PASSWORD OF TIME
by Leslie Fish
Sean Burns shoveled some more coals into the grate, set down the scoop and returned to the sofa beside his guest. He took care to lift his glass and take a ritual sip of the brandy before saying anything.
Sure enough, the comfortable silence prodded Methos into speech. "I hope you're no longer overcrowded with casualties from the war," he ventured.
"No, thank God," Sean agreed. "We're back to mostly civilian cases now. We even have room to spare, for a change." **No more hint than that. Under his suave exterior he's incredibly skittish.* "What name are you using, again? I have trouble keeping track of them."
"Adam Walters, for the moment." Methos smiled briefly and took a reasonable sip from his glass.
**Some variation on 'Adam' for the past century now,* Sean considered. **The barest clue to his real identity. He's slowly growing less paranoid.* "So, what merry adventures have you had since I saw you last?"
Methos favored him with an arched eyebrow. "You know I avoid adventure like the plague. Given a choice, I'll always choose the quietest place I can find."
**Try another approach. He wants my help, or he wouldn't be here, but he's still painfully cautious.* "Well, what marvelous knowledge have you studied, then?"
Methos gave him a wry smile that only an experienced eye could have called brittle. "I hope you won't be jealous if I tell you I've been keeping track of developments in psychiatry."
**Aha!* "Not at all," Sean laughed. "If you get a degree in it, come work for me. We can always use another resident. And, being a religious hospital, this is holy ground." **Reassure him, but be subtle.*
"I don't think I have the temperament..." Methos carefully set his glass on the table. The tension in his neck was noticeable. "Simply as a study, though, I find it fascinating. What can you tell me about techniques for regaining...lost memories?"
**So that's it!* "There are enough to fill a book, and new ones being discovered every day. The trick is to choose one that fits your situation. It would be easier to show you than to explain..." **Careful. Wait for it.*
But Methos only laughed and looked away. "I'll have to wait for the book, then. When you finish it, be sure to give me an autographed copy."
**Evading, but not running too far.* "Gladly," Sean promised. "What else interests you?"
Methos gazed at the fire, his fingers unconsciously knitting together. "Finding the causes of inexplicable phobias," he said expressionlessly.
"Same problem," Sean replied, very gently. "One has to choose a technique that fits the situation, and the sufferer. Give me an example." **Careful!*
Methos drew a deep breath and turned to look at him. "I'm afraid of the sea!" he said, all in a rush.
**Breakthrough!* Sean nodded sympathetically. "I suppose you've already looked for painful memories connected with it."
"Yes, and found a few." Methos laughed dryly. "A woeful tendency to mal-de-mer, for one thing."
"Understandable," Sean chuckled with him.
"And a nasty incident with a boat-load of Irish monks, in the seven-hundreds, for another." Methos grimaced, and took a quick mouthful of brandy. "I had the bad luck to heal in front of them, and they promptly fell to arguing over whether I was a witch or a demon."
"Ah. At least they couldn't burn you at the stake."
"They actually considered it, but the Captain refused to allow it - in no uncertain terms. He also objected to their spilling my blood on his deck. So they ended by throwing me into the sea." Methos took another, more leisurely, sip. "I wouldn't have minded so much if the water hadn't been freezing cold. I froze, then drowned, a dozen times before I finally reached land."
"Nasty indeed," Sean agreed. "I should think that would also give you a serious dislike of cold water, small wooden ships, and Irish monks."
"I've always disliked cold," Methos shrugged, "But I'm not afraid of it. Or of ships, or monks - Irish or not."
"So that's not the reason, then."
"And I don't know what is." Methos fixed his eyes on the fire. "I've searched my memories, and all I've found is...a lot of gaps."
"I see." **Traumatic amnesia, doubtless.* "Then there are two possibilities. Either some unpleasant incident is hiding in one of those gaps, or else the sea is only a symbol of something else you fear. Which do you think it is?"
Methos rested his chin on his interlaced fingers and thought for a long moment. "I don't think it's symbolic," he finally answered. "For me, the sea doesn't represent anything else. It's entirely itself, its own creature..."
"Creature"? Sean's ears pricked up. "Does it have a mind of its own?"
"Yes," Methos whispered, staring at the fire as if hypnotized by the low blue flames.
"What is that mind like?"
"Treacherous!" Methos hissed. "Looking so calm and peaceful and inviting, just waiting for you to come within reach, and then it-"
He flinched violently, knocking into the table. The brandy sloshed indignantly in its glass. Sean reached out and wrapped an arm around Methos' shoulders, feeling him shudder. It took long moments for his breathing to quiet.
"What did you see?" Sean asked softly. "What did it do?"
"I'm not sure." Methos gave him a quick glance, revealing a mix of fear and determination. "I didn't see anything, as such... Only an impression: the sea, turning into a giant monster, reaching out to grab people and crush them." He shivered again.
"Crush"? **Not drown? And twice now he's said "reach".* "Think. How can the sea reach out and grab people?"
Methos flinched again. "-N'retre- I don't know!" he gasped. "I don't know!"
"Easy, easy..." Sean squeezed his shoulders comfortingly, mind racing. **You don't know? When even I can make a few guesses? And what was that word? Latin roots... 'Ne', negative: 'no'. 'Retre'... Return, back? 'Don't' something 'back'? "Don't go back" or "don't look back"?* He could all but see the edges of the barrier. Now to get around it. "Gently now, pull back, back to a safe distance."
Methos nodded acquiescence and reached for the brandy again. He drained the glass before he set it down. "Obviously some nasty incident I've carefully forgotten," he muttered. "Raiders from the sea, perhaps."
**Not people: the sea itself,* Sean corrected. "There are other ways to come at this," he said calmly, pushing the table away. He pulled a small throw-pillow up from the corner of the sofa and set it on his lap. "Here, kick off your shoes and make yourself comfortable. Off with that jacket, and the tie. Loosen your collar and unbutton your sleeves."
"Comfortable?" Methos snorted, but did as he was bid. "There," he said, wriggling his liberated toes. "What's the next step?"
Sean patted the throw-pillow. "Lie down and put your head in my lap."
Methos gave him an almost offended look. "Lie down on the psychiatrist's couch, is it? How clichéd."
"Sofa, actually," Sean grinned. "And it's simply more comfortable than the floor."
"What's the point of lying down, anyway?"
"Just so that you can relax and concentrate."
"Hmmm..." Methos looked around the room, eyes staying briefly on the sturdy latched door, the walls lined with floor-to-ceiling bookcases, the modest crucifix above the fireplace. Obviously he was reminding himself that this was Sean's private study, no one would come in, the walls were effectively soundproofed, and this was holy ground. Last, his eyes rested long on Sean, judging him to be an old friend, and trustworthy. He sighed, stretched out on the sofa and laid his head gingerly on the pillow. "Now what?" he asked, partly flippant, partly afraid.
"Next," said Sean, holding out one arm, "Take hold of my hand."
Methos gingerly took it, gripped briefly, then relaxed. Sean gently rested his other hand on Methos' forehead, and waited to see if the man complained or tried to twitch it away. Methos didn't; he only kept wary eyes fixed on Sean's face.
"Now, do you trust me?" Sean asked.
Methos blinked, but his eyes didn't waver. "Yes," he said - then smiled archly. "And not just because we're on holy ground."
Sean grinned back, accepting. "Now the big question," he said. "How much do you want to lose this fear?"
"Very much," Methos frowned. "It...interferes with my ability to travel, and in this day and age that could be dangerous." His expression shaded into anger. "Besides...I'm ashamed of it."
"And angry at it?"
"Good." Sean stroked his hair, once, and then returned his hand to its starting-point. "This fear is an enemy, and you want to fight it. That means you don't obey it, don't let it command you, don't let it stop you until you've dug out its roots and destroyed it. Can you see it that way?"
"Yes..." Methos' eyes narrowed, as if fixing on an opponent. "What's my weapon?"
Good! Very good. "We'll start with imagination," said Sean. "Close your eyes and imagine that you're sitting in a cinema-theatre."
Methos raised a questioning eyebrow, but dutifully closed his eyes.
"You're the only person in the audience, because this is a private showing.
You're talking to me through a telephone headset, and you can command the projection-booth through a series of buttons on a board." Sean squeezed his hand on Methos'.
"How very modern," Methos muttered, smiling, not opening his eyes. His fingers pressed on Sean's hand, as if poking buttons on a board.
"You can run the film forward, or freeze it at any particular frame, or rewind it, or speed it ahead to the next scene." Sean carefully noted which of Methos' fingers pressed his hand at each suggestion. "You must tell me everything that's happening in the film. You understand?"
"Yes, oh theatre-critic," Methos smiled. "What's the film about?"
"Curtain going up. The opening scene is, from the camera's point of view, you're sitting on a low rise overlooking a beach, in bright daylight, looking out at the ocean. It's calm, low waves, nothing's happening."
Methos frowned slightly, but didn't move. "I see it."
"Let the scene progress, viewer. Tell me what else you see."
Methos barely twitched one eyebrow. "People," me murmured. "Digging up clams, crabs...with sticks. Some horses grazing nearby. Seagulls diving for fish."
"It sounds lovely and peaceful. Keep watching. Tell me what happens."
"Nothing yet..." Then a long silence.
Sean waited, noting a slight pressure from the 'forward' finger. Then a sudden tightening of muscles-
"Saliot!" Methos shouted, lunging under Sean's hands. He snapped his eyes open, and they were wide with panic.
**Latin? Something older?* "Freeze the scene!" Sean commanded, gratified to feel Methos' hand clench on his. "Tell me what you see."
"It jumped!" Methos fixed his eyes on Sean's face, struggling to hold the memory clear. "The sea--the horizon-- It jumped up! I saw it!"
"Scary film," Sean soothed, stroking Methos' forehead. He didn't dare let himself tremble, though he could guess what was coming.
"I don't think I want to watch this film anymore." Methos' voice was a little calmer, but still shaky. "I think I can guess the rest of the plot."
"Don't let the fear win," said Sean, meeting Methos' eyes. "Don't let it drive you away. There's knowledge to be gained here. Don't let the fear keep you from it."
Methos took several deep breaths, visibly fighting his chosen enemy. Finally that determined look spread over his face, and he lowered his head back into the pillow. "Now what?" he whispered.
"Close your eyes. You're back in the theatre. Roll the film forward, and go on reporting."
Methos closed his eyes, and his fingers pressed briefly. His breathing was still fast and harsh. "It's coming," he whispered. "The sea, rising up...rushing toward us. Everyone sees. They turn, run..." His body tensed, legs twitching. "I'm running. The horses-- Seize the nearest by his mane, leap on him. Kick hard. Gallop. Up the slope. Run. The roar..."
His body tensed and began to twist blindly. Sean strained to hold him. A thin wail threaded from between his bared teeth.
"Don't let the fear stop you," Sean whispered. "Go on."
"So loud," Methos gasped. "Like thunder. Shadow on the ground-cold spray-look- No!" He arched up under Sean's hands.
"Freeze the picture!" Sean shouted, bending close to wrap his arms around Methos. "Tell me what you see."
"IT'S RIGHT BEHIND ME!!!" Methos' scream rattled off the fireplace.
He thrashed wildly in Sean's grip, pulling them both off the sofa. All Sean could do was hold on and try to make the landing soft, then pin Methos against the carpet and wait until the struggles slacked down.
"Freeze the picture," he repeated in Methos' ear. "What do you see?"
Methos groaned in exhausted terror. "Mountain...moving mountain...black water...arched up like a hand... And it's coming down!"
"Tidal wave," Sean gave it a name. "And you had never seen nor heard of such a thing before."
Methos shuddered, but said nothing.
Sean took a deep breath and tightened his grip. "Roll film," he said. "Tell me what happens."
Methos shuddered again, harder, and began struggling vaguely. "Water..." he sobbed. "The water...crushing..." Abruptly he went limp.
**He died, that time,* Sean guessed, and loosened his arms. He lifted Methos' head into his lap and stroked his forehead gently, repeatedly, waiting. This hiss and crackle of the fire sounded loud in the silence.
Eventually Methos stirred. He blinked, and looked up at Sean with puzzled eyes. "What happened?" he asked, as if he'd forgotten.
"The tidal wave caught you," Sean said, very calmly. "You drowned."
Methos flinched, then trembled hard, remembering. "Yes..."
"Tell me, which was worse: the dying, or the instant before?"
Methos thought that over for a long moment. "The instant before," he decided. "The terror... Gods! The dying was only pain, and it didn't last long."
Sean took hold of Methos' hand again. "Was that your first death?"
"No," Methos said absently, "I'd been fans-theauna for a long time before..."
**"Fans-theauna"?* Sean filed that away for future reference. "Roll film," he said gently. "What happened when you revived?"
Methos squeezed his eyes shut. Tears leaked out of them. "Wet...cold...fog everywhere...mud...desolation. Uprooted trees. Bits of brush. Seashells. Dead fish. A dead horse. Seaweed. Everything stinking of the sea... Silence. Nothing moving. Nothing alive...but myself."
Sean paused, wondering if this was the right moment to venture into Survivor's Guilt. He could see no way to avoid it. "And...those people? The ones on the beach, digging clams..."
"Gone!" Methos groaned. "All swept away! I outran them, and they all died. I ran..."
**Yes.* "And you died too. The only difference is that you revived, and they didn't. You ran, and they ran, and you all died just the same. It didn't matter if you ran fast or slow, on foot or on a horse; you all died."
Methos trembled in waves, absorbing that. "It didn't matter..." he murmured. "We all died... But I found no other bodies! The sea ate them all, but I stayed on land because I was faster-- got to a horse before they did--"
"How do you know? How thoroughly did you search for their bodies?"
A long pause, then a slow look of surprise dawned on Methos' face. "I didn't search at all," he admitted. "Walked uphill, away from the sound of the sea. Standing trees...forest... I finally reached dry ground. Found berries, a stream. Slept under a pine tree."
"Speed the film forward. Did you ever go back to that beach, see what had changed?"
"No!" Methos winced and curled into himself. "They were all dead. That life was gone. No past. Look only forward. I went on, other lands, other people. Dry lands, new language. Start again..."
Sean recalled an earlier mystery. "What does 'n'retre' mean?"
Methos winced again. "Ne retre vide," he whispered. "Don't look back."
"For fear of what you'll see?"
"Yes!" Methos curled tighter, and sobs began shaking him.
Sean gathered his friend into his arms and rocked him gently, riding out the spasms of weeping. **Terror, grief, survivor's guilt,* he considered. **Grief is winning out. Follow there.* He waited out the long minutes until the sobs sank away, then said: "Freeze film. Now roll it back. Back before the people came down to the beach and dug clams. Go to where they're just starting down toward the sea. Can you see them?"
"Yes," Methos whispered, relaxing out of his tight curl.
"Who are they? What people?"
"Djana-os-gen..." Methos started, as if surprised to hear himself say those words. He thought for a moment. "Related to the Carians, I think. West of Caria, on the south shore of...Anatolia. We knew of Troy, and Knossos..."
"Where?" Sean puzzled at the unfamiliar name.
Methos gasped and sat up, eyes wide. "My god, I think I know when that was! Knossos hadn't fallen--the tidal wave-- It must have been from the eruption! It couldn't have been... No later than 1600 BC, if the archeologists are right. It could have been earlier..."
**3600 years ago!* Sean marveled. **A long time to carry a phobia around!* "So now you know when, and where, and who. All that remains is, what were those people to you?"
Methos bowed his head. "My people," he said softly. "A gentle and kindly people. They accepted me. I was happy there."
"Accepted"? "For how long?"
"Six generations. I was..." Methos froze and stared blindly at the wall, jaw dropping.
"Six generations?!" Sean gasped. "Then they knew-- Methos, what were you to them?"
Slowly, Methos managed to shape the words. "Fans-Theauna," he whispered. "Child of the Goddess."
"You were their god?!"
Methos shook his head slowly. "Divine Hero," he corrected. "Priest, war-chief if they needed one, official risk-taker - because I could. People knew about Immortals in those days. They knew, and they weren't afraid!"
"Then all the old myths, about gods and divine heroes and--and--"
"Yes. They were us."
Sean stared at his old friend for a long time. "When did it change?" he finally asked.
"Not long after." Methos gave him a look full of ancient sorrow. "New people, coming down from the north. New ideas - conquest, might-makes-right, male supremacy, overthrowing the goddesses... And iron. The Age of Iron. It wasn't just the technology, it was a whole different way of thinking. The philosophical beginning of the modern age, with all its cruelties."
"I recall an ancient Greek myth to that effect..."
Methos pulled up his knees and rested his forehead on them. "There's more truth in those ancient myths than you'd believe, Sean. The symbolism..." He shuddered. "It's too damned apt! The shadow that fell on me that day fell over the world in centuries after. The wave that swept away my people also swept away a whole age of the world. It's been a darker, meaner world ever since. No wonder our kind had to go into hiding. No wonder...a lot of things."
Sean rested a hand on Methos' shoulder, hoping it gave some comfort. "I'd love to know what that earlier world was like," he said.
"I'll tell you some time," Methos promised, "Some time when it doesn't hurt so much."
He raised his head and looked around him, seeming surprised to find himself on the floor. He pulled himself back onto the sofa and began slowly rolling down and fastening his sleeves.
Sean got back on the sofa beside him. "Do you think you'll still fear the sea?"
"No," Methos sighed, reaching for his shoes. "I'll just dislike it, and never trust it, and now I'll know why."
"And have we filled that gap in your memory?"
"Yes." Methos thought for a moment. "There are still others, but now at least I have some notion of why they're there."
"Whenever you're ready..." Sean hinted, and stopped.
"Eventually," Methos promised. "Maybe next year. One...'scary film' per year is all I think I can take."
"Same time next year, then," Sean smiled. "I'll schedule it on my appointment calendar."
"I'll make a note of it." Methos worked his way into his tie, then jacket. Only when he stood up and moved toward the coat-rack did Sean realize that he meant to leave.
**So soon?* he thought sadly. **Still so afraid, my old friend?* "Before you go, could you answer one more question?"
"If I can." Methos stood poised, close-faced, unwilling to give away any more of himself.
Sean sighed. "You said the tidal wave was caused by an eruption. What was it that erupted, can you tell?"
Methos smiled humorlessly. "A volcanic island, near the shores of Greece, as I learned later. I'd been there myself, in earlier centuries. An odd place: three concentric rings of land, with circular harbors between them, surrounding a central island famed for its hot springs. The soil on the rings was wonderfully fertile, and the people had grown wealthy off the sea-trade. Of course, nobody at the time realized that the soil was so fertile because it was volcanic - or that those rings were the cones of previous volcanoes, or that those springs were hot for a reason."
"Fascinating," said Sean, thinking of maps in his books. "Do you remember the name of that island, or precisely where it was?"
Methos' smile grew tighter as he shrugged into his coat. "It stood where the Santorini Group of islets stands today; you can find that on a good enough map. Of course, it had a different name then - and it was supposedly under the protection of a goddess. Don't bother to get up, Sean. I'll see myself out."
**Running again,* Sean sighed. Simply to prolong the conversation, he asked: "What goddess was that, do you recall?"
"Atalanta," said Methos, as he stepped through the door. "Au revoir, Sean." He closed it softly behind him.
Sean was pulling the large world-atlas book off the shelf when the implications of that name hit him. By then, of course, Methos was long gone.