|Princes of the Universe
by Maxine Mayer
There is shapeliness and comeliness in her, I thought fleetingly - then dismissed the irrelevant message from my mind. But I've no time to think of that. Do I trust her? That's the point. I asked myself the question one last time before committing myself to my contemplated course of action.
Makes no nevermind, I finally decided. I can't be alone. I can't go home. I've nowhere else to go.
I sighed, then knocked on Amanda's Paris apartment door.
"Coming!" She sounded distracted, but not as if she had someone with her. Good.
The door opened and Amanda stood there, staring at me. "Methos!" she whispered. I stared back, without saying anything.
She was wearing a Chinese silk wrap and her feet were bare. Damning myself for the constant intrusion into my mind of irrelevant wisps of trivia, I muttered, "Barefoot Contessa," under my breath. Then I leaned against the door jamb and smiled.
"Have you heard? Anything? About Bordeaux?" I asked in a low voice.
"Come inside," Amanda replied curtly, ignoring my question. "We can't talk in the hallway."
"Such discretion! You surprise me."
"Don't be a pain." She shut and triple-locked the door behind us. "Yes, I've heard - a little. The entire Immortal world's 'heard,' stupid. It won't be long before the Watchers all know, too - those men of legendary discretion!"
"What have you heard?" I asked, settling myself on her sofa.
"Take off your coat. You'd better stay a while. Though I can't imagine what made you think of coming here - MacLeod's back in Paris, you know."
"Is he? I thought if I stayed in France I could more easily avoid him. Well - we're none of us perfect. But I don't suppose he'll come here."
"No. Of course not. This is my private place. No Immortals come here. Except you, of course."
"I'm sorry. Is this a bad time?" I made as if to rise but I knew she'd never let me go now. This time, I'd brought her the one thing she likes best - besides love - and that's danger. I'd have to chop off her head to get away from her now.
"Shut up and talk, Methos. I want to know everything."
"You first - what have you heard already?"
Amanda took a deep breath. "I've heard about Bordeaux. Rumors of a spectacular Double Quickening. Rumors of the death of the Horsemen. Rumors that Cassandra killed the oldest living Immortal, the fourth Horseman - I nearly died, when that one reached me. Then that rumor was followed by word that MacLeod stopped her - how did he do that, by the way?" Without pausing for my reply, which wouldn't have been forthcoming at this point anyway, she continued. "And that the oldest Immortal, Methos, has been hiding among the Watchers using the name Adam Pierson." She stopped abruptly.
"What else, Amanda, my sweet?"
"Give over. This is serious."
"That you and Duncan are through."
"That's up for grabs, now. We'll see. Anything more?"
"Only that every Immortal in Europe - and anywhere else where twentieth century communication reaches - will be coming to France to take your head - for the power - if they haven't arrived already."
"Yes, I thought it might be like that. There was no hiding who I am in Bordeaux. By the time it was all over, I knew I'd been blown, for good. With computer technology as it is now, I'd need a new head, to disappear under another name."
"What will you do?"
"I've done it. I've come to you. Amanda, I need your help, desperately."
"You've got it, as always. But what can I do?" Then, pacing the small living area, which was decorated in some turn of the century style - overstuffed furniture, chintz cabbages and roses, really busy, I thought, not for the first time - she talked her idea of my options aloud. "Maybe the rumors are exaggerated. There are only a few Immortals like that, after all - the real bastards who live for power. Maybe between the three of us - four, if you count Richie - five, if Connor helps - we can get rid of them all - take all their heads - and you'll be safe again. Oh, maybe you won't be able to go back to being a Watcher, or to your old life as Adam Pierson," she added, glancing at me with an expression of sympathy, rather than the contempt I'd expect from her for my little deception, "but you could at least keep your head. Stay alive. That's the important thing."
"Survive. I could survive. Yes, I suppose that is the important thing," I replied thoughtfully.
"It is! I don't know how everything that happened to you guys in Bordeaux touched you - inside - but survival is the only thing that matters in the end, Methos. You know that. What use is fixing yourself up inside, if you haven't got your head?"
"None at all, of course, Amanda. Thanks. Under stress, I tend to lose sight of the essentials."
She waved a hand. "We all do. It's fear. It clouds the mind. It'll pass."
She sat down next to me on the sofa and put her arm around my shoulders. We sat quietly like that for a few minutes, hunched over a bit and staring at nothing. Simply letting go of the tension. I drank in her sympathy like a man dying of thirst. Which I suppose I was. Then I came back to reality and asked for a real drink, in real time.
"Got anything liquid, love?"
Amanda jumped up and moved quickly toward her kitchen area. She called out, "Beer? Juice? Coffee - no, I'm out of real coffee - tea - I've got Chinese and English-something? Water?"
"Beer's fine. Please." I was exhausted. Always an important time to mind one's manners. A little politesse covers a multitude of tantrums, I've always found.
"Well, I suppose, first things first," she said, handing me an open beer bottle. "We'll go see Duncan. And we'll need to get in touch with Dawson too, I suppose." She sighed. "I don't think I'll ever get used to the idea of the Watchers." She wiggled her shoulders. "It just makes me squirm - them 'observing' me, 'recording' what I do. I can't get my mind around it."
"Frankly, Amanda, I'm surprised you didn't know about them long ago."
"No one knew. Until Mac found out. And of course, there's you," she replied.
I shook my head. "All the older Immortals know. Ten centuries and up," I quipped, smiling.
"That's the spirit, Methos! One beer and you're back at your old stand - nothing serious, nothing important, nothing worth risking a hair on your head for! God, I love that! It's so - Immortal!"
"Glad something I do pleases someone I care about," I said bitterly.
"Come on, sweetie, Duncan'll come around. He always does." She smiled prettily, then sat herself in my lap, wrapping her arms around me, while I pretended to be interested only in not spilling my beer. "Don't fret! You're an Old One. He'd die - God forbid - rather than let any harm come to you. Besides, it's personal with MacLeod."
"How'd you mean?"
"Well, it's not as if you never did anything for him, now is it?" She lifted one eyebrow.
"That's all water under the bridge. Now. Since he learned about the Horsemen. Amanda, I don't know what you've heard about me and the Horsemen -"
"Whatever I heard - it's all bullshit, Methos. Who gives a damn what you did thirty centuries ago? I know I don't! Only a bitch like Cassandra would even bring it up. It's - downright uncivilized - to broadcast it all over Europe like a news flash. You're our Methos now. That's what counts."
"Not to MacLeod," I replied. "We're pretty well through, I think."
"We'll see about that," she said, snuggling a bit more tightly, sniffing my neck. She sat up straight. "Come on. Let's give you a good shower - the bath here is so tiny, you've never been able to stretch out in it - shampoo your hair. We'll go shopping. You'll feel better, once you've got these smelly rags off you and you're wearing something stylish! I promise you."
"Amanda - not everything can be resolved with a beer and a bath! Giorgio Armani isn't the answer to all life's problems. Didn't Rebecca teach you anything?" I said, exasperated with her for once. God, I must be even more tired than I thought.
"You sound like Duncan, Methos - Duncan at his most stodgy! Of course I know that! But it goes a long way! It does! You know it does!"
"I can't go out. Buy something for me. I'll reimburse."
"No. I won't leave you alone." I stared at her. "No, not that. I know you can handle anyone, one on one, if somebody comes to challenge you. I know you can fight your own battles. But you shouldn't be by yourself. I smell a 'crisis of conscience' coming on, mon frere - you shouldn't be alone."
I thought for a moment. "Maybe you're right. Pity I've no time for that luxury, right now. Very well. I'll bathe and put on whatever clothes you like. I must have left something in the closet from last time. I'll even eat - if you get some take-out." Cooking isn't among Amanda's stronger skills.
"That's the spirit! And when it gets dark, and you're feeling better, we'll sneak onto Duncan's barge."
"And then he can take over, solve my problems, make things better, make things go away? Is that the plan?"
"Sarcasm will get you nowhere with me. Three heads are better than two. Besides, he's probably brooding too. It's two weeks since Bordeaux. He's probably worried about you."
"Amanda - what aren't you telling me?"
"What?" She looked bewildered.
"What? Nothing. I haven't even seen him lately. I wasn't in the mood."
"So why'd you think he's worrying about me?"
"No reason. Just - I know Duncan."
"Do you? Do you really?"
"I do. Come on, Methos. You know he loves you. Loves us both. So, we're a bit short on morals and ethics. So, we survive - and the devil take the hindmost. So - he loves us anyway. Maybe - because of it. Opposites attract, you know."
"You believe it, don't you? What you're saying. On the other hand, I don't. I don't imagine he'll pop open his best champagne for me when we get there."
"He'll do better than that. He'll fix things. Everything. He always does, for me. Why not for you?"
"Why not, indeed? Perhaps, because it was I who broke them?"
"Fiddlesticks. Never stopped him in my case. Look, Methos, bathe, I'll find you some fresh clothes. We'll send out for Chinese. It'll be dark in a couple hours. You'll see Duncan again - you know you want that. Come on, sweetie - chin up."
I was quiet for a few minutes, and Amanda waited patiently, as she usually does - for me - until I'd agree. Respect is a lovely thing. But I couldn't continue to trade on it, not anymore, not with Amanda. She had to know the truth. Accept it. I tried again to tell her.
"I did those things you've heard, you know. Cassandra's story. It's not simply gossip or rumor. It's the truth."
"I already told you what I think about that, Methos," she said, dismissively.
"Because I didn't do them to you."
"Methos, they're gone. Dead. Everyone you did do them to, every Mortal. They'd be dead by now, anyway, long gone, even without your help! It's over, Methos! The Four Horsemen are dead - yes, all four, you included. If Cassandra doesn't get it - well, the Witch never had a sense of humor, I always thought that." I nodded. "She let MacLeod talk her into sparing your head - so somewhere deep inside her she knows that Methos the Horseman is dead already. MacLeod's gotta know it too. Now, are you gonna get ready, or do I have to throw you in the shower myself!"
I held up my hands in a gesture of surrender. "No, not the fate worse than death! I'll go quietly."
"That's my Methos," she answered. "Good."
But I wasn't sure if it was. Good. Or if I was. Still her Methos. Not at all sure. I'd find out, soon enough, though. I'd find out.
Very serious. Very businesslike. MacLeod. "We need Dawson here. We need access to all his records, the Watcher files - everything," he said, after Amanda and I snuck onto his barge - hopefully without anyone noticing us come aboard. He wasted no time whatever exhibiting either surprise to see us or recriminations about the past. No questions about what the two of us were doing together. All practicality. I'd never seen him quite like that. It was strange. He seemed so old, like a Mortal who'd been through hell. His face and voice revealed how tired he was. That he'd not recuperated yet, from Bordeaux. I felt sorry for him.
"I suppose Joe will come, if you ask," I said casually.
"He'll come. For you." Duncan turned and looked me in the eyes then. "His faith in you never wavered, Methos. Not for a moment." MacLeod's eyes filled with tears. I couldn't imagine what memory he'd evoked for himself but it looked unpleasant, extremely so. "He cares about you very much. He'll come."
"Well, then, I suppose we should get in touch with him."
While MacLeod busied himself trying to put through a transatlantic call to Joe, Amanda and I wandered away, towards the other end of the barge. We stood near some bookshelves and whispered together. I fingered a copy of Pascal's "Pensees," trying to think whose it might be. Perhaps mine. It certainly didn't reflect Duncan's tastes. He'd often borrowed books from me, ones I'd be carrying when I stayed at his flat, if they interested him. Always something old that I was re-reading, and wouldn't miss for a while. For a decade or two. Yes, this was mine. The bookmark was one of Darius' old holy cards, from a Franciscan saint's day in 1954.
"See," Amanda said. "I told you he'd help. And not a question asked."
"Better than I could have hoped. You were right, Amanda. Thanks."
"Don't be so grudging. He's not angry with you."
"Really? You could have fooled me."
"He's just tired. Maybe when we've got this worked out - figured a way to keep those vultures away from your head - the two of you can finally talk. I know we've got centuries to straighten things out in - but some things -" She stopped, helpless to express what she meant. Sensed. Good instincts, our Amanda.
"Some things alter the course of history. So they've got to be settled now rather than later."
"What'd you mean, Methos?"
"I mean, whatever is going on in MacLeod's head, I've got to know now. Before I accept his help. If he's a friend - well, that's good. If he's not - there are some risks I won't take, not with his life. I'll seek help elsewhere."
Duncan came over to where we were standing. "Dawson's on his way. With every disk he thinks may be relevant. Now we do the Watcher thing. We wait."
"Guys, you know what? I just remembered I've got an appointment with my hairdresser. I'll be back soon."
"Your hairdresser?" MacLeod asked. "At ten o'clock at night?"
"What can I tell you?" she said, lifting her shoulders in a helpless gesture, hands palms up. "He's an artiste - his best time is after midnight - he was kind enough to squeeze me in and I don't want to miss the chance. I'll be back long before Dawson gets here." She smiled, kissed MacLeod, hugged me, and left the barge.
After Amanda left, Duncan and I looked at one another, then away. He wandered back toward the other end of his barge, perhaps thinking I'd stay put at my end and keep silent until Dawson arrived. He was wrong.
I followed him and flopped down in a chair near his desk. He stood for a moment, then sat in his own chair, looking down at his hands. We both spoke at once.
"How about a beer, MacLeod?" I said.
"Methos - about Bordeaux -" he said.
I grinned. "Get me that beer, then we'll talk."
He ignored my request. "About Bordeaux."
"What about Bordeaux?" I said, getting up and fetching a beer myself. I tossed one to Mac. For a moment, I thought he was too preoccupied to catch it, but he managed.
"Not just Bordeaux. All of it. We can't simply pretend it never happened."
"I think not. Look," he said, then stood and began to pace, "I don't want to grind this thing into the ground, but I was wrong. About you. You proved that." He looked at me. "I'm sorry."
"Proved that, did I?" I answered him. "To your satisfaction? Proved I was 'worthy,' of your friendship, did I, worthy of your forgiveness?"
"It's not good enough, MacLeod. It wasn't then, it's not now, and it's no answer for tomorrow."
I thought he was going to reply with heat, but instead he chuckled mirthlessly.
"What is it?"
"Nothing. Just something Kalas said to me. That I'm 'always a day late and a dollar short.' Maybe he knew me better than I thought."
I was already regretting the tack I'd taken. I'd hurt him badly, when I'd revealed my past with the Horsemen - in all its glorious detail - to him. Now, I'd hurt him again, and I'd only just begun. Perhaps I should simply drop it. Maybe he wasn't ready. Who was I to rush him? After all, I can wait.
But I couldn't. Wait. If the Warrior Immortals came at me, I had to know that nothing would move MacLeod from my side. Whatever happened. If I couldn't count on that, I'd need to revert to form. Cunning. The instincts of an animal. To survive. There wasn't much time to decide. I needed to know where Duncan stood - fast.
"'A day late and a dollar short.' Yes, that does have a nice ring to it."
"Damn you, Methos - I said I'm sorry - what more do you want to hear?"
"What I want to hear isn't important. But what's coming down for me now is worse than the Horsemen - because it's the enemy I don't know. And nothing in Dawson's files will alter that." I stood. "I need to know who my friends are. If I have any. I can't plan without that certainty."
"You can count on me, Methos. And anyone else I can bring on board to help. Like Amanda said - Richie and Connor, Cory, Robert and Gina, Kirin - whoever. We'll find them all. They'll come."
I shook my head. "No, MacLeod. They're not what I need. I need to know nothing will deflect you. You."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean - for example - Cassandra coming out of the woodwork and telling you some story from before 'men walked upright.' I mean, some bloke waltzing in here saying he's Methos, telling you to put up your sword and give peace a chance. I mean, Amanda getting you to believe I'd try to kill her - to get a crystal to save somebody else I love. I've got a thousand regrets, MacLeod. Not one of them involves not standing by my friends. Can you say the same?"
I didn't think he'd answer. As emotional as Mac is, I didn't think he could, not without tears. Seconds turned into minutes and I waited. At last he spoke.
"This can't go on. Not this way. I'm a child in your eyes, Methos. I know that. And I'm anxious to learn. You know that. But I won't let you cut away at me like this. No matter who you are. What you are. No matter how much I care for you. It won't work."
"MacLeod - listen to me." He turned away. I grabbed his shoulders and turned him back to face me. "Listen to me. Now. They're all coming. At once. Lamartin and Quentin. Rasmussen. Sinclair. Goddam Frederick the Falcon from Berlin. All of them. And it's not just my head they'll want. Oh no. They'll want yours as well."
"Do you know whose heads you took in Bordeaux? Or what you received in the Double Quickening? Have you any idea at all? No? Well - they do!"
MacLeod stared at me. "What are you talking about? I don't understand."
"I wasn't the oldest living Immortal - not by a longshot. Not before Bordeaux. Wonder why Caspian went down the Dark Path, towards perversion - ever wonder why? He was twelve thousand years old, MacLeod! Twelve thousand! Silas was a baby, compared to Caspian, and he was eight thousand years old - and I took his head!" I bit my lip. I was shaking with the memory of that betrayal.
"I didn't know, Methos. I'm sorry. Forgive me." MacLeod whispered.
"That's not all. You took Kronos. Kronos! Do you know who he was? He really was 'the end of time!' He really didn't know any other life, any other way. That he survived at all, evolved enough - to make it into the twentieth century - was a miracle! And you took his head - because he angered you! I begged you to leave it be. But you wouldn't let it alone. You took his power. Everything. Did you take his heart, too? Do you have any idea who you killed, when you killed Kronos?" I stopped, quivering with rage at his ignorance, his contempt.
"No! You listen, MacLeod. This is no child's game we're playing now. This is the real thing. The Game. Possibly, the End Game. They'll want your head too. If I can't know - I mean know - you're with me, behind me, then I must do this on my own. I can't afford any mistakes. Any. Not now. Not with these men. You're too important to lose!"
I didn't think he'd stay standing. He shook under the power of my onslaught, the revelations, his horror at anyone taking the lives of such Old Ones etched on his face. I'd needed to make an impression and I'd succeeded. Oh yes, I'd succeeded. But at what price?
Still MacLeod stood. And stood. And said nothing.
"Well. Make up your mind, MacLeod. You with me or against me?"
At last he spoke. "I'm with you, Methos. If you'll - allow it." Then he smiled.
I suppose, looked at from the right angle, it was kinda funny, at that. What with our history.
Sunshine at last. I sighed, then I laughed. "Yes. Rather. Sorry about that. You're a stubborn Scot - I didn't know any other way to get through to you - without pulling out all the stops."
"You bastard!" But he was still smiling.
I went to the fridge and took out two more beers. Tossed one to Mac. This time he caught it without even looking. "I didn't frighten you at all, did I?" I asked, curious.
"No more than I usually am. No. Disturbed me. Those losses. You know how I feel about that." He hesitated. "Maybe a little concerned."
"Oh? What'd you mean?"
"The permutations of your plans - I'm not sure my 'nature' won't take over - screw things up."
"That's in the equation, MacLeod - the glory that is Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod - it's all factored in."
"And Amanda? She never does what I tell her to do."
"Ah, but you don't have the leverage I do."
"What leverage? Your age?"
"Another time, Duncan. Another story. Start small and build - live with it. Suspense is good for the soul."
"This is what you call 'starting small'?" he asked, grinning.
I simply grinned back at him.
He shook his head. "I'll never catch up, will I?"
"Why ever would you want to?" I asked. "You'll be old enough, soon enough. Enjoy your youth while you've got it. It doesn't last long. And it doesn't come back."
"That's your advice, my five thousand year old friend?" I nodded. "Then I'll take it."
I sighed. He'd certainly try. Altogether too serious, MacLeod. Nothing to be done about it. By me. Amanda's job, that. And clearly not a thankless one.
I drank my beer. Mac drank his. We had a couple more. We didn't look like who we were. Didn't look like we were waiting for the 'Princes of the Universe' to come at us to try to take our heads. But our minds spun plans like the Wheel of Fortune, and we only stopped thinking for a moment, when Amanda returned.
Amanda met Dawson's plane and drove back with him to MacLeod's barge, filling him in on the possibilities we'd thought of to get help. By the time Joe'd arrived, we'd managed to contact several of Duncan and Amanda's Immortal friends, including his kinsman, Connor MacLeod. Duncan told them what we needed, who we'd be facing. Who was with him. They'd already heard. Not one of them refused to come to our assistance. Our assistance, not just MacLeod's. I must admit, I was amazed.
"What's so hard to figure about it, Methos?" Dawson asked when I expressed how I felt. "There are the good guys and the bad guys. You're the good guys. So are your friends. So - they're coming."
"I suppose I don't think of myself as a 'good guy,' never have. And they're not my friends."
MacLeod laughed. "Yeah. You're 'just a guy.' Never did believe it about you. Obviously, you never believed it about yourself, either."
"A man can dream, can't he?"
"Sure. Dream on. Later. Right now, we've gotta be awake."
"That's right," Joe said. "Now, give me the names of the Immortals you think will come after you two."
"It doesn't matter, Joe," I said wearily. "They're just - old enemies. Warrior Immortals. Nothing you've got in the files will make a difference when they get here."
"You don't know that, Methos," MacLeod said. "There's more in the files than simply names, addresses and Watcher assignments. You know that."
"Okay. Sure. Go ahead. I'll play." Amanda and Duncan exchanged glances. All right, I was in worse shape than I looked. Bordeaux hadn't been a stroll in the park for me either. I pulled myself together, sat up straighter on the couch. Focused. Responded. "Quentin of York. Lamartin of Bordeaux." I reeled off the names. "Frederick the Falcon - he's from Berlin - probably still there. Sinclair. Last I heard he was in South Africa - but he could be anyplace now -"
"Whoa!" Joe said, holding up a hand. "Give me a chance! I'm not a speed whiz on this thing, you know. Write 'em down, and I'll start with Quentin of York, whoever the hell he might be."
"Dawson," I said, "presently, he's the oldest living Immortal. Show respect." I must truly have been exhausted.
Joe didn't miss a beat. "Right. Quentin of York. Oldest living Immortal. No First Death info, of course."
"Naturally not," MacLeod seconded.
After a minute Joe said, "Well, he's here - in Europe. Living in Switzerland. Wait a minute - I think we've gotten lucky -"
"He's with Lamartin. I know. They're - partners." Three pairs of eyes bore in on me. "Just partners. And old friends. Nothing more."
"Okay." Joe typed some more. "Sinclair's dead."
"What?" I was shocked.
"I said, Sinclair's dead. So we don't need to worry about him anymore." Joe grinned at me. "Told you there's more in the files than Watcher assignments."
"Well, that's a blessing," I answered. I felt sick. Power hungry or not, Sinclair was part of my history - I'd known him for centuries. Dead. Gone. I stood and walked toward the other end of Mac's barge. This would be the death of me, I could feel it. This one piece of news alone was devastating. I'd rather have faced him myself than learned he was gone.
"Methos - no one ever said this was going to be easy." Amanda said, coming up to me, linking her arm in mine. "I knew Sinclair too. Pretty well."
"Right. Let me tell you something, Amanda. A few more news flashes like that, and nobody will need to fight me - they can just dredge me up out of the river and cut off my head."
"Then - close it off, Methos. For a while. Your heart. The passion. Just for a while."
"Do you think that's so easy?" I replied bitterly. "Besides, what am I supposed to use to fight with, if I close off my heart?"
"A sword? Skill?" Amanda said, smiling.
"Right. Sure. Like skill's gonna do it."
"Methos, when they come at you, the passion will come back. You know that. But for now - you can't let every little thing set you off like this. You're worse than MacLeod!"
"'Every little thing?' Sinclair's dead, Amanda!" I shook my head. "Okay. Okay. I'll try." We wandered back to Joe and MacLeod and I said, "Next?"
"Frederick the Falcon's been in a Carmelite monastery in Ireland for the last thirty years," Joe told me. "Brother John Mary of the Child Jesus, they call him."
"You're putting me on."
"No. I'm not. But he's on his way. He must have left as soon as he heard about Bordeaux. He's been in Paris since Tuesday."
"That's more like it," I answered, almost relieved. If Frederick could actually be a faithful monk, I'm the Pope. I was beginning to see Kronos' point about liking the old ways best. Learning that Sinclair was dead was bad enough. But that wouldn't hold a candle to finding out that Frederick the Falcon had changed!
"Okay, Methos - who's next?" Dawson asked.
"I don't know. Some young ones, I suppose. Though how they'd have learned about Bordeaux, I've no idea. Possibly from their teachers." I grinned. "Or their Watchers."
MacLeod said, "Think harder, Methos. There must be others. Right now, we outnumber the few you've mentioned, two to one."
"Rasmussen. I'd forgotten him."
"Let's see," Joe said. "Rasmussen - Edward or Thomas?"
"I suppose - Edward." Actually, I'd no idea what he was calling himself now, Erasmus. No point trying to tell Joe that, though. He was on a roll.
"Edward Rasmussen. Born in what we now call Sweden, twenty-five hundred years ago. That sound like him?" I nodded. Dawson went on. "Okay, if it's Edward, he lives there now, in Stockholm. He's an accountant. Owns his own business. Married. To a Mortal. She's fifty now."
"Erasmus Minor's an accountant? Lord, mercy!" I cried, looking up at the ceiling.
"What's so amazing about that?" Joe said. "You're a grad student doing research. This is the twentieth century - what'd you expect he'd be - a mercenary?"
"Well, he's not," Duncan interjected. "And he's been married to the same woman for twenty five years. Doesn't sound like he's gonna come after us for the power. Sounds like he's got himself a life he likes."
"Wrong, Mac," Dawson said. "He's here too. At a hotel in Bordeaux. Looks like he's tracking you two."
"Better and better," I said. "Two at least - Frederick and Rasmussen - that I know from before. Doesn't speak for what they're like now. But it's an advantage."
"I can find out. Wait a minute." Joe pounded away at his laptop. Then said, "Rasmussen's taken four Immortals over the last twenty years. All one thousand years old or more. Fighters."
MacLeod smiled. "That's a better record than you had, when I met you, Methos. You hadn't faced anyone in two hundred years!"
"You'll believe anything, Duncan, won't you?" Amanda said wickedly.
"No. It's true. I hadn't."
"I know it's true. You had no reason to lie to me, then. You waited months before telling me your first lies."
"Not funny, MacLeod. Don't dredge up the past."
"Look who's talking!" He answered, laughing.
"Boys! Remember why we're here. Let's be serious," Amanda interrupted.
I said, "I think I'm too tired to be serious. If I don't get some sleep pretty soon, I'm gonna lose by default. Joe, here're the names of all the Immortals I can think of who might be coming after us. Find out what you can. Please - if anybody else the chronicles say Methos spent a stretch of his life with is dead - just don't let me know. I don't think I can take any more 'good news' right now."
With that, I stretched out on Duncan's bed and took my Walkman out of my pocket. I put on the earphones, turned up the volume, and closed my eyes. Enough. That's enough for one day. Let the children play computer games if they like. I'm gonna sleep.
I woke up a while later and took off my earphones. MacLeod, Amanda and Joe were still sitting near Mac's desk with the computer in front of Dawson. But they'd stopped talking about who was coming.
Dawson was speaking. "I've never heard of anything like this - armies of Immortals fighting each other. Good guys versus bad guys. It's always been one-on-one. For as long as the chronicles stretch back."
"You think we're breaking the Rules, Joe?" Duncan asked.
"I don't know. I simply don't know. But they're coming individually, and you're planning on having a welcoming committee for them. That can't be right. Or fair."
Amanda shrugged. "Fair! What is it with you guys? Life's not fair! Look at us female Immortals. You think it's fair for us? No matter how hard we train, or how skilled we are, we can't take any one of you in a fair fight, because you're bigger than we are! So we take an advantage - our sex, our looks - we're devious, we're thieves. And you condemn us for it. We're not being 'fair'!"
She hardly paused to catch her breath. "Look at Methos - man's trying to change - doesn't challenge a soul - steers clear of Immortals for centuries - buries his nose in a book. Sweetest man you'll ever meet. Then out of the blue, his past comes back to haunt him. Don't talk fair to me. The name of the game is 'survival,' not 'fair'!"
"Amanda -" Duncan tried to take her hand but she pulled away. "Don't get yourself upset. I was only asking a question. If we do this wrong, it could be dangerous -" She tossed her head. "Amanda. Please. Stay with us on this. We need you. Methos needs you."
I couldn't believe my ears. MacLeod knew. That wherever her heart was, Amanda's loyalties were with me, always would be. Bright boy.
She didn't speak for a moment. Then she wiped her eyes. "Okay. Go on." MacLeod didn't move. "Go on, Duncan. Joe. You want to know if it's fair? That's what you guys are worried about? Yes. It's fair. It's happened before. In the Crusades. In a lot of wars. Whenever our kind are drawn to a large conflict like that, chances are they'll bump into each other. Take sides. And lots of times, friends travel together. So they 'gang up' on each other, in a way. Just like we're doing. It's fair."
Dawson said, "Thanks, Amanda. I didn't think of it like that. Just friends traveling together. Of course they'd help each other out. It's natural. Wouldn't come off like that in the chronicles. Especially in the old days, before computers. One Watcher writes about his Immortal - the other Watcher talks about his Immortal. Nobody puts the pieces together. I can see it happening."
"Haresh Clay and Carter Wellan traveled together for centuries," Duncan mused.
"Yeah, like that. And what happened with them and you and Richie -"
"It's not good. It's not right. But it's happened before. It's not - dangerous - in the sense I meant," MacLeod finished.
I chimed in. "No, it's not dangerous. But it's wicked."
"What do you mean, Methos?" MacLeod asked, turning to where I sat on the edge of his bed.
"Just what I said. It's evil. Traveling together in a pack. It's wrong."
I saw the light dawn in Amanda's eyes. "It's - like the Horsemen!"
"When Kronos sent Silas and Caspian after me -"
I nodded. "Yes. Exactly like that. Sure you want to do this, MacLeod?" It was the first test of what I'd spoken about with him earlier. Somebody coming out of the blue - in this case, Joe and me - spinning him a tale to set him thinking, wondering. Posing a dilemma for him. Would he stick with me - or be deflected from his path?
"Yes. I'm sure. I want you to live." Not a moment's hesitation. That boded well.
"Good," Joe said. "Then we've got something here. An advantage those others don't have."
"What might that be?" I asked.
"They're coming at you one at a time. You're facing them as a team. Sure, you'll fight one-on-one. But your hearts are united. That's a big advantage, Methos, take it from me. I've played a little ball in my time."
I smiled. "You never did finish teaching me about baseball, Joe."
"This ain't baseball - it's football."
"Doesn't matter. This isn't a Mortal game. It's the Game - there's a difference," Duncan said.
"Don't be a spoilsport, Duncan," Amanda said. "A game's a game. And an advantage is an advantage. Take it and like it."
MacLeod shook his head. "I'll never understand the two of you. You can't stay serious for five minutes at a time - even with your heads in the balance."
Amanda shrugged. "Nobody's after my head!"
"You know what I mean. You care. You're involved. You love. But - you're not serious."
"So. What's so bad?" she answered. "Doesn't hurt anybody. A little wine. A little song. A little tango. We're serious enough when the going gets rough, MacLeod."
"Yeah, I guess you are, at that," he said, grinning.
"Not me! I'll joke on my way to the gallows!" I said.
"Right. I heard you laughing in Bordeaux."
My stomach turned again. Back to square one. Bordeaux. How many centuries before we really survived Bordeaux, MacLeod and me?
Well, I thought, let's survive the attack of the Princes of the Universe in Post-Bordeaux Paris, first. Then we'll see.
Eventually, MacLeod convinced Dawson and Amanda to go back to her place and get some sleep. There wasn't enough room on Duncan's barge for all four of us to rest at the same time, and only I was willing to sleep while the others were awake. I could tell by his pacing that Mac wasn't about to leave me alone and unprotected - old habits die hard. He'd protected everyone he'd ever cared about for centuries - I didn't imagine that a few harsh words from me would make him change his stripes and abandon me now.
When Joe and Amanda had left, I selected a book from Duncan's shelves and tried to read. I was talked out. I thought MacLeod was, too. I was wrong.
"There's something I've remembered, Methos, that I want you to know. What we were talking about before - about the Rules - reminded me."
"MacLeod, can't it wait?" I asked plaintively. "I'm really tired. I just want to wind down with a good book and then sleep."
"It could wait, yes. But I don't think it should." He smiled. "I wouldn't like to lose you before you hear it."
"That's a comforting thought." I sighed heavily - dramatically, I suppose. Maybe I was still hurting - I seemed to enjoy nothing more than hurting MacLeod. It was unworthy but I couldn't seem to stop myself. "Right." I snapped the book shut. "Fire away."
He took a deep breath. He's not immune or blind to how I felt and what I was doing to him, of course. Just determined. Not to let it stop him from speaking. Not to let it stop him from caring. Or from doing the right thing. I gave up. "Sorry, MacLeod. What is it? I do want to know."
He spoke very slowly, pausing between words and phrases, partly not to say things wrong, I suppose. But partly because his memories weren't clear, I'm certain. I sat up straight to listen, which seemed to help him speak.
"When I saw you across the - space - a world away - fighting Silas -"
"Yes. That was a moment."
"When I saw you fighting Silas, I knew you were on my side. Had been, all along. It gave me heart again, Methos. I could finish Kronos, then." He looked at me. "I - cared - again. Enough to finish him. I was - alive, again."
"What I said to you before - about Kronos - I'm still glad you did it. Killed him. He had to go."
"Methos - if you hadn't been able to take Silas - if it hadn't gone down the way it did -"
"You'd have grieved for me, I'm sure, MacLeod. You don't need to do this. I know. Truly I do."
"You don't understand. I'd have gotten across that space, I'd have interfered! I'd have killed Silas, anything! I didn't care anymore, about the Rules. One-on-one. About not interfering in a Joined Battle. I didn't care about anything - only that you live! I wanted you to live!"
I was touched. Moved. For MacLeod, if there were no Rules, he'd make them. That he'd considered breaking them - for me - was lovely. But I was too tired to appreciate it. Too tired to watch my tongue when I responded to his revelation. I forgot my own rule - when I'm exhausted, politesse, politesse.
I said, "MacLeod, I know. It doesn't change anything. Help anything."
He stared at me, shock and hurt written all over his face, in his stance. "It doesn't change anything? Nothing I do, nothing I say, will change anything, is that it?"
"Bright boy. Got it in one."
"Go to bed, MacLeod. I want to read for a while."
He continued to stand there, stunned. So I went on, as if I were talking to a child. "You had an impulse, a wrong impulse, two weeks ago. It's natural. You wanted to save somebody you love. Fine. That changes nothing. You still can't accept me for who and what I am. You're still dreaming, MacLeod! You still think I'm that Methos you admired without caution - you shift back and forth, in your mind, between what I was then, three thousand years ago, and the man you met two years ago. And at no moment do you make the long long connection between the two. Nobody but me can. You simply end by denying my life as a Horseman, or wondering what game I'm playing now."
"You don't want our friendship. That's what you're saying, isn't it?"
"We're through, MacLeod. You said it. You were right. I'm not who you thought I was. I'm not who you want me to be. I'm not even the Oldest Immortal, whose advice you coax forth, as if I were a cat hiding under the couch. There's nothing left. We'll stand together this one last time. Hopefully, we'll both survive. And then we'll go our separate ways."
I picked up the book I'd been reading earlier. "I'll miss you, MacLeod. I really will. And I'm sorry it's this way, rather than the way you'd like it to be. I rather liked the idea that in the end there might be More Than One, myself. Had a nice ring to it. But it's not real. Gotta let it go." I turned back to the book.
He was across the barge in an instant. He smashed me across the face - harder than he'd done while the Dark Quickening gripped him. Grabbed me by the lapels. "You bastard! You lying bastard!"
"I'm not lying, MacLeod," I managed to get out.
He shook his head. "You're lying through your teeth. I don't know why. I don't know what the hell's going on in your devious little mind. But I know one thing. You wouldn't let us go if your life depended on it. Not before, not today, not tomorrow! I may only be four hundred years old - but I know one thing better than anyone I've ever met. I know when I'm loved! So - give it over, Methos. You can't fuck with me, and you can't lie to me. Not anymore. Even if you want to lie to yourself!"
He released me then, and I fell back in my chair. Even then, I didn't keep my mouth shut. I sat up, holding my jaw, but continued to speak. "Then I'm lying to myself. But I believe it - you said it - you were right. We're through."
"Fine. Whatever. However you want it. This attack goes down, and then I hope you're out of here." He sat heavily and put his head in his hands. His hair had come undone from its clasp and he looked as he always does when that happens - at the end of his rope. "God - I'm out of here too, when this is over. I never should have come back to this barge. It's got nothing but bad memories for me now. There's nothing good left here. I gotta get out of Paris."
I lifted an eyebrow. "The States as well, I think."
"Yeah. There too. Dawson will have to pack up again, if he wants to Watch me. I've had enough. This life is over. For good."
I was sure he meant it, while he said it. I couldn't blame him, though I'd miss the barge, and his flat back home. This was the best life I'd ever had, these years with MacLeod. I'd miss - everything about him. But I wasn't lying. Now I'd said it, I knew I believed it. MacLeod and I were through.
Unfortunately, life goes on. They started arriving at the barge in ones and twos before Amanda and Dawson returned. The "good guys," as Joe called them. Like they were there for an Immortal cocktail party. Dressed to kill. No pun intended.
Connor first. Then a sweet kid named Cory. Gina and Robert - greeting MacLeod with love so delicious you could smear it on a croissant like honey and eat it. Richie, glancing around, his head whirling with the old buzzes, way out of his league, and knowing it. He clung to me like glue. Wherever I sat, he was next to me. Except for Mac, who was surrounded, I was the one friendly face in the crowd to him. His own personal Old Timer.
Some I recognized, some I didn't. After a while, the faces and buzzes became a blur. And still they kept coming. Each with that same openness, that same acceptance, that frighteningly young love. For MacLeod. For me. Without favor. Both of us alike. I looked at Richie and chuckled mirthlessly.
"What?" he asked.
"Where do they come from? How do they do it?"
"Manage to love me as much as they love him."
"Why shouldn't they? You never did anything to hurt them. You're okay. You always tried to help me."
"I never gave a tinker's damn about you, Richie. I was trying to help MacLeod."
He was silent for a second. Then he shrugged. "Same thing."
"What is it with you people - you live in a dreamworld. You know what I was, what I did -"
"So -" Richie drawled.
"So - this isn't a movie. What's gone wrong with human nature, here? What's wrong with this picture? You're supposed to condemn me, not embrace me."
"Methos, we're not human. We're Immortals. I may not have much past to speak of, but everybody else in this room does. You think they'd like to hear their stories broadcast on CNN? Face it, Old Timer, you're no different from any of us. You're an Immortal with History. Once upon a time, you were an Immortal with Attitude. A lot of Attitude. No different from us."
"Needs no ghosts come from the grave to tell me who your Teacher was," I said, grinning. I was reminded of what I'd said to Kronos - about passing through my angry adolescence a bit quicker than him. Richie was a bright boy. I wasn't feeling particularly well, but poor Richie didn't need to suffer for it. I still had a few tricks up my sleeve to amuse him, delight him. He deserved it, trying to pull my chestnuts out of the fire, at his age. When an opening came, I'd do what I could. Unfortunately, no opening came.
"Right." He was silent for a few moments, drank his beer, fiddled with his cigar. I waited for the inevitable question. "Look, Methos. I don't want to butt in where I don't belong, but is everything okay between you and Mac?"
"We'll get over it, in time."
"I know this might sound stupid, but - what's there to get over? The two of you worked like a charm and got rid of the Horsemen, the way I hear it. Now you're working together again. What's the problem?"
"Richie, you still have nightmares about MacLeod chopping off your head?"
"Sometimes. So what. Dawson told me some Immortals carry nightmares around from hundreds of years in their past. Things they did back then. Immortals they killed. Friends they lost. Lovers who died." He shrugged. "At least you and Mac are still alive. You survived. You can make it up. If you try. If you want to try."
I closed my eyes. "Yeah, kid. We'll make it up. Some day. Promise."
"Not some day, Methos. Now's the time. Sure, we're Immortal - but we can still die."
"It can go either way. I know."
"I know you're a really old guy and you probably have more wisdom in your little pinky than I've got in my whole hand - but do you think it's a good idea to just let things fall apart between you and Mac?"
Finally, I couldn't take any more. "Look, Richie, you're a bright boy and a good kid. This is way out of your league. Let it be."
"Sure." He stood up. Hurt. Angry. Young. But respectful. He wore Duncan's chivalry well, for a child of the twentieth century. "Sorry I spoke out of turn. You guys settle it between yourselves. None of my business." He turned away and looked around. "How about I get us a beer and some food?"
"That would be most welcome," I answered with a grin. I wouldn't eat anything. Probably shouldn't even drink anything, the way my stomach kept churning. But I had to agree, let Richie off the hook. Monster or not, there was a little Adam Pierson left in me still, I suppose. "Bring me a sandwich, anything lean."
"Sure. I'll be back in a minute." He moved away quickly, glad to get out of the conversation and away from me. I was one really old guy who'd turned into a big disappointment for him. Ah well. He'd survive.
After everyone we were expecting had arrived and greeted everybody else and drank enough champagne to float a battleship, Amanda and Dawson came back to the barge. A few whispered words pegged Dawson for the others, and he too was embraced like a long lost brother. Amanda worked the room. Joe sat and held court. Richie joined him, relieved to see a friendly face.
I realized MacLeod was no longer there.
I went up top. It was dark now, a starry lovely night, clear and cool. The lights of Paris twinkled gloriously. I inhaled the fresh air and felt a little better. The Eiffel Tower in the distance brought back memories which I quickly pushed aside. I looked for Duncan and saw him sitting alone at the other end of the barge deck.
I walked over and joined him. He glanced at me and then back down at the water. It was the first time I'd noticed that he recognized my buzz, distinguished it from anyone else's. He'd known it was me coming.
He said, "We've got to move from here. To high ground, somewhere. Now the others have come."
"Yes, I'd thought of that. Shall we leave France altogether? Lots of space in the Highlands, for battle."
"You were thinking of Scotland?"
I shrugged. "Just a thought. Doesn't matter."
"We need privacy. I just hadn't thought about Scotland -"
"We needn't go there. France is plenty big enough."
"Somehow, the only thing I can think of is Holy Ground. That we should meet them on Holy Ground," Duncan said with a small smile. "Silly, isn't it?"
I rubbed my head, messing my hair. Tried to think of some reason not to agree that Holy Ground was a silly place to meet. Finally, I replied. "We could start there. The Watchers have abandoned their place again - the Quarters where they hid while they hunted you and Jacob Galati. They haven't sold their villa yet. It's still vacant."
"It's on Holy Ground. With lots of land -"
"Right. I'll tell the others." I stood up quickly and turned to leave him where he was sitting. I'd never thought of MacLeod as a loner, but age does funny things to people, even somebody like Duncan. He grabbed my arm.
"What?" I asked, thinking, God, not again, no more talk, please God!
"It'll be all right, Methos. I promise you. We'll work it out," he said softly.
Pathetic. Comforting me. No end to his nobility. "Sure. I know. Let's get through this first, though. What'd you say?"
"Okay. We'll get through this first. I'll be down in a minute."
"Take your time. I'm sure there's a good-looking man in there Amanda hasn't kissed yet. Give the girl a chance to party."
He laughed. "Yeah, I will. Thanks, Methos."
I frowned, bit back the question on my lips, the retort. Enough's enough. "You're welcome, MacLeod."
We arrived at the abandoned villa the Watchers used as Headquarters for a short time, and settled in rather nicely. I think I was probably one of the few among us who felt uncomfortable in such a luxurious setting. But it didn't matter. We wouldn't be here very long.
I was hard put to understand what Duncan wanted with the "high ground," though I'd said nothing when he'd mentioned it on his barge. However many of us - or them - there were, we wouldn't be fighting a conventional battle. We'd be going at it one-on-one. It occurred to me that we'd probably be better served by a theatre than a hill - the better to watch our comrades fight. Another stray thought I didn't voice to the others.
They were in fine fettle, I must say. Even Dawson seemed to have forgotten what this "party" was about. Only MacLeod and I remained serious, focused. I, more so than I'd been since Bordeaux. I think Mac was the same. It was as though no one else cared why we were here, together. Only Mac and me. Strange.
The morning after we arrived at the villa a phone call came through for me, on Joe's cell phone.
"Yes, Adam Pierson here," I said automatically. Then glanced at MacLeod with a foolish grin.
"Methos - is it you?"
"It's Lamartin here. We're about an hour from Headquarters. Expect us, please."
"I've been expecting you. See you then."
"Good, Val. Quentin sends greetings."
"Return them for me, Lamartin."
"I shall. See you soon." He rang off.
I looked at MacLeod. He waited expectantly for an explanation of the call, though I'd mentioned Lamartin's name.
"It was Lamartin. He and Quentin will be here soon - no more than an hour. Shall I tell the others, or will you?" I asked.
"What did he want?"
"What'd you mean?"
"I mean - why did he call - warn you they were coming? I don't understand."
"Simply courtesy. Perhaps they want us to put champagne on ice for them. How should I know? I'm 'just a guy'," I said, uttering the first joke without bitterness I'd made since Bordeaux. As might be expected, it went over like a lead balloon with MacLeod.
"No. Something's not right."
"For goodness sake, MacLeod - they'll be here in an hour - you'll find out then. I'm going into the dining room to tell the others."
"Please, MacLeod, don't worry it like a bone. Let it be. They're strange. They've always been strange. Live with it."
He didn't say anything more, so I went to advise the others that Quentin and Lamartin were near. There was little response, simply silence. Dawson looked concerned. Amanda looked excited - but then she'd always liked Lamartin. Connor looked interested - no more. The others looked as though someone were interrupting their party. Which of course they were. But that was no reason to be quite this blase.
I got my sword and put on my coat. "I'll wait for them on the grounds," I told nobody in particular. I don't think anyone heard me. But when I got outside, MacLeod was there, too, waiting for them, or waiting for me. "I'm afraid I'm simply not a party animal," I joked. "I can't help being glad someone's coming at last. The sooner we can put this thing to rest, send the others home, and be alone again, the better I'll like it."
MacLeod glanced at me. Then he smiled. "Alone. Or with your friends? Your real friends?"
"And who might they be?" I asked.
"Amanda, Joe, me, Richie -"
"Please, MacLeod - not now."
"How well do you know these two who are coming?" Duncan asked.
"Well enough to know I'd rather not be fighting either of them."
"Should we wait, or shall I take one and you the other?"
"God, MacLeod - let's leave it to them. Quentin will do as he pleases. We won't be given a choice, I promise you."
He didn't speak any more. Simply stood in the driveway with me, silent and watchful. Waiting.
I looked back at the house and saw that our friends had all come outside as well. They stood - sword in hand - bunched up by the villa door. Only Joe was distinguishable from the rest, by his cane, from where MacLeod and I stood.
Every sound was magnified in the silence. At last I could hear the crunch of gravel as a limousine came up the drive. It came to a stop and the driver and passenger doors opened. Lamartin and Quentin got out. MacLeod and I brought out our swords from beneath our coats.
"Greetings, Methos Valerius! How are you?" Quentin asked.
"You must be Duncan MacLeod, the Highlander," Lamartin added, in a soft tone. "Lamartin of Bordeaux at your service." I couldn't help wincing at the word 'Bordeaux,' though Lamartin's been called that since before Duncan was born.
"I am." MacLeod took up a fighting stance before I could stop him. "Who challenges me?" he said, his Scots accent thick as bog.
"Children, children," Quentin said, smiling and putting out a hand as if to quiet a classroom full of six year olds. "You misunderstand entirely."
"I don't misunderstand anything," Duncan replied. "Who challenges me? Who challenges Methos? Speak!"
Quentin shook his head. "We're here to assist Methos, not challenge him."
I stared. MacLeod stared. Then we looked at each other. Then back at Quentin and Lamartin. Duncan held his fighting stance without wavering.
"Is this some sort of joke, Quentin?" I asked. "One at a time or both at once - who challenges whom? Speak!"
"Val - it's no joke," Lamartin replied. "We learned of your troubles. We came to be with you. Help, if we're needed."
"My 'troubles?' Is that what you call it? Troubles?"
"Certainly. What would you call it?" Quentin glanced behind me towards the villa, as if to say, if you're not in trouble, why are they here?
"I'd call it power. Round and firm and fully packed. Don't say you're not after it," I retorted.
"But we're not. Truly not, Val."
MacLeod took it in first. He swivelled his katana back under his coat. Put out his hand and grabbed my arm. "Methos - these aren't the Princes of the Universe," he whispered, "they're just your friends. Put up your sword."
I turned and looked at him, horrified. "Oh no. Oh no. Don't do this to me. Don't you believe them, MacLeod. I've known Quentin and Lamartin for millenia. They're here for the power. Don't let them disarm you!"
"But we're not. Of course, the power would be very nice, I'm sure," Quentin remarked. "But what's been happening to you and MacLeod here, is nicer. More interesting. Fascinating, actually. The power will wait another day. There'll be more later, certainly. We can wait. Meanwhile, if others don't see it quite that way," he shrugged, "they'll need to face Lamartin and me. Should give them pause, don't you think?"
While we chatted in the road, our friends had left the villa steps and come closer, to listen. Then suddenly, another car drew up in the driveway. The driver's side opened and Frederick the Falcon got out. He was wearing monk's garb. If he had his sword with him, I couldn't see it. Perhaps he'd left it in the car.
"Methos - old friend - how goes it?" Frederick called to me cheerfully, in a rough translation from the German.
I didn't reply.
Frederick continued, "I heard of your troubles - thought you could use an old friend by your side. A little spiritual sustenance, something like that." His German drawl was unnerving. I'd forgotten how sinister a genuine German accent could sound. Old prejudices die hard, as I've said.
"Who are your friends?" Frederick asked, when I didn't speak. "This one I know - from the files - Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod! Who wouldn't recognize you," he added, with a twinkle in his eye. "Good to meet you!" He stuck out his hand and Duncan automatically shook it. "I better not say more about that - I see we have a Watcher friend with us. Joe Dawson, nicht? He mustn't know how much we know, eh?" The man positively radiated mirth at his small joke concerning the files, and the absurd deception we all perpetrated about our ignorance of the Watcher Society. He was old as the hills, Frederick the Falcon - of course he knew about the Watchers!
"Gina, Robert - how are you?" The couple came toward Frederick and embraced him warmly. Then Frederick turned to me and grabbed both my arms. "We'll be fine, you'll see, Methos! Simply fine! No one will even get close. Let them try as they may. You'll see." Then he strode off toward the villa with Gina and Robert, and the group that had gathered round MacLeod and me began to break up and move towards the house, too.
"Quentin, what is this?" I asked. "What's going on?"
Duncan stopped me. "We'll talk later, Methos." Then he turned to Lamartin and Quentin. "Please, go up to the villa. There's good food and drink waiting for you. Thank you for coming."
Then he gripped my arm firmly and pretty well dragged me away from the others, up the hill toward the cemetery.
"Wait. Just wait, Methos. Please."
"Right. Just let go my arm. I can walk on my own."
"If you promise to follow me."
"All right. All right. I'll come."
He dropped my arm and continued up the hill, trusting that I'd follow. Perhaps not trusting - he looked back once, to make certain.
Finally, we arrived by a gravesite which suited MacLeod, and he stopped walking. He sat on the stone and I stood in front of him, my impatience probably radiating from my buzz. For all the good that would do. Most likely, he wouldn't sense it.
"So, Methos, you have friends after all," he said, with a grin. It was all I could do not to swipe at him as he'd backhanded me earlier, to wipe that grin off his face. "I suspect the rest of your friends will be arriving one by one during the day. Rasmussen will have tracked us by now."
"What friends!" I sneered. "Quentin and Lamartin? Frederick the Falcon? They're vultures! Ghouls! They took one look at who they were up against and concocted their stories! 'Be with me in my troubles!' They must think I was born yesterday!"
"You sound as though you were, Methos," Duncan replied quietly. "But even a child would know what those men said was true. Those are no cowards, to be frightened off by the likes of us."
I inhaled deeply. "You mean you're falling for that line of drivel? They'll wait until we separate and the others go home, then they'll find me in an alley and take my head - if they can!"
"Don't 'Methos' me! I haven't survived five thousand years without knowing a thing or two about human nature! If those three are here to help me in my 'troubles,' it can mean only one thing - and that's impossible!"
"What is it - that one thing - that's so impossible, Methos?"
"That they've changed!"
Duncan began to laugh. And laugh. I stared at him. I was not amused. "Stop it! Damn you! Stop it! This isn't funny!"
"But it is! It's really funny, Methos!"
"Draw your sword - I'll show you what's funny! Your head on a pike, is funny! This isn't even slightly amusing!"
"I'm not drawing my sword, and neither are you, Methos! We're on Holy Ground!" After sputtering that out, he laughed some more. I thought he'd roll on the ground with laughter.
"All right, I'll play! What on earth is so funny?"
"The impossible! That those old bastards have changed! Changed! It's impossible! You can't believe it! But it's happened - it's true. They've changed! I think that's pretty funny, considering!"
"MacLeod - this sort of thing can be dangerous to your health! We won't always be on Holy Ground, you know!"
He wiped his eyes, then started to laugh again. "I know, I know!"
"Right. I'm going back to the house. I'm getting my things and leaving here. You want to stay and attend one long round of cocktail parties, fine. I'm outta here!"
"Methos - wait!" He was still laughing, the bastard. "Wait for me. We'll go together. Take Amanda and Joe and go together. Richie will want to stay - he's star struck!"
I sighed. "MacLeod. This isn't over yet."
"No. But a good laugh doesn't hurt, does it?"
"Do you hear me laughing?"
"No, not yet. But I will! I will!"
I was throwing my things into an old duffel bag MacLeod had lent me when we traveled from Paris to the villa when I heard it - the rumble of what sounded like a tank, and the unmistakable whining whirl of helicopter blades. I rushed to the French doors of the suite I'd been assigned, opened them and stood on the small balcony outside the room.
Looking down, I saw the tank I'd heard draw up on the lawn right in front of the villa's doors. Looking up, I watched as a helicopter circled lazily towards the ground and settle with a slight bump next to the tank. Searching outward, I felt the swarm of many buzzes - a frightening number.
I rushed back into my suite and grabbed my sword, not even bothering to put my coat on. I was out on the landing in moments, and nearly crushed in the crowd that joined me on the stairs.
"Methos -" MacLeod gasped, as I caught up with him on the lawn and grabbed his arm.
"Guess we congratulated ourselves too soon, MacLeod. Appears to be somebody out there who doesn't like me, after all."
"Could they be equipped with automatic weapons?" he asked me, as if he really believed I'd know.
I shook my head. "Duncan, when the hell are you going to get it into your head that I'm old, not omniscient?"
We stood there on the lawn, more than ten "good" Immortals, and waited for the occupants of the tank and the helicopter to come out. Though not one of us carried so much as a pistol besides our swords, I detected no fear in the faces around me.
Joe made his way to MacLeod and me. "I've got a gun, if that'll help."
"Right. One gun, twelve, no, fourteen swords, and a partridge in a pear tree. Should do it!"
"Why don't they come out?" Duncan complained.
Quentin had sidled up between the others and stood behind us. "Oh, they will, never fear. Soon enough."
"Who are they? Do you know?" MacLeod was determined to interrogate us all, I think.
"My dear boy," Quentin responded, "I'm old, not omniscient." Then he grinned and winked at me.
My heart was racing wildly. This could very well be "it," the End Game, as I'd been so quick to describe to MacLeod. Somehow, it didn't sound terribly pristine - not with a tank and a helicopter in the offering.
At last the lid of the tank opened and a hand came out, followed by one Immortal after another - eight in all. All young. I could feel the heat and freshness in their buzzes. The copter disgorged its passengers as well - they'd crammed another seven in there. More young ones.
I looked at Quentin. He shrugged. We both knew there wasn't anybody in our party of Immortals as young as any of these, except for Duncan, Connor and Richie. But there weren't any women among them - we had two. Ordinarily, that would cut down our power significantly - unfortunately, Amanda's complaint was true. In a fair fight, skilled Immortal against skilled Immortal, a woman would likely lose. But this wouldn't be a fair fight, I thought. If they fought one-on-one, none of these hotheaded children had a chance against any of us - Amanda and Gina included.
Then I remembered Duncan, and Richie, and Connor. Young as they were, they'd defeated scores of old powerful Immortals. And I thought, where is Rasmussen? Is he leading them - coaching them? God have mercy on us all, if he was.
At last, one of the Challengers spoke. "I am Victor Sands. I speak for us all. We seek after the power received by Methos Valerius and Duncan MacLeod in the Double Quickening. We honor our teachers and will not subvert the Rules. We will fight one-on-one, to the death, as we were taught. We will not challenge any Immortal who's just received Quickening."
"Then let's take to the high ground, above this chateau," MacLeod responded.
"Who are you? Do you speak for all of these?" Victor said, gesturing towards our crowd.
"I'm Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod. I speak for myself. We do not fight as a group. We fight one-on-one -"
I cut MacLeod off. "I am Methos Valerius. I speak for all here. I ask you to reconsider. Think what you're doing. Who you're challenging. Your teachers would not want this."
"My Teacher would want me to be the Only One. In the end. He loved me."
"And your teacher was -?" I asked Victor.
"And yours?" I asked the man standing by Sands' side.
"I am John Kramer. My teacher was Xavier. Xavier St.Cloud."
Quentin touched my arm lightly. "We've heard enough, Methos, don't you think? Reason will not answer with these. Let's waste no more time." He turned to the others of our group and pointed towards the horizon beyond the house. "To the hills, now. Fight your best fight. We'll meet in the villa, after. Champagne is on me! Come, Lamartin!"
With that, Quentin rushed up the hill like a madman, brandishing his sword high above his head, yelling a primitive battle cry I hadn't heard in ten centuries. Lamartin followed him at great speed, screaming the same kind of cry, in another tongue. As I stood there, pretty well rooted to the spot with astonishment, I was nearly run down by the crowd of my friends rushing up the hill towards unsanctified ground. The challengers joined them, without the war cries.
I turned to MacLeod and we eyed each other. Then we looked at Dawson, standing there with his gun in one hand and his cane in the other, eyebrows raised.
"You two gonna just stand here?" Joe asked, a twinkle in his eye. "How's that gonna look in the chronicles? MacLeod and Methos let ten men and two women fight their battle for them. Has a lousy ring, don't ya think?"
I sighed as loudly as I could manage without dislocating my jaw. MacLeod shook his head.
I said, "To think, I was nearly packed, nearly gone. It's your fault, MacLeod. You had to drag me out to the cemetery."
"Nag nag nag. Let's go." He started up the hill, running a zig zag course, for some reason. I think the tank and helicopter got to him - he was imagining he was on some war course or another, from some war or another. I figured that if I walked at a leisurely pace, I'd see the first fireworks of the first Quickenings light up the sky. From a good safe distance. With that crowd fighting alongside him, Duncan didn't need my protection.
I started after MacLeod slowly but Joe called out, "Methos!"
I turned. "What is it, Joe?"
"Take care, old friend. Watch your back."
"Thanks, Joe, I will."
Then I reconsidered my leisurely walk up the hill. Joe deserved to see it all but it would take him a while to make it to a good vantage point. The walk wouldn't be easy for him. "Joe, stay where you are for a minute."
"What? Where you going?" he asked, as he saw me run in the opposite direction from the fighting.
"Just wait there a minute," I shouted.
I sprinted round the back of the villa towards the garages. Sure enough, Quentin's limousine was parked with the doors unlocked and the keys in the ignition. I got in quickly, started it up, then took off like a bat out of hell to where Joe was waiting for me. "Get in," I said, reaching over to open the passenger door. He didn't move. "You and MacLeod," I said, exasperated. "What'd you want, a written invitation?" He got in.
I'd almost floored the gas pedal when another car's headlights blinded me. The other driver stopped short not a yard from the limousine's hood. A tall slender Immortal jumped out and came to the passenger side of the limo where Joe sat. He peered into the car across Dawson and said, "My name is Edward Rasmussen - do you remember me, Methos? Hope I'm not late. I came to help, if you'll have me."
"Yes, of course, Erasmus." I was well past astonishment now. Fast arriving at a state of shock. "Get in the back. The fight's up there." I gestured toward the horizon. "Now that you're here, we'll be equal numbers." Rasmussen got into the car and I speeded along the gravel driveway, then up the grounds to the near hills, screeching to a stop a few yards from Amanda and some poor boy she was demolishing. I threw myself out of the limo, and so did Erasmus Minor. "Stay inside, Joe," I shouted. "You'll see fine."
Victor Sands had been waiting for me on the sidelines. He made the formal challenge again, this time to me. "I'm Victor Sands," he advised me.
"Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm Methos. When you see Grayson in hell, tell him a friend of Darius sent you!"
With that, I took my best shot, and saw that the boy was both talented and skilled with his sword. His passion stood him in good stead. I'd piqued his anger - still another plus for him. I cursed myself but I simply couldn't take the fight seriously. If I continued in this frame of mind, I'd be dead within the hour - if not by Victor's hand, by one of his comrade's.
Then the first Quickening showered on us, and everything stopped. Quentin'd drawn first blood, of course. As old as he was, that seventeen year old body still stood him in good stead - power and agility combined with cunning and wisdom - who could stand against Quentin? I hadn't been joking to MacLeod, when I spoke of the Princes of the Universe. If no others among us Old Ones were Princes, at least Lamartin and Quentin could claim that title.
At Quickening's End, Quentin's slim young body fell to the ground. His golden hair spilled over onto the grass. Lamartin saw his friend collapse and abandoned his own battle to stand guard over Quentin's head.
The boy who Lamartin'd been fighting followed the old Latino Immortal and cried out, "Coward!"
"Peace, child," Frederick said, from his place on the sidelines. No one had yet dared to challenge the monk, though he carried his sword openly now. Too much like fighting on Holy Ground, to these young ones, I suppose. They couldn't know what he'd been. And the power he still carried inside. "You'll be dead soon enough," Frederick added.
The rest of us resumed our fights and soon the sky was white with Quickening Light. Victor Sands, John Kramer, a dozen others whose names we learned from Joe, by and by, died within minutes of each other that day, so near to Holy Ground that they might have touched it, if they'd wished. But they hadn't so wished. They'd wished something else entirely. Something glorious and terrible and impossible - for them. They'd wished to destroy the Survivor-Princes of the Universe - not so easy as it seemed - as they learned.
We survivors were left with the miserable, grueling, painful task of burying the dead. Not that we often do that. But this case was different. We got rid of the helicopter and tank in a huge wooded area about a mile from the villa. It might be years before anyone came upon it again. Or at least, we hoped so.
Dawson searched his computer files for hours before we buried the bodies, to find names to put to the faces of these dead men. Burying them was hard. Reading their histories was even harder. Every man but Sands and Kramer had trained with the great teachers of modern times - the last five hundred years. None of them had had a real chance against us. It was awful, and pitiful, and frightening to think about.
Richie came up to my suite that night, before we finally had our farewell champagne dinner. "Methos," he said, "you're gonna have a drink with us, right? You're not gonna stick your head in a book?"
"No, Richie, I won't stick my head in a book. I'll eat and drink with you all," I answered. Weary as I was, there are some insults even I won't perpetrate.
"Good," he said. But he didn't leave my suite. I waited to hear whatever it might be that he actually wanted to ask me. He'd always find a question for his personal Old Timer, though I knew he'd never find the nerve to speak to Quentin or Lamartin.
Finally Richie said, "I thought I'd bought it, there, a couple times."
"Me too. Thought I'd 'bought it,' a couple times," I responded quietly.
"Nah, not you. I watched you a while. For a skinny old guy, you're really good. Maybe better than Mac."
"Bite your tongue!" I answered, grinning.
"Methos - I was the youngest of all of you. Both sides. The other guys - Joe says there wasn't anybody who came who was under a couple hundred years old."
"And your point is?"
"I dunno. I guess my point is - how come? How come nobody took me? Do I lead a charmed life or something? Is it because Mac's so good, and he's my teacher? I just - I was scared, Methos."
"That's how come, Richie. MacLeod taught you the one thing these other guys never learned. To be scared. Gives you an edge." I squinted at him. "A real edge. Fear."
"I don't get it. How could anybody not be afraid, facing another guy like that, knowing you could die any time?"
"I don't know how. I only know - it happens. These men were very sure of themselves. They were fine fighters, every one. It wasn't a cakewalk by any means - not for any of us. But they were too confident. Too sure. Of their skills. Of their strength. Of their Immortality, maybe. Whatever it is - I could smell it in them. Such men never last."
"Well, I suppose the proof is in the pudding - they're gone. We're here."
"Well, I'll leave you alone for now. Don't forget to come down to dinner. You promised," Richie said.
He went to the door and started to open it. Then he looked back at me. "First piece of wisdom you've given me, Old Timer. Knew I'd coax something out of you, eventually," he said with a smile. "Thanks."
"Don't mention it," I replied. Then, as he turned again to leave my suite, I called him back. "Richie."
"Keep it to yourself."
"What - your wisdom?"
"No - the fact that you got it out of me. MacLeod hears I'm advising you, and next thing you know, he'll be wanting me to teach him, too. Got no time for students, you know. Too busy training up Methos in the way he should go."
"Right. It'll be our secret. Promise." Richie held up his fingers in the peace gesture, then swiped his hand over his mouth in the zipper gesture of silence. Then he left me alone.
Dawson, Amanda, Richie, MacLeod and I got drunk at the party, on Quentin's champagne. But next morning, after we'd made our farewells to the others, Mac was sober enough to drive, while we four crowded into his car and tried to speak quietly while Joe slept.
"Well, that was fun," Amanda said, settling herself in tightly on the front seat between MacLeod and me. Richie sat in back with Joe's head on his shoulder.
"Is that what you call fun?" MacLeod asked her. "Slaughtering innocent children, I'd call it."
"Children, yes. Innocent, no," I said.
"All right. True enough," Mac admitted.
"It was lovely to see all our friends again, wasn't it?" Amanda added, smiling with the memories.
I didn't answer, and MacLeod looked across Amanda at me. "You gonna admit that those people are your friends, Methos? Or you gonna stick to your story - that you've got no friends?"
"What'd you think?" I replied.
"I think," Duncan said, "you're a fool if you don't thank whatever gods you pray to that Quentin and Lamartin didn't come after you. Or Frederick the Falcon and Rasmussen! Did you see those guys fight?"
"Fantastic technique, incredible passion, unbelievable agility - yes, I suppose I am lucky. So are you."
"At least I admit it!" MacLeod said.
"That's not what I meant."
"Then what did you mean?" he asked.
"You're lucky they all believe, as I do, in the end there can be Only One."
"Of course they believe it. We all do."
"What?" he asked.
Amanda cut in. "Methos - don't say it."
I ignored her. "You're lucky they all believe as I do, that it must be you."
He turned red. "That's ridiculous. There's not one of you I wouldn't be proud to serve, in the end, if that were possible."
I shrugged. "Maybe that's why."
Nobody spoke for the rest of the journey back to Paris. When we were at the outskirts of the city, Amanda asked Duncan to let her off at a small cafe she liked. He didn't bat an eye, but I knew he was angry. I suppose he had the right to be. She persisted in not inviting him to her apartment.
We drove to the airport and saw Joe and Richie onto a plane bound for the States. I could tell MacLeod was waiting to see whether I'd buy a ticket for home as well, but when I passed up that chance, he didn't comment. Just walked back to the car with me and got in. I followed him and got into his car too. He drove back towards Paris without saying a word.
Finally, when we'd reached the heart of the city, he asked, "Can I drop you somewhere, Methos?"
He turned his head quickly and glanced at me, then drove to his barge, parked the car and got out. I followed. "You staying with me?" he asked casually, just before we reached the walkway up to the deck.
"For a bit," I admitted. "If you'll have me."
He paused by the walkway. "When did you decide this, Methos?"
"Dunno. Sometime between killing Cecil Loring and killing Angelo Paulo, I think. Or maybe, Stephen DeKalb. Not sure."
I looked him in the eyes. "Because nobody lives forever."
"How long's 'a bit'?" MacLeod asked after a moment.
"The longest journey starts with just one step," I replied, grinning.
"Oh, you're on a journey, then?" he asked, as he started up the walkway.
"Oh yes. Always." I followed him up to the deck.
"Thought you liked to travel alone, Methos. No friends, no baggage, no cares."
I shrugged. "I'm not too old to change."
"Does this mean we're gonna be friends again? Or are you just gonna be my guest?" Duncan asked, stopping in his tracks. "Because I've gotta know now, before we go inside."
"Why now?" I asked. "You said we'll work it out. So - we'll work it out. Right now, I don't know."
"But I've gotta know," he insisted.
"Fine," I said, exasperated. I ran my fingers through my hair. "Yes, we'll be friends again. Satisfied?"
"Sure. Because, if we're friends, then you can buy the beer. See you when you get back." Then he flashed me a quick grin, tossed me the keys to his car, turned on his heel and left me standing there, outside the barge, in the Paris breeze, with my mouth wide open.
Without looking at me, he called back over his shoulder, "Close your mouth, Methos, you'll catch flies!"
You know, MacLeod was right, back there in the graveyard, when he said he'd hear me laugh again. I'm sure he could hear me laughing all the way to the market.