Highlander: Time and Again - 13 - Little Boy Lost by Emby Quinn
Grisons Canton, Switzerland
15 April, Present Day
It was a crisp, clear spring day. The sky was a picture-postcard blue, a perfect backdrop for the majesty and splendor of the snow-capped mountains that reached up imperiously towards the vault of the heavens.
Nearer to ground, the view was not quite so impressive. The mountain road along this section of the pass was badly in need of repair, spattered with cracks and the occasional pothole. The late-melting snows had turned the roadsides into an unappealing slush of cold, turgid mud. Just off the eastbound lane a dark gray Hummer was mired deeply in the muck, defying its manufacturer's boastings of maneuverability in any terrain.
At the back of the vehicle, a man was shoving with all his might. "Again!" he bellowed, gritting his teeth as he pushed. The woman behind the wheel obligingly started the engine and put the Hummer in gear. All four wheels spun furiously, doing their level best to find some traction, and the four-by-four moved bravely forward perhaps two inches. In the process, the man behind the car was splattered with even more mud and gravel. A gout of it hit him squarely in his angular face, and he choked through a mouthful of mud. "Batiltu! Sweiban! Quiesco!" He staggered to one side and roared at the top of his lungs "STOP!"
The engine immediately cut off. A blonde head poked out of the driver's side window and turned to look at him. "We were moving," she said, but fell silent at the sight of her traveling companion.
Hazel eyes glared balefully at her out of a mask of brownish muck. "You were moving. I was drowning. It's just not working." Methos wiped his hand across his face in a vain attempt to clear the filth out of his eyes. "If you think this is such a good idea, why don't you get back here and push while I drive?"
"This was your idea," Lucinda answered just as crossly. "I wanted to go find help, but you wouldn't let me."
"We're miles from bloody nowhere, Lucy. The nearest village is half a day's walk, and I doubt they've ever even seen a tow truck." He kicked the fender in frustration. "Bloody four-wheel drives...Well, there's nothing for it but to keep trying, I suppose."
"I thought you said it wasn't working."
"Yes, but what other choice have we got? What do you think we should do? Send up smoke signals? Yodel for help? Whistle for a St. Bernard with a cask of brandy around his neck? Let's try it again."
"Wait," Lucinda called as Methos began to trudge back behind the Hummer. When he looked at her, she tossed something at him and he automatically caught the keys to the Hummer. She climbed out of the car and walked past him, clapping him on his shoulder. "My turn to get dirty," she said, "and don't you dare argue."
"Who's arguing?" Methos said, and got into the car.
Val Mustair, Switzerland
15 April, Present Day
Renee Dalpiaz looked up expectantly as the door opened. Her habitual smile of greeting froze on her face. She struggled to maintain her composure. "G-good afternoon," she offered hopefully in her excellent English; surely only Americans could be this...this unconventional. Covered in mud from head to foot, the both of them! It was all but impossible to tell the man from the woman until one of them spoke in a definite baritone. To Renee's shock, the man asked for a room in perfect Romansch, albeit with a slight British accent. Whatever his outward appearance, he carried himself with the dignity of a prince, and the hotelier in Renee responded at once to his air of calm authority. She immediately had them sign in and issued them one of the pristine room keys. She waited until they were safely out of the lobby before placing an urgent call for housekeeping to come and mop the floor.
As they went up in the old-fashioned gated lift, Lucinda snickered under her breath. "Shut up," Methos grumbled at her, which only made her burst into giggles. He did his best to hide his own smirk as they exited on the third and topmost floor.
A little over an hour and a very thorough mutual scrubbing later, Methos felt in a much more relaxed mood. Yes, it had been his idea to traverse Switzerland in a four-wheel drive on their way to Italy, but Lucinda needn't have reminded him of that every time something went amiss. Still, they were near the border now, and the trip through the small, cozy villages of northern Italy promised to be far less of an ordeal than traversing the treacherous passes of the Alps.
When Lucinda emerged from the bath, toweling her hair, she found Methos leaning on the windowsill, looking out at the quiet village spread below. "I don't know about you," she said, "but I feel like a human being again."
Methos grunted in reply. "I'd forgotten how peaceful this place was," he said. "It hasn't changed much in the last century and a half."
"You've been here before, then?" He nodded, and she sat on the edge of the bed and looked at him curiously. "So you didn't just stick a pin in a map to decide where we'd be staying?"
"Not this time." He beckoned her over to the window and pointed towards a tall white stone tower. "That's the Basilica of St. John. It's one of the oldest buildings here--about your age, actually. Built by Charlemagne near the end of the eighth century, and it still stands today."
Lucinda nodded, then spotted another structure on the mountains south of the basilica. "What's that over there?"
"That? Oh, just a little winter place I had for a while."
"A little--! It's a castle, darling, it must be huge!"
"Drafty, too. A nice place to get away from it all, though." Methos smiled a little. "Byron and I had some good times there--what I can remember of them."
"Oh, was that part of the 'fifty-year-bender' you told me about?"
"Mm, yes." He gave her a playful swat on the bottom. "Now get dressed; I want to go for a drive before dinner."
"Jawohl, mein Herr!" Lucinda snapped him a smart salute and scurried off before he could swat her again.
There was one main road that traversed the eastern boundary of the village; most of the other streets were carefully-tended cobblestone, and none of the picturesque cottages were more than three stories high. Most were single-level structures, painted eggshell white with dark-shingled roofs. The Hummer wove its way southward, down a narrow hill pass towards the castle on the mountainside. During the drive, Methos entertained Lucinda with tales of his and Byron's antics during the summer of 1819.
"...and we would steal the old man's boat, sometimes, and go out on the lake--just for a lark, of course; no point in keeping a boat of our own and if the old man wasn't using it, why shouldn't we? He would always rage and bluster at us when he caught us, but a bit of whiskey and a few silver pieces and he'd allow himself to be mollified...until the next time."
"Byron was a bad influence on you," Lucinda teased.
"I thought I was a bad influence on him." Methos grinned, but his eyes were sad. "Ah, I think you would have liked him. Back in the day, I mean, before his genius drove him completely mad." He took her hand and squeezed it. "You might have been able to help him in ways I never could. You're an artist, too, but you don't let it consume you."
"I'm not the genius Byron was," she countered. "I wouldn't want to be. It ate him up from the inside out until he was a hollow shell just walking and breathing and going through the motions of existence. I've seen it happen before--too many times. Sometimes great talent is its own damnation."
Methos turned off onto a road that was little more than a track of white gravel leading up the side of the mountain. "Genius doesn't always destroy the gifted," he said, quietly measuring her reaction, summoning up an argument once advanced by MacLeod. "Da Vinci, Bach--they were great artists. Brilliant. And as normal as they come."
"The exception, not the rule." Lucinda studied her husband's profile lovingly. "It takes great strength of character to survive the dry spells, the frustrations, the failures, the insecurities. An artist doesn't really fear the judgments of others, however harsh. The harshest criticism comes from within. 'What the hell do you think you're doing? You're not good enough, you've lost your touch, if you ever had it, stop pretending to be something you're not.' Every artist goes through that. Not once, but over and over again. It's enough to drive anyone mad."
Methos gave her a sideways glance, and a small smile. "You look sane enough to me."
"I'm not famous," she answered calmly. "I wouldn't want to be, frankly. I don't have to stand up to the feverish expectations of millions of fans night after night. I have my quiet little gallery in the Quarter, my circle of friends, and my studio. And my darling husband." She kissed him. "That's everything I need."
"In order of importance?"
Methos chuckled as he parked the Hummer just outside the gated wall. "Looks like the present owners have let it go a bit, doesn't it?" he remarked as he opened the door and climbed out.
"It looks abandoned," Lucinda said. The gate was rusted and hanging askew; the walls had sizable cracks through which ivy and other vines crept lazily, stark and green against the white stone. Methos reached up and shook the frame experimentally, and with a harsh squeal of disintegrating iron the gate fell inward, landing with a crash on the uneven cobblestones.
"Door's open," Methos said, and strolled into the courtyard. With a soft chuckle, Lucinda followed--and almost smacked into his back when he stopped dead on the path. Then she felt it, too--the Presence of another Immortal, just within range.
Methos looked around warily, but there was no one else in sight. Lucinda turned with her back to his and scanned the road they'd just traveled; there was no sight or sound of anyone approaching, on foot or in a vehicle or even on a horse. Then Methos saw a flicker of movement in one of the ground-floor windows, and reached inside his long coat to grasp the hilt of his broadsword. "In the castle," he murmured, and heard Lucinda's grunt of acknowledgment. A moment later, she was beside him, her Viking longsword in her left hand.
The figure of a man appeared in the open, ruined doorway. He looked more like a boy, really, though of course with Immortals one could never really judge. He was wearing a dark jacket and a Greek fisherman's cap. The clothes looked rumpled, well-worn, and not very clean. He straightened up to his full height--which was well under five feet--and tore off his cap to get a better look. The sunlight glinted off a mass of light brown curls, and the round blue eyes went rounder still. Methos felt a deep shock of amazed recognition.
"Kaspar?" he called, a bit uncertainly, wondering if the lad would remember him. "Kaspar Hauser!"
26 May, 1828
"I am bloody bored, Doc." Byron limped along beside Methos, his very gait peevish and restless. He looked from one side of the street to the other, grimacing at the chatter of the locals as they went about their daily business. "Look at this place--so bloody provincial it makes my very bones rot. Why can't we go to Vienna? Paris? London? Even Geneva's better than this God-forsaken place."
"Because you are dead, my friend," Methos explained patiently, and not by any means for the first time. "Dead and buried in Greece, with a statue and a cenotaph to mark your passing. You are entirely too well-known to show your face in London, Paris, Vienna, or even Geneva." He tipped his stylish top hat to a pair of passing young women--farm girls, most likely, though prettily dressed--and smiled at their charmed giggles. "If you are bored with my company, you are free to seek companionship elsewhere."
"To Perdition with your petulance, sir!" Byron scoffed. "Had you not bled me dry in your vain attempt to banish my fever--"
"It was the fever that killed you, sir," Methos answered archly, "not my ministrations. Had you not insisted upon allowing your precious Greek paramours to loiter in your room, wailing and lamenting--"
"Seek not to rebuke me--in truth, I was too ill to banish them from my side. Their presence provided me the only scant comfort I could find in my misery."
"And when they saw you draw your last breath, the lot of them tore weeping into the streets to proclaim that the great 'Viron' was dead." Methos shook his head. "In any case, what's done is done. Now none of your favorite hunting grounds will be safe for you--not for a generation at the very least."
They turned a corner, approaching the main cobblestone thoroughfare that ran through the heart of the city. Byron frowned in thought. "We could explore the New World together. You've told me tales of that lovely port city of yours--Nouveau Orleans. I believe I should like to visit it."
Methos' lips thinned and his eyes narrowed. "You shall do so without my company, sir. I will not set foot back in that place."
"But why not? Surely not because of your great lost love?"
"You tread dangerous ground, my friend." Methos' voice was steady, but his tone was pure ice. "I have my reasons for not going back, and if you please, let us leave it at that."
Byron opened his mouth, no doubt to fire off a cutting retort, but before he could speak he was struck from behind and nearly sent sprawling. "What--look here, you!" he roared, wheeling around to confront whoever had collided with him. "Do you know who the hell I am?"
Methos put a restraining hand on Byron's arm. "Leave off, man, it's only a child..."
Indeed it was, or at least it seemed to be--a young boy, looking both confused and terribly alarmed. He was dressed in coarsely-woven peasant clothing--a homespun shirt and dark trousers, a pair of round-toed, ill-fitting boots, and a large-brimmed felt hat. He blinked hard against the afternoon sunlight, looking from one to the other of them. He was very short of stature, and slight of build.
And more than that, Methos thought, eyes narrowing slightly, he's one of us. Or will be, once he suffers a violent death.
"What is your business, then?" Byron demanded imperiously. "Speak, boy!"
"Ein Reiter will ich werden," he gasped, his blue eyes round and earnest and wide, "wie mein Vater einer war.''
"What in the world...?" Byron looked at Methos, confused beyond mockery. "A rider like his father? What?"
Methos put a hand lightly on the boy's shoulder, and answered him in German. "Who is your father, lad? In what company?"
"Don't know." The boy looked at him and bit his lip. Speaking slowly and clearly, as though with some difficulty, he repeated: "I want to be a rider, like my father."
"The boy's an idiot," Byron scoffed. "He doesn't even know what he's saying."
"I want to be a rider," the boy insisted. "Like my father." His face brightened, and he pulled out a rumpled, soiled bit of folded notepaper. He held it out to Methos with an expectant grin.
Methos accepted the paper and opened it. It was a letter, written in a careful, if crudely-executed, hand.
Honorable Master of the Horse:
I send to you a boy who would like nothing more than to faithfully serve his king.
This boy was given into my care on 7 October 1812. I am a poor day laborer with 10 children of my own, and have enough to look after already. Had his parents lived, he might have had a proper education; still I did my best in that regard, raising and educating him as a Christian. He has not taken a step out of the house since 1812, and he knows nothing of where he comes from. Take him, Master, and do with him what you will. He is a quick learner and can do anything you like after being shown once. He can already read and write, taught by myself, and his hand is exactly like my own. If you cannot keep him, you will have to cut him up for stew-meat or hang him in the chimney.
"It's not signed," Methos said, examining the front and back of the page. "Madness..."
"Shall we keep him as a pet, then?" Byron said, grinning. "We could teach him to do tricks for our amusement."
"Be still," Methos hissed.
"We can't very well leave him on the street, can we?"
"What we can do is take him to the guard-captain. This is none of our affair."
Outside Val Mustair, Switzerland
15 April, Present Day
Methos needn't have wondered. The round, boyish face broke into a wide, happy grin and he took off running. "Herr Doctor!" he shouted with pure joy, and threw his arms around Methos' waist, squeezing tight. "You came back! You finally came back!"
"Kaspar, what are you doing here?" Methos patted the boy's narrow back fondly. He'd almost forgotten how tiny Kaspar was; the top of his head barely reached Methos' breastbone.
The boy held on and looked up at Methos with his eyes shining bright. "Kaspar never forgot you," he said, and swallowed hard. "The Doctor and his friend were always very kind..."
Lucinda gave a small, significant cough, and Methos tapped Kaspar lightly on the shoulder. "Kaspar, I want to introduce you to my wife."
"Oh! I'm sorry, Doctor, of course." Kaspar took a respectful step back and clutched his fisherman's cap in both hands, waiting expectantly.
"Lucinda, darling, this is a former student of mine," Methos said to his wife's astonished face. "Kaspar Hauser."
"Pleased to meet you, madam," Kaspar said, bowing to her.
"We found Kaspar wandering the streets of Nuremberg--quite lost," Methos explained. "We took him to the guard-captain, who was not very helpful." He had an arm around Kaspar's thin shoulders on one side, and held fast to Lucinda's hand on the other, as they stood in the sunlight. "Nor was the master of the horse-cavalry, nor the police. No one seemed to know who this boy was, or where he'd come from, or how he had come to be in Nuremberg."
"They wanted to put me in prison," Kaspar said cheerfully.
Lucinda gaped at the fresh-faced boy. "Prison! What on earth for?"
"They didn't know what else to do with me."
Methos shruggled lightly. "Since no one came forward to claim him, Byron and I decided to take him in." Actually, he corrected silently, Byron had to strongarm me into it--the last thing I wanted was another student, and a seeming idiot into the bargain. Thankfully, my first impression was quite wrong...
"Doctor, where is Lord Byron?" Kaspar's question was simple and direct.
Regret flickered across the angular face. "He...won't be joining us, Kaspar."
"Is he busy elsewhere, then?"
"He's dead, Kaspar."
Kaspar's face fell. "Oh. I liked him."
"So did I." Methos ruffled the dark golden curls. "Why did you come back here, Kaspar?"
The boy whimpered softly and rubbed a hand across his high brow. Methos could still see the faint scar left by the first attempt on Kaspar's young life. "The Dark Man," he murmured. "He came back."
Methos groaned quietly. Lucinda looked quizzically at him, but he waved a hand at her. Later. Explanations later. "The one who attacked you in the cellar, Kaspar? The one who kept you in the cell?"
Kaspar nodded vigorously. "Still he would not tell me why he kept me for so long. I asked him and asked him. But he came after me. This time he had a sword, Doctor." He swallowed hard. "Why? Why does he want to kill me? What have I done wrong?"
17 October, 1829
The door to the carriage flew open, and the flambuoyant figure descended the unfolding steps. "Auf Wiedersehen, mein liebling!" Byron called, kissing the slim gloved hand that clutched after him. "Think fondly of me until we meet again!"
He stepped onto the platform and grinned brightly at the dark-haired, pale-skinned man who waited so patiently for him, stern-looking and silent. "Good evening, Doc! I see you received my letter!"
"No, actually, standing out in the freezing cold in the dark of night is a favorite pastime of mine." Methos watched Byron retrieve his bag and make his way across the planking. "So what brings you back to Nuremberg, George? Has the Oriental climate proven too harsh for one of your frail constitution?"
Byron scowled. He didn't like being addressed by his given name--as his former teacher well knew--and he utterly resented any reference to his physical infirmity. "I have traveled a long way from India, sir," he said bitterly, "just to see an old friend. One would think you would greet me with a modicum of civility."
"Civility would be merited if you had left my company in a civil fashion, sir."
"Are you still sulking about that?" Byron limped past Methos towards the street. "Considering all the attention you've been giving to your new pupil, I would think you'd hardly noticed my absence."
Methos stormed after him down the lamplit street. "As I recall, Byron, it was your idea to take the boy in. I was all for leaving him to the local authorities to do with as they would."
"But instead you took it upon yourself to give the boy an education."
"Whereas you would have made him a slave to your capricious indulgences."
They trudged towards the waiting surrey in silence. Methos urged the horses down the cobblestone street towards his comfortable villa just outside the city. Halfway there Byron finally spoke again. "I missed you, Doc."
"No one forced you to leave."
"I was hoping you'd come after me."
"You should know me better than that."
Byron sighed wearily. "I spent six months in India doing my level best to drown my obsession with you by imbibing vast amounts of opium. I overdosed on three separate occasions--"
"--But of course, it was of no use. You're a hard man to forget, Doc."
"So are you."
"So how is your charming little pupil?"
"He's far more intelligent than I ever could have imagined. He really does pick up anything he's been shown once--he has a phenomenal memory." Methos' face became animated as he spoke of his new student. "He also has the most amazing abilities--did you know he can see in the dark?"
"Night vision is hardly uncommon, my dearest doctor."
"No, I mean he sees in the dark as well as anyone else can in full sunlight! I have given him books he's never even opened, extinguished the lamp in a completely dark room, and he can read the page perfectly well. It's most astonishing, really. He's also quite an accomplished artist. He can draw anything he's seen once, even only a glimpse, with absolute accuracy."
Byron didn't even pretend interest in the subject of young Kaspar, but his silence didn't discourage Methos in the least.
"From what he can remember, he was kept from early childhood in a small cell. He has no idea why. There's been speculation that he's an heir to the House of Baden, though of course that's hardly likely, since we're all of us foundlings--"
"Speak for yourself," Byron snapped haughtily. "I don't know about you, my dear friend, but I was born of my mother like every lord Byron before me."
"And you remember this event distinctly?" Methos smirked as he stopped the carriage in front of his house. "You must hear Kaspar play the piano, he's really quite gifted. He's begun composing simple melodies, and with time, he might well be of some little reknown."
"He is already famous, Doc," Byron said, disembarking and taking his bag. "The name and mystery of Kaspar Hauser is the talk of society and peasantry alike from London to Moscow."
"And you would know this how?" Methos asked as he opened the door. "You are not supposed to be anywhere near London, sir. Not for the next twenty years at least."
"I wore a cloak, sir, and no one knew me--do you always keep your house so dark?"
"It was still light when I left. Remember, Kaspar can see in the dark; indeed, he prefers it." Methos lit one of the hall lamps and ventured into the parlor. "Kaspar?" he called. "Lord Byron has come to visit us!"
He paused in the hallway, listening. Byron looked around at the lavish furnishings with casual approval. "Well, just because you're living in the provinces doesn't mean your tastes have suffered, Doc."
"Ssshh!" Methos held up a hand sharply and listened. He could only just hear a faint voice, little more than a weak murmur. He handed the lamp off to Byron and headed for the cellar door, reaching under his cloak for his sword.
"Doc--!" Byron clumped noisily down the stairs, careful of his footing and envying Methos' easy grace even in his agitated state. "I know your lad prefers the dark, but really, this is going too far!"
"Be still!" Methos hissed. "Bring the lamp over here. I think he's hurt."
"What? Did he fall downstairs?" Byron walked across the earthen floor, past rows of wine racks, to where Methos bent over a figure huddled in a corner. "I thought he could see in the dark."
"He's been stabbed." Methos knelt down beside the trembling boy. "Kaspar...Kaspar, it's the Doctor. What's happened? Who's done this to you?" He grasped one shoulder and turned Kaspar over. There was a gash across his forehead, and blood had painted the round face in dark streaks that looked almost black in the lamplight. The boy's round eyes stared upwards at nothing. Byron leaned in closer, and Kaspar flinched from the light.
"Why? Why you kill?" he asked in a high, trembling whine. "Never I did you anything. No kill me!"
"Easy, Kaspar," Methos murmured, with a glance of alarm at Byron. "No one's going to hurt you. You're quite safe now. Who did this?"
Still he stammered broken, halting sentences. "I beg you not to be lock up. You never let me out of prison--not kill me!" Kaspar tried to creep back even farther into the corner, but Methos held him fast where he was. "You kill me before I understand what is life? Why you lock me up--you must tell me!"
"Stand back," Methos said. He stood, picking the whimpering boy up in his arms and cradling him to his chest. "I've got to get him upstairs."
Outside Val Mustair, Switzerland
15 April, Present Day
Lucinda looked at Methos with mild alarm. The elder Immortal was at a complete loss; he had no more answer to Kaspar's impassioned pleas than he'd had over a century before. "I don't know why he wants to hurt you, Kaspar," he said as gently as he could. "I don't even know who he is. You've never told me his name."
"He never gave it to me," Kaspar said. He was trembling with remembered terror, but he was making a visible effort to speak clearly and plainly. "The last time I saw him, the note said his name was 'MLO'..."
"Em-low?" Lucinda echoed. "Strange name."
"It was a note left at the place he was stabbed," Methos explained. "It was signed with three letters--M L O."
"Stabbed? What happened?"
Kaspar's answer was simple and guileless. "I died."
14 December, 1833
The door to Methos' house was flung open to the cold winter afternoon. In a skirl of scattered snowflakes the small, slight figure staggered into the house, clutching his side. "Doctor...Doctor...stabbed..."
Methos was out of his study in a moment, and guided the wounded youth to a chair. "Kaspar--what happened? Who did this to you?"
Kaspar panted with pain, his round face chalk white and strained. "Dark man...stabbed...knife...Hofgarten...gave me purse...go look, quickly..."
Methos caught the boy up in his arms and carried him to his bedchamber. A frantic examination told him that a long, thin, sharp knife had been plunged into the frail body several times, puncturing a lung and slicing into his liver and intestines. The damage is done, he acknowledged grimly. He can't live. Not as a mortal, anyway.
He bellowed for Byron, rousing his housemate from his opium-induced stupor. "Stay with him," he ordered tersely. "And for God's sake don't give him anything." He knew the besotted poet would be of little aid, but he didn't want to leave Kaspar alone. He grabbed for his coat and sword and rushed out the door, heading for the Hofgarten park.
The area was more or less deserted because of the cold. In front of a monument he found a small black coin purse. Gave me purse, Kaspar had said. Methos retrieved it and found inside a folded note written in a scrawl that was at first incomprehensible. His quick hazel eyes quickly deciphered the writing, which was in Old German, and written back-to-front as if the writer had been looking at the paper in a mirror:
"Hauser will be able to tell you what I look like, where I come from, and who I am. To spare him this task, I will tell you myself. I am from..." Here the writing was so mangled as to be truly unintelligible..."on the border of Bavaria. My name is MLO."
Methos looked around sharply as a brush of presence washed past him. He thought he detected the movement of a dark-cloaked figure, but whoever it was became quickly lost in the thickening fall of snow. He gave chase, but found neither visible nor perceptive trace of the other Immortal. At last he abandoned the search and went for the police.
The officers questioned the dying youth for hours, but he could provide only scant information. "I received a letter stating that someone had information about my mother and wanted to meet me. When I got to the park, a bearded man in a black coat asked if I was Kaspar Hauser. He gave me the black purse and then he stabbed me." His round eyes sought Methos feverishly. "Doctor, please don't be mad at Kaspar..."
Methos soothed the boy as best he could. After the police had left to continue their investigation, he pulled a chair up beside the bed and tended Kaspar. For a day or so it seemed he might actually escape death, but on the morning of the second day he woke with a fever, raving in his delirium.
"Many cats are the death of the mouse," he declared, then lapsed into an indecipherable babble of German, English and French. Methos gave him as much laudanum as he dared to help him sleep--God forbid the boy should die of poison and be robbed of his immortality.
Kaspar opened his eyes only once more, near sunset of the following day. He gave Methos a faint, weary smile. "Tired," he croaked through cracked lips, "very tired...still have to take a long trip."
"You do indeed, my boy," Methos said, pressing a wet cloth to the fevered brow. "Sleep now. Let it go."
Kaspar Hauser closed his eyes and breathed his last.
18 December, 1833
"Trust you to have a bolt-hole ready, Doc," Byron said as Methos drove the horses up the winding mountain path. The black carriage was not quite suited for lesser-traveled roads, but Methos had refused to pause in their journey from Nuremberg long enough to change vehicles.
"This is not a 'bolt-hole'," Methos said rather crossly. "It's a refuge. There simply aren't that many people in the mountains hereabouts, and no Immortals at all. We should be safe enough here for a generation or so."
"Twenty years of isolation," Byron moaned. "The very thought chills my soul."
Methos grinned saucily. "Look on the bright side. Now you can write that novel you've always wanted. I'm sure you can find another name to publish under and you'll make it every bit as famous as the one with which you were born."
Byron scoffed, but he couldn't hide his pleasure at the praise.
The "borrowed" hearse pulled up before the white stone wall. Methos handed the reins to Byron and leapt with his habitual grace and flung open the iron gates. He had to move quickly out of the way as Byron drove the horses forward, and he mounted the rear of the carriage as it passed.
When the carriage stopped before the castle, Methos pulled himself inside. He wrenched the lid off the plain wooden coffin resting in the back of the hearse and smiled when Kaspar's eyes flew open wide.
"Welcome back," he said.
Outside Val Mustair, Switzerland
15 April, Present Day
"We stayed here for a couple of decades," Methos finished. They were all sitting on the dusty stone floor now, and Kaspar was happily consuming a fair portion of the picnic lunch they'd brought along. "Then, when Byron felt it was time to return to the public eye, we parted ways, and I dropped Kaspar here off at a monastery in Monte Cassino. I always meant to go back and check on him, but...well, time does tend to pass rather quickly, doesn't it?" He ruffled Kaspar's hair affectionately.
"Monte Cassino was destroyed by the Allies during the Second World War," Lucinda said. "Right before the invasion of Normandy."
Methos gave her a look. "I didn't know you were such an expert on the subject."
She shrugged. "I kept up with current events. The destruction of the first Benedictine monastery was pretty big news if you were a Catholic."
Kaspar swallowed a mouthful of cheese. "The building fell on me," he said. "I slept for a long time, I think, before they dug me out. The workers thought I was a vagrant. I tried to explain to them who I was, but they didn't believe me."
"They probably thought you were mad," Methos said.
Kaspar nodded. "They said I was sick. I felt fine after I got out of the ground, but they said I was sick in my head." He tapped his temple for emphasis. "So they put me in a place for people with sick minds."
"How did you get out?" asked Lucinda.
Kaspar hung his head. "There was a fire," he murmured. "Everybody got burned. Me, too. It hurt."
Lucinda winced and shuddered. Methos put his arm around her and steered the conversation away from the dangerous topic of fires. "You said the Dark Man came after you again."
Kaspar nodded, his cherubic face grave. "I didn't know where to go, so I went back to Nuremburg to look for you and Lord Byron. It took me a long time to find my way. I looked, and I asked, but no one knew where you were. Some people laughed at me. A policeman tried to lock me up, so I ran away." He drew his knees up and wrapped his thin arms around them. "I slept under a bridge near your old house, hoping you would come back. One night I felt someone--one like us--near. I thought it was you."
"The 'Dark Man'?" Methos ventured quietly.
23 March, Present Day
The pulsing sensation shook Kaspar from his uneasy sleep. His hunger and weariness forgotten, he jumped up, his heart beating fast. He'd only ever felt this feeling if the Doctor or Lord Byron were near. It had to be one of them. They knew he'd come back, and they were here to help him.
"Herr Doctor!" he called, emerging from underneath the narrow bridge which was his only shelter. His breath misted in the cold night air. He could see no one, but that strange thrumming in his head still lingered. "Lord Byron?" He ran up onto the bridge, looking along the narrow street towards the city.
He heard a footfall behind him and looked around. His eyes went wide and round with fear, and he stumbled back. The silhouette against the night sky was too tall for Lord Byron, too broad-shouldered for the good Doctor. Pitiless black eyes glimmered in the half-moonlight.
"So you're still alive," the long-forgotten voice rumbled. "Then I failed. But I won't fail again." He took a step forward into the circle of light cast by the lone streetlamp beside the bridge. His clothes were shabby, ill-mended, and filthy--far from the well-groomed appearance he'd presented a century and a half before--but he was still clad from head to toe in black.
"The Dark Man," Kaspar gasped. "Leave me alone!" he shouted, looking around for an avenue of escape. He couldn't go back to the city--they had tried to lock him up. And the Dark Man blocked the only other way to run.
The man drew a longsword from inside his tattered coat. Battered but obviously serviceable, it gleamed dully in the artificial lamplight. "I can't do that, Kaspar. I have my duty. You, also." He pointed the sword at Kaspar's heaving chest. "Yours is to die."
With a yell, Kaspar took the only way out he could see. He turned and leapt into the fast-moving, icy waters of the river behind him, letting the currents pull him down and away from the spectre by the bridge. He fought his way to the surface from time to time to gasp a lungful of air, but he dared not stay above the water where he could be seen. At last the pulse of the Dark Man's presence faded into silence, and by then Kaspar was far away from the bridge.
Outside Val Mustair, Switzerland
15 April, Present Day
"I followed the river," Kaspar said. "You told me that rivers always lead somewhere. So I followed it. Then, when things started looking familiar again, I found Val Mustair--and I found your house. This place," he said, looking around at the cracked, untended walls. "I could see you hadn't been here in a long time, but my heart told me that if I waited long enough, you would come. And so you did!" He hugged Methos around the waist with the spontaneous glee of a child. "Oh, Doctor, I've missed you!"
"I've missed you too, Kaspar." Methos looked at Lucinda, and the look in his eyes made her stomach clutch. His voice, however, was light and pleasant when he spoke. "Lucy, why don't you get a blanket from the car? Kaspar looks like he could use some sleep before we go back to the hotel."
Once the boy Immortal was settled down by the fireplace, Methos took Lucinda's elbow and quietly guided her up the dusty staircase. The castle had obviously not been occupied for some time; the bannister was crumbling and the halls were bare and musty, but the stonework was sound enough. He led her up a narrow passage onto the northern parapet. Once there, he let go of her arm and walked to the edge, leaning on the ornate battlement, and looked down into the lush green valley below.
Lucinda stood beside him, her back to the magnificent view. She studied his profile carefully. His expression was locked down, closed away. He was shuttered behind the inscrutable mask of his ageless face, lost for the moment to her and the rest of the world. Despite the utter lack of expression on his face, Lucinda could sense he was deeply troubled, and she was fairly sure she could guess why. Kaspar was an innocent in every sense of the world--a man-child with no way of protecting himself. Soon or late, he would die--if not at the hands of this "Dark Man", then at some other Immortal's hands. In the Game, Kaspar was a pawn waiting to be sacrificed.
After a few minutes, Methos closed his eyes with a deep sigh and let his head drop. His shoulders slumped, as though in defeat. Then he raised his head sharply and took a deep breath. Finally, he opened his eyes and looked at her. There was a deep, inexpressible sadness in his forest-colored eyes.
Lucinda put a hand on his shoulder. "We can take him back with us," she said.
Methos scoffed and lowered his head again, shaking it.
"To New Orleans," she persisted. "The truce--he'll be safer there than anywhere."
His eyes locked onto hers. "Do you really want another Henri?" he asked. "Someone you have to protect?"
"That's different," Lucinda snapped back, stung. "Henri can fight, he just won't. Kaspar--"
"--Is completely helpless. Yes." Methos rubbed a hand over his face. "I never really expected to see him again. When I heard that the monastery had been destroyed, I simply assumed that he'd died in the explosion. I should have known better, I suppose."
"Of course I knew. Byron was fond of the lad--and I felt sorry for him, really. I knew it was foolishness to leave him alive, but I didn't want to kill him and I knew Byron wouldn't."
"Kill him!" Lucinda almost shrieked.
"Quiet!" he hissed at her.
Lucinda was outraged, but she made an effort to keep her voice low. "Methos, he's a complete innocent! Why in God's name would you want to kill him?"
Methos waved his hand. His expression was stony, but his eyes were almost feverishly bright. "Come on, Lucinda, you've seen him, you've heard him talk--I tried and tried to explain the Game and its rules to him, but he either wasn't interested or simply couldn't understand the need to learn to fight. He couldn't hurt a field mouse--he hasn't got it in him. I thought he'd be safe on holy ground; the monastery had stood for centuries, I thought it would buy him a few hundred years of life at least. He can't function in the outside world, and he doesn't understand the need to keep our existence a secret. He'll be locked up again--he hates that--and sooner or later the doctors will notice he isn't aging normally, or at all, and they'll start asking questions he'll be all too happy to answer--"
"If you're talking about an asylum, why would they believe him when he starts talking about Immortals?"
"Because he isn't insane, and any psychologist worth his diploma will be able to determine that sooner or later."
Lucinda scowled, thinking as hard as she ever had in her life. "All right, then we will take him back to the Quarter. We'll just have to keep an eye on him, that's all."
"Do you really want to spend the next hundred years babysitting a full-grown Immortal with the personality of a child?" Methos demanded. "More to the point, do you think I want to? We may not even be in New Orleans for much longer--you're going to have to abandon your current persona soon, you said as much yourself back in Paris."
"I know, but..." Lucinda fisted her hands in her hair. "We can't just slaughter him, Methos! He's an innocent, and he trusts you. Can't we--" She waved her hands helplessly. "Can't we just...leave him here, at least? Leave him in peace?"
"And how long do you think it will be before someone else finds him? The police, or maybe a reporter just looking for the next big story?" Methos turned away from the sun-dappled vista below and folded his arms tightly around himself. "No, Lucinda. He cannot be made to understand the danger of telling people about us. He's frank and open and trusting and a complete stranger to deception. Even if I wanted to, I couldn't keep him prisoner--there's nothing he hates and fears more than that. He'd rather die, I'm certain of it."
"That isn't our decision to make," Lucinda said firmly. "Kaspar isn't a murderer or a madman."
"No, but he's just as dangerous to us. To all Immortals. We can't--"
The two of them stopped suddenly, feeling a wash of presence across their senses. Together they looked towards the steps that led from the lower floors, but saw no movement.
"Kaspar?" Lucinda wondered aloud.
Methos shushed her and moved quietly towards the steps. Lucinda started to follow, but a glinting from the roadway caught her eye. She went across the roof to the other side of the rampart, and saw sunlight gleaming off the chrome of a late-model motorcycle parked just outside the stone walls. "Methos!" she hissed.
He looked at her, but before she could speak there was a terrified shout from below. "Leave me alone!" Kaspar screamed, and it galvanized them both into action.
Methos was halfway down the main stair when the first flashes of lightning began. He stopped on the landing and Lucinda nearly collided with him. "Oh, no..." she moaned. "Poor Kaspar..."
She dropped her head against Methos' back, and they stood there, not moving, until the Quickening faded. The air was sharp with the scent of ozone. The dying sunlight slanted in through the paneless windows, and dust stirred up by the storm danced and glinted in the golden beams.
A figure appeared in the doorway, carrying a long, well-used sword. Methos tightened his grip on his own weapon and squared his shoulders. The Immortal wouldn't be ready for another fight, not yet, not so soon--and he wasn't sure he wanted a challenge anyway. Did he have the right, when he was suggesting killing Kaspar himself only moments ago?
Behind him, Lucinda felt him stiffen suddenly, heard his sharp intake of breath. She looked up, and her hand flew to her mouth, her eyes widening in stark disbelief.
Kaspar Hauser stood at the foot of the stairway. His nutmeg curls were tousled, his round face white. He carried a bloody sword in his hand, and his eyes, though still blue as the sky, were no longer guileless and innocent.
"Doctor," he rasped, and even his voice sounded older. "I'm alive."
Val Mustair, Switzerland
17 April, Present Day
Two days of steady meals and uninterrupted periods of sleep had brought a significant change in Kaspar's appearance. The color had returned to his once-pallid face, and his sparse frame was visibly beginning to fill out.
But more than that had changed about him. Although he was no taller, and his face still had that cherubic boyishness about it, he carried himself in a different manner. The uncertainty and stilted manner of his speech was quite gone.
On Sunday afternoon he was sitting in the sitting room of the hotel suite with Methos and Lucinda. He had spent most of the past two days sleeping and reading newspapers, trying to catch up on current events as best he could. Now, it seemed, he was finally ready to talk about what had happened.
"I was so frightened," he confessed, his blue eyes shadowed at the memory. "I couldn't run, I couldn't call out for help--all I could think about was that this man was about to kill me. I was certain that I was going to die, and I knew there would be no time for you to come and help me. Even if you did," he said, with a small, wry smile, "you wouldn't be able to interfere, would you? It's against the rules."
"Something like that," Methos agreed quietly. He was watching Kaspar carefully, with a guarded expression.
"I didn't want to die," Kaspar continued, quite calmly, "so I reached for the sword. I don't think he expected me to try and grab it from him, but that's exactly what I did. I swung it at him--I think I was just trying to knock him away--but he was falling, and so I took off his head. By pure blind instinct, I suppose." He shook his head ruefully. "Beginner's luck, maybe."
"Or maybe you remembered something from when I tried to teach you how to fight," Methos countered.
"Yes. You always said I was clever enough to learn anything."
"So who was this man?" Lucinda asked, pouring another cup of tea for Kaspar. "Why did he want to kill you?"
"His name was Milo Kemper. He was a soldier in the Thirty Years' War in the army of the Holy Roman Emperor, Ferdinand. Once the Empire was dissolved, he served the Emperor's direct line. He was ordered by the Countess von Hochberg to take me from my mother, the Duchess of Baden, so that the Countess--Ferdinand's descendant--would inherit the duchy. He was supposed to kill me, but he chose instead to keep me hidden--I think because he could tell I was Immortal, or would be if I were killed. He hid me on holy ground and kept me in an underground cell until I was eighteen. He got it into his head to use me to blackmail the Countess--they'd had some sort of falling-out by then--and he decided to let me loose in Nuremberg. He was certain I'd be arrested as a vagrant and locked up in jail until he chose to come collect me. He didn't realize there were other Immortals in the city--yourself and Lord Byron--who would know me for what I was.
"When the Countess died, he had no more use for me--only she and he knew who I really was, and he couldn't identify me without admitting his part in my imprisonment. So he tried to kill me. Four years later, he succeeded, but he was forced to run before he could take my head. He stayed around Nuremberg, certain I would return. In the intervening years, frustration and anger ate away at his sanity. I think perhaps that's why I was able to get the better of him in the end."
"So what will you do now, Kaspar?" Methos asked, still watching him closely.
"Well, I have Milo's knowledge, so I know who I am--and I have his skill at the sword, which was considerable at one time. I can learn what I need to know about the modern world. I'll probably stay here for a while, since it's more or less safe for me, and then find a new life elsewhere."
"That sounds like an excellent plan." Methos set down his empty cup and stood. "We're leaving today, Kaspar."
"So soon?" Kaspar sounded mildly disappointed, but not very surprised. "Do you think you'll be back anytime soon?"
"One can never tell." Methos put out a hand and pulled Kaspar to his feet. He put his hands on the boy's shoulders and looked deeply into his eyes. After a moment, he smiled. "I think you'll be all right, Kaspar. I have no fears for you now."
Lucinda opened the passenger door of the Hummer and watched as Kaspar rode the motorcycle up the mountain path towards the castle. "It's really wrought a change in him," she said. "The Quickening, I mean. He's a completely different person now."
"Yeah, that happens sometimes." Methos loaded the last of the bags into the back of the vehicle and shut the rear hatch. "He's taking up residence in the castle, and he'll see it restored to a livable state in short order. It's remote, isolated, easily defensible--which is why I chose it, of course." He walked up to Lucinda and wrapped his arms around her from behind. "I'd say things turned out for the best, wouldn't you?"
Lucinda glanced back at him. "At least you didn't have to kill him."
Methos stiffened. "Do you think I wanted to?"
"Of course not."
"Good. Now can we drop the subject, please?"
Lucinda turned in his arms and put her hands on his chest. "Consider it dropped," she said, and kissed him. "So, where to now?"
"Eh...wherever the road takes us." Methos walked around the front of the Hummer, fishing the keys out of his pocket. "Italy first, I should expect, then maybe Greece. You like Greece, don't you?"
Lucinda opened the door and climbed into the passenger seat. "I liked it the last time we were there, but that was a while back. What was it--1615, 1617?"
"Actually, it was 1618," Methos supplied as he slid in behind the wheel. "But who's counting?"
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