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Fearful Symmetry

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Fearful Symmetry

 

She looked so surprised when I put the handcuffs on her. Considering that Amanda is older than I am, I mean, really older, and normally as trusting as a hunted wolf, you'd think I wouldn't have had a chance of surprising her at anything. This was a supreme moment in my life, proving to me beyond a doubt that I wasn't wrong about her, that she wasn't my weakness, on the contrary, I was hers. Of course, what followed immediately proved me wrong and sent me on the run again. No real surprise there; ultimately, this fits nicely in the pattern of my existence.

I don't remember too much of my mortal life. Fragmented images, mostly, some sensations of warmth at the fire and freezing in winter. Being hungry, and comforted by the woman who took me in, together with her husband. I couldn't even tell you her name, though, because she was just "Mother" to me, or whether my "father" had been a farmer, a woodcutter or something else altogether. The first thing I do recall clearly are her screams while being raped by the soldiers, her death, his death, and my own. Then I woke up again as an Immortal, Amanda found me, and my life truly began.

 

I don't know anymore whether my mother had told me any fairy tales, but enough condescending mortals did, afterwards, so I am sure that this is how Amanda appeared to me back - like a creature out of a fairy tale, bringing magic with her to save me and protect me from ever getting hurt again. And her magic wasn't limited to the strange sensation she caused in my head and my lack of any wounds or scars. She could juggle with sticks of wood or fir-cones, and get money for us out of the blue. Out of other people's pockets, actually, but it took me a while to figure that out, for she was very, very good at it. Later she taught me some of her skill, and I realized how much hard work went into reaching that level of perfection, but in the beginning, it was just one more of her magical attributes.

What she told me about our immortality and the Game frightened me, of course, but her existence in itself limited the extent of my fears. For, as she pointed out, if she had survived against stronger opponents by using her brain, by trickery, so could I, if she taught me how. And she would be there to protect me while I learned this; she would not die like my mother had, for her magic would save her. It didn't occur to me then that by the very nature of the Game she could be compelled to kill me. That came later, when the first teacher I had after Amanda tried this, but Amanda was the last person I trusted unconditionally.

I wonder, now. If we had stayed together, if she hadn't been caught and hanged, or if we had found each other again immediately afterwards - how much time would we have had before she had turned against me, as she did just now, for that oaf MacLeod?

I hate MacLeod. More than I hate your average Immortal, mind you. I even hated him when I first met him, with his patronizing protection number and his stupid lady doctor and his moron of a sidekick. God, that kid was annoying! Whining about being nineteen forever. What a terrible fate. Might even get you kicked out of bars in some American states. My heart breaks for him. No wonder he hooked up with MacLeod. You'd be hard pressed to find a more self-righteous couple of smarmy hunks among us, and we are not an endearing race to start with.

Anyway, once the shock - and yes, the joy - of seeing Amanda again in MacLeod's apartment had subsided, I realized several things. One: MacLeod might bear a grudge against me and want to kill me, once he got over my size, but Amanda wouldn't let him, and he wouldn't even try it in her absence - it would make him look bad in her eyes. Two: Instead of sticking to bimbos like his Doctor Anne - who was still around, by the way - he was doing my Amanda as well. Probably felt proud of his prowess, like a prized stallion, him with his brawn and his large figure and that stupid smile. Well, at least my presence stopped the smile. He pouted instead, because Amanda paid me more attention than him. Wasn't used to that, was MacLeod. If I had hated him before, I felt nauseated now. And in such a hurry to do something to get rid of MacLeod that I was even prepared to let his Quickening go. Ideally, Kincaid would have taken him and I would have taken Kincaid, but of course there was the chance that Kincaid, whose strength I had no idea about, might recover fast enough to make the latter part impossible. It didn't matter, because MacLeod would be gone and I would have Amanda for myself. All mine, as I told Kincaid.

Not that I wanted to go back to the way we were during that year, the first year of my life that really counted. She may have deluded herself that we could, when she tucked me away for the night on the couch of MacLeod's apartment, as she had done back then, and it made me hate her just a little. I had been a child then, but she isn't stupid, and she must have known that I certainly wasn't a child anymore. Not after eight hundred years. She just didn't want to acknowledge it.

It had been nice - okay, it had been wonderful - to be mothered then; after centuries of mortals and Immortals doing it, however, the novelty had worn off. I still dream of that year, but when I think of Amanda today, it certainly isn't as a mother figure.

Strange, to hear her ask MacLeod whether she would have made a good mother. I could have told her, but on the other hand, since I don't want her to be my mother anymore, I might not have. In any case, I did tell her already, once. When I first realized that my new immortality would have other effects besides eternal health, wounds healing in seconds and big men with swords coming after me. This was after we had met an old Immortal acquaintance of hers. By chance, I had woken up in the night and listened to a conversation they had. He left us the day afterwards, and I never saw him again, but what he had said to Amanda stuck in my mind.

"I will never grow up," I said to her when she cornered me into confessing what was making me silent during the whole day. "Isn't that true? I will always stay this way."

One of the mortals whom I lived with during the early twentieth century thought it was a bright idea to take me to James Barrie' s play, Peter Pan, since every child loved this play, and he wanted to cheer me up, pitiable, gloomy little fellow that I was. I didn't live much longer with him, let me tell you that. Sometimes I kill mortals for food, or because they threaten me, sometimes because I hate them…and then their deaths are almost as satisfying as a Quickening. It certainly was in this case. I don't know where this Barrie person or mortals in general got their idea that being a child forever is the most wonderful, desirable thing on earth. Certainly not from an Immortal. Even the morons like MacLeod's sidekick, Richie of the red curls and the smarmy attitude, know better. Barrie, sentimental Edwardian that he was, couldn't have known much of history either, with his supposition that being a child means being free somehow. I think this idea crept up in the late nineteenth century and stuck, idiotic as it was.

When I truly was a child, in the twelfth century, childhood wasn't thought as something desirable at all. For one thing, it was hard to survive it, without the benefit of any effective medicine. If you did survive infancy, you tried to grow up as fast as you could, not just because children were more vulnerable than adults, but also because they were worthless in anyone's estimation. Once puberty had set in, the girls could be married off, could have children of their own, could earn their keep, and so could the boys, putting on muscles, learning to fight or to work, according to their respective station in society. If you had asked anyone back then about eternal childhood, they would have described it as pure hell.

So Amanda, when I said this, didn't try to console me with rosy visions of the freedom of childhood, or similar crap mortals would think up centuries later. She looked very serious and sad, and nodded. "Yes," she replied, simply. We stayed silent for a while; she held my hand, though, and somehow that helped.

"When Rebecca, my teacher, told me about immortality", she said, finally, "I thought I was glad of everything it brought for me, even the drawbacks, as she called them. They didn't seem drawbacks for me. Not having any children, never getting pregnant sounded like another gift from God. Most of the girls I had known in my youth had been married at fourteen or even earlier, had several children by twenty and were old, toothless or dead at twenty-five, with at least three dead children into the bargain. So what Rebecca said about children being denied to us sounded like a blessing. It took me nearly two centuries to understand why this concerned her, and to feel the same concern, the same longing."

She looked at me intently. "But my lack has been fulfilled when I met you. I can only hope fate has some compensation in store for you as well, Kenneth."

That was when I told her she was all the mother I wanted, and that is why, with everything the following centuries taught me, I still continued to love Amanda. She never tried to pull wool over my eyes, she told me the truth, she never talked down. I was a person to her, not an adorable little toy.

That Immortal acquaintance of hers was someone we met at an inn. It was winter, we had just gotten a nice fat purse from a fat merchant, or rather Amanda had, and so she decided we would indulge ourselves with a served meal and a comfortable room. As a matter of fact, it was so cold that though we felt the buzz outside she said we'd risk it.

"The inn will be packed with mortals," she remarked, rubbing my hands which were half frozen. "Whoever it is can't start a duel here, and will probably be willing to keep the peace as much as we are. If it turns out to be a headhunting fanatic without any common sense who insists on going outside and fighting, then remember what I told you about Quickenings. Immediately afterwards, we are hardly strong enough to lift a finger. If the worst happens and that bastard defeats me, stab him and take his head while he's down."

"I don't want you to die!" I protested, child that I was.

She laughed. "I don't want to die, and I'm not planning to. But I don't want you to die, either, and smart people like ourselves should be prepared for anything."

Wary, we entered the inn, me clinging to Amanda as if she would dissolve into thin air should I let go. She was right, the inn was packed, so it took us a while to pin down the person whose presence had alerted us. It turned out to be a thin clerk with a large nose and an angular face, who was en route to Wales, traveling with the son of his patron and liege lord. The way the clerk and Amanda greeted each other, something between a smile and a sizing-up look, was a bit hard to figure out. She liked him but didn't necessarily trust him, and I had the impression he returned both feelings. In any case, he wasn't headhunting. They had met through her teacher Rebecca before, but this had been at least a century ago, so she made a point of not addressing him by name until he mentioned it by introducing himself to me, and he did the same with her. She had explained to me this part of Immortal etiquette before; we all had to change our identities quite often, and to call someone by an old name within earshot of mortals meant giving things away needlessly.

This time, the man called himself Adson of Baskerville. He had a rather thankless job. The lord he worked for was concerned his rebellious son would be induced to join forces with Richard the Lionhearted, who was then fighting against his father, Henry II. While Richard as Henry's son would survive this in any case, it would have been high treason for the rest of the nobility, and since so far, no one had ever managed to beat Henry, Adson's lord was determined not to let his son endanger the family that way. Consequently, he sent him to Wales to cool his heels with some border fighting; the Welsh and the March lords were always at each other's throats, and getting involved there might get the young man killed but would not ruin the family, or the family's assets, by association. (As I mentioned, people were not sentimental about their offspring then.)

Adson was in charge of ensuring the young man did not stray to France instead.

The young lord immediately began slobbering all over Amanda, which amused Adson to no end and infuriated me. It wasn't the first time I had seen men showing this reaction to Amanda, but previously she had, perhaps because she needed to keep an eye on me, always discouraged them. This time, she flirted with both of them. It might have ended with one of them actually making a move, but then a new arrival entered the inn, none other than the fat merchant she had robbed, saw her (which wasn't too difficult - Amanda in a flirtatious mood had managed to grasp the attention of the male half of the inn), pointed a finger at her and then fell down. With a knife in his back. It was inconvenient, to say the least.

The upshot of this was that the undersheriff wanted to arrest Amanda, the young lord wanted to defend her honor and Adson, who didn't believe in her innocence but probably was afraid that a closer investigation might reveal her immortality, and induce her to reveal his as well, wanted to get the hell out of there. He suggested the same to us. The problem was that Amanda had not killed the merchant, and while she was all for running away when chased for her own deeds, the idea of being suspected and hunted for someone else's murder made her angry. So she played the lady in distress to the young lord while blackmailing Adson into investigating the murder with her by threatening to name him as her accomplice. It was frightening and entertaining at the same time, like a play in which I was one of the minor characters. I was still child enough not to understand how risky everything was, and besides, Amanda always landed on her feet and always got us out of trouble, so my being afraid was held in check by being caught up in the hunt for the true murderer. Eventually, she and Adson found him, but let the young lord take the credit for delivering him to the undersheriff while they made their escape.

Adson was glad to be rid of his lordling and, with the sharing of funds that Amanda had acquired on the side, decided to start a new existence. By that time, I had begun to like him and hoped he would stay. Looking back, I can see that the idea of a family with mother and father was still ingrained in me. But before he left, he proceeded to cure me of this once and for all.

I wasn't surprised to find him and Amanda whispering to each other when I woke up. Their mutual distrust and occasional squabbling aside, they seemed quite fond of each other, and to find him with her in the middle of the night was no big surprise. What he said to her was, though, more fool me. Blame it on Immortal memory, but I still have the conversation down pat, at least the part that mattered.

"What you are doing with the boy is foolish, Amanda."

"Oh really?" she bristled.

"You are still young - Young! Amanda, who, according to what she told me, was born about three hundred years ago! - "but you should know better. We can't have families that way. Surely you've seen how that turns out before."

"I have seen how it turns out with mortal children before," she replied, coolly.

I had my eyes closed so they wouldn't notice I was awake, which meant I couldn't see her, but since there was no other sound than their voices it seemed she did not move way from him, either. "They grow old and die. Or they die of sickness in infancy. Or they are killed."

"Kenneth will probably be killed as well. Most child Immortals are. Were it to happen now, you and he would at least have only pleasant memories. But I don't suppose you could do it."

"Touch him and I will kill you…Adson. And that is no joke."

"No doubt you would try," he returned, unruffled, while I hated myself for the tears that welled up.

I hated him as well. I had believed he liked me. I had liked him. And he wanted me dead. Thanks for the lesson, Adson.

"I'm serious. I want your oath that you will not harm him."

"And my oath would mean anything to you?"

"Oddly enough, yes."

"Very well then. But I'm serious too. Assuming no other Immortal kills the boy, how long are you prepared to stay with him? Ten years? Twenty years? A century? Forever? This is not like attaching yourself to a mortal. Correct me if I'm wrong, but the Immortal you managed to stay longest with is probably your teacher, and you haven't seen her in fifty years."

"Rebecca and I love each other," she protested, sounding defensive.

"That is not the issue. You are both adults. You can live without each other, have other friends, without feeling left alone or betrayed. You can't leave this boy without fearing he'll die in your absence, and if you do so anyway, he'll start hating you. You are not made for being tied down, few of us are. You'll come to hate him as well. To say nothing of the fact that in ten, fifteen years at the latest he'll start to hate his own body more than anything else."

Silence. After a while, he continued, "He'll never grow up, and I don't think you have faced what that means yet. Another decade and your little boy will be an adult in a child's body, with a grown-up's wishes and completely unable to fulfill them. And all of this in the immediate vicinity, day and night, of a beautiful woman? Believe me, killing him or at least leaving him now is the biggest favor you can do for both of you."

More silence. I held my breath. I did not understand everything he said, not then, but I grasped the basic concept of never growing up. And of Amanda being advised to kill me or leave me.

"I won't. I can't," she finally answered, and it sounded as if she was close to crying, which made me a little less ashamed of my own tears. "He is my son. I can't."

Of course, some months later soldiers hung her and hunted me. When we saw each other again she claimed she had searched for me for two years once she had revived. I wanted to believe her, but there was doubt as well. She might have used this opportunity, once it presented itself, to finally follow Adson's advice and leave me.

As for the other things he said…well, I came to understand them. After two hundred years, I couldn't stand it anymore, gathered all the courage I had and all the money I could get and paid - paid a whore to show me what this simple thing that every fast-aging mortal could do was all about. She didn't take the money. Instead, she freaked out and reported me as a demon child to the local judge. I ended up drowned - this was one of the ways they tested witches back then, though of course for mortals it had the drawback that once you proved your innocence by drowning, you were dead as well - and for the first time in a killing mood. I think that whore was the first person, mortal or Immortal, whom I didn't kill for self-defense or for food and money, just for the satisfaction of seeing her dead. I can remember her clearly - dark hair, a round face, two teeth missing, a slight limp because she had twisted her ankle on the previous day - but I can't remember any of the others, though there were many.

Some more centuries, and I figured out I had gone about this the wrong way. I shouldn't have offered to pay at all. By now, I really had seen everything, and I knew there were some people who actually yearned to use children in that way, who paid for them. And one day, I was desperate enough to try this, as well. It didn't work for me, of course, though it seemed to work very well for…the customer. All it gained me was pain, more pain, and feeling dirty and sick enough to die. I was actually relieved when the bastard, who was afraid I would tell on him, killed me immediately afterwards. I woke up in the river again, though not murderously inclined. I just wanted to get away from it all.

Supposedly some Immortals manage to have amnesia, through a bad Quickening or an
emotional trick or whatever. That trick didn't work for me, either, though there were times like that when I damn near prayed it would. It must be nice, waking up as a new person with a clean slate. And the expectation of growing up.

Then again, amnesia would mean the first headhunter could get me, so I suppose I was lucky. The urge to survive is still there. Besides, I can't stand the thought of any of the others winning the Game and getting the Prize, whatever it is. Winning the Game would be the one method of paying everyone back, Immortals and mortals alike. And I'm fond of Quickenings. Oh yes. It's the one sensation that is equal for all of us, no matter what size the body we live in.

You see, even when I kissed Amanda, kissed her for the first time not as her son anymore, when I let all the masks drop and showed her who I was now, I wasn't sure what I would do with her afterwards, when MacLeod was finally out of the way. In theory, there were two options. If she cut her losses and accepted her Scottish hunk was gone, we could live together again, just the two of us. If she insisted on hating me for depriving her of that Fabio clone, well, we still would be together, only in another way.

When we take each other's head, we take more than each other's lives. Each Quickening I've taken is still with me. Their souls, if you want to call it that. So if I had taken Amanda's Quickening, she would finally be what I wanted her to be for so long:

All mine. Forever.

It's still an option. Those observations you made on your little recording machine, that and your notebook, told me some interesting things. You can probably guess how I acquired them; I told you Amanda taught me some of her skills.

So, I have a Watcher. I'm assuming Amanda has one, too. I'll return your tape recorder to you, with this tape I've just filled. You can enter what I said in those "Chronicles" of yours, if you want, provided that you transmit a copy to Amanda as well. Or you might simply tell her that now we've both shown what we're capable of, the past is done with and it's the Game again. And I will find a way to be with her, sooner or later. I will.