by Parda and Nightsky, October 1998
What is the worst of woes that wait on age?
What stamps the wrinkle deeper on the brow?
To view each loved one blotted from life's page,
And be alone on earth, as I am now.
George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron
Childe Harold's Pilgrimage, canto II
Thursday, 23 April 1997
MacLeod's Barge in Paris, France
Methos strolled up the plank onto MacLeod's barge, the familiar sense of an Immortal crawling over his skin. "MacLeod?" he called immediately, not wanting to alarm his friend. Alarming Immortals was a very bad idea. Especially alarming MacLeod. Especially now.
He was almost completely sure that MacLeod had come to terms with the things Methos had done in the past, that MacLeod wasn't still angry at him for being one of the Four Horsemen, for terrorizing two continents over two thousand years ago. But he also knew that MacLeod was still - well, not angry - but upset and bothered that Methos had asked him not to take Byron's head three days ago.
Not that his request had stopped MacLeod, Methos thought, feeling a bit irked. Byron had been a friend, and Methos didn't like his friends taking each other's heads. He didn't have that many friends to start with, and if MacLeod kept taking their heads, then he would, indeed, have only one. MacLeod was a little too quick to reach for his sword. Well, he was young yet. Methos shrugged and let his irritation fade away.
MacLeod appeared in the doorway, holding his sword behind his back. Methos couldn't see the blade, but it was very obviously there.
"Don't recognize my voice anymore?" Methos asked, pretending to be hurt, but he stopped where he was, a good four paces away from MacLeod - and four paces away from the gleaming deadly blade, and the dark-haired, deadly Immortal holding it. He wondered if MacLeod had in fact recognized his voice, but he decided he did not want to ask.
"Just making sure," MacLeod said. "You'll see why," he added and led the way into his barge.
Methos followed him, taking only two steps before the feeling of another Immortal came over him. He entered more slowly, wondering who else was there. A young woman was standing in front of the couch. She was perhaps in her mid-thirties, well dressed in the way particular to French women, especially Parisian women. Her dark hair was expertly twisted into a chignon. She looked very nervous and slightly sick.
Methos recognized her for what she was immediately - a new Immortal. A very new Immortal. He put on his most unassuming graduate-student air, slouching a little more, putting his hands in his coat pockets, opening his eyes a bit wider, letting just a hint of smile touch his lips. He wondered if MacLeod had already mentioned his name to her. And if so, which one?
MacLeod said quickly, "Veronique, this is a friend of mine."
So MacLeod hadn't told her his name. Good. He needed to pick a new name anyway; Adam Pierson had been living in Paris for much too long. "Hello," Methos said, making no attempt to shake her hand, but nodding instead. Touch was sometimes very unpleasant for new Immortals. "Benjamin Davis."
He saw MacLeod roll his eyes slightly at his new name, and Methos lifted one eyebrow in a sardonic challenge. At least Methos changed his names once in a while. MacLeod hadn't come up with even one alias in over four hundred years. What did the Scot expect, anyway? Chubby Checkers? Brian Boru? Incitatus?
The woman nodded back, looking a bit more composed now that the initial sensation was fading. "Veronique Lesonde."
He nodded once again and made his way to the refrigerator to find a beer. It was almost lunch time, after all. He could hear MacLeod talking to her earnestly, explaining Immortality and healing and all the rest of it. Methos had gotten tired of explaining it long ago. He had gotten tired of taking on students, only to watch them die. He hadn't had a student in a very, very long time. Not a brand-new one, anyway.
He sat down on the chair and faced a little away from them, not wanting to intrude. MacLeod had gotten up to the part about the Game now.
"Behead each other?" Veronique's voice was shrill. "For a ... a Prize?"
Now he heard MacLeod's lower tones, reassuring, explaining, telling her about Holy Ground, the Game, the Prize.
"But why? What is this ... Prize? What is this Game?" She sounded angry now. "When did this start?"
Methos took a long drink from his beer and closed his eyes. It had started a very long time ago.
The Bronze Age
The Four Horsemen's Camp
Methos strode through the camp, ignoring the frightened slaves who scurried out of his way. The cold wind blew down from the mountain-side, whipping his hair across his eyes and scouring his face with fine sand. He stood and stared at the large tent where his three brothers were waiting.
There had been dissension between the brothers yesterday, an argument that had become a fight. They had been together for over four centuries now, and, during that time, a tradition had developed. They had agreed to settle such arguments with a contest. The winner of the contest became their leader, ruler of them all, until discord again arose, and another contest was declared.
It was time for a new contest, a new leader. Methos thought a few moments more, then lifted the tent flap and went in. He took his place in the circle, sitting across from Kronos and between Silas and Caspian. His brothers nodded to him, then resumed the discussion.
"I liked the time when we wrestled," Caspian said.
"That's because you won!" Silas growled.
Kronos and Methos glanced at each other, sharing a silent message. "Never again," their eyes promised each other. Ever since the wrestling match, Kronos and Methos had done everything in their power to ensure that neither Silas nor Caspian would win. Their simple view of life was often amusing, and the older men frequently found themselves swept up in the enthusiasm Silas and Caspian brought to each new experience. But neither Silas nor Caspian had the ability to think beyond the next day; neither had the foresight needed to lead the group.
"There was the time we saw who could level a village to ashes the fastest," Silas remembered. He looked at Methos questioningly. "I've never figured out how you got all those fires to start at the same time."
Methos smiled to himself, but said nothing. None of his brothers expected him to give away his secrets. Methos enjoyed contests that involved cunning. Not surprisingly, his brothers preferred contests of sheer strength. Methos leaned back against the cushions, eating a date neatly, then licking his fingers. He knew he needed to think of a game that appeared to be a contest of brawn, but was in truth, a contest of brains.
"No repeats," Kronos announced. "That way no one has an advantage." He stared at Methos challengingly; Kronos liked winning.
Silas and Caspian weren't very good at thinking, but they kept trying. "What about seeing who can kill the most people in a day?" offered Caspian.
Methos shook his head. "That's an idea, but..." He reached for another date and relaxed against the cushions again. "Let's do something different, Brothers. Where's the sport in killing mortals? Where's the thrill?" He let the last word linger on his tongue and looked at each of his brothers in turn.
Kronos was smiling already; he could see what Methos had in mind, but Silas and Caspian were staring at him blankly. Methos added for their benefit, "Let's kill - Immortals. We'll take the heads, and we'll take - the Quickenings." Methos popped the date into his mouth.
Now everyone was smiling. There was always an argument on the rare occasions they found another Immortal. They all wanted the Quickening. Kronos wasn't just smiling; he was looking at Methos with admiration. Both Kronos and Methos could sense those who would become Immortal. Silas and Caspian had no such talent. This would be an incredible advantage in the game. Silas and Caspian could play, but only Methos or Kronos would win.
"Other Immortals, not us. We're brothers." Silas stated the obvious. He could at least see that.
"Of course, not us!" Methos reassured him. "It'll be ... a game. Whoever takes the most Quickenings wins."
Kronos leaned back, stroking his chin, considering his advantages.
Silas was looking for an advantage, too. "Do women and children count?"
As always it was Methos who was coming up with the rules. He nodded. "Yes. Women Immortals count; children Immortals count. Any Immortal. Fights must be one-on-one." He looked at his brothers around the circle. "No teaming up on someone. You can't count half a head." There were nods all around; everyone understood that.
Kronos spoke up suddenly. "No witnesses. No mortals watching." He smiled at Methos. "We keep it a secret. Make your challenge where no one else can see."
Methos gazed at Kronos for a second, wondering why his brother would make that a prohibition. Did Kronos know about the Watchers, the semi-religious organization that believed Immortals to be divine? The Watchers observed Immortals and took their stories back to the temple where the history of the "gods" was recorded, but they were not supposed to interfere with Immortals in any way. Methos had been a part of that organization centuries ago when they were just beginning, and he knew they were still active. Perhaps Kronos knew about the Watchers, too. Perhaps he didn't. It didn't really make much difference.
Now Caspian spoke up. "And we don't fight on Holy Ground."
"Scared to fight in a temple?" Silas asked.
Caspian nodded slowly. "It's bad luck," he proclaimed. "And not just temples. Any Holy Ground. Any god or goddess."
Methos and Kronos looked at each other and shrugged. They knew how seriously Caspian took such things. He was young yet. "No fighting on Holy Ground, then," agreed Methos.
"How long?" asked Caspian. "How long do we hunt?"
"Five years?" offered Silas. "Ten?"
"Can you even count that high?" Caspian asked. He laughed and lounged back against the pillows. "Of course, you won't need to count very much to keep track of how many heads you take."
Silas growled and pulled his fist back for a mighty blow, but Methos laid a gentle hand on his other arm. Silas and Caspian often squabbled like children, and it was his job to keep the peace.
"Brothers," Methos protested, looking reproachfully at Caspian. Caspian merely smirked and reached for his wine.
"Twenty years," Kronos announced. "The hunting will take some time." He looked at the other three Horsemen. "Are we agreed then, Brothers? This will be our challenge?" They all nodded, and Kronos said, "Stand then. Our oath on it."
The four stood and clasped arms. Methos could feel Silas's crushing grip on his forearm, and he tightened his own hand on Caspian's arm. He and Kronos stared at each other across the square.
Kronos smiled. "Our new contest. For twenty years we shall journey alone, taking heads. Then we shall meet here, at the base of the mountain. We will determine the winner, and the Horsemen will ride again!"
23 April 1997
"We don't know when the Game started, Veronique," MacLeod answered. "Nobody knows."
And now nobody would ever know, Methos thought. He was the only one left who knew, and he would never tell. He was glad - most of the time - that the other three Horsemen were dead now. He had once told MacLeod that he hadn't felt guilt since the eleventh century, but there were times, usually at night, when that was simply not true. Methos finished his beer without opening his eyes.
"But what is this Prize?" Veronique asked again, trying to make sense of it all.
MacLeod's voice was calm and measured, as if he were giving directions. "The last Immortal left alive will have the power of all the Immortals who ever lived, enough power to rule the world forever."
Veronique did not sound at all convinced. "How do you know these things? Who told you?"
MacLeod answered, "My teacher told me, as his teacher told him. All Immortals learn of it this way." He added seriously, "We hope the last Immortal left is a good one."
Veronique didn't say anything. Methos stood abruptly and went to the refrigerator for another beer. He leaned against the wall of the barge and stared out the porthole, taking the first cold swallow.
Winter, the Bronze Age
The Great Forest near the Caspian Sea
Methos took the first drink from his cup of ale and reached out to slap the serving wench's rump. She squealed in surprise, but gave him a smile as she walked away. He knew she'd seen the size of his purse, a "gift" from an unlucky trader he'd met a few days ago in the forest. Methos watched her appreciatively for a moment, then looked around the smoky tavern.
He had been traveling from one village to another for weeks now, following the rumors of a man who died and came back to life. He'd done this before. He knew he would eventually catch the Immortal - one more head to add to his count in the Game. He had taken quite a few heads already, and there were still thirteen years left to go. He wondered how the others were doing.
He had reached this village just before dark. One of the villagers had told him that the man he sought visited this tavern occasionally. Methos decided he would stay here for a few days, waiting. It would be nice to rest, to be out of the cold, and he liked this ale they served much better than the sharp sour wine he was used to. He took an appreciative sip of the ale and relaxed, stretching out his feet closer to the fire. It was cold outside tonight, although there was no snow.
He had almost dozed off when he felt the familiar sensation that signaled a nearby Immortal. He raised his head, his sleepy, casual attitude a thing of the past. He scanned the room, his eyes bright, anticipating the hunt. His eyes stayed bright, but a smile touched his lips as he recognized the man who had just walked in. There would be no Quickening for him tonight.
Silas stood frozen, just a few steps inside the doorway, his eyes darting about the room. A grin lit up his face as he spotted Methos, sitting in the corner. Methos raised his cup in greeting, and Silas joyfully made his way over to him.
"Brother," Silas boomed in his jovial manner. "How many years has it been? Seven? Eight? How goes the game?"
"Well enough," Methos replied. "How goes it for you?"
"A great day it was, when you thought up this game, Methos," Silas answered as he dragged a stool over and sat down at the table. "I've yet to meet an Immortal who can come close to matching my skill. Those Quickenings are worth all the effort involved in tracking Immortals down. Gods, those lightning bolts, Methos." Silas shook his head and leaned closer, dropping his voice, trying to impart a quiet confidence. "I've never enjoyed a woman as much as I enjoy those lightning bolts." He grinned.
Methos nodded in agreement. He, too, looked forward to the intense pleasure and agony of a Quickening. It was, indeed, better than any woman. He began to reply when he felt the barest sensation of another Immortal, growing stronger and then fading. The Immortal he had been hunting must have walked by the tavern. He knew from the alertness on his brother's face that Silas had felt it, too.
Silas met his eyes staunchly. "He's mine," Silas stated. "I've been on his trail for months."
"So have I," Methos answered. "Many villages ago, and more than a few months ago, I heard of the man who was mauled by a boar, died, and revived."
"I've been tracking him longer," Silas challenged him. "He died before that, on the shores of the big sea to the west of here. I heard a legend of a man who had been shot by an arrow, but came back to life. When I started tracking this man, I could still smell the salt air."
The two men locked gazes, both hating to lose, both refusing to give up the advantage.
It was Methos who saw the absurdity of it, and he shook his head, smiling. "Brother, Brother! It's not worth fighting over. It's only a game." Methos fished in his pouch, and pulled out a pair of dice. "Two out of three throws?"
Silas stared at Methos for a second. Then he laughed. "All right, Brother," he answered, "but not with your dice."
Methos laughed in return, conceding the point. He placed the dice back in his pouch as Silas borrowed a pair of dice from some men near the door. A few moments later, Silas crowed in glee and stood, preparing to go hunting.
Methos leaned back and drained his cup. "Better Silas than Kronos," he thought philosophically, wondering if he could somehow manage to interrogate the Immortal and find out if he knew of any others like themselves, before Silas killed him.
Silas was grinning as he grabbed his axe and started for the door. Glancing back at Methos, he cocked an eyebrow at him and asked, "Care to watch, Brother?"
Why not? The rules said the battle had to be one-on-one, but there was no reason Methos couldn't watch. He followed Silas out the door.
Silas caught up with the unlucky Immortal as the man made his way between two huts in the village. Silencing him with one hand over his mouth, Silas dragged him to the nearby pasture, where the villagers grazed their animals. There Silas threw him to the ground.
Brandishing his axe, Silas loomed over the confused man lying on the withered grass. "Is this Holy Ground?" he demanded.
The man brushed his long brown hair from his eyes and stared up at Silas. "What?" he stammered. Whatever he was expecting after being attacked, it wasn't that question.
"Is this Holy Ground?" Silas repeated. "Do you sacrifice to the gods, dance to the Goddess, or any such thing in this pasture?"
The man got slowly to his feet. "We keep our goats and cattle here," he stated, as he flicked distastefully at his heavy cloak, obviously wondering if Silas were crazy.
Silas nodded in satisfaction. "Good," he said. "You can't kill anyone on Holy Ground. Isn't that right, Brother?" He looked at Methos for confirmation.
Methos nodded, leaning against a tree and getting comfortable. He wanted to have a clear view of the proceedings.
Silas took out his axe and turned back to the other Immortal. "I'm here for you. I'm going to take your head."
"But...why?" The man backed a few feet away, never taking his eyes off Silas's axe. "I've done nothing to you; I don't even know you."
"Because that's the way the game is played, fool! I'm after a prize, the biggest prize you can imagine. Only one of us can win."
"Prize?" The man clearly thought Silas was crazy, but he realized the danger he was in. "What prize?" He drew his sword.
Silas's eyes lit up. There was going to be a fight! "Whoever wins, rules all," he answered.
"All? All what?" the man demanded.
"Rules all that's worth ruling," Silas answered. He closed, and swung his axe with deadly accuracy, only to find it blocked by the man's sword. He danced away and swung again.
Methos raised his eyebrows in surprise as he heard the resounding crash of metal against metal again; it was a rare man who could block even one of Silas's blows, let alone two. Yet there in the moonlight, as the two Immortals circled each other and traded blows, the unknown Immortal held his own.
"So, that's it," the man said, as he continued to block stroke after stroke, even getting in some good strokes of his own. The two combatants separated, cautiously circling each other, their rapid breaths making small puffs of fog in the cold air.
The man spoke softly, almost to himself. "I've always wondered why we're here, living life after life. I was born in Troy over one hundred years ago. I've watched children who could be my grandchildren grow to old age. I've been a fighting man for three lifetimes, always rising to fight again." His voice grew louder. "And now I know why." He made a quick feint at Silas's leg, then stepped back as the axe whistled close to his arm. His light-colored eyes looked almost white in the moonlight, and he grinned at Silas, a feral grin. "There's a prize worth fighting for!"
"You'll never win it," Silas declared, and he closed for a killing blow. But as he raised his axe, a shrill whistle split the night. The noise startled Silas so much that he failed to deliver the blow, and, in fact, barely blocked the sword that came sweeping towards his neck.
"What's that sound?" Silas asked in surprise, backing away.
"Wolves in the goat pen in the next pasture," the man answered. "Others can deal with it. Let us continue battling for this prize." And, in fact, they could all hear the shouts coming from the village, and the scurrying feet as the villagers poured forth to protect their goats.
With a muttered curse, Silas backed farther away and put up his axe. "Sorry. We'll have to finish this another night. Can't fight where there are witnesses. That's one of the rules."
The man didn't lose his defensive posture, but he stopped. "No witnesses? What about him?" He used his free hand to gesture towards Methos, still standing beneath the tree.
Silas glanced over towards Methos. "Him? He's an Immortal, like us. He can watch, but he can't get involved. One against one, with no mortals to see what happens - those are the other rules."
"Then, perhaps we will meet again," the man said, and he lowered his sword. "May I know your name?" he asked with dignity.
"Why not? I am Silas."
"And I am Tjanefer. Until next time." He gave a brief nod, then headed off towards the goat pen in the adjoining pasture.
"What rotten luck!" Silas grumbled as he walked towards Methos. "Wolves!"
"Unfortunate indeed, Brother!" Methos said, as he slapped Silas's very broad back, carefully hiding his satisfaction at the outcome of the fight. "But, rules are rules."
"No matter," Silas said. "I'll finish him tomorrow."
"You had your chance," Methos objected. "I'll challenge him tomorrow."
"What?" Silas stopped walking and glared at Methos. "He's mine! I won the toss!"
"And you failed to take his head. It's my turn now."
Silas scowled, but then he laughed. "Not worth fighting over, eh, Brother?" he asked, clapping Methos on the back and nearly knocking him off his feet. "I'll tell you what. He fought well. Let's make a deal. We'll leave him alone for a year - neither of us takes his head. After that, if one of us wants to come back this way and take his head, that's fair."
"Agreed," Methos said. "Back to the tavern?"
"That would be good," Silas answered. "I'm hungry and thirsty."
"Fighting is hard work, isn't it, Brother?" asked Methos sympathetically.
The tavern was nearly empty, most of the men having gone off to chase the wolves. Only three old men sat by the fire. The two Horsemen returned to their table, and the serving wench smiled at Methos as she brought their food. Methos and Silas attacked the goat stew and flatbread with vigor. When she came to take away the bowls, Methos caught her eye again, and this time he smiled back at her.
The two brothers watched the movement of her rump as she walked away, then Methos turned to Silas and offered, "Care to watch, Brother?"
They left the village the next morning and wandered through the woods together for a few weeks. It was good to have a companion again. Then they went their separate ways, headhunting. Eighteen months later, Methos returned to the village and went back to the tavern.
"Yes, I remember Tjanefer," the tavern wench told Methos. "He left the village and went north a few days after the wolves attacked the winter before last. He said something about having to fight for his destiny," she remembered. "There was a big prize he was going to win."
Methos shrugged. After an enjoyable night with her, he headed north, hunting. He might find Tjanefer in the north; he would most likely find some other Immortals.
He traveled for the next thirteen years and challenged - and defeated - more Immortals. When he returned to the base of the mountain at the end of the game, he had taken one more head than Kronos. Silas and Caspian weren't even close.
Methos enjoyed the next thirty years as leader of the Horsemen. His talents were put to good use in keeping all his brothers satisfied, and the camp ran smoothly. Eventually, though, the tempers flared again, and another contest was declared. They decided on a horse race, and this time it was Kronos who won by a head.
After the horse race, they did not bother to compete for the leadership again, though they still held contests for fun. Methos had had his turn at leadership, and Silas and Caspian were content enough to follow.
With Kronos in charge, Methos left the Horsemen from time to time, traveling to visit other tribes, or to live in the cities and villages. While he was there, he ate their food, sang their songs, and fought alongside them. He learned their tactics, their defenses, their strengths, and their weaknesses. Then he went back to his brothers, and shared what he had learned.
23 April 1997
As Duncan finished explaining about the Game, Veronique shook her head slowly, her eyes wide and horrified.
Methos sighed and sat back down in his chair, then took another long drink. These modern Immortals were so civilized. A few hundred years ago they had simply nodded when they heard the rules of the Game. Methos remembered telling an executioner about the Game. The man had been positively excited about taking the heads off moving targets. What with guillotines and wars, beheadings hadn't been all that uncommon. Most people had seen a few.
But Veronique had not. "This is insane." She glanced back and forth between Methos and MacLeod, her eyes still wide.
They looked back at her with the even and uncompromising stare all Immortals mastered eventually. All surviving Immortals, that is.
This new Immortal had never encountered that stare before. She said hesitantly, "You say these other...Immortals will try to kill me? To cut off my head?"
"Yes," MacLeod answered evenly.
Veronique shook her head. "I just won't fight them. I'll tell them I don't want the prize, and then they'll leave me alone."
"No, they won't, Veronique." MacLeod shook his head in turn. "They won't leave you alone."
She protested, a thin edge of hysteria in her voice. "I'll explain it to them!"
"They won't listen," MacLeod said.
He was right about that, Methos thought. They wouldn't listen. The Game had been going on for too long. Even two thousand years ago, they hadn't listened. They hadn't listened at all.
Near the Greek town of Neapolis on the Italian peninsula
Methos abruptly stopped walking, then turned slowly and peered through the drizzling rain, searching for the Immortal he knew was nearby. It was nearly dusk, and the stubbled barley fields on either side of the narrow road were empty. A small grove of olive trees was ahead of him, and in the shadows there he saw a man.
Methos started walking forward again, wondering who the other Immortal was. It had been nearly ten years since he had met another of his kind. Methos had been living with his wife in the town of Neapolis for the last two decades, but she had died the summer before, and he was starting to feel a bit lonely. It would be good to talk to another Immortal.
Perhaps it was Caspian. The man wasn't large enough to be Silas, and he knew it couldn't be Kronos. Kronos and he had parted company a decade ago, and he knew Kronos wasn't going to be visiting him anytime soon. At least, he hoped not. Kronos had not been happy with Methos's decision to leave the Horsemen.
It had been Kronos who had suggested that Methos leave the Horsemen to study military tactics with the army of Alexander the Great, and Methos had been eager to go. He had learned a great deal, and not just about war. But Kronos had expected Methos to come back to the Horsemen in a decade or so. Methos had not gone back in a decade. He had not gone back at all.
Kronos had waited for thirty years, then he had come looking for Methos. He had found Methos comfortably married to a rich widow and living in Neapolis, one of the Greek settlements on the Italian peninsula. Methos had been spending his days in the marketplace discussing philosophy, and the meaning of words like "love" and "soul." Kronos had not understood, and their parting had been bitter. Since then, Methos had lived among mortals. In his long years with the Horsemen, he had forgotten how quickly mortals aged, how much it hurt to watch them die.
But now there was another like him, there near the grove of trees. Methos was close enough now to see that the man had his sword drawn. It gleamed darkly in the rain. Methos stopped where he was.
He hadn't met many Immortals during the last eight centuries or so; they tended to avoid the Horsemen. Those who didn't avoid the Horsemen didn't last very long. During one of his visits with other tribes, Methos had made a trip to the temple of the Watchers. He had been mildly surprised to hear the stories told there of the many battles being fought, the heads being taken. But only mildly. He knew how addicting Quickenings could be. Some Immortals had apparently decided to take up hunting. Perhaps this was one of them.
The other Immortal started walking toward him. He waved his empty left hand expansively. "A good night for a Quickening, wouldn't you say?" he called. "There's already rain. All we need are some of Jove's thunderbolts."
A Roman, by the sound of him, and a soldier. Methos recognized the clipped gait and the short sword. A hunter, indeed. Methos reached under his cloak and laid his hand on his sword hilt, glad that the Romans had allowed their Greek allies to carry weapons during the recent slave revolts. He shook his head, hoping to convince the other to talk instead of fight. "I have no quarrel with you. I don't even know you."
"Marcus Licinius Tullius," the other replied. "Now you know me. You are?"
"A Greek," he said in disgust. "Still, a head's a head. Shall we fight?"
The Roman was near enough now that Methos could see the irregular shape of his nose. The other man's short hair was darkened by the rain, and it clung in thin fringes to his forehead. Methos shrugged. "As I said, I have no quarrel with you."
"And I have none with you. But there can be only one." He stepped forward.
He was close enough for Methos to smell the garlic on him. He was too close. Methos drew his sword and repeated, "Only one?"
"Don't you know?" Marcus Licinius Tullius smiled, and it was a predatory smile. "Are you a young one?" He circled Methos slowly, like a wolf watching its kill. "Didn't your teacher tell you?"
"I never had a teacher," Methos replied evenly, turning to watch Tullius, noting the slight hesitations in his stride, the lack of balance as he shifted his weight.
"No teacher?" Tullius smiled again. "Then I'll be fair. As a citizen of Rome, I believe in fighting fair. I'll tell you the rules of the Game. There is only one Prize, and only one can win." Then Tullius feinted at him, a quick jab on his left side.
Methos blocked it, deliberately clumsy. "Prize?" he repeated.
"The Prize," Tullius said. "All the power in the world. All the power of every Immortal."
What was this fool talking about? Prize? Game? Methos suddenly realized that the other Immortal - Tjaneget, was it? Something like that - must have told other Immortals about the game and started this ridiculous rumor. No wonder there had been so many battles. He laughed out loud at the irony of it, but he did not take his eyes from his opponent. "There is no prize," he said, "and the game is over." It had been over long ago, and he had won.
"It can't be over. There are at least two of us." Another feint, another awkward block. The Roman smiled grimly, his eyes very dark in the shadows of his face, a dim white oval in the gathering darkness, the rain dripping off his hair. "I was born in the year of the founding of the city of Rome, over four hundred years ago, and I've known about the Game since I was a hundred."
"Listen," Methos said more firmly. "There is no prize. It was just a game."
"Yes," Tullius said. "A Game. And I'm going to win the Prize." He circled back to Methos's left side. "I've taken sixteen heads so far, and yours will be the seventeenth." And he attacked.
Methos blocked him again, this time not at all clumsily, and attacked in return. He may not have had a teacher, but he was definitely not a young one. He had learned a lot over the last three millennia, and he wasn't about to let some mud-slogging Roman foot-soldier with only sixteen heads to his credit get the benefit of his Quickening.
Tullius hadn't been expecting such an experienced swordsman, and he couldn't have done much about it even if he had. Methos disarmed him, then sliced him open. Tullius fell to his knees, his hands desperately clutching at his abdomen.
"I'll tell you again," Methos said, standing slightly to one side, "there is no game anymore. There is no prize."
Tullius managed to laugh through his agony, then took a shallow breath. "Filthy Greek liar. There can be," another quick gasp for air, "only one."
"If that's the way you want it," said Methos, lifting his sword for the final blow.
"Hail, Jupiter!" Marcus Tullius cried, just as the sword came down on his neck.
"Hail, idiot," Methos said softly, preparing himself as best he could for the lightning. Just before the lightning began, he saw a dark figure disappear into the shadows of the trees. He knew it was one of the Watchers, observing but never interfering. He realized with an odd sense of detachment that they would record his death just as readily as they would record the death of another. Then the Quickening took him, and nothing mattered anymore.
23 April 1997
There was more than just an edge of hysteria in Veronique's voice now. "I won't do this. I can't!" She stood abruptly and headed for the stairs.
MacLeod caught up with her and took her by the arm, gently but firmly. "Veronique," he said soothingly, "I know this is hard, but it's real."
Methos lounged back in his chair and took a long pull on his beer, admiring MacLeod's technique. Well, MacLeod had always been good at handling horses. And women. It wasn't that different from handling new Immortals. Apparently the technique was working with Veronique. She wasn't panicked anymore; she was actually looking at MacLeod, letting him touch her, letting him gentle her.
MacLeod added, "You need to start training, learn to use a sword."
"Training? Learn to use a sword?" She shook her head. "I don't have time for that. I have children!"
Methos looked up at that. He could tell MacLeod was taken aback by the news, but he had kept his face carefully blank.
"You adopted them?" MacLeod asked.
"Yes, a boy and a girl. We adopted them when they were infants. Cecile is three now, and Phillipe is five. My husband and I ... we tried for years, but..." She stopped and stared at him suspiciously. "How did you know they were adopted?"
"Immortals can't have children."
She set her mouth in a stubborn line. "I do have children. And they need me." She glanced at her watch. "I need to go pick them up from school right now.
"Veronique," MacLeod said determinedly, "we need to talk more."
"I have to get my children! They'll be waiting for me at the school. I'm going to be late!"
MacLeod let go of her and nodded, but Methos saw him swallow hard.
"Of course, you have to go," MacLeod agreed. "I'll come with you."
"No!" she said and stepped back. She wasn't letting him come near her now. "No." She took a deep breath. "I need time - to think about what you've said." MacLeod took a breath to speak, and she added softly, "Please. I beg of you."
It was very gratifying for Methos to see a woman handle MacLeod as smoothly as he had handled her.
MacLeod nodded, then handed her his business card. "Promise you'll call me." He gave her his most persuasive and friendly smile, the smile Methos had seen him use on many different occasions, on many different females. It had always worked before, and it worked now.
Veronique smiled back, a tentative worried smile, but a smile.
"Promise me," MacLeod repeated, reaching out to hold her hands between his own, looking at her intently. "Soon."
"I will," she said. "I promise."
He let go of her then, and Veronique made her way to the stairs. She stopped and looked back at the top, and MacLeod smiled at her again. He watched her leave the barge, then turned to Methos. There was no smile on his face now.
Methos did not want to meet his eyes. He watched covertly as MacLeod poured himself a glass of whisky and then sat down heavily on the couch. It was unusual for MacLeod to start drinking so early in the day.
MacLeod took a large swallow of his drink. "She's married, with two children. She's a music teacher." He tossed back the rest of his whisky with a practiced flip of his wrist. "And she's an Immortal."
Methos almost wished he had something stronger to drink than beer. "When did you meet her?"
"This morning. I was out running and sensed her. She was walking in the park, and I saw her looking sick. She said she fell down the stairs last week, and she thought she had just passed out."
Methos shrugged. There were worse ways to become an Immortal - much worse.
"It took me a while to convince her." They exchanged wry glances at that. It was a hard thing to believe. "Maybe I can get her to leave Paris, move to a smaller town or a village. She would be safer there."
"She would," agreed Methos. Too bad joining a convent wasn't as popular a choice now as it had been a few centuries ago. But even then, convents hadn't really accepted children. And they had definitely not accepted husbands.
MacLeod got up and poured himself another drink, then took the bottle with him when he sat back down.
Methos had come over for some conversation, maybe an argument, maybe even a video. But MacLeod was in his brooding mode now, and Methos knew he would get no more words from him today. Methos didn't feel much like talking, either. He finished the rest of his beer and stood up. "I'll stop by another time," he said.
MacLeod merely nodded and took another drink.
Methos walked through the streets of Paris. Rain had started to fall, and he kept walking, welcoming the chill slap on his face, the rivulets that slowly accumulated on his neck and face, the increasing coldness that invaded his body. The rain felt good.
He finally stopped on a bridge and leaned on the stone wall, staring into the gray swirling water below that matched the gray swirling clouds above. The ripples from the raindrops spread and mingled and grew, just as word of the Game had spread and grown.
Tjanefer hadn't been the only one to talk. Methos himself had had two duels interrupted, and he assumed that similar things had happened to Kronos and Caspian. To hear a story about a Game and a Prize from one Immortal, or even two, was not necessarily convincing. But to hear it from six or eight different sources... Methos knew how easy rumors were to start.
The story had been passed from teacher to student, from Immortal to Immortal, from Immortal to Watcher, and back again. The story had grown with each retelling, had mingled and spread with other legends, until every Immortal believed it. Every Immortal who survived, anyway. Those who refused to believe it were dead. You had to play, and you had to keep playing, or you were dead. Methos wondered if the person who had written the children's book "Jumanji" had known about Immortals.
Methos had tried to convince a few more Immortals that there was no Prize, that the Game had truly been just a game, but they never believed him. After a time, he gave up trying and concentrated on surviving. Even surviving grew difficult, and he found himself running and hiding. He ran from the Game. He ran from Kronos, too.
Methos turned away from the water and leaned against the stone wall of the bridge, feeling the roughness of stone beneath his hands, the coldness on the small of his back and his elbows. The familiar shape of Notre Dame cathedral stood tall in the grayness, its crosses silhouetted black against the clouds.
Early Summer, 765 CE
Kil-dara Monastery, Ireland
Methos stood in front of a intricately carved stone cross, and the sounds and chatter of the crowd around him faded from his awareness. The long cream-colored sleeves of his monk's robe fell back as he reached out to touch the cross gently. The stone was rough beneath his fingertips, and he knew well the feel of it. He had spent years making those curves, carving those intertwined knots. He had not seen the masterpiece for over one hundred fifty years. He remembered the compliments he had received from the other stone-carvers, and the admiration in his wife Sorcha's eyes as she had watched the cross taking shape from the granite.
As he stood before the cross, he felt a strange sense of permanence. Methos had lived for nearly four millennia, but this cross he had made could last even longer. It could easily stand as long as the standing stones in Brittany or the great circle in the south of Britain.
He dropped his hand from the cross and looked around him again. The cross stood just outside the gates to the monastery, a sign to all of the holy places within. Behind him, the town that had grown around the great double monastery of Kil-dara had become a city. Not a city to rival Rome in its heyday, of course, but a city nonetheless. It was an odd feeling to walk through the crowded, paved streets, after seeing nothing but small villages and isolated huts for so many years.
It was warm in the summer sunshine, and Methos pushed back the cowl of his wool habit as he walked towards the monastery. He didn't need to brush his hair from his eyes; his monk's tonsure made that unnecessary. At the gate of the monastery he announced himself to the porter there. "Brother Ansford, of Avan Abbey."
She nodded and opened the gate to him, her lined face creasing into a pleasant smile. "Welcome, Brother Ansford. Do you need a guide to find the guest house for visiting brothers?"
"No, Sister," he replied courteously. "I have been here before."
He had lived here before. It was here he had learned the joy in creating works of art. He had worked with wood and stone in those day; now he was well-known as a goldsmith, a craftsman respected and honored throughout Ireland. Only abbots, bards, and kings were accorded higher status than smiths.
How many years had he lived in this community as a lay brother? Far longer than he usually stayed in one place. The Abbess and his wife, Sorcha, had both known he was an Immortal, and they had helped him conceal his strangeness. He and Sorcha had lived together as husband and wife for over three decades within the confines of the double Abbey, where men and women worked together for the glory of God and raised their children to God's service.
Though, of course, he and Sorcha had had no children. At first, he had hesitated to ask her to wed, knowing that childlessness was a sore burden for a woman. But Sorcha had seemed relieved to find she would have no children, grateful that she would have the years to herself to devote herself to her work. For Sorcha had been a scholar and a scribe. He still used a book of the Psalms she had copied, her neat script and glorious illuminations a wonder in themselves, although she had belittled the small psalter as a mere "scribbling." She had spent the last fifteen years of her life in the creation of a true masterpiece, a translation of the Greek philosophers. She had barely managed to finish the book before she had died, from a lingering cough that lasted through the long cold winter.
Methos passed the scriptorium, where Sorcha had spent so many happy hours, and walked into the library. He asked a nun to help him find the book he was looking for, and he was relieved to find it was still there. He lifted Sorcha's book lovingly and carried it to a table in front of a window.
The cover was embellished with jewels and gold, and he examined the work closely with a craftsman's eye, before he reverently opened the book. He turned each page carefully, remembering how she had struggled with the translation from the original Greek scrolls before starting to write, how she had formed each letter with care, and how she had painstakingly embellished each page, adding the color and gilt to the borders.
None of the monks and nuns working here now would ever have heard of Sorcha. He alone remembered her. He alone remembered her laughter, her spirit, the way her gray eyes had darkened when she grew excited or thoughtful. She had been his student, surpassing him to the point where she dared to challenge him on his translations of Greek. She had also been his teacher, showing him the joy that comes from creating and loving and greeting each day as a celebration of life.
He closed her book and stared at it, feeling unaccustomed tears. "The hand that made this is long dead," he thought. He knew from experience that eventually his own memory of her would fade. He might always remember her name, but the sound of her voice, the joy she had brought him, the feel and the touch and the scent of her, all of these would ebb away, even for him.
Sorcha was gone, but as long as the book she had created existed, as long as people read it and used it and wondered at its beauty, a part of her would live on. And that, Methos knew, was true immortality. He returned the book to its place and walked to the refectory, arriving just in time for the midday meal.
Later that day, during the silent meditation, he thought of the years that had passed since last he had been in this place. After Sorcha's death, he had left Kil-dara. He had wandered throughout the Celtic world - not that there had been much of a choice. Illiteracy and chaos were sweeping over the rest of Europe as Rome crumbled, and he much preferred civilized places. He had made many friends, but they were all mortal, and the friendships lasted such a short time. All of the Immortals he had met were playing the Game; they did not want to be friends.
Eventually, he ended up in Ireland again, in another monastery, safe on Holy Ground. He had become a monk again, even taking the vow of celibacy, which was now the rule in most monasteries. Living celibate wasn't a problem, though. No one has stirred his blood since Sorcha had died.
He stayed at Kil-dara for two more days, enjoying the spirited conversation and the even more spirited arguments he heard in the refectory from the many visiting nuns and monks and travelers. Ireland had had no cities - not even towns - before the coming of the Christians over three hundred years ago, but now Kil-dara was the hub of the Celtic Christian world, a world that included most of what had once been the western Roman Empire.
But there was disquieting news, too. Old Brother Wilibrord from the northern monastery of Iona had terrible things to report. "They come from the sea, in long dragon-headed ships! Terrible the Norsemen are, with fearsome horns blowing and murder in their hearts, and pity for none at all." He took a long drink of his ale and continued, "They burn the churches and kill the people and leave nothing but death behind. Sea-wolves they are, come to our land."
There were shocked murmurs and anxious glances, but the meal was over, and the monks went off to pray, and Old Brother Wilibrord's words were forgotten.
Methos did not forget. He could not forget, for just three days later, on his journey back home to Avan Abbey, he saw proof of the sea-wolves' destructive hunger.
There was a monk at the wall of the Kil-Crea Abbey to welcome him, but there was no gate. The heavy oaken door was missing.
"Raiders from the sea came last week," the monk told him. "Most of the brothers ran into the woods and hid. The Norsemen are godless heathens - they plundered even God's own house!" The monk was outraged.
Methos was quiet as he entered the monastery. The predator in him realized that Ireland was a land ripe for the picking. There were riches galore, mostly in monasteries near the sea, in a land with no armies and no defenses.
Methos ate his meal at the guest house, drinking the brown ale he so loved. At least Kil-Crea kept to the old ways. He had stayed in Durrow Abbey the night before, and that had been a cheerless place. Methos had not enjoyed his visit there - undercooked fish, black bread, and only water to drink. At least at his home abbey of Avan and at this one of Kil-Crea, there was no undue emphasis on sin or solitude or asceticism. A brother could eat well and drink heartily and not be told to feel guilty about it. Although, it was unfortunate that women had to be in separate monasteries now.
Methos wasn't sure about this new Roman style of Christianity that seemed to be taking hold. The Romans had been efficient, but not much fun, and it seemed their version of Christianity was the same.
While they ate, the hospitaler told him of the sacrilege. "From the woods I could see them," he confided, sitting next to Methos and drinking a large tankard of ale. "They tore the door from its hinges. When we got back, we could see they had been everywhere. They stole all the gold from the chapel, even the crosses and the reliquaries. They entered the library, pulling jeweled covers off books, and throwing the coverless books out the window. So many pages are torn or missing. They took what they wanted, and left nothing."
He shook his head in sorrow and wonder. "What they did not want, they destroyed. Blankets were ripped with knives and then left upon the floor. Wooden furniture was smashed and burned." He shook his head again and took a long draught of his ale. "Even the Abbot will be kneeling on the cold stone floor of the church now."
Methos had plenty of time to think that night, as he knelt on the cold floor of the church, taking his turn at the Perpetual Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. He had seen the ends of enough civilizations to know that the time of the wolf was soon to come to Ireland, perhaps to all of Europe. He knew what he ought to do.
"Fly, old man," he whispered in the silence of the chapel. "Go with the wind." It was far from pleasant to be in the middle when two civilizations clashed; the best place to be was far behind the front lines - of the winning side. He had never been to Scandinavia, but he knew from experience that a culture seeking to expand its borders had a safe and secure center.
But there was a strange reluctance in his heart. Something deep in him did not want to fly. He wanted to stay and defend Ireland from the sea-wolves who were coming. He wanted to stay and build the Abbot a stone chair to replace the intricately carved wooden one the Norsemen had destroyed - stone, of no intrinsic value and too heavy to be carried off. He wanted to fight to protect the chalices, the processional crosses, and the gold jewelry he had fashioned. He didn't want such works of art to be melted down for Norsemen. He felt sick at the thought of Sorcha's book, over which she had labored so long, being ripped to shreds, or thrown in the mud, or burned. Thank God Kil-dara was inland. But, he knew, that would provide safety only for decades, not for eternity.
"A man should not outlive his work," he whispered. But he knew that he would. Sorcha was the lucky one. When she had died, she had believed her book would make a difference to the world. Only a few days ago he had believed that, too. She would never know of the wave from the sea that would wipe all memory of her contribution to civilization from the face of the earth.
But he would. He would be left alone again. He would have no roots, no place to look at and say, "I come from there." Immortals had nothing. No family, no culture, nothing to hold on to as the millennia passed. No wonder the other Immortals clung to the hope offered to them by the Game. The only purpose in their lives was the pursuit of the Prize, that imaginary, pointless, worthless Prize. It did not matter that the Game took away any possibility of a long-term friendship with another Immortal.
Methos took a few deep breaths, willing the bitterness to leave him. He closed his eyes, and began reciting the psalms before the Blessed Sacrament, the familiar words soothing and calming to his soul.
The next morning, Methos started on the final leg of his journey home. It was a fine soft day for early summer. A light mist hung in the air, and tiny droplets of water clung to his habit. The humming bees and the soaring birds were his only companions as he moved along the path that led through the bogs to the coast.
It was nearly midday when the mist opened and parted, and the bright sunshine lit on each cloud, as though stepping its way down from heaven to touch the earth. The land glowed golden with the liquid light, each stem of grass brilliant and distinct.
Methos stopped and turned to look about him, breathing deeply. The beauty of nature was the one thing that remained constant. Works of men came and went, but the sun and the moon were eternal. Some things were truly immortal. He relaxed into the beauty of the day, and closed his eyes to hear better the songs of the birds and the whisper of the grasses bent down before the wind.
His eyes flew open, and he turned to look about him again, but he was not relaxed anymore. An unwelcome sensation filled him - a sensation that he had not felt in many years, but one which was unforgettable nonetheless. Another Immortal was near.
The sunlight faded as the mist closed again, and just ahead of him, he could make out the shape of a man on a horse. He cursed softly. There would be no way to outrun him, and a narrow path in the middle of the peat bog was not a good place to fight. Taking a deep breath and touching his hidden sword for reassurance, he waited, hoping his monk's habit would protect him.
The other Immortal obviously had no respect for the cloth. The horseman dismounted and drew his sword. The man was huge, like a giant of old; he would not have been out of place fighting besides Finn in the old legends. His long red hair was held back from his face by circlet of dirty cloth, and his tunic was patched and filthy. His eyes were laughing as he strode towards his opponent. "I am Dearg," he announced. "I am here for you."
Methos shook his head, backing meekly away. He had no wish to fight this man. "I am Brother Anstrom, a monk returning to my abbey. Please let me pass. I do not play the Game."
Dearg grinned. "I do. And if you do not, then it shall be easier than usual to take your head." Holding his sword ready to strike, he moved threateningly forward.
With a muttered curse, Methos drew his own sword. No one ever listened, and he was tired of trying to explain. The fight lasted only a few minutes. Dearg was no match for Methos, monk, craftsman, scholar, soldier, and strategist, the man who had once been known as Death on a horse.
As Dearg's head rolled along the path, Methos gritted his teeth and waited for the lightning to begin. It hurt just the way he remembered it. As the flashes of light faded, Methos remained on his knees. "Gods!" Had he ever looked forward to that? He had enough bad memories of his own without adding other people's to them. He got shakily to his feet, then wiped his sword clean on the grass and sheathed it. Dearg's gray horse had disappeared, no doubt frightened by the lightning. Methos wasn't worried about the horse. Someone would be happy enough to claim it.
Reciting the prayers for the dead, he dragged the body off the path and dumped it into the peat bog. Then he went back for the head.
He was exhausted by the time he got to Avan. The mist had thickened into fog, and he had gotten home much later than he had planned. He was tired, hungry, and cold. The last thing he wanted to hear was what the porter said to him as soon as he got to the gate.
"Someone came here two days ago looking for you," Brother Padraic told him.
Methos nodded. "I think I met him. Tall man, red-haired, riding a gray horse?"
Padraic shook his head. "No, he had dark hair, not red, and he had a scar running down his face, across his eye." He drew his finger straight down the right side of his face to illustrate. "He was a rough-looking fellow, with cold eyes. A great sword on him, too, and a round shield, like the kind I hear the Norsemen carry."
Methos drew a slow breath and felt even colder. Kronos had found him again.
"Ah, you know him?" the porter asked.
Methos nodded and regained his control. "Are you sure he was looking for me?"
Padraic nodded. "He described you exactly, Brother. I take it you are not looking forward to meeting him again?"
Methos thought about it. He and Kronos had been close once. For over a thousand years they had been as brothers, but they hadn't exactly parted on the best of terms. Kronos would undoubtedly be angry with him; he might even try to take his head for revenge. At least he wouldn't try to take it for the Prize like Dearg had done, Methos thought with sudden sardonic amusement. Kronos knows I've already won that.
But Kronos had been dressed for war. Perhaps he had even joined the Norsemen, been part of that raiding party on Kil-Crea Abbey. Although Methos had thought of going to the north, he had been planning to work as a craftsman or a farmer. He had no desire to become a destroyer again, but apparently Kronos hadn't changed.
Methos shook his head. "No," he said firmly. "No, I don't want to see him again."
"Good." Padraic smiled. "I didn't like the looks of him myself. So I told him you used to live here, but that now you lived in Scelig Michil."
Methos raised his eyebrows in admiration. Scelig Michil was a hermitage built on a rocky island off the southwestern corner of Ireland. It was almost impossible to get to on a calm day, and in the spring, the storms cut it off completely from the mainland. Padraic had sent Kronos on a wild goose chase; it would buy Methos some time to escape.
He escaped in the most unlikely way. Six other monks from his monastery were putting to sea, attempting to follow the journeys of St. Brendan across the great ocean. Methos made a decision he would regret for the rest of this life. He joined them.
He had never been as cold or as hungry as during those six weeks he spent on the open seas. The boat came close to capsizing more than once during the fierce storms on the North Atlantic. The Christian monks had no fear of death, but more than once, Methos stared at the frigid ocean and wondered how many years he might have to endure in the water before he was washed ashore by the waves.
23 April 1997
Methos shivered in the cold rain, staring across the river at the huge edifice of Notre Dame - Holy Ground. Was there any other choice for them, or would Immortals always have to choose between a life of warfare and a life of hiding? He had escaped the Game for a thousand years once, when he and the monks had reached North America.
Methos had carried a small bag with him on that interminable journey across the ocean. In it was some of his best work in gold and silver, and the small book of the psalms which had been Sorcha's wedding gift to him so many years ago. He had been unable to leave them behind for the Norsemen.
When they had landed, he had left the monks and started wandering. He had traded the jewelry for food, and he had lost Sorcha's book eventually, when he had fallen into a large river and drowned. Every century or so he had met an Immortal, but not one of them had ever heard of the Game. He had not told them.
Finally, after nearly a thousand years, he had met a pale-skinned man paddling along a river. Methos had traveled with him, back to the Atlantic Coast, and then taken passage on a sailing ship back to France. He had landed in Brittany. Some of the standing stones had fallen during the millenium, but others still stood. He did not travel back to Ireland to see the cross he had made.
Methos tilted his head back and let the raindrops fall into his open mouth. When he had left Europe, Paris had been a few huts on an muddy island in the middle of the river. When he had come back, it had grown into a city, and the cathedral of Notre Dame had replaced the huts. Stone paving had replaced some of the mud.
He straightened and pulled his coat more closely around him. The rain was coming down harder now, and he could barely see Notre Dame. He turned his back on it and started walking again. Paris was a good city to walk in, even in the rain.
Methos walked for nearly an hour, through streets and narrow alleys, until he found himself near the river again. It was still raining. It had been raining the day he had returned to Paris, nearly three hundred years ago, and he had met another Immortal on his very first day in the city. As the Immortal had approached, Methos had closed his eyes for a second, wondering if the Game had been forgotten, hoping, praying, that it had been forgotten. No gods had been listening. Almost immediately, the stranger had challenged him for the Prize, and with a muttered blasphemy, Methos had drawn his sword.
It had not been an easy fight for Methos. The man's style of fencing had been new to him, and Methos had had to rely on his immense knowledge of dirty tricks to win. "There can be only one," Methos had whispered, just before the Quickening had taken him. Then he had dumped the body - and the head - into the Seine.
Methos walked along the riverbank, wondering how many dead Immortals the Seine had held over the centuries. Paris seemed to be one of their favorite cities, along with New York and Seacouver.
"And here comes another one," he thought in annoyance, as he felt the familiar sensation. The other Immortal was nearby and coming closer. Methos walked faster, his head down, trying to get away. His clothes were completely soaked, and he suddenly realized he was cold, really cold, almost shivering. He'd be hard put to hold a sword in this condition.
The sensation of the Immortal soon faded, but Methos didn't slow down. Sooner or later, this damnable game would destroy him, too. It would destroy all of them. In the end, there would be only one, and the last Immortal would be ... lonely indeed.
Methos kept walking, alone.
26 April 1997
"Read the newspaper yet?" Duncan asked, setting his sword down on the table as Methos walked into barge three days later.
"Newspapers are so old-fashioned," Methos said. He headed for the couch and then sprawled back comfortably. "I watch CNN. Or surf the web. You won't believe what you can find on the Internet nowadays."
"This is an old story." MacLeod dropped the folded paper on Methos's chest and walked over to the porthole.
Methos sighed and picked up the paper. It was the local section, not the national news. "A New Sewage Treatment Plant to Be Built, Town Council Elections, College Students Arrested" ... What was the point of this? Then he saw it in the corner. "Woman's Headless Body Found in River." And in smaller type: "Husband bereft. Two young children left motherless."
Methos didn't bother to read anymore. MacLeod had been right. It was an old story.
MacLeod spoke without turning. "I tried to tell her."
"Christ, Methos. It all seems so pointless sometimes."
There was nothing he could say to that. Methos curled himself into a sitting position. "Going to look for the one who killed her?" he asked after a moment.
MacLeod shrugged, still staring out the porthole. "Why bother? He - or she - was just playing the Game."
There was nothing he could say to that, either. "Yeah."
MacLeod's voice lost its disinterest and became flat and hard. "The Prize had better be worth it."
Methos stood then and walked over to him. He leaned back against the wall and looked at MacLeod sidelong. "I - for one - do not intend to find out anytime soon."
MacLeod looked back at him, his dark eyes very dark with remembered blood and pain.
Methos tried to keep those same memories from darkening his own eyes. "For now, there can be - more than one." He laid his hand very lightly on MacLeod's shoulder, the barest pressure, then lifted his hand and stepped away. "See you around, MacLeod," he said easily.
MacLeod nodded back once. "Methos." A simple acknowledgment of things that were not simple at all.
Methos turned briefly at the door to the barge and glanced back. MacLeod was still staring out of the porthole. Methos left the barge slowly. It seemed very hard to walk up the stairs.
The air felt better outside, cooler, with the green scents of fresh growth. "Paris in the spring," thought Methos. Of course. He walked through the streets, wandering, as he sometimes did, wondering, as he tried not to do very often.
He sat down on a bench in a park, feeling as always the slim length of his sword pressed against him. Methos huddled into his coat; the pale sunshine had hidden itself behind a cloud, and the air was chill now. He closed his eyes, listening to the shouts of children in the distance.
Mortals considered children their pledge to the future, their immortality. Methos would never have children. No one sang the songs he had written, no museum displayed the works of art he had created, no historian struggled to translate the histories he had written over the centuries. Everything he had ever written had been lost.
The work others had done had been lost, too, or would be. Poetry, music, buildings, stories, art - almost all would be swept away by the forever ebbing tides of time. All would be gone, except for the Game. Like Frankenstein's monster, the Game raged madly, out of control, and Methos knew it would eventually destroy everyone - even its creator.
The children's shouts were nearer now, and Methos opened his eyes. Four boys ran past him, bright-eyed and laughing. Methos watched as they chased each other around the fountain, frightening the pigeons.
"Stop! Stop!" one of them called, a slender boy with dark hair. The other three slowed and gathered around him, still bright-eyed, still laughing. The dark-haired boy grinned at his companions. "I have an idea. Let's play a new game!"
"Yes!" they cried. "A new game!"
Methos watched the boys play. It was just a game.
'Twas thine own genius gave the final blow,
And helped to plant the wound that laid thee low:
So the struck eagle, stretched upon the plain,
No more through rolling clouds to soar again,
Viewed his own feather on the fatal dart,
And winged the shaft that quivered in his heart.
George Noel Gordon, Lord Byron
English Bards and Scotch Reviewers
DISCLAIMERS: The Highlander Universe and the characters of Duncan MacLeod, Methos, Kronos, Silas, and Caspian are not our creations. They are the property of Rysher, Gaumont, and Davis/Panzer. These characters are used without permission, but no copyright infringement is intended, and this story was not written for profit.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS: to Beta Readers Alice Hill, Vi Moreau, Michelle Wolfe, Bridget Mintz Testa, Cathy Butterfield, Keith R. A. DeCandido, Regina Ash.
RELATED STORIES (by the same authors): "Long Have I Waited" is the story of Methos and Kronos, from the beginning to the end. (It's on Fanfiction . Net)
From about 800-700 BCE, the Greeks colonized much of the Mediterranean world. They had colonies as far west as Spain and as far north as Crimea. The southern part of the Italian peninsula was called Magna Graeca, "Great Greece." Greek cites in Italy included:
* Neapolis - the name is Greek for "new city." It became Naples.
* Sybaris - a wealthy trading city, in the area now known as Sibari. It was founded in 720 BCE and destroyed in 510 BCE by a neighboring city, but its reputation lasted long enough to give us the word "sybarite."
* Tara - Sparta's only colony, called Tarentum by the Romans.
The traditional date for the founding of Rome is April 21, 753 BCE. Rome was ruled by kings until 509 BCE, when the Res Publica Romana (the Roman Public Thing) was started. Between 500-200 BCE, Rome took over the other cities in Italy.
The Spartan colony of Tara was one of the most difficult cities for the Romans to subdue. In 275 BCE, Tara asked for reinforcements from the motherland, and Pyrrhus, the King of Epirus, came with 25,000 men and twenty elephants. Pyrrhus won two battles, but with tremendous losses. He said, "Another such victory, and we are lost," thus giving us the phrase "a pyrrhic victory." He returned to Greece, and the Greek colonies submitted to Roman rule. Some towns were conquered, but many signed treaties with Rome and became allies. By 256 BCE, Rome ruled the peninsula. Then it turned its attention to Carthage, and started the first Punic War. The third Punic War was over in 129 BCE. The Roman Republic became the Roman Empire one hundred years later, when Augustus took the throne.
The Norsemen, sometimes called Vikings, came to Ireland in the last decade of the eighth century (790s) and ravaged the country for the next four hundred years, destroying most of the monasteries and the books. We have taken some liberties by having the raid on Kil-Crea Abbey in the 760's, but if Kronos was with this particular group of Vikings, it seems reasonable to assume that they started raiding earlier.
In "Till Death" Methos states that in 765 he crossed Atlantic "twice" with a group of Irish monks in a rowboat. It seemed unreasonable that he could have made a round trip in one summer (and I don't believe that even the Irish monks would have crossed the North Atlantic in *winter* in a rowboat.) I suspect that the first leg of the journey was from Ireland to Iceland, where the Celts had a settlement before the Vikings arrived, and then from Iceland to North America. The idea that Methos remained in the Americas for a thousand years, running from the game and from Kronos, appeals to me. After all, he must have disappeared for a long time to become a legend.
The abbeys of Kil-dara, Kil-Crea, and Darrow were real. Avan was not. The hermitage of Scelig Michil was real. It is now often spelled Skellig Michael.
Ansford is Scottish Gaelic for "the nose" or "the promontory"
Dearg means "red" in Irish Gaelic.
The book "Jumanji" is written by Chris Van Allsberg. It was also a movie with Robin Williams.
If you didn't care for the hypothesis of the origin of the Game in "Just a Game," remember, it was just an idea.