Demons at Bay
by Lillian Wolfe


continued from part two...

"I can't really tell you much you don't already know about Vincenzo Calabrese who is now Diego Montes. The Watchers first picked him up in Venice in 1128, well after he'd become an Immortal," Joe said with a significant glance at Amanda.

"It was an accident," she defended. "I didn't mean to kill him. Besides I hadn't learned to recognize a pre-Immortal at the time."

Methos barely suppressed the smile that threatened to break through. It was good to see Amanda squirm a little. Le Blues Bar was quiet now, closed on weeknights at the respectable hour of one a.m. The only other person around was the janitor who staunchly did not speak, nor understand anything but French-- and even that was iffy if your accent wasn't Parisian enough. Still, they kept their voices low, no sense in attracting any unwanted attention. Joe tapped his empty beer glass, a subtle hint. Methos obliged, pouring another round for all three and settling back down before Joe continued.

"I want the details, Amanda. At least we can fill in that part of his history. After that, Vincenzo wasn't involved in too much. A tour of the Crusades in 1288 -- I think half the Immortals in Europe went on at least one -- then he settled on Cyprus for nearly a century, emerging in Paris in 1401. In the late fourteen hundreds he got caught up in the Spanish Inquisition and dropped out in 1520. For the past thirty years, he's been a respectable businessman in Barcelona as Diego Montes. Not a bad guy, Amanda." Joe raised an eyebrow as if to say she'd have to find her own reasons for taking his head.

She frowned. "You mentioned the Spanish Inquisition. How was he involved there?"

Amanda missed the subtle shift in Methos' posture, then slight tensing of his body, but Joe caught it. He spoke more to Methos than to Amanda. "The Inquisition was a strange period of history and in Spain, it took on dimensions that existed nowhere else. It spanned several centuries and if you had certain talents or skills, you could be assigned or drafted by the Inquisition. Diego was such a man and he became a torturer."

"A torturer!?" Amanda interrupted. "Isn't that bad enough?"

Methos' eyes dropped to the table as Joe answered. "It sounds bad, Amanda. But in that era, you know you were either on the side of the Christians or you were a victim. There's actually a curious story there. A colleague of Diego's was betrayed by his own wife and found himself a victim of the Inquisition. Not all that uncommon. It happened a lot. But this other guy was tortured and seemed to heal miraculously--"

"Another Immortal," Amanda made the logical conclusion.

"So it seemed. Except he died during the torture and didn't revive. But Diego still saved his body from the flames, apparently switching the man with an innocent who died during the torture. The Watcher saw Rodrigues -- as he was calling himself then -- make the switch, then take his dead friend away. Pretty risky."

"So you think this guy was an Immortal," Amanda concluded. "So maybe something delayed his revival-- like maybe--"

"--like maybe a stiletto blade through the lung left in to keep him dead," Methos finished, bringing his eyes up to meet Joe's. If the Watcher had gone fishing, he just whacked the fish with the bait.

Amanda turned her gaze on Methos, only starting to grasp what Joe had already deduced. Methos turned his beer glass slowly, letting his thoughts begin to drift back. "All right, Joe. Here's one for the chronicles. His name was Miguel de Avila. He was a king's knight who became assigned to the Inquisition. He had the misfortune of being married to the most beautiful Jewess in all of Spain. She was a Marrano, one of the converted-- a new Christian..."

Sevilla - 1479

Warm sunlight filtered through the lace-looking archways illuminating the bedroom with delicate patterns of light and shade across the thick Persian rugs. The heavy carved bed boasted a mound of blankets and cushions where two bodies clung passionately to each other, moving in unison to the heat of their beating hearts. Across the room, the light flickered against the crucifix on the wall, the symbol of the family's loyalty to the Spanish church.

The young woman perched on top of Methos, her long hair falling like a red-gold veil to caress his chest with ripples of movement as she rocked against him, urging him deeper. A long, sensuous groan accompanied the arching back and thrusting hips as he reached for the orgasm. Gaviota gasped, then leaned forward, dragging her tongue up his stomach and chest and biting not so gently at his left nipple. His breath caught, came harder as the fires built within him. The beautiful, pale face that leaned over him was coated with a thin layer of perspiration and strands of her hair clung across her face and lips. She was child-like yet incredibly sensuous. Abruptly, he caught her waist in both hands and neatly flipped her onto her back, barely losing the contact of their closely pressed bodies.

"God, you are beautiful," he whispered as he covered those pouting lips with his mouth. She stole his breath away, drained all reason from his mind. His body burned with the need for her and he gave himself totally to the moment, thrusting into her. She responded, passion to passion, legs wrapping tightly below his buttocks and pulling him even tighter. Her moans and gasps signaled the beginning of her fulfillment and he pumped urgently to match the movement until the shudders of his own orgasm blended into hers and they were once again one.

As the fires cooled, he held her tightly, his body still merged with hers, not wanting to separate. His hand tenderly pushed the hair from her face and he gazed into the violet-blue crystals of her eyes. How did he deserve such happiness? She was the most desirable woman in all of Spain and she was his-- she wanted to be his. When did fortune ever favor him this completely?

"Miguel," Gaviota sighed, rolling in his arms so that she could gaze into his eyes, "can you not stay with me today? Please, mi amour."

"You know I can't. I have an appointment with the alcalde this morning. A new duty, I believe. Something important." He smiled lovingly at her, then began untangling himself from the woman and the bed clothes. He reached for his leggings and his boots. "There are rumours of trouble, Gavi. Reports coming from Saragosa. Another Inquisition, I think. Promise me you're not doing anything?"

"My love, have I not converted?" she protested innocently. "I am Catholic as much as you are."

He cast a sharp glance at her, knowing that she knew he was not the devout Catholic he pretended to be. To an outsider, he was the epitome of the faith, but he worshipped only as needed to maintain his safety. Gaviota had been a Jewess. Her whole family had converted at the second "auto de fe" after two of their friends had been burned at the stake and a dozen others had left the country. That had been their choice--convert, leave the country or face death. The family was practical and they had prospered once they had become Christians – Morranos, the true Christians called them. The word meant "swine" but they applied it to the new Christians. Methos had fallen in love with Gaviota at first sight and her father had seen an ideal match in the socially desirable caballero. Things had been calm for the past few months, but there was a stirring of unrest again, enough to worry him. "Don't play with fire, wife," he admonished. "This is not an amusement."

"You worry too much, Miguel." She slid her arms around his chest, leaning in to bite at his ear.

He turned his head to meet her eyes, caught in the sparkles of a clear Mediterranean pool on a summer's afternoon. A fire kindled below them, hot and lusty from the morning. His mouth felt dry as he gazed at her incredible beauty. Over the centuries, he'd known beautiful women, brilliant women, but he'd never known one as exquisite as Gaviota who also had so deep a passion. Yet, he had an uneasy feeling about this. It was all too perfect. He ran a finger along her cheek and murmured, "Humour me, dearest. Por favor."

As her lips covered his mouth, she whispered, "Whatever you wish, my love." He enfolded her into his arms, savouring the feel of her warm body pressing against his. The uneasiness grew-- There was danger here, for both of them.

"Why don't they confess?" Methos asked in honest wonder. "Is their religion so important to them that they would rather die in horrible pain than confess their adherence to Judaism and convert to Catholicism?"

Diego clapped an arm around his shoulder. "The old man is still bothering you, isn't he?"

Methos nodded. "All he had to do was say yes. Yes, I am guilty and he would have been forgiven and converted. But he's not the only one. Some hold out until they die or are condemned to the stake-- not even relenting when the flames are at their feet. And it's not just the Jews. It's anyone who is not Catholic."

"Maybe they have more principles than you, my friend. If the situation were reversed and you were called upon to renounce Jesus Christ and the Holy Roman Church, would you? Would you do that to save your scrawny neck?"

In a minute, Methos thought, but he said no without hesitation, knowing that Diego could use any other answer against him. "But I know the true faith," he replied as he thought,  Believe in yourself, you can't count on anything or anyone else.

Diego laughed. "As much as I do, amigo. These people are different. I have seen a fire in the true believers, a passion that will not be denied. They honestly believe this religion they follow. They will not accept our savior nor admit to the miracle of the resurrection. You and I, Miguel, we know about miracles but Christ was not one of us. He was truly a miracle. Yet to them, it never happened."

That part Methos understood. What he didn't understand was how forfeiting your life for a principle gained anything. If there was an afterlife, would a God that you worshipped be so unforgiving if you got part of it wrong? Did that God demand your life as well as your allegiance? Even during the Crusades he had trouble with this blind faith thing. Obviously survival to an Immortal meant a great deal more than to the ordinary human. Perhaps it was the lack of conviction that there was a god and that there would be anything but oblivion after death.

As they came around the corner, it was to discover a mob of people outside the entry to Villa Morenga. People pushing and shouting. "Looks like trouble, Miguel," Diego said unnecessarily as Methos felt like he'd just suffered a blow to his gut. The Inquisition. The soldiers of the Inquisition were at his house. Gaviota! Dear God, she promised me!

The thought was substantiated as soldiers appeared dragging his wife and three of her friends between them. Another soldier, marching behind, carried a menorah as evidence.

"I have done nothing!" Gaviota screamed. Her eyes darted wildly around the mob of hostile faces, alighted on her husband's who was now so near yet so distant. "Miguel, tell them! Tell them I am faithful to Christ! Tell them the relic is not mine!"

Methos closed his eyes in pain. "Gaviota, what have you done?" he whispered. He felt Diego step away from him, knew that he, too, would be caught in the web of suspicion and the torturer was stepping away to avoid association. Already the soldiers were advancing on him and a crowd had gathered behind him. He had two choices--one to escape now, to break through the human wall starting to surround him. Or to step boldly and innocently forward and try to bluff his way though this. He chose the latter.

"What's the meaning of this?" he asked, coming face to face with the first soldier.

"Don Miguel de Avila?" the soldier queried. At Methos' nod, he continued. "We had a witness report your lady's violation of her conversion. We investigated and found her with those others lighting candles in this symbol of heresy. I regret, my lord, that we must also bring you in for inquiry."

Methos nodded. "My service and loyalty to the church are well known. I am appalled by what you say of my wife. I cannot believe this to be true."

"Miguel! They are lying!" Gaviota cried. "Tell them. Please, my love. Speak for--"

He shot her a hard look. "Gaviota! Be silent!" The look of shock and despair on her face pierced him like a poisoned arrow. God help them both. They were in real trouble here.

"Burn the heretic!" a voice in the crowd shouted. Then another picked it up-- and another. Fear filled his wife's beautiful face. Crowds had gotten out of hand before and he'd been the victim of a mob more than once. He didn't want to repeat it now.

Methos tried to hurry the soldiers along although Gaviota and her friends fought against them, fear and guilt making them hang back. Someone threw a stone. The sound rang in Methos' head as it glanced off the soldier's armor. The second stone caught him in the temple hard enough to knock him out for a few minutes.

He opened his eyes to find a sword resting against his chest, the point firm but not pushing into him. People were circled behind the soldier, eyes wide as they gaped and pointed at him, some making the warding sign against magic. It didn't take much for Methos to realize the stone had cut his head open and it had healed within moments.

"Witch!" a woman shouted. "Agent of the devil!"

Even Gaviota stared at him in disbelief and uncertainty. Methos swallowed hard and sat up slowly at the soldier's instruction. "What are you?" the man asked, a touch of fear in his voice.

"I'm just a man," Methos replied humbly. "God has given me a gift." Somehow he didn't think that would help him. They weren't prepared to accept any answer other than that he was in league with Satan.

The cell was nearly black, only a small ray of light filtering in through a ventilation hole. Methos sat huddled against the back wall, his eyes, like all his acute senses, adjusting to the dark nearly as well as a cat. He could make out the sleeping form of Gaviota, could hear her, could almost feel the rise and fall of her chest as she breathed. After hours of crying, during which she refused to let him comfort her, exhaustion had finally won out.

He, on the other hand, wasn't inclined to sleep. Too many thoughts rushed through his mind; too many recollections of what took place in the torture chamber. Like so many tasks-- duties --in his life, he'd trained his mind to the job, ignoring any feelings or emotions he might have for the victims. You didn't survive if you allowed yourself to be weak. He'd reached deep within himself for the person he had once been to handle the screams and the cries. It hadn't been easy. The majority of the victims were women, some were only children of ten or eleven-- and they held out the longest. Killing had once been simple and he'd felt powerful, like a god. But it had been clean-- not muddled by the forced confessions of people who were only guilty of believing in a different religion than the one of Spain. Even that dissension would have been all right if they didn't do it in Spain or Portugal.

But Gaviota had committed one of the worst crimes-- she was a Marrano who practiced Judaism secretly. There was little salvation for her kind. The only mercy she would likely see was a quick death before the flames took her. Why hadn't she listened to him? And his fate? Methos didn't want to think about it. He could very well end up going the same path as his wife.

The young woman stirred, sat up slowly and her face turned toward the thin ray of light as she strained to see. "Miguel? Are you here?" Her voice was barely a whisper.

He responded in a low voice, knowing that they were likely watched. "Yes, Gavi. I am here."

There was a touch of fear in her voice as she asked, "What happened last night... the wound that healed... What are you, Miguel?"

He hesitated, thinking. What could he say to explain it? Someday he'd thought he would have to tell her about his immortality; someday when they'd been together a dozen years and she'd begun to catch up to his apparent age and realized he hadn't changed. Now he could never tell her and the tone in her voice told him she would consider him a monster. "I just heal easily. You know that. My battle wounds always healed quickly."

"And without scars," she added hollowly. "You have very few scars on your body. I never thought about it until I saw that deep cut on your face heal so swiftly."

"Gavi, you have no reason to fear me. But you do have reason to fear the Inquisition. What were you thinking?"

Her voice caught, emotion tugging at it. "I was born with that religion, Miguel. Do you think it is so easy to cast aside?"

"What were you-- eight? --when your family converted?"

"Old enough to know my own mind," she asserted defiantly.

He crawled closer to her, lowered his voice even more so that, with luck, only she could hear him. "Listen to me now, dearest. The only hope you have is to confess your guilt. Tell them you were weak, that your faith wavered. Tell them you want salvation."

"Will it save me from death?" she asked bleakly, all the innocence of the child she was bundled in the question.

His voice caught as he answered as honestly as he could. "I don't know."

Usually prisoners of the Inquisition spent months or even years in the cells before they were brought before the Inquisitioner, but the authorities moved quickly against Gaviota. Within three weeks, she was taken from the cell to face the Inquisition.

Most likely a special occasions, a cardinal or possibly even visiting royalty and they needed a spectacle to impress them. Nothing quite like a great festival with penitents, sinners and a few burning heretics to impress the out of town company, Methos thought. Gaviota cast a despairing look at her husband as she started to leave with her captors.

"I am frightened," she uttered in a harsh whisper.

"Tell them what they want to know. Tell them you were weak and confess," Methos replied carefully. "Save your soul, my beautiful bird. Pray to God for the rest." He tried not to let her see how much he already knew of her fate. It was enough that he knew what would happen to her if she stubbornly clung to her own faith. Enough that he had seen it, been the instrument of the persuasion that brought about the truth.

"Miguel?" Her voice cracked with the deep emotion of the moment. "Miguel, I still do love you. I am sorry I brought this upon us. Pray for me... forgive me, my love." She stepped through the door into the escort of her guards and stumbled along beside them.

It was the last time he saw her.

Two days later, a guard replenished the jar of water in his cell and gave him a new stale loaf of bread. The man took great pleasure in telling him that she was burned at the stake along with another of her friends and a witch the Inquisition had conjured out of the peasantry of Sevilla. For all her beauty, the lady was no better than any other heretic and at the end, she had refused to accept forgiveness. She had gone to her death speaking the forbidden language.

Even later, he heard that she had confessed to everything, that she had suffered the worst torments and that ultimately she had given them names. Unfortunately, his was one of them. Not that it mattered. His appointment with the Inquisition had been made on the street outside his home the night of the riot. But he learned that at the end, Gaviota had actually begged for forgiveness and mercy. She would have been granted a quick death if she had not cried out in Hebrew, sealing her fate.

Methos wept silently for her, not letting his captors know how much he grieved for her bright spirit. He was truly regretful of his part in the Inquisition and somehow saying it was just another necessity of surviving was beginning to sound inadequate to his own mind. If there was a god, he doubted he would find forgiveness for all that he had done over the many centuries of his life. But he prayed there was a god for Gaviota and all the humans who had died in this miserable farce of faith.

His own trial began barely a week after her death.

As Diego stripped the slender Immortal's clothing off, Methos stared directly at the Inquisitioner. He knew what was coming, had already witnessed it too many times. His eyes locked with the dark ones of Juan Julio de Vega, a man he'd worked with over the past year. "What do you want to know? Did I worship with my wife in her heretical ceremonies? No. Did I know she was doing it? No. Did I know about her friends? No. Am I a faithful, practicing Catholic? Yes."

"That is all well and good, Don Miguel," the Inquisitioner stated. "But unfortunately, not what I need to know. Your wife, of course, claimed differently when she was questioned--"

"You know as well as I do that a terrified young woman would confess to anything, tell you anything you want to hear. Grown men have done the same in this chamber. So will I--"

"But you do not need to tell me anything," Juan Julio interrupted. "I merely want to witness this miracle of healing the soldiers reported."

Could it be that simple? Methos wondered. "Then cut my arm."

Amused, Juan Julio shook his head. "It's not enough to know you can heal the simple wounds. The Inquisition wants to know how much can you withstand."

Hands grabbed Methos' arms, pulled them behind his back and secured them with tight cords. Diego slipped the line to the pulley through the cords and the torture began.

Methos tried not to scream as the weights on his feet jerked and pulled his joints, dislocating his hips and shoulders, pulling and tearing at muscles. Through the agony, he kept thinking he would gladly confess to anything if only they'd ask him something.

Eventually he was dropped to the ground where he crouched, moaning with pain. His body was healing, but the pain lingered. His eyes met Diego's, the only other man in the chamber who knew what this was like. Mortals didn't heal from this torment. They endured it, suffered it, were crippled by it and even died from it. But he also knew they could escape it; confess, repent, be absolved. That option wasn't open to him.

He was abruptly yanked to his feet, examined by a physician who proclaimed him well-- his injuries little more than strains. He was forced into the trough for the water torture, his arms and legs bound tightly and the iron band secured to hold his torso on the wooden plank. Diego caught his head, forced it back and pressed a damp linen cloth over his mouth and nose. He gasped and choked as the water was poured over his face. Diego held the jar at the best angle, applying his expertise to try to make this a little easier for him. Methos recognized that, just as he recognized that Diego could only do so much to help him without being caught.

As the torture progressed, the bonds on his arms and legs were tightened until his tendons became long threads of white hot agony with the strain. A second, then third jar of water flowed down the linen into mouth and nose, the cloth being sucked in with each desperate gasp for air so that he choked even more. At times it felt like a half-death, his brain starved for air and his lungs screaming with the water that entered. Between jars, the cloth was pulled out, the agony of delicate membranes and cells pulling away with the fabric sending sharp jolts of pain that bucked his body against the wood. He passed out when the seventh jar and its accompanying misery was half-completed.

He awoke lying on the ground, choked and spat up water and blood. His chest and muscles ached, his back hurt, but already the pain was easing. Again, the physician examined him, pushing and probing--opening his mouth to peer down his gullet as if he was a prize stallion. Methos coughed in his face, trying to spit up more blood at him. Angry, the physician backhanded him, the sharp slap cutting his lip against his teeth.

"What are you?" the weasely man hissed. "I have never seen the likes of this. Are you a demon?"

Methos shook his head, his tongue grew suddenly careless. "You wouldn't recognize Christ himself if you saw him. Anything you don't understand is an element of Satan."

"Blasphemy!" the physician shouted. "Make him confess. He is an agent of the devil!"

The Inquisitioner signaled for the physician to be removed. Then he leaned in close to Methos. "Don Miguel, you were effective here in this chamber. Perhaps you are on God's side, perhaps not. We will leave it up to God. Your trial will continue until God's day. If you survive, you are favored by God and you will be absolved."

Methos' eyes went wide. Five days! Oh yes, he could survive five days of torture--and probably be stark, raving mad at the end of it! But what if he died? Would his revival hurt his cause? Would they really consider him a devil then? Five days of this without dying? Even with regular rest breaks--and those were doubtful, he didn't think he could manage it.

Then he was dragged next to the fire, his feet and ankles rubbed with bacon fat. He was staked down with the soles of his feet almost touching the hot bricks of the flames to bake. Amazing healing ability or not, the pain was very real and his body refused to go into shock. Hot tears flooded down his cheeks and he thought he screamed, but it might have been another prisoner. He was not the only guest in the chamber this day. And for all the agony, all the excruciating pain he felt, he saw Gaviota-- her plump, fair body being abused in this cruel manner; her lovely fine hands and shoulders being broken; her pouting lips gagging against the linen cloth, screaming out her confession. The fire at his feet was prolonged agony but nothing compared to the red-gold flames that had consumed her living body. His tears were as much for the pain in his heart as for the physical torture.

They let him rest for a bit, then the cycle was repeated. Hour after endless hour, the torture continued. First his body was stretched then jerked apart by the heavy weights and sharp drops, raised and lowered painfully, over and over again. Bruising and swelling appeared on his pale body, then vanished almost as quickly as his body healed. Then the water again, jar after jar of cold water poured steadily and mercilessly down his throat through the linen that covered his face and snaked down his gullet, choking him with every breath that drew the cloth into his windpipe, then tore away the insides of his throat as it was removed. The tight bonds on his arms and legs were drawn tighter each time, cutting circulation until he couldn't feel his fingers anymore-- only the white hot agony that coursed through his limbs and the horrible pain up his back as his body bucked against the plank that held it prisoner.

And once again to the fire. Not enough now to burn his feet, the Inquisitioner encouraged Diego to be creative. His calves and thighs were covered with the fat and his legs staked spread open so that the heat and baking could extend up his legs and to the more vulnerable skin at his thighs. Thankfully, the torturer didn't go any higher, didn't remove the scanty loin cloth that covered his genitals.

During the sixth-- or was it seventh? Methos had lost count --round of agony, Diego knelt by him to baste his thighs once again. As the fat melted against his burning flesh, the big man leaned in and whispered, "This is the last today, friend. The Inquisitioner is tired. Tomorrow, I have a plan. You must trust me."

Trust? He wasn't long on trust. Trust had gotten him into trouble more often than not. He'd trusted Gaviota, believed her when she'd told her lies. He'd trusted Cleopatra when he'd designed the secret passage in her burial chamber and had been entombed with her as his reward. He'd trusted Kronos not to seek retribution on him when Cassandra escaped, trusted his brother not to take his anger out on him.

Later, he lay in the cold dark of his cell, barely able to move as his body slowly healed. There was stale bread and foul water in the corner, but he made no move toward it. He was thirsty. All that water poured down his throat and incredibly, he was thirsty. But he left the pottery jug where it was. Like as not, small bugs had found their way into it. He knew he was being watched, knew this cell had a small peep hole where one of the officers of the Inquisition could study his actions.

What he did next, he did for his audience, although he felt it could not hurt him any if there was a God. He crawled to his knees, pointed himself, he believed, toward the church and prayed out loud. His voice sounded rough and haggard to his own ears. "Holy Father, forgive me for my sins. I served as the Holy Church asked. I pray for forgiveness for the pain I have inflicted on your children. My wife... my Gaviota, was but a child. Please raise her from the hell of Purgatory and guide her onto the true path. Grant her forgiveness. Give me the strength to prove my faithfulness to you. In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen." He crossed himself, then curled on the cold stone of his cell to try to sleep.

His mind refused to let him drift off. God, even if he survived the torture, would that absolve him? Would they continue to hold him prisoner for years as they had others? Would they declare him a demon and burn him at the stake? Would they leave him in one of the lower cells, forgotten to slowly starve to death-- over and over again? Or worse, would they force him into one of the chimney-like air holes, seal it and fill it with Quicklime. Even his Immortal body couldn't survive being eaten away to the bone by the strong chemical. And god, he wouldn't want to!

If Diego had a plan, he would have to trust him. Even if the other Immortal took his head, it was preferable to the hell he would most likely continue to endure at the hands of the Inquisition. Wearily, he dropped his head on his arms and eventually exhaustion blotted out the nightmares.

But the rest period was brief and a different torturer and Inquisitioner took up the task at daybreak. There was no concern for his body, his bones or his soul in this pair. And this Inquisitioner had questions. Who did he serve? Were there others like him? Give them names and he would stop the pain, the silky voice of the Inquisition promised. All he had to do was name others like him-- men who could heal, who didn't die easily.

Incredibly he heard his own voice say, "There are no others that I know. I am alone. I serve only God." Out of the corner of his eyes, through the burning tears, he glimpsed Diego and knew the big man had heard the question and his answer. In his heart, he knew the answer hadn't been to protect any other Immortal, it had been a gut reaction to the belief that his only hope for salvation was Diego Rodrigues.

Methos' body healed, but it remembered the pain and the injuries came quicker each time, the healing slower. He was exhausted and in constant pain that would not ease. Every movement was agony. The only thought in his mind became whatever you are going to do, Diego, do it soon.

It was after mid-day-- Methos could see the sun just to the edge of the high window in the chamber-- when Diego lifted him onto the rack of the trough for what must have been the fifth time since dawn. As he secured the straps, he leaned close and whispered in Greek, "Miguel, I am going to kill you now."

"What? So they can see me come back to life?" Methos gasped in the same language. He didn't think that would help matters.

"No. You will not come back for them to see."

Methos closed his eyes, his acceptance obvious to the other Immortal. He just didn't care any more. If Diego took his head, so be it.

Again Methos felt the wet cloth over his face, recognized the feel of a lighter weight linen and knew it had been switched. He would inhale this one easier and choke quicker on it. As Diego began to pour the first jar, Juan Julio asked what he had said.

"I advised him to tell of any others like him. He said he knew no others."

"And why did you ask this?"

"Don Miguel was a colleague once. I wanted him to know I would treat him no less satisfactorily than I treated others in the Inquisition," Diego replied carefully. A wrong word here could get him in trouble as well, but the Inquisitioner accepted that.

"Good," he stated. "But from now on, no direct conversation."

Swiftly the water ran through the lighter cloth, pulling it into Methos' mouth. The choking began and his body convulsed against the board, his spine cracking, feeling like it was breaking. By the middle of the second jar, he couldn't breathe, began to feel consciousness leaving him. In that twilight moment, he felt a prick at his back, pressure against his skin, then a burning through to his lungs. There was a moment of acute pain, he gasped sharply, then nothing.

"...since I died during the torture, the Inquisitioner declared me a heretic. Villa Morenga was a very valuable estate and the Inquisition wanted it. Obtaining property of the wealthy merchants was what a good portion of the Inquisition was about. So, even though I was dead, I was condemned to be burned-- part of the purification. The rest of the story is in the records, Joe. Diego got me away, withdrew the blade and I revived. He gave me clothing and money. After Diego left me, I made my way to the port at Gibraltar and crossed to Morocco. I hadn't seen him since then until he showed up chasing you into my flat, Amanda." Methos had heavily edited the array of memories that had accompanied the story. They didn't need to know the gory details.

"You really loved her, didn't you?" Amanda asked.

"Yeah," he said tightly. "I'm really good with short-term relationships. She was seventeen when she died, still a child."

Amanda laid her hand on his arm and rubbed gently. "I'm sorry, Methos."

"It didn't sound like it was a picnic for you either," Joe said, knowing full well what the Inquisition meant.

"Well, it was a classic case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. There wasn't a damn thing I could do." Methos tried to lighten his voice. "The point is, Diego saved my life then."

Amanda leaned her head against his arm. "This isn't your problem, sweetie. It's mine."

Methos sighed. "He'll take your head, Amanda. There has to be some other way to settle this. Diego is usually reasonable."

"Have you talked to MacLeod about it?" Joe asked practically.

Amanda shook her head. "No, I don't need him trying to defend me either. You men seem to think I can't take care of myself--"

"That's because I've fought you, Amanda," Methos interjected. "You're good, but not against the caliber of Diego."

"So, I'll handle it another way. Fighting isn't everything, you know."

Methos reached for his coat. "Right now, I think it's time to head home. Come on, Amanda. I'll share a cab."

"What's wrong with your car?" she asked, getting to her feet.

"Transmission," he muttered, then offered his hand to the Watcher. "Thanks for the information, Joe. You gonna get home okay?"

Dawson nodded. "Yeah. I got a ride with Martin. You sure you want that story in the chronicles, Methos?"

The old Immortal hesitated a moment. "Yeah. I'm thinking that maybe we should fill them in a little bit. Don't worry, once Miguel was dead, the trail went ice cold. There are no links from Morocco." He paused, looked thoughtful. "Too bad we can't credit that one to Adam Pierson."

Joe grinned. "Maybe we can. You two be careful."

Impulsively, Amanda hugged the Watcher. For a few moments, Methos reflected on the strange course all three of their lives had taken and at the core of it was Duncan MacLeod. MacLeod had begun influencing his life long before he'd met him, begun making him think about what he was and what he was doing. Meeting him had cemented a lot of the changes and gave him an anchor. He fervently hoped this one was more solid than most of the ones in his past.

concluded in part four...