Kindred Spirits: Five
by Lillian Wolfe

 

continued from part four...


"He was a total stranger, Joe," MacLeod stated flatly as he sipped at his second scotch and relayed the details of the encounter to Joe. The club was mostly empty, still too early for any after work revelers to have arrived, but they still kept to themselves at a table near the stage. "I've never seen such a cold look in his eyes."

Joe looked grave, his eyes reflecting his concern. "And I suppose you were calm and rational?"

"No, I wasn't. I went there full of rage, ready to pick a fight with him. That was wrong, I know. All I could see was that girl's bruised face and I wouldn't even let him talk. But he just seemed to snap, Joe. Methos went away and there was this angry, deadly stranger facing me with a sword. I had no doubts that he would use it." Mac shivered at the memory.

Joe shook his head slowly, absorbing everything MacLeod had told him. In some ways, he couldn't blame Methos for taking a sword to the stubborn Scot, but at the same time, it was very worrying. This wasn't like Methos, not their Methos. Threatening Mac? Methos who had spent the last four years trying to protect the Highlander, ready to take a sword to him? Nope. Something was definitely wrong. "You know, all of this started with that Quickening the other night. I can't help thinking it's causing the problem."

Mac looked thoughtful. "You mean like a dark Quickening?"

"No, it's not the same." Joe pursed his lips together and his forehead wrinkled as he thought about it. "It's not like Koltec. No evil controlling force is in this; he's not becoming the man he killed. No, it's more like it's done some mental damage, like he's lost touch with who he is. I mean, think about what's been happening... little mental breaks when he forgets simple things? Is that like Methos? And threatening you is definitely not something he'd do. I dunno, maybe it's an overflow of some sort from the power of that Quickening."

"Well, we both knew it was bad. He would have been better off if he'd died before the Quickening started, but he didn't and he couldn't exactly heal with the sword through him. I told you I was worried about it."

"Yeah, I know. You were right. I kept thinking it was only temporary and it would go away after a couple of days. Christ, why does he have to be different from every other Immortal?"

Mac rubbed at his chin as he thought. "He's always seemed to have a little trouble with Quickenings. I mean, they're rough, Joe. It's hard to describe them. In some ways, it's like a major rush from drugs-- your adrenaline is flowing, awareness is elevated, and this power just shoots through your body like you're plugged into an electric light socket. On top of it all, you're getting these mental flashes at high speed as you're seeing and feeling what the other person had been. They drain you as much as they exhilarate you. There've been some theories that there might be some limits. Maybe Methos has reached that threshold."

"Could be," Joe agreed and leaned forward. "Either way, Methos needs help. 'Adam' has a friend, a psychologist, I could call. Name's Miles Montgomery. He might be able to help, only I don't see Methos talking to him as a patient."

"Maybe as a friend?" Mac suggested.

Joe detected some reluctance in his voice. He wondered if Mac was aware of the friendship between Miles and Methos, or if he even connected the man to the one he'd met shortly before he'd left for Malaysia. "Yeah, maybe... I'll get in touch with Montgomery, see if he has some ideas. Maybe you should steer clear of Methos for a while."

Mac nodded slowly, handsome face distorted with a frown. "Yeah, maybe. I wish you would have warned me about Methos and the girl, Joe. I wouldn't have been so unprepared for it. You got any other secrets I should know?"

A pang of guilt shot through the Watcher. He'd known Mac a long time, had gone through some very difficult situations with the Highlander and knew how the man worked - how he would react, what he was likely to do. He considered him a good friend, someone he valued more than he ever thought he would. But he'd discovered that he also treasured the very different friendship that he had with Methos, found the ambiguities in the oldest Immortal fascinating and had a strange loyalty to him. One that wouldn't allow him to tell Mac what he knew about what was troubling Methos. Besides, he justified, he only had a small piece of the story. He knew Methos was in trouble, that a woman in his past was involved, but beyond that there wasn't much. A few reports from his Watcher that Pierson seemed on-edge, jumping at shadows. A report that Methos had met and talked with Rafaella Cortese and that it seemed to end amicably. But Immerson had missed the problem with Josette, abandoning them when they'd gone to the movie and allowing Methos privacy.

Dawson put on what he hoped was a sincere face and lied, "No. I only knew about Josette because he'd asked about getting her into the Watcher program."

"What? You said that before. He wanted her in the Watchers? Why?" Mac's frown somehow seemed to grow deeper.

"I don't know." He shrugged. "Maybe he wanted her to be his Watcher. Who knows? He's not exactly been normal lately. I figured he'd explain when he was ready."

Mac swallowed visibly, something tearing at him. Joe had seen that struggle within him before, knew when the Scot was wrestling with his emotions. "I wish I knew what's going on, Joe. It seems like so much more than a problem with the Quickening. He's been so defensive, so unwilling to talk. I've tried."

Joe almost laughed at that, instead just leveled his eyes on his friend and waited.

"All right, I blew it. I shouldn't have gone there. I should have waited." He finished the drink and got to his feet. "I'll see you later, Joe."

Dawson watched him leave, feeling both sympathy and a touch of annoyance at MacLeod. Maybe if he'd given Methos the chance to talk, he would have learned something. Instead, he made the gap wider, reacting without thinking. He sighed as he reached for the telephone.


Eyes feeling gritty from the restless couple of hours sleep he'd gotten, Methos sipped at a cup of coffee. He sat uneasily in his throne chair, sword resting across his lap. He'd been awakened by the tingle of another Immortal's presence that drifted in, taunted and left. Even knowing the signature was likely to be his tormentor, he couldn't ignore it, couldn't assume that it wasn't a real threat. Sleep evading him from that point on, he'd gotten up and made the fresh pot of strong coffee. Unsolicited, every stark detail of his argument with MacLeod came to mind. The Highlander's reaction had been predictable, so why did he feel so disappointed in it?

He blocked out the nightmare and the MacLeod problems for the moment and tried to think about the stalking as logically as possible. The objective was to unnerve him, get him on edge and reactive. To weaken him. If it were someone like Neti who would strike obliquely or from a distance, then she would have done it. Rafaella didn't give any indication that she cared to pursue revenge and she, frankly speaking, wasn't that clever. Agnetha, then? She was an unknown factor here and he hadn't really considered her as a possibility, more of an afterthought. He closed his eyes, casting his thoughts back.

Agnetha. The big blonde woman came to mind easily. He could see her in his mind's eye, tall and statuesque, a Viking goddess, a warrior... She was a wild woman when he'd first met her, but she'd mellowed out with time. When was the last time he'd seen her? Abruptly, he realized that the memories of the mining accident were not random. It was the last time he'd seen Agnetha...

Kentucky, 1908

Sharp pain, a gasp. He coughed as his lungs filled painfully with air. Delicate tissues burned as they extracted small amounts of oxygen. Disorientation in the darkness as he tried to place where he was. A scraping sound, metal against rock, then the stale odor of death, exhausted air, and coal dust followed by an awareness of his surroundings.

The cave-in rushed back to his memory, his dead companions and the three painful deaths he'd already endured of oxygen starvation. But this time was different, this time there was fresh oxygen mixed in the air - he could smell it, taste it and feel it in his lungs as they struggled to get enough air. Someone had broken through the wall of stone. He coughed again, rolled on his side and tried to lever himself up to his knees. He felt weak, needed something to drink. How long had it been? No way to tell in the black of the mine, no idea how much time had passed since Tommy had died, how much between his own deaths.

"Hey! One of 'em's alive. I hear coughing!" The voice seemed to filter into the chamber from a distance, but it resulted in more noise, more chipping sounds. Picks against the rocks, he deduced, just before he passed out.

When he woke again, he was lying on the ground outside the cave, a blanket covering him and a commotion of people near him, chattering, their words lost in the mix of voices. His mind thrummed with the awareness of another Immortal. He squinted against the morning sun, turned his head to where he heard crying. Tommy's sister knelt by the wrapped body; just beyond her, Eddie's father wept silently at his own loss. But his eyes locked on the tall, blonde woman who gazed vacantly down at the third wrapped body. Petersen's widow, Annabelle, she called herself in this time. She turned her gaze on him, ice blue eyes boring through him in accusation.

Just then a nurse noticed he was awake, brought him water and helped him to sit up. His hand shook as he took the glass and she reached a hand to help steady it.

"Just take it easy now. We'll be taking you to the doctor in a little bit, sir. " The soft voice had the distinctive twang of the region mixed with a touch of an Irish lilt. He looked at her, noting the dark hair and light blue eyes. Probably the daughter of immigrants, first generation American and most likely the daughter of a coal miner. Most of them were around here.

After a couple of sips of water, he found his voice, "No. Not necessary to see a doctor. I'm all right." Even to his own ears, he sounded raspy, like scraping sandpaper over stone.

The woman smiled knowingly. "Uh huh, I'm sure you are. But the doctor's going to want to check you out anyway. You were down there for over two days."

He nodded. There was no point in arguing. At the sound of more activity, he turned to where the bodies of his companions were laid out. Men lifted the first of them onto a wagon to take to the morgue. Tommy's sister wailed like a banshee as he was put onto the cart. A lump stuck in Methos' throat that the water couldn't wash down. He hadn't known the kid that well, but there was something, an inexplicable grief that stuck with you when someone died in your arms. He'd shared a tomb with these men, shared their last moments of life secure in the knowledge that he would survive. His vision blurred with an unexpected mist that covered his eyes.

Suddenly, she was there, looming over him. "You're responsible for this, Loki. You lead them into that trap. You let him die." Her voice was a hiss of distraught anger.

"What? I didn't do this," he objected, surprised at the accusation.

She knelt down to his level, face resembling a polar storm. "You should have seen this would happen. You shouldn't have taken him down there."

"Agnetha, I had no way of knowing-"

"It's what they paid you for. To look for the stresses, to find places where it would need extra shoring up before it was safe to work. You should have seen it, trickster!"

"You think I wanted this to happen? Do you think I liked being buried in there?"

She leaned closer, her face within inches of his. "I've seen you do worse. Did you hate Robert so much that you had to do this? Were you that jealous, Loki?"

"Jealous?! I wasn't jealous! I was happy you were with him, glad to see you in love with someone." He couldn't believe what he was hearing. He'd never been jealous of anyone Agnetha had been with, never cared enough about her to be jealous.

"You could have saved him then," she growled.

"He died in the cave-in," he said gently. "Robert was buried in the rubble. Even if he had survived it, there was nothing I could do for any of them. I tried. Believe me, I tried." His voice broke slightly with the emotion.

"No! You could have saved him! I know you. I know what you're capable of. You'll pay for this, Loki! I swear, you'll pay!" There was a chilling madness in her eyes that sent a ball of ice plunging into his stomach.

Then two of the men came over to help him to his feet and get him to the wagon. Their voices chattered as they went, saying things about being "lucky" and getting him food and a hot bath as soon as the doctor okayed it. He turned to look back at Agnetha, saw her looming there like a valkyrie, the wind whipping her light blonde hair and cloak back and, clearly seen, her hand resting on the hilt of her sword... a promise.

Present

//God God!// he thought, //She can't still be angry enough to kill me over that!// He'd only put her name on the list as an afterthought, not really thinking she would be holding a grudge. After he'd been taken away, he'd been checked out by the local doctor, a veterinarian at that, who knew less about medicine than he did, then been released. He was on the next train out of town, figuring he'd get as far away from Agnetha as possible to allow her the time to calm down.

So, if the memories of the cave-in hadn't been random, had he seen something the night of the fight that might have triggered them off? He closed his eyes, recalled the details from the time he got out of the Range Rover in Pigalle. He readily conjured up the faces of the streetwalkers, a few potential clients on the street and the gaudy brightness of the signs. But she would have been in the background, not close enough to be sensed. Within a two-block radius, he probably would have detected her, would have felt the crawl of her presence in his mind. So, she would have been at least more than that from him.

He tried to hone in on the distant images-- a couple on a balcony, a pair of Greek sailors checking out the window displays, a few other strays coming up the street. What was behind him? He hadn't looked that direction. Maybe she was in one of the windows upstairs, watching him. He couldn't place having seen her, but it was possible. Or maybe she had come near while he was unconscious... He shuddered at the thought. Honor was not a factor with many of the people he'd known over the years.

//All right,// he reasoned calmly, //if this is Agnetha, it's time to end the game. I need to let her know I've figured it out. That we need to settle this.// With the first sense of control he'd had in a while, Methos went to his desk and pulled out a directory of Paris. He needed to get a message to the Norse woman in a place and a way she would understand. He checked the index, noted several possible places and began reading them in more detail. As the plan began to form, he made a few quick notes, got quickly to his feet and opened a closet. While designed to be a coat closet, this was more of a combination library and excess items room. He turned on the light, shifted a sheathed broad sword out of the way and knelt in front of a three-shelf bookcase. His hand went almost immediately to the book he wanted -- "Norse Ruins, An Anthropological Interpretation, " written by Sven Nordstrom. Good memory or no, it had been a long time since he'd either written or read in runic.


Feeling fidgety, Joe Dawson tapped his fingers on the counter and waited. Nearly 1 a.m. in Chicago... where the hell was Montgomery anyway? He'd paged him a couple of hours earlier, figuring the psychologist would get back to him right away. //Fine way to run a practice,// he groused silently. //Go running off to another continent, responding to your pages when it's convenient.// He glanced toward the door of the club, half-wishing that Methos would drop in before it got busy for the night. He wanted to talk to him, get his side of the story... the one that Mac didn't take time to hear. On the other hand, he wasn't sure he wanted to face the old Immortal after the go around he'd had with MacLeod. There was definitely something wrong and he wasn't sure he would be able to talk to Methos either. He'd slipped so far into these thoughts that he nearly jumped off the barstool when the phone rang.

The barman, Henri, picked it up while Joe recovered his composure. "For you," Henri said briefly, handing the phone to his boss.

"Dawson? It's Montgomery," the soft voice with a hint of the south in it said. "I just got your page. What's up?"

"A little problem with Adam." Joe moved away from the bar as he talked. "He's not exactly behaving normally here lately. He had a bad Quickening and he seems to have a few side effects."

"Side effects? Can you elaborate a bit?"

He could hear the frown in the voice. How much to tell him? he asked himself as he began giving him a brief rundown on the situation. "Bottom line, Montgomery, is that Adam needs some help and you're more qualified than any of the rest of us to do this. When will you be getting back to Paris?"

"I planned on another week here. But if it's urgent--?" Montgomery left the question hanging, leaving Joe the opening. Joe hesitated, wanting to tell him to come back sooner, but doubting if it was necessary. Could they wait that long? The indecision said enough. Miles made the logical jump. "Okay, Joe. I have to go to this big show and party tomorrow night. I promised Kyra. But I'll be out on the next flight after it's over. I think there's one that will get me there around noon on Friday. I'll call you back with the times. Okay?"

With a flush of relief, Joe gave him the okay and broke the connection. If nothing else, he felt better just getting a professional involved and Montgomery was the only one that Methos would be remotely likely to talk with about a problem. He was banking on the friendship they had established to open the door.


Methos turned the gold object in his hands, studying it with an appreciation for its beauty that he had never considered before. It was in mint condition, if you could consider anything that was pounded into shape over twelve hundred years ago as being minted. An armband of early design, thick gold coaxed into shape and decorated with the uneven knot work and swirls that were the hallmark of the seafaring and adventuring race that bore the name Viking. It was so much like the Celtic designs, maybe influenced by the Celts or a copy of the artwork, although it was possible the artisans themselves were Celts, what with all the raids on Celtic territory. Although, he observed cynically, most Celtic work was neater, tidier, with the knots more precise. The end pieces of the armband were the stylized dragon heads that graced everything from jewelry to carts to the mastheads on ships.

He rubbed a thumb over the carved head, feeling the remarkably even strokes into the metal where it was detailed, circling over the smooth green marble stone of the eye. //Connemara marble//, his memory supplied automatically. //Plundered from Ireland. Either taken in chunks or removed from Irish made jewelry.// Odd, in many ways, that he should still have this-- That it hadn't been bartered for something he desperately needed at one point or another. That he had managed to keep the once-despised object safe and in good condition for all these years. That someone had not relieved him of it as he slept. For the past five decades, it had been securely locked in a safety deposit box at a bank in Chantilly -- until this afternoon. He'd retrieved it barely before the bank closed for the day, annoying the clerk with the last minute request.

The armband was his, one of those symbols that marked a passage of time in his life. But before it was his, it had been Agnetha's. He remembered clearly when -- and how -- he'd acquired it.

Mannin (Isle of Man) -808

He pulled his warm wool cloak tighter around his chest as he climbed up from the sea to the small village once more. One more load of cargo and the small boat, little more than a coracle, would be ready to sail. He glanced out toward the sea where an invigorating autumn wind was teasing the water, making more than a few white caps. Methos hadn't planned on this trip from Cymru to Eire this late in the season, but his partner had taken the job without consulting him. Talyn was always eager to go to the western island, declaring the uisghe beatha, the "whisky," there to be the best he had ever tasted, and the job paid well. A simple transportation of goods across the sea and they could stop on Mannin with other deliveries. So, against his better judgement, here they were.

All he wanted now was to get the job done and get back to Cymru before the weather changed completely and the sea became impossible to cross. The wind tasted of colder weather to him, the first sign of the coming winter. He shivered at the thought, even though he was warm enough within the heavy cloak. All those years of living in a hot climate and here he was wintering in the northern lands. If had any sense at all, he should have packed up and headed toward Iberia where the coast on the middle sea was much warmer. But Talyn hadn't wanted to go, had a woman he'd hand-fasted with last spring and somehow, Methos couldn't bring himself to leave the love-smitten mortal behind. God knows, the man barely had enough sense to survive on his own.

The subject of his musings stood at the top of the path, waving to him to hurry. No, wait, he wasn't waving. He was pointing. Methos swiveled his head over his shoulder to see what the problem was and his mouth fell open in surprise. Where only minutes before all he'd seen were whitecaps, there were now ships, their large, colorful square sails billowing in the wind and riding the crests at an alarmingly fast pace.

He'd heard the rumours-- who hadn't? Traveling bards reported that the huge, blonde invaders came from the far north, from Norsk and Juteland, and they were making raids on the northernmost islands off Alba. And now here they were, sailing down the channel between Cymru and Eire, heading straight on for this little island as if they had always known it was there.

Released from the spell of those captivating sails, he turned and sprinted up the hill, shouting to Talyn to spread the alarm to the village.

By the time he reached the crest, the villagers were well aware of the approaching ships, even though some were unsure what it meant. "They're raiders, plunders!" Methos shouted. "Either find a secure hiding place or be prepared to fight them." Raiders he understood all too well and he wasn't used to being on this side of the coin.

Uncertain, the villagers began to scatter, not sure which path to take. Methos glanced around at the wooden huts and main hall of the village. This place was no more defensible than the tent villages he'd raided, but there were places on the island the people could hide. On the whisper of the thought, the village priest came running into the disorganized crowd. Within minutes, he began herding his flock to safer grounds.

"Quick, Talyn, get your things and let's get out of here," Methos ordered as he snatched up his own belongings.

"We're not going with them?"

"No! We're going to get out to sea, well out of their pathway. Hurry!" He already had his bag slung over his shoulder as he glanced to where Talyn bent over, stuffing things into his pouch. As the small man straightened, Methos nodded sharply, then plunged down the hill in a run.

He began readying the boat, pushing it back from the shore and releasing the mooring the line, as he waited for Talyn to catch up. Anxiously, he spared glimpses toward the approaching vessels, concerned at how fast they were traveling. He could easily make out three boats, the lead one well ahead of the others. The huge sail was a brilliant saffron yellow with vertical green stripes running through it and clearly etched in the image now forever planted in his mind was the dragon head on the curved prow of the vessel. For a moment, his mind played a trick imparting a separate life into the image as if the dragon was a real creature and the single sail a great billowing wing as it swooped across the surface of the water.

"My God!"

Talyn's shocked voice expressed his own thoughts. Turning, he grabbed his friend's arm and hauled him into the small boat, then turned to the oars. Talyn had never seen a Phoenician or a Greek galley so the sight of those ships had been a shock. Hell, even to him, the image was terrifying.

"Row, Talyn!" He put his own muscle into it to get the ship away from shore. Once they were out far enough, he could shift the rudder to take them to the west. Gods, it was going to be close. Talyn had gotten into the rhythm of the rowing now and they were moving out pretty well. Impatiently, Methos watched the distance from the land open, then he hauled on the rudder. As the wooden flap moved, the boat shifted direction, slipping toward the gray mist that was Eire. Almost, he told himself, waiting for the boat to complete the turn.

Suddenly he heard a strangled sound from Talyn and glimpsed the terrified look in his face. Methos turned his head to see what had frightened him and choked down his own fear. The prow of that lead ship was right on top of them. "Jump!" He barely managed to get the word out as the ship plowed into their little boat. At almost the same moment, he felt the presence of an Immortal on board the ship. Then there wasn't time for any other thought as he was in the cold sea and fighting for something to hang on to, then looking for Talyn and pulling him to a piece of the drifting wood from their ship.

By then, the lead ship was nearly past, but as he watched it leaving he noted a big blonde warrior, flanked by two even bigger versions, gazing back at him. One of them was the Immortal, he figured. Then he realized they were being swept along in the wake of the ship, being pulled back to shore. Only slightly behind them and to the west was the second longship, its crimson and blue sail billowing out ominously behind a serpent head prow.

Methos had time to consider that he had two options... One to go along and be washed to shore with the ships. Or he could let go now and drown, hoping that he wouldn't wash to shore too soon. If there hadn't been an Immortal with the invaders, he would have given that option more thought, figuring anyone else would assume that he was dead. But it was a glance at his half-drowned companion that actually made the decision. Talyn was barely hanging on. If he stayed with him, the mortal might have a chance.

Only a few minutes later, they were tossed onto the beach a short distance from the first ship. Men were already jumping down off the deck and pulling it the rest of the way to shore as others secured the sail. Methos struggled to get to his feet, pulled Talyn up. "Find a place to hide," he told his friend. "It's your only chance."

Gasping with the effort of surviving this far, Talyn hesitated, "You're coming too, yes?"

Methos shook his head sharply. "No. I'm going a different way. I'll try to distract them long enough for you to get up the hill. Don't go to the village. Now go."

For once, Talyn didn't argue with him, even though he could see the protest in his friend's eyes. Methos set off running away from the hill, down the beach. Already two of the warriors had started after him, he could hear shouting behind him and surprisingly, a woman's voice yelling sharp commands. He turned from the beach up toward the hill and the protective covering of the bushes. But he could only elude them so long and as he made it to higher ground, he pulled his sword and turned to face his pursuers. There were four of them now. Good odds, he figured, readying himself for battle. One pulled his sword and moved in to engage.

//Gods, these men are huge!// he thought, noting the broad-shouldered man who faced him and began to circle, a wolf worrying at his prey. It wasn't that the man was taller, but that he was broader, more muscled. Methos turned slowly with him, waiting for the right moment. And the sense of presence was back as another warrior came over the top of the hill towards them. She shouted something and his adversary backed off, sword still drawn but lowered now. Methos took no such action and kept his sword ready. But his eyes went to the newcomer, noting that she was only a little shorter than her giant companions and as muscled. She turned her eyes on him, studying him. //Blue eyes, like the water seen through ice,// he thought.

"Lower your sword and surrender. I won't harm you if you comply." She spoke in Latin with enough competence to suggest she was well trained in it.

"Why should I believe you?" he responded in the same language.

"We know what each other is. Better to be a prisoner than dead, don't you think?"

He hesitated another moment, then drove his blade into the ground. As he turned his head to her, waiting for her to make the next move, something hit his skull. There was a moment of pain, then nothing.

He came to on the ship, tied to the mast. His arms were pulled behind his back and secured, then ropes held him at the shoulders, waist and ankles to the pole. And that was how he traveled to Norway.

When the raid was over, they'd set sail immediately. The men simply worked around the man very firmly tied to the mast. He was wet, tired, hungry, chilled to the bone and being ignored by everyone. They were well underway before the woman addressed him again.

"I am Agnetha and this is my boat," she announced. "How shall I call you?"

"Methos." He saw no point in being stubborn.

"Good, Methos. Until we return to my home, you must be secured this way. I will see you have water." She pushed the dark, wet hair out of his face and studied him a moment, then she turned away and left him. She didn't return for the rest of the trip.

Over the next several days, the ship continued in its rolling trip without interruption. The up and down motion threatened to make him ill or maybe it was the lack of food. True to Agnetha's word, he was brought water periodically and he gulped it down, but there was no food nor any chance to relieve himself except where he stood, much to the amusement of the crew. After a while he didn't care. He'd endured worse and if a bit of humiliation was required, he could handle it.

He lost track of the days, wasn't sure how many nights they'd been at sea. He was beginning to think they could have gone to Iceland and back by now -- and he'd thought that trip with the monks was bad! But at least he hadn't been tied up the entire time. Real sleep was next to impossible. He drifted off when he was too tired to keep his eyes open, but as soon as he had a little rest, his body woke him either screaming in hunger or feeling like he wanted to puke up all his internal organs. He did neither, but suffered in silence, not willing to give the blonde giants any more amusement at his expense.

At last the ship swung into the protected waters of a fjord on its homeward run. He was too tired, too hungry and too sick to think about what was coming at the end of the trip. Right then, he didn't care if she wanted to take his head, he just wanted his stomach to settle. As if seeing through someone else's vision, he took in the narrow flat land along the shore, thin strips that quickly gave way to rising mountains covered with trees. Very little farmable area, he noted dimly, a few sheep and goats for food. With each powerful stroke of the oars, the boat drew closer into the shore and a village became discernable, smoke rising from fires and the distinct scent of burning wood... a pine of some kind.

Agnetha stepped past him, moving to the prow of the ship, then she barked out an order and several of the men scurried around him. Lowering the sail, securing it down, he realized as it nearly hit him. She glanced back and laughed, then shouted another incomprehensible order. The man nearest to him pulled out a knife, ran it under his chin, then sliced downward. Involuntarily, Methos caught his breath in surprise, the thought flashing through his mind that she hadn't brought him this far to kill him. Then the ropes fell away from his shoulders and the knife continued down to cut through the bonds at his waist. The Norseman looked up at him, from where he knelt at his ankles, his light blue eyes sparkling with laughter and he said something to Methos he couldn't understand. Then he sliced through the bonds at his ankles, taking just a bit of flesh off with them.

Methos caught his breath sharply, the discomfort of having blood flowing freely back into his legs and feet more painful than the nicked ankle. Just as suddenly, there was no strength in his legs and he collapsed to his knees on the wooden deck. Hands still tied and body resisting any movement, he felt worse than helpless. He was once again ignored as everyone resumed the business of beaching the boat and securing it. He struggled to get to his feet, to crawl, to do anything and ended up lying on his side trying to keep his legs out of the way.

There were shouts of all kind now, some echoing back from the shore and more activity going around him as the men began unloading the ship, tossing items around, herding out a handful of captives they'd kept secured at the rear of the boat. Women and children mostly, he noted, and he didn't think they had fared much better than he, but they were moving-- for the most part-- on their own power. //If a six-year-old child can do it,// he told himself, //then I most certainly can.// He gritted his teeth and struggled back to his knees. He looked around for something to use as leverage or to work his shoulder against to pull himself to his feet. Mast... ship sides... not too many choices. He opted for the side, hoping the curve would help and started sliding his knees toward it.

A moment later, Agnetha planted herself in front of him. He raised his head to look up at her. Laughing, she shook her head, then hunkered down in front of him. Suddenly, she dove into him and the next thing he knew he was over her shoulder and being carried off the ship. She stepped down into the waist high water and just as abruptly, dumped him into it.

Shocked by the sudden jolt into the icy water and unable to use his arms, Methos struggled to get his head above water, swallowing several gulps of salt water in the process. As he tried to dig his feet in, his head echoed with the laughter of the people around him. If he'd ever hated a woman before, it paled in the fury he felt for the blonde witch right then. He could see her just a bit ahead of him, waving her arms in victory for her men. Propelled by anger, he threw himself into a lunge toward her, going low enough to hit her legs. She went down, unfortunately on top of him.

//Oops! Maybe that was a mistake,// he thought as his face dug into the gritty sand at the bottom, and her arm went around his neck in a strangle hold. Within a few heartbeats, he knew he'd acted a bit rashly as her knee went into his back and she forced him flat on the bottom, holding him there. He struggled to push her away, couldn't get a hold of any kind in the sand. Air gave out and he took an involuntary gulp of water, felt it burn and he choked. Not quite resigned to drowning, he quit fighting to throw Agnetha off and hoped she wouldn't force it. A few anxious heartbeats as he fought to not gasp for air, then the pressure was off and he was hauled out of the water and dragged onto the shore.

Coughing, spitting, and gasping for air, he lay flat on his back, unable to move, but just turned his head to one side and tried to breathe. The respite was brief before she stood over him, legs straddling his. She bent down, brought her arms under his armpits, clasping them across his back and yanked him to his feet. For a moment, as she released her hold, he stood on his own, face to face with her. They were the same height, but she was a big woman, her body carrying more mass than his and it was well muscled from exercise. Then she leaned in under him again, forcing his body, head first, across her shoulder once more and she strode the rest of the way out of the water.

As the blonde warrior made her way through the village with her prize, there were cheers and laughter. His face burned. He could take humiliation, but it still wasn't easy. He struggled once to break away, found she still had a free hand as she slapped him fiercely across his rump. The wave of sniggering stopped him from trying again.

At last she came to a house and hauled him up the stairs to the entrance, shoved the door open onto the large room and dumped him on the packed dirt floor somewhat carelessly. He winced as his backside hit the hard ground, adding one more injury to the list. //As soon as I recover and the first opportunity presents itself, I'm going to take her head,// he promised himself in consolation. At that moment, he could barely move to even sit up, but with a bit of effort he managed.

He glared at her as she stood over him, amused eyes untouched by the anger she had to see in him. "Why?"

Her eyebrows danced up in surprise at the question. "Why what?"

"Why the humiliation? Why the mistreatment? I surrendered to you."

"Oh, that. It was necessary." She stepped away from him, out of his sight.

Still shivering from the cold and wet, he gazed around the open space. A low platform of wood was on each side of the room, and a domed object was visible in the smaller room beyond. In the center of this room, Agnetha knelt at the hearth, getting a fire started. Then, indifferent to him, she began stripping off her wet clothes. Methos looked away. //Oh, fine. She's going to get warm and dry. The fact that I've been freezing for days is of no consequence.// Then his unhappy stomach chose that moment to remind him that saltwater was not a meal, the sharpness of the cramp forcing him to roll back onto his side. He closed his eyes tightly and clamped his mouth shut, refusing to let a groan escape.

"Are you going to be ill?" she asked. "If so, go outside or you'll be the one to clean it up."

He shook his head, wished immediately that he hadn't. The room smelled of dirt, stale straw and lingering smoke. //I am not going to throw up,// he told himself firmly, no matter how much the smell nauseated him and added to the aggravation that already churning in his stomach.

Unexpectedly, he felt the touch of cold metal against his wrist, felt the twist as she brought it up between his hands to sever the rope binding them. His arms dropped limply, one over his hip and the other flat against the floor. Cautiously, he tested his shoulders, felt the pain from the stiffness in them and the change in circulation. Her hand caught the wrist that rested on his hip, turned it carefully, then she rubbed briskly at his hand and fingers.

"There's a bit of rope burn," she informed him, again in Latin. "Give it a few minutes."

He nodded. No problem there. He didn't think he'd be able to move them for at least that long. His breath caught at the chill of cold metal against his back... his bare skin. A ripping sound and he realized she was cutting his tunic. "What are you doing?" he shouted, gathering enough energy to try to pull away from the mad woman.

"Don't get excited. I'm just cutting these stinking clothes off you." She pulled the tunic away from his back, sliding it off his arms. Firmly, she pushed him onto his back on the floor, caught the waist of his breeches, pulling them out a little. In a flash, the metal skimmed along next to his hip slicing through the draw cord and the fabric. A quick repeat on the other side and he was essentially naked.

"So, now what do I do for clothes?" he asked flatly. As she'd knelt over him, he found she was dressed in a saffron shift now and on her upper arm, fitting tightly over the fabric was an armband. Dual dragon heads with bright green eyes almost met at each end. It caught his attention because it was solid gold. He forced his eyes away from it as she touched him.

She ran a hand over his smooth stomach and up his almost hairless chest. Her touch was warm against his chilled skin. "I've heard the people of Eire keep their slaves naked."

Methos refused to be baited. "Some do. Not all. If that's what you want..."

She barked out a laugh. "I think I can get you better clothes than those. All you have to do, Methos, is serve me. Keep me happy and you will be cared for. Can you do that?"

//...you live to serve me...// It was like having his own words from many centuries earlier thrown back at him. He'd been a slave before, more than a few times. Unless the situation became intolerable, it was easier to yield than to resist. He nodded.

As if it was a signal, Agnetha straightened, unrolled an animal skin on the platform and helped him to his feet. She pushed him down on the fur, then encouraging him to roll onto it, she wrapped the fur around him. It was warm and reasonably comfortable. She stepped away for a bit, returned with a wooden mug of something hot, knelt down to hand it to him. "It's bjorr, a hot berry drink with honey. It will help warm you, then you should get some sleep."

He was grateful for the drink... at least it was more than water, but he really wanted something more substantial. "Agnetha, I'm Immortal, but I need food. I haven't eaten anything in days."

She nodded. "I know. But if I feed you right now, you would just be ill. The drink will help, then I'll have soup made by the time you wake. We'll talk later."

Before he'd even finished the drink, he was drowsy enough to realize he'd been given a sleeping potion of some sort. But it was all right, he decided, as he snuggled down against the warm softness of the fur. He drifted off with the image of the dragon armband dancing in his mind. Gold. His new owner must be very wealthy.

He woke several hours later to the diffused light and distinct smell of oil lamps and the hearth fire. He was hungry, but it wasn't the gnawing he'd felt earlier. All in all, apart from the hunger, he felt pretty well. Holding the fur closed, he sat up and looked around.

"Hungry?" Agnetha asked. She sat on a low stool next to the fire, a kind of apron or smock covering her shift. It was a deep blue, decorated with embroidery and clasped at each shoulder with matching gold pins. Her long light blonde hair was pulled back into a braid that nearly reached her waist.

"Famished."

"Good. I've laid some clothes for you on the bed. You can change behind the curtain. There is also a slop bucket so you don't have to go outside. I'll have the soup on when you're ready."

He turned to look behind him and noticed the bed against the back wall for the first time. It was wooden, decorations carved into it and it was large enough for two to snuggle close. A pair of brown breeches and a blue tunic top lay on it. He dropped the fur and climbed to his feet. With a calculated casualness, he picked up the garments and crossed the room to the curtained off area. Unabashedly, Agnetha watched him, perhaps measuring the man she'd claimed or maybe speculating what exactly it was she would want from him.

"Do you have a bath? A way to get clean?" he asked as he checked out the clothes.

"That's what the splash in the water was for. You smelled like a sick horse."

"And I thought you were just being domineering, making a point."

"Part of it. Especially after you knocked me down. It was necessary to show my men I was in control. I took a risk bringing you back with us. They would have preferred I let them kill you. When you surrendered so easily, they thought you were a coward." She looked up as he stepped from behind the curtain and smiled, motioning for him to sit before the fire. "Much better, Methos."

He slid the fur over and folded his legs onto it as she filled a large bowl with a thick soup and handed it to him. "And what did you think?"

"That you were being clever. Men like those," she gestured outside to the village with a jerk of her head, "they don't understand the idea of backing away from a fight, giving yourself up to servitude. But you are different. I think you well know how to fight... and when. And you know when it is better to be a thrall than lose your life." She offered a chunk of bread.

He took it, dipped it in the soup and ate in silence for a few minutes. The soup was good, surprisingly filling, especially when combined with the bread. A tankard of ale, probably plundered from Mannin, helped wash it all down. "You didn't have to tie me up," Methos said softly.

"Yes, I did. My men would not have tolerated you moving freely about the ship and I don't think just securing your hands would have been enough. The other captives had a spot at the back of the ship. They were secured, but not tied down."

"And fed?"

"Yes. I couldn't give you anything under the circumstances. I'm afraid it would only have made you ill. Besides, you have a little too much..." she paused, apparently looking for just the right word as he fixed his gaze on her. "...spirit. You needed to be taken down."

"Now what? Do I sail with you? Or will you leave me behind to keep the home fires burning?"

Her lips pulled back into an amused smile. "You still have lessons to learn, don't you? What does it take to break that spirit?"

//Less than you might think,// he ruminated, the recollection of his painful servitude with the mad druid a few hundred years earlier still relatively vivid. He didn't say anything but maintained his intent gaze. To her credit, Agnetha didn't shy away from it or become discomfited.

"We'll see where you end up next spring, Methos. I'm through sailing for now. It's almost winter and there's much to do here. For now, you will serve me, taking care of my place, my things. Do you cook?" He nodded. "Then you will handle that task also. In return, I will teach you our language so you will be able to participate if I allow you to sail next spring. I expect you to be a good student."

Cleaning, cooking... Been there before. At least for the interim, he could handle this and he had no problem in learning another language. Luckily his mind adapted quickly to new languages, always had. Making the best of the situation, there was a lot to be learned about these Norse people. "How much freedom will I have?"

She laughed outright at that. "You are spirited! You have the run of the village. You may not go any further than that." Her face grew serious. "Believe me. If you try to escape, I will kill you. If you serve me well, I will grant you freedom when it's time for me to leave here."

So it started. She assigned him sleeping space on the floor and allowed him the fur, which provided both a soft mattress and a warm cover. It was all he needed for the moment.

Taking care of her place included repairs on it, filling in the gaps in the timber with thick mud and dried branches, and refurbishing the roof before the winter snows arrived. She pitched in to help, instructing him on the method when necessary and doing her share of the repairs. He chopped wood and stored it in the wooden shed against the house. He easily adapted his style of cooking to the produce at hand and grew especially fond of the fresh cod available. Agnetha took him on the hunting trips; at first just to clean the deer or other small animals she and the other men shot, but later to join them in the hunt when he proved he was capable of bringing down game himself, without shooting one of his companions.

Within a few weeks, he was reasonably fluent in their language and was allowed to listen to the stories and tales in the great hall of the chieftain as he served his mistress. Many of the warriors rose to make boasts, each trying to better the others. Even Agnetha participated, her own tales as tall as any told. But she was the only woman who did this and she always wore her warrior clothing for the occasion. Methos got the impression this was unusual among the Norse, that a woman warrior wasn't as common with them as it was with the Celts. In fact, he quickly discerned that Agnetha even having a ship was extraordinary. Yet, even the chieftain respected her and accepted her as a peer.

The people themselves were varied. Although blue eyes and blonde hair were predominant, others had gray or green eyes and quite a few were red-haired, with a couple even being dark-haired, although none were quite so dark-headed as he was. The majority of the men were not so tall as the ones who sailed with Agnetha, most standing a few inches shorter than him, yet they were sturdily built. He stood out among these people, his tall, slender build contrasting with the husky bodies of even the women. Agnetha, however, was much taller than any of the other women and, he learned, she was not originally part of this tribe. He was curious about her -- where she came from and when she became Immortal. He knew she was unique amongst the tribe, that women had different responsibilities and this woman who went on raids with the men was an anomaly.

It was late afternoon, close to the Celtic Samhain, when the two of them were on the roof again, this time adding last minute thatching to a section that had started leaking in the rain the night before. His hands were chilled with the wet straw he'd cut out, water soaked through his clothes. Adding to it, a chill breeze brought colder air down to the valley. Already the higher elevations, the mountains -- fjell, he corrected himself; the Norse called the mountains a fjell -- had drifts of snow and it wouldn't be long before it moved down to the valley. As if in answer to the thought, several flakes swirled past his face.

"We must hurry," Agnetha called to him as she shifted a bundle of fresh straw his way. "It will snow tonight."

He grabbed it, began weaving it into the existing thatch. The flakes increased, turning to moisture as soon as they touched his skin. "I can finish this up. Get inside where it's warm."

She nodded and climbed down, leaving him to finish the task. He paused a moment to gaze at the mass of approaching clouds that made everything appear gray. At one point, he'd thought briefly about escape, but the snowy mountains were a major deterrent and he had no desire to try to put out to sea in one of the small boats. He was content enough with his life at the moment. He resumed his work, anxious to get it done before the weather got worse.

By the time he'd finished up and made it inside, he was drenched. The snow was coming down steadily, turning to slush as it did. It was a very wet snow. He headed straight for the fire and crouched down in front of it. Even though it was only afternoon, Agnetha had lit a few tallow candles already. It was going to be a long, dark winter, he thought with the realization that the days were getting much shorter. He shivered as a chill cut through him. "Is it too late to take the boat to the south for the winter?"

"We stay here through the winter," she responded without hesitation. "This is home." She was already dry and had changed into a woolen shift. She knelt next to him, then her hands were on his tunic, tugging it over his head. She laid it on a stool in front of the fire before she turned back to him, a dry blanket in her hands. She began rubbing at his chest and shoulders with it, wrapped it across his back and pulled him into her arms. "You're freezing, Methos. You need more meat on your body to keep you warm."

"Apparently I was designed for a hot climate," he murmured, letting her rub his back. By now the blanket enveloped both of them and her face was only a few inches from his. She was reasonably pretty; ivory white skin with a rosy flush from the chill, a gently turned up, although slightly bent, nose, and a full-lipped mouth. Suddenly that mouth was pressed hard against his, demanding and eager. He responded instantly, biting back at her lips, and pressing tighter to her.

Agnetha's hand slid down his chest, running across his flat stomach, and sliding down just under the waistband of his trousers. She tugged at the drawstring, mumbled with her face still pressed against his, "Get those wet pants off."

"You do it," he breathed, slipping his lips across her cheek to kiss her just below her ear, his own hands working to slide her shift off her shoulders.

A gasp of pleasure rolled out of her throat. Her fingers pulled anxiously at the knot in the string, finally loosened it. She shoved him back on the floor and tugged the pants down his hips, pulling them off. Her hands were hot on his body, burning where they touched him. He twisted to sit up, pulling her shift off and tossing it aside. Her body was firm and muscular and her breasts were full, round mounds. His hand rolled over one breast, savoring the smooth, satin feel of her skin and his mouth followed, taking the nipple in and tugging at it with his lips. She pulled his head closer, running her hands through his hair and stroking him with her knee.

As if a starting signal had sounded, they were all over each other, mouths, hands and bodies touching, teasing, tasting. It had been at least two decades since Methos had been with anyone and the need was suddenly overwhelming. Just as she was a warrior on a par with the men, she was an equally enthusiastic lover. When he pushed, she pulled; when he caressed, she stroked. When he entered her, she sat between his thighs, legs wrapped around his waist and begged him to thrust deeper, harder. He pushed, withdrew, felt her legs tighten, urging him back in, then she rocked forward, forcing him deeper. They found a rhythm, pushing and rocking until he exploded, his body pumping with the surge of pure sex. With a final thrust, she rolled him all the way backward, using her own weight to force him deep within her as she shrieked out her pleasure.

Sweating, they held each other tightly, the last surges running with tremors through his body. "Gods, it's been a long time," he gasped softly, running a caressing hand over her shoulders and down her spine. He caught the edge of the blanket and wrapped it around them before they cooled off too much.

She slid her mouth over the edge of his mouth, biting at his lip. "I think it's going to a much warmer winter this year." A throaty laugh was cut off as he smothered her mouth with his.

The next time wasn't so urgent and, stretched out comfortably on the blanket, they took time to explore, to find the pleasure points. In some ways, she reminded Methos of Grania -- as tough a lover as she was a fighter -- but he had loved the Irish woman and he didn't feel that way about Agnetha. But she was warm and exciting, certainly not passive, and he was a no less susceptible to his needs than any other man.

They ate late, sitting wrapped together in front of the fire. Agnetha chewed on a piece of bread and chased it down with a dark ale, part of their plunder. "That was amazing," she said, eyes sparkling as she gazed at him. "You're amazing."

"Are you always so... physical?" he responded.

"Not usually so much," she admitted. "But these men here aren't as agile and they don't have your stamina. I've never had an Immortal before."

"Really? Not even your teacher?"

"My teacher was a woman. I was with her for almost fifty years, but you're the first male Immortal I've known."

"And that would be in how long?" he prompted.

"A hundred years, more or less. I'm not exactly sure. And you? How long have you been Immortal, Methos?"

He smiled cryptically. "A lot longer than you."

"Then maybe you have much to teach me," she purred, snuggling closer to pull his face into her hands and kiss him. Then she rose, holding onto his hand, and pulled him to the bed. Methos didn't sleep on the floor again.

As winter set in overnight, Methos expected quiet times, time to study and learn. He woke to a thick layer of snow outside and set about building the fire up to keep them warm. Agnetha stirred, reaching for him, then sat up to find him already up and about.

"Breakfast is almost ready," he said quietly. "I've melted some snow for you to wash up."

She came up behind him, threw her arms around his neck and pressed her face into his hair. "Thoughtful of you, Methos. How have I survived without you?"

He turned to pull her into his arms. And there would be plenty of time for this as well.

As it turned out, winter was not as quiet as he had expected. It was a time to become part of the community, to continue to learn and to prepare for the spring. Methos became fluent in the language and moved on to learning to read it, learning to decipher the runic writing of the Norse. On clear days, he labored alongside the men to ready the ships and gained their acceptance, even though they never forgot that he was Agnetha's property. He realized that he had little status with the freemen, being nothing but a thrall, a slave, but they clearly treated him with more respect than most of the slaves in the village.

He also discovered the sauna within a few short days into the winter. Agnetha turned him over to her men for this lesson. They led him into the wooden steam room, a place where a hot brazier warmed snow water. Stripped naked, the men sat in the warmth until they broke into a sweat. It was a pleasant experience, Methos thought, and he enjoyed the warmth... to a point. Just when it felt like he was roasting in an oven, one of the men, Olav tapped his shoulder and indicated he should follow. Then several of the men burst out of the steam room, running naked into the snow. He hesitated, but Olav pulled him along with him. Suddenly, he wrapped his arms around him, threw him down into the snow and they both rolled into the icy cold. The first shock of it wrenched a cry of protest and the thought that these people were totally mad raced through his head. But Olav held him, rubbing snow against his skin until an invigorating chill replaced the hot sweatiness.

Agnetha laughed at his outrage at being treated that way, but made him admit that in its own way, it was refreshing. It turned out to be a weekly experience, one that he tolerated but never really grew to like. But it was almost as refreshing as a warm Roman bath.

This far north, the days were very short, only a hint of sunlight at mid-winter. But life went on at its regular pace. Occasionally there were hunting parties and he learned how to use the snow sticks that strapped to his feet to move across the snow. Firewood needed to be cut, meals prepared, and the gatherings in the hall broke up the long winter evenings. The extended winter nights were spent in each other's arms. It would be unfair to say he ever fell in love with Agnetha, but he did care for her.

To stay in form, he regularly went through a workout with a staff, using it as if it were a sword. Agnetha had not given him back his weapon, but he needed to stay in shape. She watched him a couple of times before he invited her to try her skills against him. She was good, but not nearly as good as he was. He took her down within a few minutes. But it marked the start of a regular routine for them.

On one occasion, she almost managed to best him, but she hesitated at the moment when she could have taken his legs out from under him. He had no such hesitation and landed her quickly on her backside. She glared up at him, anger at herself coloring her words. "I almost had you then."

"You did," he agreed, offering her a hand up. "but you hesitated. Hesitation is the greatest enemy. In that moment, you can lose all. Never forget that."

Just after the winter solstice, an earl in the village died. Methos observed the funeral preparations and was shocked to see one of the man's thralls brought out to join his master. The man seemed to go willingly, but at the last moment was frightened. He was quickly beheaded and placed into the grave next to the man he had served. Methos went a bit pale as he watched. Agnetha leaned close. "It's our custom," she whispered. "Pray I don't die in battle or you could join me."

She might have been joking but Methos took it seriously. He tended to get nervous around people who included beheadings in their customs. The Celts often took the heads of their enemies, but killing like this worried him.

By spring, he was more than ready to get out of the valley. The first thaws signaled a flurry of activity and by early April, they were boarding the ships for the first raid of the season. Methos was to go with them. He had made friends with several of the men, especially Olav, so he was glad to be going. He knew Agnetha was unsure of him, still seeing him as one of the people they now went to plunder. He wasn't sure how he could explain to her that he had no loyalty to anyone, that being Immortal put you outside that kind of loyalty. So he said nothing, merely following orders.

Several days later, the ship came to land on the southeast shore of Eire. Here winter had not been so severe and there would be food and grain for the taking, as well as other riches to plunder. Methos knew this coastline, recognized the landmarks as they came ashore. They attacked a monastery, one of several that dotted this coast. The few women and children fled before the invaders, running for safety, but some of the men stayed behind to fight. Methos wasn't planning to be a part of the fighting, only willing to use his sword for protection. He watched as the raid proceeded. The Norse were superior fighters, more organized and quickly taking over. It was nearly over when he spotted the danger. Olav was in direct line of a man with a bow. Seeing only a friend in danger, he threw himself into the path of the arrow, diving into it head first.

He felt the pain in his thigh, went down rolling on the ground. Even before anyone got near, he reached down to pull the arrow out, but it was deep and the head was buried. Agnetha reached him first, kneeling by him. "Cut the shaft," he murmured through gritted teeth. She nodded, pulling her knife and cutting it off cleanly. In moments, the wound healed and Agnetha was pulling him to his feet before Olav joined them. Several other men ran past into the wood in search of the man who had shot the arrow.

"You're all right!" Olav cried out. "If you hadn't gotten between us, that arrow would have hit me. I thought it got you."

Methos shook his head. "It just glanced off my leg." The slight limp was genuine. The arrowhead still pained him. It would have to be removed.

Other men came back, talking about the amazing feat, at how quickly the dark-haired man had moved, calling Methos "Loki" after their trickster god. The name stuck from that day forward. Agnetha gave the order to the men to find the valuables and food while she manhandled Methos into one of the cottages.

Once inside, she yanked down his pants and ran her hand over his thigh. He winced as her fingers touched the lump his flesh had formed over the arrowhead. She pulled out her knife again, glanced at his face. "Do it," he said hoarsely, then clamped his mouth shut as she sliced into his thigh. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to ignore the pain as she dug it out, but then he felt it pull free and the relief was almost instantaneous.

Her hand touched his thigh gently, feeling where the flesh had already sealed again. "Are you all right?" she asked. He nodded. "Why did you do it? Why did you get in the path of the arrow?"

Puzzled, he stared at her. "What do you mean?"

"Why save Olav from injury? You are not one of us... not under any obligation."

He shrugged, spoke as if it was only logical. "Because he is my friend and because he is mortal. And I've learned to value human life."

Impulsively, she leaned forward and kissed him. "You deserve reward." With that, she pulled the gold armband off her arm and placed it on his. "From this day forward, you are one of us."

Present

Methos swallowed down an unexpected surge of emotion. It had been so long ago, so many centuries ago. In spite of Agnetha's words, the armband had merely marked him as her valuable property. Still, for the next dozen years, he was part of that Norse team of raiders, earning his way and living up to his reputation of Loki. Until he began to realize that he was slipping back into the same mode he'd been in with Kronos, a captive or a slave to what he needed to do for acceptance. The armband began to represent everything he hated about being in that life. On a raid to Germany, he managed to slip away and he hadn't been a slave to anyone since then. When he'd once again run into Agnetha seven centuries later, the whole episode was water under the bridge, a good story they'd shared over a bottle of vodka. Until they'd met again in Kentucky...

With a sharp shrug of his shoulders, he set the armband on his desk and turned his attention to the matters at hand. He pulled out a sheet of paper, opened the book on runes and began writing. Time now, Methos decided, to come to a reckoning with her. He didn't want to fight her, but they needed to settle this and with luck, they could do it without anyone taking a head. If all went well, this nightmare would be over by this time the next night.

By the time he dropped into bed, Methos was more than ready. The short nap in the afternoon hadn't been near adequate and he was exhausted. He was just drifting off when that annoying sense of presence wafted in like a foul odor. He rolled, reaching automatically for his sword and lay still listening, waiting to see if it came any closer. True to form, it slipped away as quickly as it had come. He closed his eyes, but the sword stayed in his hand.


Arms stretched out in front of him, hands locked on the hilt of his blade, Methos lunged forward, his knees bending deeply with the movement. Smoothly, he rocked back, twisting his shoulders so the blade curved around into an upward arc and completed the move with a circle over his head. It had been a long time since he'd done a kata, but he needed any edge he could manage this morning. His sleep had been uneven, punctuated with two more visits from his stalker and a myriad of strange, disconnected dreams. Dreams that lacked the intensity of the two nightmares he'd recently experienced, but nonetheless as unfamiliar territory as those "death" dreams of Silas and Niam.

His reactions to the alarming sense of presence that came and went within a few heartbeats had been minute, little more than his hand tightening reassuringly on the hilt of the sword. There was no point in trying to spot the source; she was keeping her distance, knowing exactly what she was doing. Agnetha was playing a cat and mouse game with him, working to unnerve him. He didn't much care for being cast in the role of a small rodent, yet her strategy was working, he admitted grudgingly. But she wasn't going to catch him as unnerved as she might hope.

Satisfied that he was loosened up and his thoughts were focused, he straightened, released the tight grip on the sword and carried it with him to the shower. Even though this was going to be a busy day, he was looking forward to having control for a change.


Noon found Methos standing outside the restaurant, logic arguing that he shouldn't have come, but his own desire to talk to Josette overriding his better sense. He needed to make things right with her if he could, needed to explain. Taking a deep breath, he went inside.

He didn't even make it to a table before Maude intercepted him. Her frown covered her entire face, forbidding and unsympathetic. "Adam, you should go. You have no business here."

He tried a tentative smile, "Not even lunch, Maude?" He saw the frown deepen, compressed his lips and changed to his most contrite look. "I need to talk to Josette. It's important."

"Go away, Adam." The tone of her voice matched her face. "You've done enough to Josette."

"I know I behaved badly the other night. I want to apologize to her, explain that it was an accident. I didn't mean to hurt her. Please believe me, Maude."

The woman glared at him. "Do you think you can come here, say a few words and make everything all right? What you did was wrong and it was criminal."

"Can I at least explain?" he protested, knowing that what she said was true. "I had a problem the other night. I was -" He faltered. What the hell was he going to tell her? That he was possessed by someone else?

Locking onto his arm with a firm grip, Maude shoved him back toward the door. "Go before I call a gendarme. You are no longer welcome here, Adam."

Over her shoulder, Methos glimpsed Josette who stepped out a few paces from the back of the restaurant. Even from this distance, he could see the dark marks on her face and his stomach twisted. He'd done that to her. He didn't fight Maude anymore, turning and leaving without another word.

In spite of the acknowledgement that she was right in not letting him in, it nonetheless hurt Methos that Maude distrusted him so much. It hurt that a friendship he'd established with the woman now meant so little. Hell, she wouldn't even let him eat there. He stood on the corner, shoved his hands in his pockets and looked around. He glimpsed a sandwich shop on a corner a short distance away. He still needed food and it was a good as any.

Nearly fifteen minutes later, he found a bench in a small neighborhood park and settled down to eat. As he unwrapped the large sandwich on crusty French bread, Methos felt that uneasy sensation of being watched. He glanced around, noting the half dozen other people in the area. One of them was a twenty-something man who stood near the street and tossed popcorn to the pigeons. His new Watcher, he surmised. //Of course I'm being followed,// he thought with annoyance. //I'm always being followed these days. Got to do something about that.//

He scowled, then noticed a tall, thin blonde man who lounged on the grass nearby. Odd. It was a bit too chilly yet for sunning in the park. Someone from Agnetha, maybe. Good. Then if he was right, maybe his message was getting back to her. Tonight would tell. He took a bite of his sandwich, then tensed as he detected the presence of another Immortal. Not a tease this time, but someone closer. He glanced around, immediately spotted the slender, dark-haired woman coming his way with a purposeful stride. Amanda... He breathed a sigh of relief and turned his attention back to his sandwich. A few moments later, she planted herself next to him.

"Hi, sweetie," she said as she kissed his cheek. "Glad I caught up with you."

"What is it, Amanda?"

She smiled sweetly, "I just wanted to see you. I haven't talked to you in a while, you know."

"Is this an unusual occurrence? When have we made a point of staying in touch?" Amanda had her charming face on, the one that suggested there was something she had to tell him that wasn't exactly pleasant.

"Uhmmm, MacLeod suspects you and I have had a relationship." Her voice had dropped to a low, quick whisper, like a confession.

"A relationship?" he repeated. "Don't you mean sex? Why is it Mac suspects?"

She frowned. "Don't be so blunt, Methos. I think I may have mumbled something in my sleep that might have been about you."

He fixed his gaze on her and waited. She shifted uneasily. "All right, I guess I said your name when he touched me so he-"

"Jumped to the conclusion." Methos closed his eyes. One more little problem to add to the pile. "Well, as you said, you're not exactly his property. When did this happen?"

"Night before last." Her voice sounded odd. Methos opened his eyes to find her chewing on the other half of his sandwich. She swallowed the current bite down. "I didn't actually tell him anything, but he asked me about it yesterday morning. I just wanted to warn you." Her hand snaked across to grab a couple of potato chips. "This is good, by the way."

"Glad you approve," his voice was flat. "Okay, Amanda, thanks for the warn-" His voice broke off as he sensed yet another Immortal. //Shit! Did I send out invitations?//

Amanda's line of vision shot past him and he turned to follow it. "Just great..." he murmured as the bulky image of Duncan MacLeod approached. Somewhat relieved that it was Mac, he relaxed, but steeled himself for another verbal battle with the man. At least, he hoped it stayed verbal.

Mac planted himself firmly in front of Methos. "We have to talk."

"Good to see you, too, MacLeod."

"Me, too," Amanda added, smiling up at him.

"I didn't expect to see you here, Amanda."

"It's so nice to feel welcome," she said, batting her eyelashes at him.

"So what brings you here, MacLeod? Did someone call you or are you watching me also?" Methos asked, guessing that either Maude called him or his Watcher had reported in to Dawson.

Mac took a deep breath. "I didn't come here to fight with you. I just think we need to talk."

"About what?" he said tightly. Methos gazed up at him, eyes searching for clues to MacLeod's state of mind. Talk? Pry, yes. Hardly a reassuring prospect at this point.

Mac compressed his lips tightly as if trying to decide where to begin. The frustration in his face was evident. Methos felt a pang that it had become so difficult for Mac to talk to him. When all this was over, he'd have to try to rebuild this bridge again. He just wasn't sure it would be possible or if Mac would ever be willing to meet him halfway.

Finally, Mac blurted out, "Methos, I'm just trying to understand what's happening. What happened yesterday..."

"Let me help you. I'm the bastard who took advantage of a teen-aged girl. MacLeod, dressed up in fancy clothes or contrite in humble rags, you wouldn't recognize the truth if it was standing before you."

Mac bit his lip, fighting to control his reaction. "I'm willing to listen. Talk to me."

"I don't think that's possible right now. Maybe in a couple of days, we can-" He stopped mid-word as he felt the light tickle, just at the edge of awareness, of yet another Immortal. This was turning into a bloody convention. The simultaneous look in both Mac and Amanda's eyes told him they, too, had detected the presence. As Mac turned to look for the source, Methos turned his attention back to his sandwich, taking another bite as the feeling slipped away as easily as it had come.

"Damn!" Mac swore. "That's the second time in the last two days. Did either of you see who it was?"

"Maybe you have an Immortal Watcher," Methos murmured without amusement, finishing off his lunch.

Mac shot a pointed glance at Methos, a burning question in his dark eyes. But Amanda had been watching Methos's lack of reaction. "You know who it is," she said with sudden understanding. "This isn't the first time for you either."

"Someone's playing a game," he muttered, trying to make it sound casual.

"A game? Who? Is this something to do with --?"

"I appreciate your concern, Mac," Methos interrupted, "but I'm handling it, okay? It's my problem. Look, I have things to do and an appointment to keep. We'll talk later." He was on his feet before he'd finished and set a quick pace away before MacLeod could argue.


Methos stepped back from the bulletin board at the Viking exhibit in the Norse museum and studied his handiwork. The message was clear enough if you read runic or Old Norse. He doubted the person following him for Agnetha would be able to translate, but he guessed he would get a copy back to her. It was a notice to the former owner of a ninth century gold artifact who might be interested in acquiring the item back. It then gave directions to the little church in Les Halles and the time, all written in a cryptic notation only Agnetha would understand.

If he was wrong about her, then he'd be waiting at the church alone. From the standpoint of ending this, he hoped he wasn't wrong. But he didn't want to fight her, hence the meeting on Holy ground. With luck they could talk this out, settle it between them and be done with it.

He left the museum, glanced around casually once he was outside and made his way across the street to the corner newsstand. He paused to buy a newspaper, opened it and looked over the top toward the entrance of the museum. Yes, there he was. The blonde man from the park came out of the entrance, looked around then set off down the street. Message delivered. Methos breathed a sigh of relief.

At a leisurely pace, he wandered on down the street, then stopped in at an antique store and browsed around it long enough to insure his Watcher was waiting at the door. He slipped out the back door, went down two more doors and cut up the alley to the next street. Another turn at the corner and he stood outside a small travel agency. Doing a quick survey of the area to make sure his Watcher hadn't followed that maneuver, he entered the agency. Fifteen minutes later, he came out with a plane ticket in hand for Athens. He figured he could get a boat from there to Santorini. As soon as he'd settled this with Agnetha, he was going to leave town for a few months. He really needed to clear his mind, to sort through the side effects of that Quickening ... and that wasn't likely to happen as long as he stayed in Paris.

Cheered by the thought of spending time in the beautiful Mediterranean, he retraced his steps back to his Rover, passing his Watcher, who was just coming out of the antique shop with a look of worry on his face. //Lost your assignment, did you?// Methos thought with perverse pleasure. //You ain't seen nothing yet, dude.// A pleased smile on his face, he climbed in his vehicle and headed home.

Feeling in control for the first time in several days, he put a Kiss CD on the stereo and began packing a bag. Jeans, a few shirts, necessities... he didn't really need much. Under an alias, he owned a nice little villa on Santorini and a FAX from his "uncle" would insure it was ready for him when he got there.

That done, Methos pulled out his sword and began polishing the edges, insuring it was ready in case he needed it. At least this encounter would be on his terms, not Agnetha's, and one way or the other, it would be settled.


"Pierson's put these up in a half-dozen places in town, Dawson. I haven't got a clue what it means." Immerson handed the Xeroxed piece of paper to Joe and waited as if he expected the senior Watcher to produce a miracle.

The young Watcher was an ardent man, about twenty-four, average height and on the skinny side. He looked like a hundred other kids in Paris, which was why he was a good choice to be a Watcher. After the fiasco a few nights earlier, he was Joe's latest choice to tag after Methos, but he suspected the ancient had picked up on this one as quickly as the first. Once an Immortal knew about Watchers, it wasn't a difficult task to figure out who was tagging along everywhere they went. Methos had better insight into the Watcher psyche than most of the ones assigned to it. He had no doubt that he'd be able to dump his Watcher without breaking a sweat.

Joe studied the notice, not really following the details of the message, but quickly judging that the ruins and ancient language meant that Methos had narrowed the problem down to Agnetha. And the details rested in the part he couldn't read. With a sigh of resignation, he instructed Immerson to go back to watching "Adam" while he tried to decipher the message. As soon as the young man left, he reached for the phone and dialed MacLeod's number. There was a quick moment of regret at getting the Highlander involved in something from which Methos obviously wanted to exclude him and there was just a twinge of guilt about his Watcher oath... again. But Mac, Methos and Amanda had ceased to be "Immortals" and had become friends. He just couldn't sit on his hands when one of them was involved. Besides, he technically wasn't watching them. Even though he stuck close to MacLeod, he wasn't Joe's assignment anymore.

Mac didn't waste any time in getting to the club and Joe led him into the backroom, away from the noise and the people in the bar. Even though it was a slow Thursday, things were just starting to get busy.

"What's this about?" Mac asked as soon as they were alone.

Joe handed him the notice. "Methos has put a few of these up around town. Can you read old Norse?"

Mac studied it, shaking his head slowly. "Not really. I took a few classes that included Norse literature, but we didn't get into the language itself. Sometimes it's downright scary what the old man knows. Do you have any idea why he's put them up?"

Joe was already connecting his computer to the Internet. "Yeah, I do. Maybe there's a web site that has a dictionary or something on old Norse..." As he searched through the potential sites, he told MacLeod about Agnetha, which was a short story since he didn't really have any details. "As far as the Watchers were concerned, she was an old legend. We thought she'd died in the French Revolution. It turns out Methos has a history with her and I think she's not happy with him. Bingo! This site has a dictionary. Let's see what we can find out."

For the next hour and a half, they struggled to interpret the message and were still not sure what they had when they'd finished. Except they'd narrowed the meeting place down to an old church in Les Halles. "Well, at least he's chosen holy ground," Mac said with relief. "It probably means he just wants to talk."

"Yeah, at least to start... What about these scratchings at the bottom? Those are runes, aren't they?"

Mac squinted at the twig-like marks. He's seen similar marks on stones in northeast Scotland and the islands. "Yes. See if you can find a guide on runic."

Joe called up the search screen and sent his request. About fifty results came back and he began searching through them until he spotted one that seemed to have what they needed. Mac stared over his shoulder at the images displayed on the screen, then he glanced at the paper, looking to compare the symbols.

"They're close, but not exact. Try another page."

Three pages later, they found a match on a page labeled "Swedo-Norwegian." Mac noted the equivalent letters under each symbol, then groaned. They now had the information in Norse. By the time they'd found the dictionary again, they'd been at it for over two hours.


Methos flattened himself against the wall and eased up to the window to gaze out. It didn't take long to spot his Watcher, the man was sitting in his car a half a block away. Time to put the plan in motion, he decided, dimmed the lights and turned the television on. Then he slipped out the window to the fire exit that went down the back of the building. He was dressed completely in black making it nearly impossible for anyone to spot him against the dark wall of the building, but he still took evasive measures once he was on the ground.

Eight zigzagged blocks later, he hailed a cab and had it drop him six blocks away from the church. As he approached the small church, everything was quiet. He didn't sense anyone yet and the streets were empty. The church was situated in a largely residential area where large buildings with several flats were directly across the street on two sides and an abandoned business office was on another. This late, few people would be out so it afforded quite a bit of privacy. The church itself was never locked even though the clergyman who tended it lived several blocks away. He trusted in the God and the faith of the people that no harm would come to it. Which wasn't to say that he didn't lock the valuables away at night. The chapel was open, but the rest of the building was secured.

Methos cut across the churchyard and into the chapel. A few electric candles were burning, enough to give the sanctuary a welcoming glow. He chose a seat near the front and sat down to wait. He closed his eyes, letting his memories run. He recalled Agnetha in a battle a few years after he'd become part of her raiding party. He'd fallen into the routine pretty well although he refused to kill anyone unless he had no other alternative. Agnetha often chided him about it, calling him soft.

"You have no guts," she told him as they prepared to raid another monastery. This one was on one of the islands near the north.

"It has nothing to do with that," he replied mildly. "I just prefer not to kill if I don't have to." He could see the tall rock round tower well back from the shore. The monks of Eire had built these to retreat to when an invasion occurred. They'd encountered several of them now and frankly, Methos was glad for it. They would raid, take what they wanted and the people would be safe.

But when they'd reached the shore, they'd found a band of Celtic warriors willing to stand against them. He'd tried to avoid killing any of them, using the sword only when necessary, but he wasn't about to let them kill him. The Celts took heads as trophies. He preferred to not take that risk and he made a point of covering Agnetha's back. But he also saw something that day that he'd only seen a few times before. In battle, Agnetha was overtaken with blood lust. Some called it beserker, some called it battle rage. Either way, she became indifferent to people around her and focused only on the fight, her own safety and logic lost in the emotion of the battle. He found himself dodging as much as trying to shadow.

His thoughts were interrupted with the sub-level warning of an approaching Immortal. Taking a deep breath, he swiveled to face the entrance to the chapel. She stepped into the dim light, as imposing as his memory had recalled. Her hair was shoulder-length now, framing her face in a page, but she was still the pug-nosed blonde warrior.

"So, Loki, you finally figured it out," she called in greeting. "I thought you would be quicker."

"I was distracted," he replied softly. "And I didn't expect you to send someone to do your dirty work."

She chuckled, a throaty sound. "That was a mistake. Belvedere wasn't supposed to try to kill you, just locate you. The foolish man took it upon himself to try to kill you. Maybe he just wanted your Quickening for himself. Perhaps if I had known, when I first met you, how old you were, then I might have killed you then. An oversight I plan to remedy."

She came closer, stopping only a few feet from him. "We have a score to settle, trickster."

"We don't have to do this, Agnetha. Whatever grievance you think we have, we can talk it out. Believe me, I didn't intentionally cause that cave-in."

Abruptly, she laughed. "Is that what you think this is about? That I'm still angry over Robert? Over a mortal who would have died in another fifty years? No! It's about you killing my lover... my current lover."

Methos looked clearly puzzled. "I don't understand. Who are you talking about?"

Her eyes narrowed. "Typical. You were friend once, claimed to be a brother, yet you knew nothing about him. He loved you; he trusted you. And at the end, you took his head."

A chill shot through him and his stomach wrenched with the sudden realization. "Silas..." The name whispered out on the exhale of his breath. He'd never considered that the big man might have a woman. "I didn't know..."

"Of course, you didn't know! You never bothered to find out. You only ever cared about yourself, Loki. Whoever you hurt along the way was inconsequential next to your survival. 'Cattle die, kindred die, every man is mortal: but the good name never dies of one who has done well.*' I will have your head now. I spared it once and you owe it to me."


At about this same moment, MacLeod finished translating the Norse results of the runes into something more or less intelligible. Joe leaned over his shoulder to watch, then his cellular phone chirped. Speaking softly into the phone, Joe listened for a few moments. "Are you sure, Immerson? No, no, you'd better keep an eye out for another hour or so.

"Look at this," MacLeod said, pointing to the paper. "I think he's asking her to meet him at ten-thirty, or maybe he means eleven. Tonight."

"Immerson just said he hadn't left his flat. Lights are on low, television on."

"You know there's a fire escape out the back window of his flat, don't you? If your man isn't positioned right, Methos could have easily slipped out without being seen."

"Shit!"

Mac reached for his coat. "I think he's already gone. I'm going to the church."

"Mac-- What are you gonna do? You can't interfere."

"I just want to make sure he's okay. Be there if he needs a friend." He couldn't begin to explain why he was concerned about this. He just had this uneasy feeling that left him anxious to do something. Why couldn't Methos have said something about it?


Methos recognized the declaration, knew it was a traditional part of a Viking poem and meant she expected to fight him. He stood up, holding his hands away from his side. "I'm not going to fight you, Agnetha."

"Then this will be an easy battle. Was it this easy with Silas? Did you betray his trust so easily?"

Methos found his throat tight with the sudden emotion of being reminded of his betrayal of a man that he had called brother. He recalled again the shock and surprise on Silas' face when he had challenged him for Cassandra's life. Poor Silas never knew the deeper meaning in that challenge, never knew that he'd made a decision against the Horsemen, against his own past. "It wasn't easy. I had to make a choice - a tough choice. If there had been another way, I would have chosen it."

"If that's so, you chose poorly. I forgave you once for a break in trust between us. But there's no forgiveness for this betrayal." She pulled out her sword.

His eyes widened in surprise. "What are you doing? This is holy ground, Agnetha! Put your sword away!"

"If you're worried, we can take this out to the street."

"No! I don't want to fight you. You know the church is sanctuary. You can't fight in here, you know that. I don't plan to leave until we talk this out." Unconsciously, he'd brought his hands up in front of him in a defensive pose, a gesture of truce.

"There's no forgiveness for betrayal," she repeated. Her eyes glittered as she swung her sword up. "You can't hide behind superstitions and false gods. Draw your sword or die." With that, she lunged at him, forcing him to jump out of her way and seeking escape down a row of pews.

"It's not superstition! This is dangerous! You can't fight in here."

Undaunted, she followed him down the row. He reached the end and backed away toward the door. Agnetha leaped toward him, swinging her broadsword in an arc toward his head. He jerked back, feeling the air shift in front of him as the sword cut through it. //Damn! That was close!// he cursed silently. There was a clang as the weapon hit one of the candelabras on a sideboard.

Realizing she was absolutely serious about this, Methos bolted for the door. Behind him, he heard her scrambling to follow him. He shoved the door open and made it onto the church grounds before he whirled around, pulling his own sword at the same time, and barely managed to bring it up to stop the blow as she caught up with him. His goal now was simply to get out of the churchyard and out onto the street. She wasn't giving him a chance. He tried to move back, to open up enough space to get away, but she moved in to cut him off, clearly enjoying this game.

Desperately Methos tried to force the blonde warrior back, pressing against her sword with his own. "This is dangerous, Agnetha. This is holy ground." His words were greeted with that wild, chilling cacophony of sound the feral woman called a laugh. It reverberated through his bones with about the same effect.

"It's not my god, Loki. Not holy ground in my eyes."

"That doesn't matter! It's any sacred ground, whether you worship the god or not. For all you know, this god could be Thor in another guise."

"Ha! I'll take my chances, prankster!" She plunged closer again, big broadsword clanging loudly as it met his only slightly smaller weapon. They were well matched. Agnetha stood eye to eye with him and still outweighed him by at least thirty pounds - all of it pure muscle.

If there was some way to break this fight off and run away, it would have been high on his list of priorities. Frankly, he was frightened. He knew there was truth to the dangers of fighting on holy ground. Even before modern era religions, some places on earth were considered sacred, places where the power of the earth itself was so tangible, you could feel it course through your body. Somehow most religious leaders in the early times found those points and they became the temples of the religion. While the abundance of modern places of worship didn't indicate that all of them were on power points, holy ground was an accepted sanctuary and no one wanted to risk the chance of it being a major source. Hell, for all he knew, if there really was a god, then any church, synagogue, temple or circle of stones in the woods could very well be as charged as the original ones. He didn't want to find out.

He lunged to the right, trying to shift around her, to drive the direction of the fight out of the churchyard. An uncharacteristic wind had come up and the long blonde hair blew like a banner in the gusts. The ice blue eyes had a look he knew well, one of blood lust and fire, that look of a beserker who no longer knew who she was or what she did. Her eyes were only for her enemy.

//Oh, gods! I'm in trouble!// Methos thought frantically. He needed to come to her level to fight her or get away. He wasn't finding an opportunity to disengage and he didn't dare become oblivious to his surroundings. He had to get out to the street.

He ducked, barely below her blade as he felt the air whistle through his hair. Too close. Way too close. She moved swiftly, turning to bring the sword back across his neck. He rolled, body rotating smoothly across his own blade. He caught her left leg in a scissors kick that brought her crashing to her knees with a sharp curse in Old Norse. It bought him an extra few moments, enough to get to the edge of the walkway before a scream of frustration and rage warned him she was just behind him. He whirled, bringing his sword around to protect his head.

Agnetha's sword angled down toward his head as she rose into the air in a leap toward him. His reaction was automatic, irreversible. The heavy, medieval sword flew through the air as if of its own volition. It sliced through the long, ivory neck, the full power of his swing behind it, and it came up in a smooth arc to intercept the down stroke of the broader sword. The impact of the steel knocked the weapon out of his hand even as the deflected blade missed his head and sliced into his shoulder before sliding off to his right.

Methos' sword clanged loudly on the stone, as if signaling the start of the Quickening to come. He had only a few heartbeats to note his position and that of his adversary in relation to holy ground. Miraculously, he was in the street, except for his left foot that had ended on the walkway to the old chapel entrance. But Agnetha's body was crumpled on the edge of the grounds and her head had rolled a few feet onto the grass.

"Oh, God!" he whispered, real fear wrenching his stomach as the first waves of the Quickening began. He barely had time to step back into the street in an effort to distance himself some from the church grounds. He didn't like the way the Quickening was forming. It seemed somehow more solid, more ominous than usual. The first bolt of energy hit him, knocking him sharply and painfully to his knees. He gasped with the shock of it, felt it tear at his body. His head whipped back rigidly and he stared wide-eyed as the church seemed to explode, glass flying outward.

Struggling against the sheer force of the power enveloping him, Methos forced his arms up to protect his head...his neck...as pieces of sharp-edged glass shot like missiles through the air. He thought he saw the whole roof of the church rise before the first shards of glass found him. Within another few heartbeats, the entire world seemed to explode around him. Bolts of power, flying debris and glass savaged him. Abruptly, a wave of energy lifted him from the ground and propelled him as easily as a rag doll in a violent storm.

Uncontrolled, he smashed into the brick wall of a row of houses across the street, his head snapping back sharply and painfully, before he slid down it to settle in a limp, battered heap at the base. He was barely conscious, unable to think, aware only of the pain that wracked his body. Instincts acting in desperation, he huddled tightly against the wall. In spite of the terrible agony, he tried to protect his head, exposing already bloodied arms to any other projectiles as the destruction continued unchecked.


* From the eddaic poem Hávamál, "The Speech of the High One."


continued in part six...