood.
"Forgive me," Methos said in a whisper, lowering his lantern so my room sank back into shadows more appropriate for its purpose, while Methos sank into a cushioned chair. "Of course you're not a child. But what are you doing here? An Immortal in a brothel! Are you a slave?"
"Of course not!"
"Why, then, are you here? Doing this? It's - shameful, demeaning!"
"No, it is not. This is my place, my business. Venturius merely manages it on my behalf." Methos raised his eyebrows and I explained to him what ought to have been obvious. "Because I look as I do. Young. Venturius knows the truth about me. That I do not age. He believes I'm a god seeking experience of mortal life."
"But - a brothel? Why would you choose to sell yourself, if this is your own establishment?"
"Why would you choose to frequent this establishment, if it is so shameful?" I retorted with contempt, losing patience.
Methos inclined his head. "I take your point, but you have left my question unanswered."
I shrugged, walking over to a low table ladened with food and selecting a grape from the abundance. I brought the morsel to my new customer and held it near his mouth. Without thinking, he took the grape from my fingers and ate it. "You wouldn't understand," I replied, carefully masking my intrusion into his mind. My skills at mind-reading and mesmerizing were among my secret weapons in our Game. Wouldn't do to let this fellow know of them.
"Try me," Methos said bluntly, relaxing into an inviting sprawl, looking for all the world as if he were prepared to wait for my explanation forever, if need be.
I was disconcerted. Although I'd lived for thousands of years - more than four thousand, thus far, by my best recollection - I'd never before been required to explain myself to a customer. They'd been too happy to use my fine beautiful body, to gaze at my extraordinarily beautiful face, to care to hear anything I might have to say.
"Well?" my visitor drawled, "I'm waiting."
"Because I like it," I responded, wanting to put an end to this Old One's inquisition and finish things with him. A bit of effort on my part and he'd forget all his questions, I was sure.
"You like it? Hmm, you like it. Let me think about that for a moment," he said, deftly grabbing the hand I'd extended towards his groin and pulling me down next to his chair, onto the floor. I landed with a thud, angered in the extreme. I didn't say anything, though, since clearly this Methos Valerius was trouble. I didn't want trouble. I wanted him gone. If he preferred talk to sex, that was fine. As long as he was satisfied and left - sooner rather than later - that was fine with me.
Methos continued talking, as if to himself, musing over my response to his question, interspersing his remarks with an occasional nod. "You like it. I quite understand. You enjoy the company of strange men of indeterminate tastes and appearance - skinny, fat, old, young, handsome, ugly, kind, cruel. You enjoy letting them paw you, penetrate you, possess you, brutalize you. In effect, make short work of you. And you like fondling them, sucking them off, as well. Hmm. That's what you mean, isn't it, Quintus Juvan?"
"For money," I added, my voice low and angry, my eyes trained straight in front of me, bright with fury, I was sure.
"Yes, of course. For money."
"That's right. And if you've finished your inquiries, 'Inspector' Methos Valerius, perhaps I can do what I like to do, for you. For money."
"How much will it take?" he asked.
"What!" I exclaimed, startled. It went without saying that my price was agreed upon with Venturius and paid into his hands before anyone entered my chambers.
Bluntly, Methos repeated, "How much will it take? To buy you out?"
I frowned, alarmed. This wasn't the first man who'd challenged my right to earn my living any way I wished. Nor was he the first Immortal who thought I was easy prey and tried to steal my business from me. If necessary, I'd take his head before I'd allow that to happen. He wouldn't be the first man I'd killed to protect my situation, by any means, nor would he be the last.
I told him, "I'm not selling. This is my home. I've owned this particular brothel for a hundred and thirty years. It's the best male whorehouse in Rome. I've no intention of selling, to you or anyone else!" I tried to stand but Methos Valerius' firm palm on my shoulder held me in place on the floor. I grimaced but didn't move to resist. I bided my time. I could wait.
"You will sell. And soon," Methos told me confidently. Then he released his grip on my shoulder and stood. In a pleasant tone and a completely altered mood he asked, "But for now - an hour of your time, Quintus? A walk? Through the city? I've been away from Rome for a long time. Show me the city, as it's become. What say ye?"
I sagged with relief. Whatever his interest in my business, he'd stopped turning the spotlight of his intellect and reasoning on me, for the moment. I'd be happy to spend an hour in the daylight, in the sun, seeing the sights, with Methos Valerius. Anything was preferrable to an hour under his relentless scrutiny. I'd never met an Immortal I couldn't handle, if I put my mind to it. I didn't understand this one - yet - but a bit of time with him and I'd have his measure, no question.
Quickly matching his changed mood, I replied graciously, "Give me a moment to dress and I'll be happy to show you the city, Methos Valerius! Rome changes every day. New homes are built, new shops and taverns, new bridges and roadways. If you stay with me, you won't get lost!"
Methos smiled as he watched me strip in a moment so I could change into clothing more suitable for a walk. I donned a loose-fitting purple toga which I clasped at the shoulder with a silver buckle set with sapphires. I knelt to fasten on a pair of sturdy sandals to complete my outfit and Methos asked quietly, "Where do you carry your sword in that attire, Quintus?" I wore no scabbard or belt.
"My sword?" I asked, turning to my dressing table. I sought among my bowls and flasks of scent for a lemon perfume I liked to wear, then busied myself with powder and carmine rouge to set off my very fair skin. I rarely left the brothel in daylight so my skin was unmarred by the sun. Most of my customers liked that. Actually, I'd noticed that Methos' skin was as light as mine, though his hair was dark. I found the contrast quite attractive. I hoped I wouldn't be forced to kill him. He seemed clever and might make an amusing regular, if only he'd leave off questioning me.
Only he didn't leave off. "Yes," Methos replied impatiently. "Your sword."
"I never use one. Never have the need. Physical fighting is for those whose intellects are too weak to avoid it, or those who are unfit to survive by other means." I accompanied my cold reply with a swift brush of my hair with a special imported implement I'd received as a gift from one of my regular customers.
Incredulous, Methos asked, "You do not own a sword?"
I contradicted, "I own a sword. I am a reasonably proficient fighter, by Mortal standards, at least. I simply don't carry my sword, nor do I fight. I'd rather make love than war," I added flippantly.
Methos' silence continued for so long that I turned from my toilette to see whether he'd left the room, although of course I still sensed his aura. "What's wrong?" I asked, when I saw the look of dismay on his face. "Have I shocked you?"
"How long's it been since you last faced anyone?" he inquired.
"Oh, perhaps four hundred years," I told him carelessly.
"You haven't taken a Quickening in four hundred years?"
"I need no Quickening to reach ecstasy, Methos. I prefer to avoid them. They're not always pleasant or stimulating, you know."
"That's right, they're not."
Encouraged by his quick agreement I added, "I find Quickenings - distasteful. Therefore, I avoid the activity which leads to them." I don't know why I told him the truth. There was something about Methos Valerius that made it impossible for me to keep up my walls. It was as though he refused to acknowledge the walls, and that his refusal alone made them disappear.
When he didn't respond, I added another thought, but why I did so, I do not know. I hoped to reassure him, perhaps. "I'm still quite good. I practice, occasionally, with a friend - a centurion. He's highly skilled at his trade, yet I do very well. You mustn't worry about me." Why I thought this stranger might be worrying about me, I can't say. But something told me Methos worried a lot. More than he ought. I found his concern even more attractive than his coloring. Yes, he'd make a fine regular, when I'd trained him in the way he should go.
"Come," he said at last. "Show me the city. Later, if you're willing, perhaps we can spar together. I might learn something new from you, Quintus, as you must be learning new moves from your centurion friend all the time. Soldiers are exposed to so many different styles and techniques." He grinned, and I grinned in return, somehow feeling younger than I'd felt in a long while, in his company. How entrancing, I thought.
"You might at that, Methos Valerius! You might at that!"
Less than a fortnight later I'd sold my brothel for a pittance to a servant - my manager, Venturius - and left Rome along with Methos Valerius, whom I'd accepted as my Teacher, although he was younger than me. He'd stunned me with his swordsmanship, frightened me over and over again as we'd sparred and he'd knocked my weapon from my hands, bringing his own sword to my throat time after time. At last I'd acknowledged the truth. I was no longer fit for the Game. Almost anyone could take my head, should I be unlucky enough to come across an Immortal who would not be put off by my wiles or my considerable wares. I needed help and Methos Valerius was willing to give it.
Only at night as I lay next to him in chaste sleeplessness while he snored, did I admit the truth. He'd charmed me away from my life and into his. 'Saved' me from my life of debauchery. I now admitted to myself that I'd spent centuries of my life in debauchery, plain and simple, without realizing what I'd been doing while it was going on.
Methos' sensuality infused his every movement but didn't extend outward, to me. I was his student, that was all. He'd cut his heart from his body without a thought and without any difficulty, apparently not recognizing my desire for him. He loved me but didn't, wouldn't touch me, because I was his student. This was a rule I'd never been taught by any previous Teacher but one he believed in and held to, implicitly.
His sensuality was a torment to me, a contrast to my blatant, humorless, practical and cold sexuality. I couldn't remember the last time I'd wanted anyone as I wanted Methos. Passionately. But millennia of experience taught me the truth - that I'd never possess his body - that I need not bother to try. I contented myself with possession of his heart and soul and every moment of his time. Strangely enough, and despite my remarkable, passionate wish for more, that sufficed.
Telling snatches of our memories to one another as we travelled, it became clear that neither of us had ever been "children" as that term was understood among the peoples with whom we shared this particular stretch of time. I'd been taken young, of course, killed during a bloody battle which obliterated my tribe and my immediate family, such as it was. I'd been a youth of seventeen summers, a new warrior. When I'd awakened to my Immortality and the dust settled, I'd searched among the bodies for my kin and found no one left alive. No one but myself.
Methos' story was quite similar, except that he'd survived Pre-Immortality longer, achieving First Death after perhaps thirty summers. But he wasn't certain of that. There was much he'd forgotten about his past, but we knew we were more like one another than we resembled anybody who'd grown up in these present days.
We'd never been children but we acted like children now, both of us, roaming on foot together across the countryside, snaring small animals, or fishing for our food, bringing into play the nearly forgotten skills we'd learned as boys millennia ago.
We turned our mouths blue and red with handfuls of wild berries we grabbed up as we wandered through the tall grass, happy and alone and free. It was a simple life, a boy's life, that we shared. But to me it tasted like a god's life. I'd never before experienced such freedom. My heart swelled to bursting with joy as we grew closer to each other and younger than we'd ever before been, while the years sped by and we abandoned all our city ways to survive in nature as we'd been taught to do. It was a revelation to me. I'm not sure what it all meant to Methos Valerius but I know he relished his time with me.
And he'd discovered a fine way to tease me. He'd invented a kind of food fight which he was very good at but which made me feel silly, foolish, and which I never won. Whenever I seemed to him to be longing for city life - he was wrong about that, I didn't wish to go back - he'd chase me through a meadow or along the seashore. As we ran he'd pelt me with berries, grain, pebbles or twigs, or toss sand and seashells at me - whatever came to hand - until I'd collapse in a helpless heap, giggling as I'd never done in all my long life. Then he'd throw himself on the ground beside me, ruffle my hair and say, "You don't really want to go back, Quintus, not yet! Give it a few decades! Then, we'll see!"
I'd nod and roll over and tickle him - he was very susceptible to tickling - until we were both exhausted with laughter and wrestling and general joy.
I was happier than I recall ever being, while the seasons passed us by and we didn't change or grow older. In fact, we grew younger every day, younger and younger, until my heart had shed every sliver of ice I'd accumulated around it over the millennia, and I was a Boy again. And Methos was a man. Not an Old One. Not the Oldest Immortal - which he'd never been, anyway. Just a man.
Perhaps it was in deference to my celibacy that Methos stayed celibate, too, while we were together. It wasn't particularly difficult for me. Were it not for my specific desire for Methos, I'd never have noticed any deprivation. In truth, I'd spent centuries using, abusing, giving and withholding my body. Therefore, it didn't take much effort for me to control my occasional urges, and it was what I wished to do, since I knew Methos didn't want to fornicate with a student.
But Methos was another kind of man. He was a lover by nature. Whatever else he'd been - warrior, philosopher - his first calling was as a lover.
When I'd got to know him as well as anyone could know Methos Valerius, I wondered how long he'd hold out - for my sake - away from civilization. Away from the influx of knowledge and love which was as necessary to him as breathing.
He held out for five decades. Fifty years.
Didn't even blink an eye.
He kept us away from the cities where the kinds of philosophers and lovers that could make him happy resided. For fifty years. For my sake. So I wouldn't be tempted to go back to my old life.
I knew he finally believed I was cured of my taste for whoredom and wealth when he told me one evening as we were eating our last meal before retiring for the night, "I'm thinking of heading west in the morning, Quintus. Care to join me?"
I stared at him with no little surprise, immediately leaping to the next step. "To Gaul? To the cities?"
"To a highly populated seaport, Quin, yes. A friend of mine lives there. His name is Lucius Antonius. We call him Antony. Everyone does."
"Antony. Well, of course. Wherever you wish to go, Methos, I will follow. I would like to meet your friend Antony. I take it he is an Immortal, as we are?"
"Yes. Perhaps as old as you, Quintus. But of course, he looks older, around five and twenty summers. You'll like him, I think. He has a big heart." A strange expression came over Methos' face. He added, "I - care for him a great deal."
I frowned. "You wish to leave me, Methos? To return to your lover? I do not need to follow you. I have resources. Places to go. I can return to Rome -"
"No! No! It's not that, Quin, not at all. I just wanted you to understand. Antony and I were very close, before I knew you. His is -" he took a breath, "a devastating presence. Irresistible."
"Are you afraid he will break my heart, Methos? That is unlikely. If your 'distance' has not accomplished that feat, no one's 'presence' could! Don't you know, haven't you guessed, in all these years? I have no heart!" I grinned mischievously and went back to eating roasted pigeon, sucking the grease from my fingers as if I'd never learned my manners in the big cities.
"I am not afraid Antony will break your heart, Quintus," Methos replied quietly as he warmed his hands at the fire, then tossed twigs into the flames. I watched the sparks rise from the burning and quickly extinguish in the night air, like bright flickering stars against the dark sky. And I waited to hear what more Methos would say. His words shocked me. "I fear that you will break his."
In that instant I realized what Methos planned to do, and my heart sank into my belly. He would give me to Antony! Methos would leave me behind, with Antony! His work was completed, in his judgment. He'd taught me all he could. When next we met - in some unimaginable future time - we would no longer be teacher and pupil. No longer be children together. We would be men. Equals. And a kind of strangers.
And I would be with Lucius Antonius for the rest of my days.
After a moment I looked up at Methos. Tossing the piece of pigeon flesh I'd been chewing into the flames, I wiped my fingers on the grass and stretched out a hand to him. Quickly, he clasped it and waited for my words.
"So be it. I will tend Antony's heart as I tend our fire. As if it were your heart, Methos. For as long as I live. You have my promise."
Methos nodded. "Then I have all I need. As does Antony. Thank you, Quintus. I am forever in your debt."
"Remember, then, Methos. That you are forever in my debt."
"I will remember."
When we met up with Lucius Antonius in a large seaport city in Gaul, the man was everything Methos had led me to expect and more, because Methos didn't fully understand his old friend. I wasn't certain, but I imagined Methos' blindness about Antony was due more to his lack of objectivity where Antony was concerned than to any inferiority in Methos' mind or spirit.
First of all - and overshadowing nearly everything else - Antony was beautiful. Tall, muscular, dark of hair and complexion, with deep brown eyes, soulful eyes, eyes that trusted. Such things struck me first, me being who I was. But they soon sank to insignificance, when compared to other factors about Antony, which made him a compelling subject to me. Formidable. A 'devastating presence,' as Methos had described him.
Brilliant but emotionally mercurial, Antony hid his passionate spirit well, behind a facade of philosophical and political cynicism. But deep within, I was soon to learn, he was all heart, buffeted by disappointment with men and movements he'd trusted over the centuries. Yet clearly he was unable to distance himself from the world of Mortals, neither from their governments, their intellectual and religious movements, their political foolishness, nor their suffering, no matter how often he was disappointed or betrayed.
Antony had fought on the side of every liberation movement that came within his ken. Died countless deaths in hopeless forays to free slaves whose treatment by their masters was so brutal that it came to his attention, even in these most vicious times.
I couldn't understand this so I concluded that he couldn't help himself.
But Methos pointed out another possibility to me. He suggested that perhaps Antony did not wish to distance himself from such things. I was amazed, intrigued - indeed, captivated - by the notion! That someone would choose to endure such a hard life - it was unfathomable! I'd never met a man so different from myself.
There was more. There were the Mortal lovers!
As vulnerable to love as Methos was, he, at least, had some control, some sense of self-preservation! Some small portion of the instinct to protect himself, his heart! A tattered shred of common sense!
Not so, Lucius Antonius! Oh no!
Antony was a glutton for love. Male, female, young, old, Mortal, Immortal - such considerations were of no importance to him. He trusted everyone he met. Believed every tragic tale, spent his substance and his spirit on every person, honest or thief, who came his way!
It was both frightening and exhilarating, to me. I'd never known so strong a person, to rebound from so much pain, without attempting to guard his heart in the future. He positively thrived on the sort of thing that would destroy a weaker man.
How long had Methos known Antony? For how long had Methos done for Antony what he'd done for me - extended his protection and service to Antony, loved the older man - before moving on? I never found out.
All I knew was that Methos had decided to return to his friend one last time, for the purpose of entrusting the Old Immortal - heart and soul - to my care. It was a source of wonder to me that Methos believed Antony needed care. But he did believe it.
Perhaps Methos didn't think of this arrangement, this shifting of the "burden," as the price he'd put on his tutelage, and all his gifts to me, over the years. But I thought of it in that way, for a long time. As the price I paid for Methos' revolutionary intervention in my life. The price I paid Methos for saving my life. Actually, giving me back a life.
It was two hundred years before I realized I'd fallen in love with Lucius Antonius. Another two hundred, before I told him that I loved him, and we began to live as lovers. Four hundred years into the Christian era - into the great upheaval that was Christ's impact on our world - Antony and I swore allegiance to one another, no longer simply as friends, but as lovers.
QUENTIN'S VOICE - SWITZERLAND - ALTERNATIVE PRESENT
And now it had been two short years since Lucius Antonius - now called Lamartin of Bordeaux - left me. According to him, out of jealousy. I believed it was out of boredom.
I couldn't bear another moment without him. Old as I was, I didn't wish to survive another moment without him.
So I'd devised this plan to bring Lamartin back to me.
How could Methos fail to understand?
No matter. He'd find out, soon enough, that I was after nobody's head. Just Lamartin's body, his face, near mine, where I can see him. His passionate spirit, close to mine, where I can feel it, burn in the flames. Forever.
Much time has passed since Methos and I were companions. Two thousand years. And Methos has forgotten his debt to me. Believes he's long since repaid anything he might owe me. I'm certain he thinks I am in his debt. Indeed, what he did for me, before the Christian era, more than two thousand years ago, was beyond price. I've never tried to put a value on it. I am ever in his debt.
But Methos owes me, as well.
I am calling in my marker. If I must, I'll remind Methos what he owes.
DUNCAN'S VOICE - NEW YORK CITY - ALTERNATIVE PRESENT
Methos and I flew into JFK Airport in New York City a few days after Quentin of York visited me. We wasted no time at all when we got there. I rented a car and drove us into Manhattan immediately, then parked in a garage near Rasmussen's apartment. We were knocking on his door within an hour of disembarking.
Nadia Rosenthal, Edward Rasmussen's Watcher, opened the door. She was a tall, physically imposing, dark-haired woman in her late twenties. She was not especially attractive but she had an intelligent, pleasant expression and she carried herself well. I thought she might have some skill with a sword. Possibly, she'd trained in one or another of the martial arts, as well.
Nadia took one look at Methos and squealed, "Adam! Good God! What on earth are you doing here?" She smiled happily and grabbed Methos' hand, pulling him into the flat and gesturing for me to come in too.
"Happened to be in the neighborhood, Rosie, so I thought I'd drop by," Methos replied. He snagged my arm and pulled me along into the living room. "I've got a surprise for you - a gift, old girl."
Catching on immediately, Nadia pronounced with a grin, "Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod! Did you think I wouldn't recognize Joe's guy, Adam?"
"I'm happy to meet you, Mr. MacLeod."
"Duncan, then. Please, take off your coat - you, too, Adam - sit down. Let me get you a drink. Edward isn't home yet. I expect him about seven. He had a dinner engagement."
"That's fine, Rosie." With practiced ease Methos quickly slipped back in time, and into his Adam Pierson persona, using his old nickname for the woman. 'Rosie' was short for Rosenthal, I imagined. "That leaves plenty of time for us to take you out to dinner."
"Nonsense. I've got all we need right here. Nothing fancy, mind you, but good enough for the likes of you, Adam Pierson!"
"Ah, but is it good enough for my friend?" Methos retorted with a smile, sprawling on the couch for all the world as if he were at home.
"Methos, please!" I said, finally finding my tongue. "Anything is fine, Ms. Rosenthal. I'm not a fussy eater."
"Nadia, then. I'm not fussy, but I am hungry. If you show me where the kitchen is, I'll cook."
"Mac," Methos said in a warning tone.
"Right. Shouldn't waste time." I sat down in an easy chair and Nadia did the same. I asked, "Has anything - unusual - been happening with Rasmussen lately?"
Nadia frowned. "No. Nothing. If it had, I'd have put it in my reports and your friend Joe would have told you about it."
"No visits from - unusual - Immortals?" I pressed.
"No. Nothing. I told you," she added in an exasperated tone, "I'd have reported anything out of the ordinary." Leaning back in her chair, she said, "Edward lives very quietly. He's still in mourning for Magda - his wife. His former Watcher, Jessie - you met her, didn't you, Adam?"
"Yes. Lovely lady."
"Well, Jessie was afraid to come here with him, when he left Stockholm after his wife died. Afraid he'd go back to his warrior ways. I was a little concerned, myself. But I took the assignment anyway, on spec. After all, they could always reassign some jumped-up male Watcher to Edward, if things got out of hand."
Methos interjected, "That idea was ridiculous from its inception, Nadia. Anybody who knows Erasmus' history should see that."
"See what?" I asked, in the dark, as usual, when Methos talked about his old Immortal friends.
Impatiently, Methos told me, "Erasmus Minor was a warrior, yes! Nearly two thousand years ago! Then he was a monk for close to fifteen hundred years! He only left the Benedictines in the nineteenth century. I was knocked for a loop when I heard he'd married. Chances were slim to nil that he'd go on some kind of rampage, even if he was grieving for his wife. He'd been away from that life too long."
"That's easy for you to say, Adam," Nadia exclaimed. "You don't need to trail after the man. If he'd gone back to his old ways, a different sort of Watcher would be required, and you know it!"
"Where's your spirit, Rosie? What ever happened to equal rights for women? In the old days you'd have busted my nose if I'd suggested you weren't up for Watching any Immortal in the world!"
"That was in the old days, Adam Pierson! You may not age, but I do! I'm not about to start 'disappearing' headless bodies for some Wild Thing! Nor do I relish the idea of living out of a suitcase while a Warrior Prince hunts heads! I never claimed to be a field agent, never wanted to be. Research suits me down to the ground."
I asked, "So why'd you take this assignment?"
"Because Erasmus Minor's twenty-five hundred years old, is why! I knew that if I could befriend him I'd hear stories - ah," her smile lit up the room, "such stories! Beyond price!"
"And did you befriend Ras, Rosie?" Methos asked quietly.
With a startled look, Nadia responded, "What do you mean?"
"What I asked."
"I'm an old lady, Adam," she said, her voice faltering, and I wondered whether she really believed that - whether being around Immortals made her feel older than her years, rather than younger. She couldn't be much more than thirty.
"Not so very old, not at all."
"The answer is no. And I can't believe you asked," she told Methos pointedly. After a moment, she added, "I'm not fickle, you know, kiddo."
Methos actually blushed. "Touche. Sorry."
Smiling, Nadia said, "You look good, old friend. Young. You haven't changed a bit."
"No. Not an iota." With a wry grin, Nadia turned to me and asked, "Does Joe know about Adam?"
"Yes. Everything. I couldn't resist telling him, when I met - Adam."
"Will you tell me?" she said earnestly, stretching towards me and laying her hand on mine for a moment. "Who he is?"
"Let him tell you," I replied roughly, glancing at Methos.
"Please," Nadia asked. "I can't die without knowing."
"You're not about to die!" Methos said. Then he stood quickly and went over to the window. He stood there with his back to us and I looked at Nadia. Her eyes were trained on Methos and her face showed both love and longing. But it was not longing for him, only for the truth.
She said, "No, but it could happen."
"Nobody lives forever," he replied curtly, without turning his head.
"Some do," she retorted. "Who are you, Adam? I know you're not what you seem. Not a Green Boy. Nobody could - do - what you do, and be a Green Boy."
Methos came back to the couch and sat down. "I never said I was a Green Boy. Never told you anything about me. You guessed as much as you know. If you guess the rest - I can't prevent it."
"Not good enough, Adam. I want you to tell me. I'm tired of guessing."
I bit my lip to keep from interfering, but Methos' eyes moved to my face and what he saw there must have decided for him.
"I am Methos," he told Nadia in a soft tone. "But not the oldest among us, as you were led to believe. There are two Immortals who are older than me. It is because of them that Mac and I came to you and Erasmus."
Without showing any reaction whatever to Methos' revelation about his identity, Nadia asked, "Who are they? What kind of danger do they pose for Edward? What can I do to help you protect him?"
"One is called Quentin of York," Methos said. Nadia paled. She took a quick breath but said nothing. "I see you've heard of him. He's an impossibly dangerous player, Rosie. Without lifting his sword - simply by spinning a tale - he could threaten Ras' life."
"Why would he want to?" Nadia asked intensely, holding herself very still.
"We don't know," I told the Watcher. "But he lied to me about you. In effect, by doing that, he challenged you."
Nadia squinted, frowned. "Quentin of York threatened me?" I didn't understand why, but from her reaction, it seemed as if Nadia Rosenthal found that idea unimaginably strange.
"No, not threatened. He challenged you, Rosie. Listen when we speak," Methos said irritably.
"Next you'll be saying that Marty's coming after me with a bow and arrow!"
"What!" Methos and I exclaimed simultaneously.
"You heard me! I know Quen and Lamartin. I've known them since I was a child. Grew up in their company, playing on the grounds of their chateau - when I wasn't devouring every book in their library."
"Say again?" Methos remarked. I don't remember ever seeing him so surprised.
"My grandfather - Professor Wilhelm Rosenthal - was Lamartin's Watcher until he died. Quen and Marty always liked their Watchers to be medical men. Saves a lot of explanations and subterfuge, Quen claimed."
"You never told me this," Methos said seriously, utterly put out. I could hardly keep from laughing. Someone had secrets Methos didn't know and he obviously didn't like it when the shoe was on the other foot.
"You never asked!" Nadia retorted. "My grandfather sponsored my entry into the Watcher Society when I was a girl. Thirteen. I hit puberty and became a Watcher, all in one week, thanks to granddad and Quentin and Lamartin!"
Running his fingers through his hair, a sure sign of agitation and confusion, Methos muttered, "I don't get this. Whose Watcher did you become? Quentin's or Lamartin's?"
"Well, obviously, Quentin's! We were 'childhood sweethearts,' so to speak. Lamartin was way too old for me - twenty-five, if he was a day!" she said with a humorous lilt to her voice and a grin. "No, it was always Quen and me. The Romeo and Juliet of the Watcher/Immortal set! As I said, Granddad Watched Lamartin until he died."
"But - you worked with Salzer and me in Paris for years!" Methos cried.
"After I got too old to be Quentin's 'girlfriend,' I was reassigned to my dream project, the Methos Chronicles. Joined the dream team - you and Don." Nadia's tone was just short of facetious.
"Cripes, it never occurred to me you'd had a previous assignment, Rosie. You were so young -"
"I was eighteen when we met, Adam. Twenty, when Don was murdered and I was whisked away from Paris, out of the line of fire, while you and Duncan MacLeod, here," she said with a nod towards me, "saved all our hides and secrets from Kalas' attempt to expose us to the world."
"I didn't think -" Methos began.
"You didn't give me another thought, after you met up with MacLeod. I know that. The entire Watcher Society knows that! They may not all realize you're Immortal but they're sure in the picture about you and Duncan MacLeod! The only thing that saved me from dying of a broken heart when you forgot all about me, Adam Pierson, was my own conviction that you were not what you seemed. That you were an Immortal. Somehow," she took a deep breath, "somehow, that saved my heart. Because what Immortals do doesn't count." She shrugged. "Or so I believed, when I was a child."
I said, "What we do does count, Nadia. Maybe more than what Mortals do. Because we ought to know better. We're given a lot of time and a lot of chances to find out what's right -"
"Can it, Mac," Methos said. "Fuck off. I'm not about to apologize for falling in love with you, so don't you start in. The only thing Immortals do that counts is lie. I won't lie about it. I forgot about you, Rosie. I imagined I had bigger fish to fry. I'm sorry."
"You did have bigger fish to fry. Hanging about with him," Nadia said, gesturing to indicate she meant me, "must be a full time job, Adam. I forgive you. But I haven't forgotten you. So, the answer to your question about me and Edward Rasmussen is no. No, I'm not in love with him and heaven knows, he's not in love with me. Now, can we get back to the business at hand? What in hell would Quentin or Lamartin want with Edward? Or me?"
We were interrupted by Immortal aura strong enough to get Methos' attention several seconds before I felt it. Nadia looked up as soon as she realized what we two were about.
"It's Rasmussen," she said. "I told you he would be home around seven." She went to the front door, opened it, and Ras came in. "We've got company, Edward," she advised the slim, white-haired, gnarled looking Immortal bluntly, and he followed her into the living room to see just who it was.
"So I noticed. Hallo, Methos," he said while he took off his coat and scarf and threw them onto a chair. Then he came over and shook Methos' hand. I was surprised to realize the old man was standing. Out of respect, I supposed. Of course, I'd stood up, too, when Ras came in, so it might not have meant anything special. Ras nodded to me, murmured, "MacLeod," and went to the bar, made himself a drink, and allied himself with Nadia by sitting on the armrest of her easy chair.
Methos and I immediately sat down again, too, glancing at one another pointedly. Erasmus and Nadia might not be in love, but they were close, very much so. There was a feeling of intimacy and comfort between them. That much was obvious. Apparently, having grown up with Old Ones like Quentin and Lamartin for companions, Nadia was uniquely prepared for an assignment Watching Rasmussen, another Old One.
Without preamble Methos remarked, "Quentin seems to have taken a fancy to you, Erasmus. Got his eye on you and Rosie, here. Any idea why?"
"No. Haven't seen him in decades, except for that little foray with the two of you a while back, after the Bordeaux incident. Nor spoken with him. I certainly haven't been doing anything of interest to anybody but the IRS. They're after my money, or as large a chunk of it as they can get their hands on. But Quen? My lifestyle would bore the Big Boy out of his skull, I'd imagine."
"You haven't been tinkering with Lamartin lately, have you, Ras?" Methos asked, seemingly out of left field.
"Well, then, I'm lost," Methos said after a long pause. He looked at me. "Any ideas, Mac? The whole thing makes no sense whatever to me."
I shook my head. "The only thing I know for sure is that everything Quentin told me was a lie. Erasmus' Watcher is an old friend of Quen's, one he surely trusts. Rasmussen and Nadia are not having an affair, either. Quentin must know that. And he also must know that she's no Renegade Watcher. Beats me, what he's after."
Nadia spoke quietly but with assurance. "Perhaps we should look at what Quentin's accomplished with his lies, MacLeod. That might be a clue to what he's after."
Methos grinned. "Yeah, good idea. You always were a clever girl, Rosie."
"He's brought us together, all of us," I said.
"Yes, that's right," Methos replied, his voice gaining energy. He squinted, thinking hard. "Now, Quentin himself should come -"
"With Lamartin," Ras added.
"No, Lamartin and Quentin broke up some time back. Nobody knows where Lamartin is now. I checked," Methos explained. Then the light dawned and his eyes went bright. He directed a smile at Nadia, who smiled back at him. "That's what he's after! He's bringing Lamartin out of the woodwork! Threatening Erasmus to get Lamartin here!"
"What for?" I asked, bewildered.
"Maybe he misses him." Methos shrugged.
"That can't be it!" I exclaimed. "It's too simple!"
"Simple's best, if you can achieve it," Methos told me. "But I know Quentin's worried, too."
"About what?" I asked, feeling like the odd man out. I was more in the dark than ever.
"If Lamartin comes, it'll be because he's concerned for Rasmussen. And he'll come out swinging."
"But Methos, nobody's after Rasmussen. That was all part of Quen's lie."
"Lamartin doesn't know that."
"If he comes for you, Methos, what will you do?" I asked. I needed to know.
"Nothing - talk to him. Tell him to go to the source. Advise him to return to Quentin."
"And if Lamartin comes for MacLeod, thinking Mac's threatening Edward," Nadia inquired, "then what will you do, Adam?"
"What do you mean?" Methos asked, all innocence and ignorance.
"You know exactly what I mean, Adam Pierson! Would you take on Lamartin, to protect Duncan?"
Methos' eyes lit up. "Thus paving the way for Quentin to rescue Lamartin by stealing my challenge, taking me on himself." He grinned. "It's perfect. Lamartin goes for Mac, to protect Erasmus. I go for Lamartin, to protect Mac. And Quentin goes for me, to protect Lamartin. Then Lamartin comes between Quentin and me -"
"No - I come between Quentin and you!" I interjected. "And Lamartin goes for me again, this time to protect Quentin from me!"
"And we all live happily ever after, because you won't take Lamartin's head?" Ras remarked wryly. "Sounds real dangerous to me - for Lamartin. If any of this - domino effect - doesn't come off exactly that way, if Lamartin ends up fighting Methos, for example, Quentin will lose him. Marty was never a match for me, with a sword. He's certainly no match for Methos."
Nadia said, "Quentin's counting on Methos not to take Lamartin's head, either. Not to protect Duncan at Lamartin's expense."
"Then Quentin's counting is off," Methos said grimly. "He never had a head for numbers. Only for money, large sums of money, where he could afford to be careless with a few numbers."
"I think we've gotta nip this in the bud, Methos," I told my friend. "I'll get Joe on the phone. Ask him to connect with Lamartin's Watcher and warn us when he's close."
"I told you, Mac, I checked. Lamartin's disappeared."
"I don't believe that. His Watcher's protecting him. Joe's gotta find out who that is and make him come clean - for Lamartin's sake."
"You may be right, Mac. Lamartin always did have a way with Watchers."
"When we find him," I continued, "somebody will need to talk to Lamartin, explain things. Make him see he's gotta talk to Quentin. In my estimation, that's all the Ice Prince is after. A chance to make it up with Lamartin."
"I guess that somebody should be me," Nadia said with a sigh.
"Not you, Rosie," Methos told her. "Too dangerous. Who can guess what Quentin might do if he thinks you're interfering in his machinations?"
"Nothing. He'll do nothing to me, Adam. We're old friends, remember?"
"You can't be sure," I told her. "Quentin's survived a long time. It wasn't by trusting Mortals."
"He trusts me. And so does Lamartin. Can any of you say the same?" she asked pointedly. "Anybody here willing to stake his life that Quentin wouldn't at least try to take his head, if he felt threatened, and ask questions later?" When none of us contradicted her, she went on. "Then it's settled. MacLeod will find out where Lamartin is. I'll talk to him, convince him to go back to Quentin. And we'll all live happily ever after," she finished, smiling at Rasmussen, who gazed at her, his expression bleak.
"Very well," Methos agreed. "You know them. If you trust them with your life, Rosie, you can try."
"We'll be close," I said.
"You betcha," Rasmussen chimed in, standing. He was transformed, in that instant. No more was he a twentieth century accountant, mild and inoffensive. He was a Warrior Prince, through and through. I could feel the shifting in his aura, and so could Methos, I thought, judging from the way the old man tensed, then stood.
I stared at Rasmussen's chiseled face, crossed with lines that appeared carved there, like so many steps carved into the face of a mountain. Then at Methos, whose mouth had tightened into a grim line. Nadia had stiffened in her seat, her spine straighter than ever. I didn't think I'd want to be in Quentin or Lamartin's place, if either of them tried to harm her. She looked formidable. And a more lethal duo of bodyguards than Methos and Erasmus Minor could hardly be imagined.
My own violent hatred for Quentin had subsided during the plane trip from Paris to New York. The Old Ones were strange, as Dawson had put it. When I thought about it, I knew that strangeness was worth preserving. I didn't want Quentin's Quickening, not if I didn't need to take it. I wanted him to live.
"I better get on the phone to Dawson, then," I said, dismissing the idea of just calling the two of them - Lamartin and Quentin - and telling them to settle their love spat without us. If Quentin could have done so, he probably would have. Clearly, Quen thought this was all necessary. He might be wrong but it was what he believed. That Lamartin wouldn't come back to him without being tricked into it.
And I knew Methos would want them to get back together. He'd arranged for them to meet, millenia ago. He'd put them together and left them both. They'd lasted this long, would still be together if Methos hadn't screwed with their relationship to protect Richie, for my sake. Methos owed them the favor of mending their fences. We both did. But - at what cost?
I looked at Methos' face and I knew how he felt. No price too high. Except one. My head.
I felt the same. What Methos wanted for his two friends, I wanted as well. No price was too high. Except one. Methos' head.
LAMARTIN'S VOICE - NEW YORK CITY - ALTERNATIVE PRESENT
I woke slowly, my brain coming to functioning again, coming out of the alcohol fog. I stared at the ceiling of the small room I was in, stared up from my lumpy mattress at the stains and cracks speaking to me. Yes, yes. I was in New York City. And it was afternoon, I realized, talking to myself in the taunting way I had been doing for so long now. Months. Years.
Afternoon. A sunny day. Is it winter? Or autumn? I did not remember, or care.
I squashed a bug that had begun to crawl up the sheet that covered my naked body. But I did not get out of bed, not yet. I reached over the edge of the mattress, felt around on the floor with one hand, without looking. Ah, there it was, the bottle. Yes, yes, a little left. I finished what was left, swirling the liquor around in my mouth like mouthwash before I swallowed. Then I dropped the bottle on the floor, not caring about the noise. Nobody in this roach-infested SRO - that is what they called these fleabag hotels in New York City - would notice. They would all be too drunk, or hung over. Like me.
But I was not hung over. I was Immortal. So I was not hung over.
I got up and went into the toilet. While I urinated I looked at myself in the cracked mirror of the cabinet over the john. I closed my eyes. Still there, I am still there, I muttered. Then, to push the truth away, I changed my words. He is still here. Young, handsome, smooth-skinned, long-haired, muscular Lamartin of Bordeaux is still here. I took a deep breath. Cannot die. He cannot die.
I tossed some water on my face and dried my hands with a dirty shirt I had left on the floor of the bathroom a while ago. Last night? No. The shirt of last night was in the other room.
I had no more clean ones. I needed to buy more.
I put my jacket on and my trousers. And my coat with the sword hidden inside. Such a beautiful coat. Black cashmere with a velvet collar. A gift.
Ah, gifts. So many gifts. Presents from his hands. Presents from the hands of the gods, too. I did not despise those gifts. But I had no more use for the finest one - Immortality. Wasted on me. Without him, my Immortality was of no use to me.
Before I left my room to face the day I glanced in the bathroom mirror once again. Looking good, Lamartin, looking good. Bloodshot vacant eyes, greasy hair, tangled wild. Oily skin. Hunched shoulders. Full red mouth, kissable. Looking good, Lamartin of Bordeaux. You always do, do you not, old friend, old man? "Beautiful one." "Lovely child." "Sweet boy." "Great heart." "Golden prince." "Marty."
For two year I had not heard the endearments he never tired of inventing for me. But I remembered so many of them that I did not need new ones.
For him, I had only one word - beloved. For a man with so little patience for everyone else, my beloved had infinite patience for me and my one word. Say it, beautiful one! Say it! He would demand. And I would say it, had said it, over and over again, for two thousand years, every day, every night. I had meant to say it forever.
Now, I would never say it to him again.
Now, he would never invent a new endearment for me.
Now, he had someone young and fresh to love. Richard Ryan. May the child be a blessing to him! May their joy overflow! May this child make my beloved laugh again! Travel, Richard Ryan, travel with my beloved! Renew his youth! Shelter him from the sun! Train with him on the sands, keep him strong and fit!
But beware, Richard Ryan! Do not think you are safe with my beloved! He will kill you when he does not care for you any more! Defend your heart, Richard Ryan! My beloved is the Ice Prince! He will freeze you in time, in your youth and beauty! You will never be free of him, though he cuts out your heart! Until he takes your head!
I shuffled along forty-fifth street, moving east from ninth avenue, muttering to myself. Until he takes your head! Over and over, I said it to myself, until I knew what I must do.
I had hidden from my beloved long enough. I must let him find me and take my head. It was the only way I could be free. The only way.
Two years. He had stayed away for two years. My Watcher told me that my beloved had not tried to find me. I asked my Watcher about nothing else. Just to know, is my beloved looking for me? He was not.
But if he found me, he would kill me. I was ready now. I wished for the separation of head from body. Lamartin of Bordeaux no longer lived, except in the body, beautiful body, beautiful face.
No more. I wished to live no longer.
My beloved must take my head, my heart, my spirit. To him alone would I give all that I was, freely give. To the Ice Prince. May he live forever! May he be the One, in the End!
I straightened up and walked across town to my bank at forty-second street near the Grand Central Station. It would be hard to go. I knew that, the moment I saw the beautiful old building, I knew that. Hard to leave the wonders of the world behind, after so many centuries. Hard.
I took out some money from my account and went over to a good hotel close at hand. I bought new clothes, shoes, fresh underthings in the stores that lined its lobby. Everything of the finest. I must be clean when I meet my beloved. I went up to my new hotel room and showered, scrubbing away the grime, pissing and shitting away the alcohol and drugs with which I had polluted my body. I dressed in my clean new garments and transferred my sword to my new coat, regretfully leaving my old favorite behind. It had seen too much. I must be fresh - pure and pristine, like an angel - when I offered my head to my beloved. I could not wear my old coat.
In the lobby I searched for my Watcher. Finally, I saw him coming out of a corridor where, I remembered, there was a bank of phones. I wondered who he had been calling.
I beckoned to him and he approached me. "Sir, are you well? How can I help?" he asked.
"I am fine, Simon, as you see. 'Looking good,' as always," I told the young man, my tone bitter, sarcastic.
"There is some news, sir, if you care to know of it."
"Is he well?" I demanded quickly.
"Yes, he's fine, don't worry, sir," Simon said, stumbling over his tongue in his haste to reassure me. "But there is trouble for an old friend of yours - Erasmus Minor."
I pulled Simon over to a small arrangement of chairs and loveseats in the lobby, out of the hearing of others. "Sit down and tell me," I ordered.
"Nadia Rosenthal - Rasmussen's Watcher? You remember?" he asked anxiously.
"Yes, yes, I remember. Tell me."
"Nadia asked to speak with you. She wanted me to get the message to you that Quentin's on the rampage, Rasmussen's in danger, Methos and MacLeod are after her." I must have looked as if I did not believe him, because he added, "Those were her exact words, sir. She asked for a meeting."
"I believe you. So, Little Nadia," I mused aloud. "She needs me?"
"I don't know, sir. I only know what she told me to say." When I was silent for a few moments Simon became anxious. "Will you go?" he asked. He was worried for me. My beloved was right. These Watchers have no objectivity concerning Immortals, they either love us or hate us. There was no in between for them. "It might be a trap, sir," he added.
I nodded, smiled. "I am sure it is a trap for someone, Simon." My beloved called me a beautiful child. Methos always disagreed with that. He always called me a brilliant child. A genius. A child only when it came to my beloved. In all else, something else.
Where was my beloved in this? I did not care if Nadia was in danger, or Methos, or his young protege, Duncan MacLeod. I did not care if my old student, Erasmus Minor, was in a trap.
Only my beloved's well-being interested me.
Who was the trap for? Had my beloved set it, or was he the animal being trapped in it?
I must know.
"Simon, arrange a meeting with Methos and MacLeod and Rasmussen. And Nadia, too, since she wants to speak to me."
"Tonight, if you can."
"The park. By the merry-go-round in Central Park, at dusk. Methos will know where. It is the only truly isolated place in the city - the big park - at night. If we would fight, it must be there."
"Shall I try -" He broke off.
Gently, I told my Watcher, "You do not need to try, Simon. My beloved will be there. He will not require an invitation."
"I'll do what you ask, sir." He turned to go, then asked me timidly, "Is it well for all of us to be there, too? The Watchers? So many of us?"
"I want you there, Simon. There will not be so very many," I added with a smile and a squeeze of his shoulder. "Methos has no Watcher. Joe Dawson will not travel to New York City in time, for MacLeod. Nadia is part of this, and she is Rasmussen's Watcher. So, his Watcher would be there, anyway."
"But - him, his Watcher?" Simon was reluctant to use my beloved's name in my presence, since I never did.
"This will be an historic meeting, Simon," I said cheerfully. "Neither of you should miss it!" I thumped him on the back and sent him off. I thought, no, no one should miss this. I will save you, my beloved, from this trap, if it was set for you. And then, then -
I discovered I did not want my beloved to take my head. Once again, I wanted to live! I wanted to live!
I smiled ruefully. "Whoever set this trap has saved my life," I muttered aloud, leaving the fine hotel.
I looked for a good barber, thinking how long it had been since my hair had been trimmed and styled. How long since my black curls rivalled vines of ivy and the luster of my hair outshone the stars! I must be truly beautiful tonight. Even in the dark, I must glow like a golden prince, for my Ice Prince. Even at my best, I was only a shadow, a darkness, compared to him. No one was more lovely than my beloved. But I must try to be worthy of him. I must not shame him before the others.
My heart was full. I would see him tonight! I sighed, gratefully certain that he would keep his new lover away from this dangerous meeting, to protect him. I was so full of passion now! I could not be sure I would not take the Boy's head, no matter how I tried not to hate him! I was too full of passion to hold back, if I saw Richard Ryan!
I let the barber work on my hair, my face. My skin did not need the ointments and unguents. I needed no perfumes to enhance the smell of my body - Methos always said that I smell like gardenias. But I did need the rest of the barber's gifts - the peace, and the touch of another person's hands on my body. I needed the connexion to life that only Mortals can give our kind. The barber did an admirable job. I looked lovely when he was finished with me. My beloved would not be shamed before his old friends. I was satisfied.
There was a favorite restaurant nearby, on the west side in the forties, Brazilito's. I walked there, threading my way through the crowds that somehow never left the streets of Manhattan. I noticed, not for the first time, a strange phenomenon. No matter in which direction I moved, I always went in the opposite direction of the other walkers. Always, against the crowds. A philosophical puzzle for Methos, I considered with a smile.
I spent two hours at Brazilito's, reveling in my growing anticipation of tonight's activities. My excitement coiled its way inside my belly, latching onto every inch of long intestine and short, with every moment bringing me more and more to life, after two years of living death. My excitement grew, fighting my body and dispelling all the anesthetic I had taken into it day after day, for so long.
After I had finished luncheon and the two bottles of fine wine I consumed with my meal I left the restaurant and walked down toward the Village. I felt my sexual appetite come awake for the first time in a great many months. I did not know what to do. I had no old lovers here in this city, none that survived. When I got far enough downtown, I recognized many prostitutes of both sexes. They stood on the corners drinking beer and laughing with others of their kind - Mortals. I hung back, unable to approach them. They seemed too young for me. None of them would understand my old-fashioned ways. None of them would want to invest their time with an old man like me.
I remembered that I did not look old. I knew I looked young and handsome - attractive. I was young, on the outside. But inside - I shuddered. I had not been with a Mortal in many many decades. I could not imagine approaching any of these children with my ancient soiled soul. I was too ugly.
Methos understood it, knew it. To be so very old, while the body still speaks with insistence, with a young man's urges. It was a terrible burden. He had not solved it, until he found his new friend, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. But he had solved it for me, when he gave me my beloved, two thousand years ago.
Now, I wanted to live but I no longer remembered how. Not without my beloved. Not with someone new.
I could not find someone new, anyway - not in a lucky half-hour between meals - even if I wanted to try. In truth, I might continue alone, seeking without finding, for centuries. Methos was strong. Methos had survived in such a condition. I could not be strong like him, not that way. I must touch, touch! Someone, somehow!
But for now, I decided, I would treasure my arousal, bring it with me to my meeting. I must cherish this joy which would be pitted against great old strength tonight. Perhaps I would need that advantage. Joy of life. The uncomplicated yearnings of a young man's body, a man of five and twenty. Maybe it would help my beloved to be strong when he saw me again. He must not pity me. I must glow with joy and fullness of life, so he could return to his lover, Richard Ryan, without worry for me.
And so the hours passed until the small park in Greenwich Village began to empty of young couples and students and old people and women with babies. When the park was filled with hookers and pimps and junkies and drug dealers I knew it was time to leave. Dusk was upon us.
I stood and turned north, and walked all the long way to Central Park, entering the grounds on the south end just as night fell. I would be late for the meeting, I realized. And I realized, too, that no one had come within a few feet of me in all my long walk. I was emitting great Power again. I acknowledged that fact with satisfaction. I would not shame my beloved before his friends. That was very good. I was very happy.
QUENTIN'S VOICE - NEW YORK CITY - ALTERNATIVE PRESENT
I approached the meeting place my Watcher advised me about, the carousel in Central Park, as night fell. It appeared that all the participants were late. No hint of Immortal aura reached me.
I stood, silent and still, just out of range of the most sensitive among us, Methos, were he to come to the meeting from the other side, of course.
The night was a calm one, little breeze and no moon. Clouds crossed in front of the stars but some were visible. I leaned back against a tree and gazed up at the sky, marvelling again that I could see so clearly here, at night. New York City was like that. It was never truly dark.
Then I sensed it, a buzz resembling no other. Lamartin's buzz. Old, very old. None of us was certain, but Methos insisted that Lamartin was the oldest among us, though Methos had long ago stolen that honor in the eyes of the world, drawing attention to himself - and away from us - for all our sakes.
Lamartin's buzz was strong, ancient, full of life and passion. It burned along my body like fine brandy, and my throat was singed by it. I could taste the heady liquor of Marty's buzz on my tongue. After all this time, I was overwhelmed by it, savored it.
How was it that he'd arrived first? Why were the others late? Too late, I realized they weren't coming, that I'd be meeting my former lover alone. I panicked, wanted only to run from him as I would run from death, should it approach. But I didn't run and I knew I looked confident and calm as I stood there, moving fractionally so I was no longer leaning against the tree trunk but standing free and clear of all support.
I breathed deeply and smiled, took a few steps towards him. "Lamartin. You are looking well," I remarked pleasantly, almost laughing at the understatement. It was nearly more than I could endure - to see him again after so long. So beautiful! So very beautiful! Afire with that Passion that always ignited my own as no one else could. I fought to douse the flames.
"Where are the others, Quen -" he started to ask, then halted, didn't use my name. "Nadia asked to see me. I know Erasmus and Methos and MacLeod were with her. Why are they not here?"
"I don't know, Marty. Perhaps they felt we should meet privately. Only Watchers watching." I shrugged, he smiled, and I thought my heart would burst.
"Whose trap was this, my friend?" he asked. "Yours? Methos'?"
"But why?" When I didn't answer he added, "I do not really care. It is good to see you again. How have you been?"
For a long time I didn't reply. It was as if I was choking on ice. I couldn't, couldn't lie to him! Say I'd been well! Not after so long, not the first words from my mouth! He trusted me! I could see it in his eyes. Finally I said, "I couldn't find you. Now, you're here."
He frowned. There was an expression on his face I couldn't understand. Then he looked away, first to the right, then to the left, started to raise his hands, then dropped them to his sides. Started to speak, then didn't. Swallowed. The trust left his eyes, replaced with an expression of torment and a searching insistent gaze.
I watched all this in amazement. What was wrong with him? Why this reaction to my simple remark? "Marty? What is it?"
"Why did you want to find me, Quintus Juvan?" he asked, finally settling on an appellation for me. I couldn't conceive why he didn't just call me Quen and be done with it. "Do you need my help?"
"Is that the only reason you can think of, why I might want to see you again, Marty?"
"You moved on," he replied, his tongue sliding over the syllables in that Latino drawl he couldn't seem to shake, his voice a low melodic line, like the dark sweet song of a cello. His voice was perhaps the loveliest thing about him. "I did not think to hear from you again."
"Well!" I exploded, suddenly grasping his mental processes in their entirety. Shamelessly, I went on the offensive. "I like that! Known you for two thousand years and wouldn't ever want to see you again! Is that what you think of me, of our friendship, Lamartin?"
"I am here. Look at me, if you wish, Quintus."
"Actually, I do wish. To look at you."
He cocked his head. "Then, look. Here I am."
"I wish to look at you at my leisure. In my home. What's your price?"
I was happy to see I'd finally broken through his composure and shocked him. In my mind, I begged Methos' forgiveness for reverting to type. I'd always been a whore and a whoremaster. Nothing had changed. I still put my money on money, when push came to shove.
"Yes, for a bit of your time," I replied with a careless shrug. "What will it cost me to transport you to Switzerland and position you where I can see you in good light. Like an old masterpiece by - who shall I name - Rembrandt?"
"I cannot come, Quintus, you know that. I must not," he told me gently, his hand stretched out in a gesture I interpreted as a plea for understanding. "I could not give you my word that I would not kill your Richard Ryan. I cannot trust myself that far." Then he smiled and I nearly wept to see it. "But I am tempted to join you," he added sweetly. "I regret that I cannot."
"Ah, but what if I told you that Richard Ryan is not at the chateau, nor likely to be? What then?"
"It has been a very long day, Quintus. I am aching with tiredness and desire and many many emotions which I am sure will bore you to hear about. Do not play this game with me, I beg you." His voice shook with the passion of his plea. He really believed I had taken another lover and cared nothing for him.
"I'm not playing, Lamartin. Come and see." I stretched out my hand and waited, but he didn't take it. I sighed. I became impatient, exhausted by my effort to appear collected. Losing my temper I said in an abrupt manner, "Marty, don't be a fool. I love you. Come home, beautiful child. Now."
He didn't speak. I waited a bit. At last I told him, "Very well. I can see you intend to persist in your foolishness. Goodbye." I turned and strode away from him, up a nearly invisible path out of the woods, towards Central Park West. I went down in a heap after I'd taken only a few steps. He'd tackled me, coming up from behind so swiftly he'd given me no time to turn around.
"One night of passion, Quentin, grant me that!" he hissed in my ear, taking a lock of my hair between his teeth and pulling on it, like a cat. "I am so full that I throb, Quen! I need you! One night!"
"Here? On the grass in the park? Are you insane, Lamartin?" I asked, chuckling and turning so I could feel his weight on my chest, my belly and my groin, and look at his wonderful face.
"Yes, I am insane!" He mauled my mouth with his own, sucking and biting on my lips until I cried out in pain.
"They're Watching, Marty! They're here, all around us," I sputtered when he'd released my mouth. And not them alone, I thought, stretching my senses, distinguishing three separate Immortal auras, faint but unmistakable, not so very far away.
"I do not care! They have Watched us since we met, since before we met! When did you ever care? When did I?" He hustled me out of my jacket, my shirt, my shoes and socks and trousers, and sucked in a breath when he realized I wasn't wearing undergarments. I couldn't remember the last time I'd been handled so - rushed and ravished and kissed and sucked and bitten and penetrated - fucked until I couldn't remember where I was or who.
For minutes afterwards, whole long minutes, while he held my limp sex in his mouth, sucking the flaccid thing, his eyes closed, savoring, savoring, I felt young. There was no ice in my heart, none at all. Before I lost that feeling, before the ice froze my tongue again, I struggled to speak to him, to make him understand. To say what I'd never before admitted. "Marty?"
"Yes," he muttered, his mouth still on my cock.
"Marty, I haven't been well. I can't live without you."
"It is not necessary," he murmured, releasing my cock and resting his chin on my belly, looking up into my face. "You do not need to say such things to me, Quen. I will do whatever you ask. I always have done so. You do not need to lie to me."
"Damn it, I'm not lying!" I pushed him off me and sat up, wrapping my arms around my knees. "Get it into your head, you stupid idiot! I'm not lying! I can't live without you!"
"You do not need to live without me, Quentin," he replied seriously, brushing dry leaves from his curls.
"I won't sustain this mood for long, Lamartin of Bordeaux," I told him in a stern tone. "Please tell me you believe me."
"I believe you." It was clear he didn't.
I sighed. "Very well. If that's the price, I'll pay it. You will come home, though, won't you?"
"If you wish."
"Fuck." I stood up and looked around for my trousers. I dressed without speaking. Lamartin continued to sit on the ground, his legs crossed, his hands clasped, staring at me. When I slipped into my shoes and started to bend over to tie the laces he gestured my hands away and tied my shoes for me. Then he got up.
We didn't speak again until we were on our third martini cocktail, in our private plane, high over the Atlantic Ocean.
He asked me whether I'd ever eaten in Brazilito's.
"Methos," I said, shouting into the phone. For so short a connexion - between Switzerland and France - this was a very bad one. "Are you there?"
"I'm here, Quen. What do you want?" He sounded irritated. I wondered what I'd ever done to elicit that reaction every time I called him.
"I merely wished to thank you, old man."
"Is that all?" He sounded suspicious.
"That's all. And now I've done it, thanked you. Please pass it along to the others."
"You know, Quen, you should cultivate your friendship with Joe Dawson."
"Should I? And why might that be?"
"Because Joe could tell you that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. Have you never considered that?"
"Never! Ought I to have?" I grinned, though he couldn't see me. I imagined he'd hear it in my voice. Since Lamartin had come home, I was flying. My feet scarcely touched the ground, nowadays.
"Yes!" He sounded exasperated. "Quentin, do you have any idea what it costs to fly two Immortals from Paris to New York City? Just so they can join another Immortal and his Watcher? So the four of them can sit around in the lap of luxury until they figure out they've been manipulated for only one reason - because you'd like them to inform Lamartin of Bordeaux that you wanna say hello to him?"
"Send me the bill, Methos," I replied dismissively. "You did what I needed you to do. I'll pay whatever you care to ask."
"Quentin, you're impossible! There are some things that don't come with an invoice!"
"Such as?" I inquired coolly.
"Friendship, you damn fool, for one!"
"My dear Methos, why presume on friendship, when it's so much more interesting to everyone concerned to be manipulated?"
"Why couldn't you just set up a meeting with Lamartin yourself? Nobody gets it, even I don't get it! Mac and me - we have our troubles - but it would never occur to either of us to enlist four other people just so we could kiss and make up!"
"Six, if you count Joe Dawson and Richard Ryan!" I corrected cheerfully. "You should have seen the look on Marty's face when he arrived at the chateau, only to discover that Ryan actually was there!"
"Mac sent him."
"I know. I'd forgotten to send him away. Can you imagine?" I laughed.
Curiosity got the better of Methos. He asked, "So what did you do?"
"I shot him."
"You shot Richie?"
"No, I shot Lamartin."
"He was about to turn around and leave! I couldn't have that, now could I, old sod? Not after we'd gone to all that trouble to get him home! I shot him in the back, then I got rid of Ryan."
"You're impossible, Quen," he repeated, apparently at a loss for anything new to call me.
"Oh, I'm not so bad. I got the idea reading your Chronicles! Compared to you, Methos Valerius, I'm a pushover."
Methos didn't bother responding to that. Instead he changed the subject, asking in a carefully neutral tone, "So - how's it going? You and Lamartin back to normal yet?"
"I don't think you'd call it 'normal.' We've been eating popcorn, drinking beer, roasting marshmallows, and listening to Rostropovich. How does that stack up, for normality?"
"You're putting me on."
"Not at all! We're also planning a trip. On foot. Through the mountains, through the long grass, Germany, Austria, into Italy. All the way to Rome. After that, perhaps we'll go east. I hear Budapest is awfully nice this time of year."
Impatient with me now, probably imagining that I was joking - I hadn't left the chateau for any length of time in decades - Methos insisted, "Really, how're you two getting along?"
"Actually, that's another reason I called. I need your advice."
"Methos, please." I was desperate. Methos was my only hope.
"All right, all right. What is it?" He sounded resigned but I imagined he was running his fingers through his hair and rolling his eyes in MacLeod's direction the whole time.
"I need the answer to a question."
"I've got no answers, Quen, you know that." On the defensive, as usual, my Methos. Always protecting his cover.
"You have the answer to this one."
"What is it?"
"How'd you manage to convince MacLeod that you love him?" I asked, determined to make him tell me.
"Quentin, let it be."
"Let it be. Let Lamartin be. What difference does it make if he doesn't believe you love him? He's there, you're there. You're together. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth."
"I need him to believe I love him, Methos. Please. Just answer the question."
"Damn it, Quentin, I don't have the answer! Mac doesn't believe I love him, either! None of them do! It's us! Don't you get it, it's us! They don't trust us, the young ones! As Richie Ryan told Duncan and Joe, 'how can you trust somebody who's outlived most civilizations?' To them, I'm devious and you're the Ice Prince! They'll never trust us, believe we love them. Face it and get on with your life!"
"Never?" I asked in a small voice, dejected beyond reason.
"Never," Methos repeated solemnly.
I took a deep breath. "Very well. Thank you, old friend. I'd hoped - but it's all right. If they can't believe, they can't. I understand."
"Quen, you okay?"
"I'm fine. Thanks again, Methos." I started to hang up but he said my name so I listened.
"By the way, would you do something for me?" he asked in a deadly tone.
"Anything," I replied, taking a deep breath. Behold, the price tag cometh.
"Please don't visit Mac again while I'm away. I don't like it." There was ice in his voice and I could picture his eyes, cold, angry, lethal. I shivered. There are Ice Princes, and then there are Ice Princes. Methos - well, there were things about Methos nobody knew except me. It wouldn't be wise to land on his bad side.
"Whatever you say, Methos Valerius," I replied humbly, much subdued. Figuratively wiping the smile off my face.
"Good boy, Quintus Juvan. Be well." He hung up.
I turned, noting a dark tinge to Lamartin's aura as he came into the room. He was worried. He asked, "Trouble, my beloved?"
"No. No trouble. Just a reminder, is all. Don't worry, summer sun."
Lamartin laughed. "Another one, my beloved?"
"Another term of endearment?"
"Just trying to tell you that I love you. So far, I haven't hit upon the right words."
"So, show me, instead," Lamartin counselled.
I took his advice.