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The Tam Lin Clause

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Excerpts from “The Young Tamlane”, Jovanovic Version and “Tam Lin: Child Ballad #39F”

“She pulled him from the milk-white steed,
And let the bridle fall,
And up there raise an elritch cry--
He's won amoung us all!”

“They turned him in her arms an eagle,
And then into an ass;
But she held him fast, and feared him not,
The man that she loved best.”

 

The view out over the city of Chicago from atop the Trump Hotel was incredible. Looking out the floor-to-ceiling windows of Sixteen, Methos could see spectacular vistas of Lake Michigan, the Chicago River and the Wrigley Clock Tower. The interior view wasn’t half bad, either, he thought, watching as beautifully dressed and bejeweled women mingled with exquisitely tailored gentlemen. Amanda, he reflected, could have retired for the rest of her considerable life after picking clean just a quarter of the attendees.

Waiters circulated among the guests with trays of hors d’oeuvres, desserts, and flutes of champagne. Methos grabbed one and sipped from it as he looked around for the rest of his party. At the piano, Joe was playing a duet with the Chicago recipient of the Claudia Jardine Scholarship to Julliard. Duncan MacLeod was standing near the doorway to the Terrace, talking with one of the other trustees. Methos finished off his glass and grabbed two more, heading towards the Duncan. There were few things he liked better than winding up MacLeod, particularly at a party where the Scot was usually too well behaved to retaliate.

As he crossed the room, he saw a young woman walk towards MacLeod, apparently with a similar plan in mind. She moved through the crowd with such an effortless, youthful grace that Methos could hardly take his eyes off her. And she was well worth the look, for he thought he had never seen such a beautiful woman. Her hair was arranged in dozens of small braids, each dyed a different shade of blue or green, and then styled in a crown-like upsweep, while wispy white curls surrounding her face like a halo of ice shavings.

As she reached MacLeod, she smiled up at him and offered him a glass. He took the cup and raised it to his lips, drinking from it as he listened in apparent fascination to what she said. Then, to Methos’s surprise, she took MacLeod’s hand and led him out onto the terrace. Alarm bells went off in his head. Ditching the glasses, he followed them out onto the terrace.

It was cold outside, even colder than usual for late October. And the terrace was completely empty, except for MacLeod’s sword, lying in its sheath in the center of the floor.

“God dammit, MacLeod,” he muttered. “Only you could manage to get abducted by Faeries in Chicago.”

********

Joe was irritated when Methos pulled him away from the party for a quick conference in the nearest broom closet. He was even more unhappy when Methos told him why.

“What do you mean, you lost MacLeod?” he demanded. “How? Where did he go?”

“That would be the ‘lost’ part of what I just said,” Methos retorted. “He disappeared. Poof! Gone!”

“He can’t have just disappeared,” Joe said, in a reasonable tone of voice that made Methos want to snap.

“Did you check for other exits? Maybe a service ladder?” His face paled. “You don’t think this woman could have pulled him over the side of the building?”

“I’m positive. No other exits, no bodies on the sidewalk below. Unless one of them was Spiderman and walked down the side of the building, they both simply disappeared.”

“And you think the woman was a fairy.” The tone in Joe’s voice indicated that their next destination would be the psych ward of a nearby hospital. “What, like Tinkerbell?”

“Think less Disney and more Grimm, with a shot of Shakespeare thrown in.”

Joe stared at him. “You’re serious.”

“As a heart-attack.”

Joe rubbed his hand over his head. “So what do we do now?”

“We find someone to help us,” Methos said, heading towards the doorway. “And I know just where to start.”

*********

Joe looked at the sign for McAnally’s Pub and then at Methos. “Don’t you think we should be looking for Mac? Not that I would interfere with your incipient alcoholism.”

Methos rolled his eyes. “We are looking for MacLeod. I understand that this is the place to find someone who might be able to help us. Just keep an open mind.”

“You ever been here before?”

“Hell, no,” Methos said, opening the door and heading down the stairs. “I avoid Chicago in general. Weird things happen here.”

“Weird things happen around you guys, too,” Joe pointed out.

“Yeah, well, the next time that a Quickening causes a rain of frogs, let me know.”

Like much of the older part of Chicago, the building had settled over the years so that the pub was partially below ground, which had the added benefit of keeping the uninitiated from finding it by accident. Methos wasn’t surprised to feel the tingle that told him he was on Holy ground. From what he’d heard about the pub, it was Neutral Ground by virtue of the Unseelie Accords, which made it sacred ground for Immortals as well.

Methos stopped at the bottom of the stairs and paused to look around. It was an oddly laid out room, with thirteen columns randomly spaced and thirteen tables set in what appeared to be haphazard order. The place appeared only half-full, which might have been due to the lateness of the hour. Of course, given the nature of some of the beings sitting at the tables, their day could have just been starting.

The man he was looking for was behind the bar, polishing a glass; he looked up and grimaced. “Out.”

Methos sat on one of the thirteen barstools and gave the bartender his most innocent look. “Good to see you, too, Mac. Still making your own brew?”

“Not for you,” McAnally said shortly.

“He stick you with his bar tab, too?” Joe asked, taking the stool next to Methos. “He’s good at that.”

Mac gave Joe an appraising look, then pulled out a bottle of bourbon and poured Joe a glass. “Local boy?”

“Born and raised on the West Side,” Joe replied, picking up the glass and taking a sip. It was top shelf quality and he breathed it in. “I moved away years ago, though.”

Mac grunted, then jerked his head toward Methos. “Trouble.”

“You can say that again,” Joe said with a grin. “So where did you two meet up?”

“A monastery in Ireland,” Methos said blandly, “in the early 9th century.”

“Brother Piers,” Mac growled, cutting a sideways look at Joe before returning his glare to Methos.

“It’s all right – Joe is a Watcher.” Methos turned to Joe. “Brother Mac was famous throughout Ireland for his home-brewed beer and ale.”

“You’d know,” Mac grunted. “Drank enough.” He appeared to have relented, though, and set a dark brown bottle down in front of Methos.

Methos popped the cap and took a long swallow, nearly groaning at the ambrosial taste that slid down his throat. “God, that’s good.” He took another swallow, then pointed the bottle at Mac. “And I don’t know why you’re mad at me when by rights it should be the other way around. You’re the one who talked me into that trip to Iceland.”

Mac snorted. “Served you right.”

“Well, as nice as it is to catch up with old friends, we’re actually here on business,” Methos said. “We need a very specialized kind of help.” Mac grunted and he took that as encouragement to continue. “A friend of ours disappeared from a party tonight, in the company of a very beautiful woman of the Sidhe persuasion. We need someone to help us find him.”

Mac nodded. He walked over to the cash register, took a business card out of a drawer, and set it on the bar in front of them. It was a standard – and cheap – business card, the kind sold by the gross at print shops. Where it stopped being usual was what was printed on it:

Harry Dresden
Wizard

 

Printed below that was an address and a phone number. Joe looked up at McAnally. “You gotta be kidding.”

“Open mind, Joe,” Methos chided, pocketing the card and putting down money to cover the cost of their drinks. “Thanks, Mac. When this is over, I’ll drop back by and we can talk more about old times.”

McAnally muttered something that might have been, “Not if I see you coming first,” only with fewer words.

Just like old times, Methos thought fondly.

********

They went in search of the wizard first thing the next morning. The building where Dresden’s office was located looked like it had seen better days, and most of the lights appeared to be blown. The lift doors opened slowly, and Methos was tempted to forgo it for the stairs. He winced as it creaked its way upward before halting with an ominous groan.

Dresden’s office was easy enough to find, as the door had the same lettering as his business card. Joe made a face but Methos ignored him and knocked on the glass door. After a few minutes, the door opened and a tall, lean man who looked in need of both a haircut and a shave stood in the opening.

“Can I help you guys?”

“You Harry Dresden?” Joe asked, looking askance at the man and then at his door again.

“As far as I know, but the day’s early still,” the man replied, not seeming offended by Joe’s brusque manner.

Methos liked him already. “We’ve lost a friend and I understand you might be able to help us find him,” he said.

Dresden frowned. “Marcone didn’t send you, did he?”

Methos hadn’t heard that name before but it was clear that Joe had, as he drew in an audible breath. “No – should he have?” Methos asked.

“Not if you want to hire me,” Dresden said shortly.

“Ah.” Methos pulled out the business card. “McAnally gave us your card, said you were the person we should talk to.”

The dark look on Dresden’s face lifted, and he nearly smiled. “Mac’s good people.” He turned back toward his desk, leaving the door open, and gestured toward the client chairs. “Have a seat and tell me about this missing friend.”

“His name is Duncan MacLeod,” Joe said, taking a chair. “And he disappeared from the middle of a party, without a word. Adam here thinks he was abducted by fairies.”

Dresden slowly blinked, then turned his attention to Methos. “Why do you think that, Mr. – “

“Pierson,” Methos said. “Adam Pierson. Just before he disappeared, MacLeod was given a drink by a very beautiful woman, after which he accompanied her onto a cold outdoor terrace sixteen floors above the ground, then vanished. He also left his sword behind.”

Dresden blinked. “Was it a Halloween party?”

“No, a reception for a local scholarship winner, at the Trump Hotel.”

“And was Mr. MacLeod in the habit of wearing a sword to formal receptions?”

Methos hesitated for a moment, then decided to lay all their cards on the table. “Duncan MacLeod is an Immortal, as am I.”

“Immortal,” Dresden said slowly.

“I know that must sound a bit odd,” Joe began, but Dresden just snorted.

“Odd doesn’t even begin to describe a normal day for me,” he said. “Are you immortal, too, Mr. - ?”

Joe shook his head. “Joe Dawson, and no. I belong to an organization that observes Immortals – “

The slightly confused look on Dresden’s face cleared up. “Okay, yeah, Watchers.” He looked back at Methos. “You’re one of those ‘there can only be One’ type of immortals, right? Go around slicing off each other’s heads? Funny – I always thought you guys were just legends.”

“There are other kinds of immortals?” Joe asked, starting to look confused.

“Mmm.” Dresden began counting on his fingers. “So far I’ve met gods, archangels, Denarians, Valkyrie, Sidhe, a Hellhound, not to mention vampires. Not that any of you are really immortal, just damned hard to kill.”

He turned to Methos. “So you saw this woman, the one that abducted your friend? Can you describe her?”

Methos nodded; he didn’t think it would be possible for anyone to forget her, unless she wanted them to. “Young, beautiful, pale skin, almost translucent. Light blue eyes. Hair – not one color, although the base appeared almost white, then dyed in various shades of blue and green.”

Dresden had been making notes but stopped abruptly. “And she gave your friend something to drink? Did you see what it was?”

Methos frowned as he tried to recall. “I thought it was champagne, but now that I think about it, that’s not right. It was something milky, I think. And the glass – it wasn’t the standard hotel glasses. It…shimmered.”

Dresden sighed and set down his pen. “Stars and stones. Okay, I think you’re right, that your friend was abducted by the Sidhe. I think I know which one, and she’s very powerful. So what I need to do now is put out some feelers, see if your friend has shown up at any of her known hang-outs. And I need to talk to one of my resources about how we go about getting your friend free. That is, if you want to hire me to find him.”

Methos glanced over at Joe, who seemed to be coming out of his stunned disbelief enough to nod agreement. “I think you’re our only hope.”

*********

Dresden called the hotel the next morning and asked them to meet him at his office. When they arrived, he waved them to chairs as he shut the door behind them. “Well, I’ve got news for you, of the ‘good-news-bad-news’ type. Which do you want first?”

“The good news,” Joe said promptly. Methos would have chosen the bad first, under the theory that once you knew the worst, things could only get better.

“I know where your friend MacLeod is. The bad news is that he’s been abducted by one of the Queens. Maeve, to be exact.”

“One of the Queens?” Methos asked.

Dresden sat back in his chair, rubbing his forehead as if it hurt. “Okay: Faerie 101. The Sidhe are incredibly powerful, especially the royals. There are two Courts – Winter and Summer – and three Queens in each Court. Maeve is the youngest Queen of the Winter Court.”

“And you think that she has taken MacLeod?” Joe asked.

“Yep. I showed his picture to a little friend of mine and he took a peek at Maeve’s entourage for me. He says your friend is definitely there, enchanted up to the eyeballs.”

“Okay, but why did she take Mac?” Joe asked.

Dresden shrugged. “Any number of reasons, but most likely because he is easy on the eyes. From what you told me, he didn’t call the Sidhe or make a bargain, so he was just unlucky enough to catch Maeve’s eye when she was looking for a new toy to play with.”

Methos’s mouth set in a grim line. “So how do we get him back?” he asked.

“That’s another ‘good news, bad news’ bit. The good news is that Maeve will probably get bored with him and let him go. The bad news is that could be a hundred years from now. Your guy being Immortal, at least he won’t crumble to dust when he reaches the mortal plane.”

Joe scowled. “If it’s all the same to you, Mr. Dresden, we’d rather not leave our friend in this woman’s hands for a hundred years or more. There’s got to be another way.”

Dresden nodded. “There is. It’s called the ‘Tam Lin Clause’.”

“Tam Lin, as in the Child Ballads?” Methos asked, frowning as he recalled what he’d read during one of his forays as a grad student.

“Exactly,” Dresden said with another nod. “The Sidhe are Old World, and they are bound to specific customs if they are carried out precisely. The Tam Lin Clause allows someone who has a prior claim on the enthralled mortal to prove their claim and take them back. However, there are three very specific criteria that must be followed.

“First,” he said, holding up a finger, “the claimant must have a legal, moral, physical, or emotional claim on the Fae’s victim. Usually they are the spouse, or a pregnant lover, or a child. Second, the claimant must confront the Court and correctly identify the ensorcelled mortal – and that ain’t easy because the Sidhe love illusions and games of disguise, and the abducted mortal can’t help in any way. Third, the claimant must prove their worthiness through a Trial by Ordeal.”

Methos nodded slowly, recalling the specific passages in the ballad. “That’s the part where Tam Lin turned into three different creatures, trying to make the mortal woman let him go.”

Dresden nodded. “And then she clothed him in mortal garments, breaking the bonds holding him in the Faerie world.” He looked between the two men. “So does your friend MacLeod have a wife or kiddies waiting for him?”

“Well, there’s Amanda,” Joe said doubtfully. “Only she’s with Nick now. Or you could do it, Adam. Oh, wait – you never said anything to Mac about how you feel about him, did you? Guess he’s screwed.”

Methos frowned at Joe, regretting – not for the first time – the drunken confession he’d made late one night about his feelings for MacLeod. “I can claim MacLeod. Several years ago, he and I took two Immortals at the same time, shared what we call a Quickening. Since then, I’ve been aware of a link between us.”

Dresden looked doubtful. “You need to be absolutely sure of that, because if you fail the Trial, you’ll be forfeit to Winter, and both you and your friend are screwed.”

“I’m certain,” Methos said shortly.

“Okay,” Joe said. “Sounds like a hell of a plan. When do we go? And where?”

“That’s usually the tricky part, because the Sidhe can move easily between the mortal world and the Nevernever, and they rarely stay in one place for long. However,” Dresden said, “tonight I know exactly where they will be. It’s Halloween – Samhain for the Sidhe, and the Winter Court’s new year. They’re having a celebration at their main hold, a big bash with mortals, Fae, and others, so we’ll be able to slip in among the rest of the party crowd. It’s also the one day of the year when the border between worlds is thinnest, so it’ll be easier to open the nearest Way. Otherwise, we wouldn’t stand a chance. Arctis Tor is the heart of Winter, and the last time I went in there, I only got there and back in one piece because one of the Summer Queens owed me a favor.”

“Exactly how dangerous is this gonna be?” Joe asked shrewdly.

The absolutely seriousness of Dresden’s expression sent shivers down Methos’s spine. “The most dangerous thing that you have ever done,” Dresden said. “Stealing the Crown Jewels and then breaking into Fort Knox would be a piece of cake compared to this.”

“Maybe we should’ve gotten Amanda involved after all,” Joe muttered.

“No, she’d probably try to steal something and get me killed,” Methos said. “Again.”

“O-kay,” Dresden said and stood up in a way that was a clear dismissal. “Go back to your hotel, get some rest, and then meet me at my apartment an hour before sunset.” He scribbled an address on a piece of paper and handed it to Methos. “That’s my address. Dress for a party. Oh, bring clothes for MacLeod – ones he’s worn that have sentimental value to him if possible - and your swords.” His mouth quirked up at the corners. “And then hang on, ‘cause it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.”

******

Dresden’s apartment, like his office building, had seen better days. The door looked like it had been assaulted and then put back together haphazardly – which, Methos reflected, could very well be the case. The young woman who opened it for them did so with quite a bit of effort not to mention unholy screeching from the door itself.

Their arrival coincided with that of a pizza delivery service, which appeared to be what she had been waiting for. She took a staggering pile of boxes and handed over cash, then gestured for them to follow her inside.

The inside, like the outside, was small and worn, but cozy. Dresden came out of somewhere in the back, his hands full of tins and bottles, and nodded at them in greeting as he said, “Put those in the kitchen, Molly, and get out plates.” Then, directed to the couch, he said, “Mouse, show some manners and let our guests have the couch.” A mountain of hair shifted with a grumble of protest and, as it dislodged itself from the couch, revealed itself to be a large dog. He sniffed at them both and wagged his tail as Joe scratched him behind the ears.

Methos stared at in disbelief. “That’s a Foo Temple Dog!”

“Yeah,” Dresden said, looking a bit sheepish as he added, “Mouse sort of adopted me. Have a seat – oh, have you eaten yet? There’s pizza in the kitchen; help yourself.”

“Do we have time for this?” Joe asked, frowning a bit at the disorganized chaos.

“Make time,” the wizard said crisply. “Time flows differently in the Nevernever, no way to know how many meals you’ll miss, and you’ll be using a lot of energy. And while we’re there, you can’t eat or drink anything, not unless you want to be stuck like your friend. Best stuff yourselves now, instead of risking temptation.”

It sounded like good advice, and they had hired the wizard because he was an expert. Methos heaped several slices onto a paper plate and sat on the recently vacated couch, and Joe followed suit. Dresden finished setting out his bottles, then grabbed half a pizza for himself as he continued pulling together various other items, talking at the same time.

“This is my apprentice, Molly. She’ll be coming with us; she’ll stay on this side to watch our backs and hold open the Way. Sorry, Molls, but we can’t risk taking you into Winter, not and be sure we’d get you back.”

Molly made a face but nodded as she continued to eat a slice of pizza nearly as large as her head.

“Okay, we’ll be going into the Nevernever, into the heart of the Winter Faerie Court. You need to be prepared for all kinds of illusions and trickery. I have an ointment to rub on your eyelids that’ll help with most of their crap.” He picked up a jar from his collection and handed it to Joe. “Also, and I am dead serious when I say this, don’t eat anything, don’t drink anything, don’t accept anything that could by any stretch of the imagination be considered a gift. If someone offers you a deal, don’t accept. If a group of beautiful women ask you to pick the most beautiful, run. I kid you not.”

He turned to Methos. “They’re probably not expecting anyone to show up to rescue your guy, but they will still disguise him. Your first job will be to find the real MacLeod. You know what you have to do then.”

Methos nodded. He took the jar from Joe and applied the salve in it to his eyelids, then handed it back to Dresden. “How much resistance are we going to run into, once we have Duncan?”

“Theoretically, none.” Dresden gave him a thin smile. “By the rules of the Sidhe, once you have successfully claimed MacLeod, you are both free to go. Realistically, not so much. The Winter Court can’t touch you – but not everything you meet in the Nevernever belongs to the Courts. There are Wyldfae and other assorted nasties over there, maybe looking for a way to earn favor with Winter, or maybe just in a really bad mood. Keep your sword in hand as we head back to the portal. Fae can’t stand iron or steel – it hurts them and neutralizes their magic.”

Joe frowned. “I can handle a knife, but using a sword is beyond me. I’d feel a lot more comfortable carrying my gun.”

Dresden shook his head. “You can take it, but it might not work over there. Gunpowder isn’t always combustible in Faerie. You’ll be guarding our way back on the other side, along with a friend of mine who’ll be meeting us there.” Joe opened his mouth to protest but Dresden shook his head. “It’s Winter over there, snow several feet deep in some places, not to mention rough terrain. Plus, the fewer of us who enter Arctis Tor itself, the less possibility that we’ll leave someone behind as hostage.”

Joe sighed but agreed, and began sorting through the collection of long knives set out on the table.

Dresden turned to Methos. “Pierson, could I speak to you privately for a moment?” He opened a door off the main room, which turned out to lead to a miniscule bedroom, and closed it behind them.

“Before we do this, I need to be absolutely sure that you understand the risks,” Dresden said, staring at Methos intently without quite meeting his eyes. “If your claim isn’t strong enough, you’ll lose. And if you lose, you will be trapped in the Nevernever forever, in a worse situation than he is. At least he is there by invitation and has a chance of being returned to the mortal plane someday. You won’t. They can and will do whatever they want to you. You will, in effect, be their slave.”

“Been there, done that,” Methos said flatly. “Burned the T-shirt, too.”

Dresden’s eyes narrowed and suddenly, Methos found his eyes captured by the wizard, and he was staring into the depths of the other man’s soul. There was darkness inside him, a frightening darkness that called to a part of Methos that he’d tried to bury long ago, but there was also good and integrity and a deep empathy, as well as a rather antiquated notion of chivalry that reminded him of Duncan.

He blinked and found that he was back in his own mind, slightly out of breath and with a bit of a headache. Dresden was watching him intently and Methos shifted his own eyes to stare at the wall rather than meet his eyes again.

“You don’t need to do that; a soul gaze can only happen once,” Dresden said. He picked up a bottle of aspirin from the night table and lobbed it to him.

Methos realized that while he was looking into Dresden’s soul, the wizard had also been looking into his. “Was that necessary?” he said tightly.

“Yeah, it was,” Dresden said, his voice as hard as iron. “You’re not the only one who is risking something here. Last time I was in Arctis Tor, I wasn’t a guest and there are still some of Winter who are pissed as hell with me. Not to mention Queen Mab, who would love to get her claws further into me, and the Erlking who wants to make me the entrée for one of his Wild Hunts. So, yeah, I need to know just what kind of person I am dealing with.”

Methos shook some aspirin into his palm and downed them dry. “Like what you saw?” he asked dryly.

“Not particularly,” Dresden said baldly. “You were Death. You’ve killed without remorse. You’ve run to protect your own neck when a better man would have stood his ground. Your ethics have been…flexible, to say the least. Saving yourself first has been your priority for longer than I can even begin to comprehend.” He paused, his voice softening. “But you have also felt regret. You were Life as well, a doctor who saved countless mortal lives. You’ve loved and married many times, raised other men’s children as your own. You made a woman’s last months of life memorable. You’ve risked yourself for those you care for, like your friend, Dawson. You also care more deeply for this MacLeod than you’ve been willing to let him know. You should tell him.”

Methos shook his head. “As you said, my ethics have been flexible, and he can’t get past what I’ve done.” He drew in a deep breath, then looked over at Dresden. “So are you still willing to take this risk?”

Dresden grinned. “What the hell; I haven’t done anything stupidly suicidal in at least a week.”

Methos followed Dresden back into the main room and saw that both Joe and Molly had finished gearing up.

Dresden scooped up the small flasks he’d left sitting on the table and passed them around to everyone.

“This is a little something I whipped up to help fight off the cold. When your fingers and toes start going numb, take a sip and it will help.” He grabbed a staff that had been leaning against the wall, tucked a sheathed knife in his belt, and picked up his blasting rod. “Let’s do this.”

To Methos’s surprise, Mouse followed them to the door, and Dresden gave him a resigned look. “I don’t suppose I can convince you to stay here and guard Mister and Bob.” Mouse made a noise between a bark and a sneeze. “I didn’t think so. Okay, you’re on the home team with Molly, understand?” He clipped a leash onto Mouse’s collar and handed it to his apprentice.

Once outside the building, Dresden led the way to a VW bug that looked like it had been wrecked and reassembled many times. It had probably originally been blue, but it was hard to tell as the replacement parts were in a rainbow of colors. It looked like it was waiting for a last trip to the junk yard, rather than a foray into danger.

“You drive that?” Methos asked, staring at it, aghast. “You’re braver than I thought.”

Dresden laughed. “Nice.”

“We’ll follow in our own car,” Joe decided, also eyeing the multi-colored bug.

They ended up in a little parking lot behind a rundown looking movie theater. The marquis was advertising “Return to Never Land” although it was only partially lit and there was a large “CLOSED” banner across the box office window.

“Wonderful,” Methos muttered as they got out of the rental car. “Maybe we should have ridden with Dresden after all. We’ll be lucky if there is anything left of the car when we get back from wherever it is we are going.”

He shouldered the duffle containing clothing for Duncan and went to join the wizard and his apprentice.

Another man was waiting there for him, leaning against a white Hummer that made Methos drool. The man wasn’t bad on the eyes, either – dark-haired and rumpled, as if he’d just slid out of bed. The look in his eyes indicated that he wouldn’t mind sliding back in for some fun and sexy times. They also said that he wasn’t human.

“This is Thomas Raith,” Dresden said. “He’s been where we’re going, so he’ll help Dawson hold the portal on the inside.” He handed a mask to Methos, spelled to let them blend in with the Fae. “Right, then. Here we go.”

As they approached the front of the theater, Methos could see that there was a steady trickle of costumed beings, mortal and other. They passed between two Sidhe standing on either side of the doorway and disappeared.

Dresden motioned for them to stop and turned to Molly. “We’re in luck, Grasshopper. They have two flunkies holding open the Way on this side. You’ll just need to stay close enough to watch for trouble, and let us out only if they leave.” He handed her something small, folding it into her hand. “When you stop feeling the tug, you’ll know we failed. Take Mouse and go to Father Forthill till dawn.”

Molly nodded, wrapped Mouse’s leash around her hand – and disappeared. Methos blinked and Dresden explained proudly, “Molly is a champion of veils. No one will see her or Mouse unless she takes it down.”

The four remaining members of their party headed toward the opened Way. As they reached the doors, Dresden said in a low voice, “Here we go. Take a deep breath and step through.”

Through? Methos thought, and then he was gasping as a sudden shock of cold blasted him. Dammit, I hate the cold! MacLeod owes me a vacation to Bora Bora after this.

He pulled the little flask out of his pocket, opened it, and took a cautious sip. Warmth immediately began flowing through him, from his lips down his throat and then throughout his body, making his toes tingle with sudden warmth.

When he could catch his breath again, he realized that he was standing in a vast frozen wasteland. Mountains loomed in the distance, under the light of an enormous silver moon, their peaks shrouded in snow. High on the slope of one of them was a fortress that looked like it was made of black ice, large and formidable looking even from a distance. A well-trodden path lay between them and the gate, so they wouldn’t have to struggle too much through the snow. And somewhere, in that vast icy keep before him, he felt the unmistakable song of an Immortal’s buzz, one that he knew as well as the back of his hand.

Dresden drew them to one side where a small copse of trees blocked the wind, ostensibly letting those behind them in line go ahead, but also to give them last instructions. “Thomas, Dawson, wait here and watch. Don’t forget to drink from your flask when you get cold. Thomas, if we aren’t back by dawn, we’re not coming. Open the Way and get Dawson to safety.” He clasped Thomas’ shoulder. “If that happens, you know where to find my papers. Look after Mister and Mouse for me.”

Thomas scowled, which only made him look more enticing. “You better make it, Harry, or I’ll come back here and kick your ass.”

“Ditto for me,” Joe said, looking at Methos. “Good luck, buddy.”

Methos nodded and checked that his sword was loose enough in its sheath to grab if he needed, then followed Dresden down the path toward Destiny and Duncan MacLeod.

Later, when asked about it, he was hard-pressed to remember any of the details about Arctis Tor. It was beautiful, in the way that pure white diamonds were: glittering and cold and soulless. Exquisite music echoed off the vast ice walls surrounding the courtyard, like sleigh-bells or the tinkling of a crystal chandelier. Intricate designs of flora and fauna had been carved out of frosted ice and decorated the large courtyard where a throng of beings from fairy-tales and nightmares cavorted with abandon. A crystal fountain cascaded shimmering liquid into waiting cups, making his mouth feel suddenly dry. Tables carved from ice groaned under the weight of food that smelled more delicious than anything he had ever known in his long, long life. Beautiful men and women danced in the center of the courtyard, their laughter ringing through the air and enticing him to join the dance. In shadowy corners, a more primitive kind of dancing was being performed, wavering lights catching the curve of a perfect breast or buttock, inviting him to touch. Anything and everything he could ever want or imagine was there, just waiting for him, and all he needed to do was give up his body, his soul, his Name.

And none of it drew him in the least, for across the courtyard was Duncan MacLeod, the only temptation that Methos had never been able to resist.

He and a dozen more mortals, male and female, were sprawled on the steps before a shimmering ice throne. All of them were masked and wearing garb that couldn’t be doing much to protect them from the bitter chill, but they didn’t appear to notice the cold. Several of them were engaged in acts that were indecent for public viewing and should have been impossible without frostbite to sensitive anatomy. MacLeod was sitting a bit apart, leaning against the legs of the woman who had abducted him from the mortal plane, the Lady Maeve. She looked even more beautiful in this setting, and she watched the erotic display with amusement as she ran her fingers through MacLeod’s hair, hanging loose to his shoulders.

Methos grasped Dresden’s elbow, leaning close to murmur in his ear, “That’s him – sitting beside the throne.”

Dresden nodded, casually turning in a circle as he checked the assembled throng for danger. “Last bit of advice: when the Trial begins, he will turn into whatever Maeve thinks will entice or frighten you into letting go, but you can’t, no matter what. Also, nothing you do to the glamoured form will hurt MacLeod, but he can injure you.”

“Wonderful,” Methos muttered. “So how do I get him away from her?”

That question was answered for him as Maeve leaned forward to say something to MacLeod. He stood immediately, taking the goblet she held out to him, winding his way down the steps and through the crowd, heading toward the shimmering fountain.

Methos knew this was his chance.

He thrust the duffle bag into Dresden’s arms, cast aside his mask, strode purposefully across the courtyard, and tackled MacLeod to the ground. The other Immortal went down with a surprised grunt.

“By the terms of the Tam Lin Clause,” Methos said loudly, “I assert my prior claim to this man, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod.”

There was sudden silence in the courtyard, and out of the corner of his eye, Methos saw Maeve rise from her throne. “What is the nature of your claim on this mortal?” she demanded.

“We have shared souls, binding us together.”

Maeve frowned. “And on that you would risk both your lives? For should you fail the Trial, I will claim my just prize. ”

Methos took a deep breath. “I accept the risk. This man is mine, and I will prove my claim.”

“So mote it be.”

Preparing for what was to come, Methos quickly rolled so that he was lying on his back with Duncan on top, then wrapped his arms and legs around his captive, closed his eyes, and held on tight. He didn’t have long to wait.

The body pressing his down grew in size and weight. He opened his eyes and saw Silas’ face above him. His heart sank. “Silas.”

“Brother?” Silas’ voice rumbled, a puzzled look on his face. “I am dead. You killed me?”

He lifted his chin. “Yes. I didn’t want to, but the Horsemen had to die. I’m sorry, Brother.”

The cold edge of Silas’ axe pressed against his throat. Methos lay still, barely breathing, his arms still locked around MacLeod’s glamoured body. “You betrayed us for the Highlander? You fight for him even now?”

“I fight for my friend, yes.”

An ugly light came into Silas’ eyes, one he had seen often when Silas and Caspian had been squabbling about something. “Then I will take your head, and you will lose.” Then the blade moved back a fraction. “Let him go, and I will let you live,” Silas said.

“Silas, I can’t.”

“Then die under my blade.”

Methos suddenly pushed up and twisted, feeling a trickle of blood where the axe’s edge lightly nicked his throat. He rolled, pinning Silas under him, the axe now at the large man’s throat. “I will take your head again if I have to, Silas. I don’t want to, but I swear that I will rather than let MacLeod go.”

“Adam?”

Silas’ body contorted and changed under him, becoming slender and gently rounded, a woman’s lighter frame. Alexa’s lovely face looked up at him, pale and thin as it had been during her last weeks. “What about me? Have you forgotten about me?”

Methos could barely breathe. “Alexa,” he said, his voice rough with pain. The grief of losing her rose up inside him again, filling him with sorrow.

“Just let him go, and I can be with you again, forever.” Her gaunt face began filling out, her pallor changing to the glow of good health. “We can travel, see all the places you wanted to show me. Rome. Madrid. Paris. London. Tokyo. All the places you love and wanted to share.” She leaned up to kiss him. “Share them with me,” she murmured. “Just. Let. Go.”

“Alexa,” he breathed, and his hand traced the cheek of the woman he had loved for so brief a time, for whom he had risked his place with the Watchers to save. Alive, healthy, and his – at the cost of Duncan’s freedom and his own soul. “No. I can’t. I won’t.”

Her face twisted and the healthy flesh melted away again. “You’re leaving me for him – again!” Tears ran down her face and splashed on his hand, freezing his skin where they fell. “You always cared more about him than me, always!”

And Alexa would never have said that, had never once reproached him for leaving her to reclaim Duncan from the Dark Quickening.

“You’re not Alexa. Let MacLeod go.”

Alexa’s features rippled, coarsening and darkening, and she rolled so that MacLeod’s body was pressing him down, heavy on top of him again. Kronos’ lips twisted in a knowing smirk.

“Yes, you were never one to be moved by a woman’s tears, were you, Brother?”

“Or your threats, Brother,” he replied evenly, meeting the other man’s eyes. The cunning madness was there, just as it had been in life, and he braced himself, willing his mind to stay sharp. He was growing steadily colder as the potion began wearing off, aware of the icy stones under his back, of the heat escaping from his body with each breath.

“You were very clever, Brother, playing MacLeod against me like that,” Kronos said, his voice a silky purr. “Risking that neither of us would take your head after you betrayed us. But not quite clever enough. MacLeod doesn’t trust you anymore, does he? Won’t let you in his bed. And if he did, you would still lose. Because every time you looked at him, it would be me looking back.”

Kronos leaned down closer. “Let him go, Brother. Leave him to these Fae. Perhaps, when they finally tire of him, he will return a little more…flexible in his moral standards and finally give you a tumble.”

Methos growled and rolled, pinning Kronos to the ground now. “I will never let him go, never. Not even if I have to march into the bowels of Hades to fetch him back. Not even if I have to sell my own soul to ransom him back. He is Duncan MacLeod, and he is no Fae’s plaything.”

Once again, the figure he held changed shape, but this time back to his true form. Duncan MacLeod lay beneath him, free of enchantment – and completely naked.

Duncan shivered as he stared up at him. “Me – Adam?”

Methos fumbled the flask out of his pocket and poured a little of it into Duncan’s mouth. “That should help warm you up.” He took a swig himself, as his fingers were going numb, then knelt up and looked around. Maeve was looking angry; most of her court looked either bored or amused that she had lost, although a few looked angry on behalf of their queen. He decided that the sooner they got out of there, the better.

Maeve seemed to feel the same way. “You have won,” she snapped. “Take the mortal and go!”

Dresden dropped the duffle bag next to him. “And that would be a really, really, really good idea. The natives are a bit upset with us for crashing the party.”

“Sit up, Mac.” Methos pulled out the off-white sweater they had swapped back and forth over the years, tugged it down over MacLeod’s head, then jerked a pair of trousers over his feet and up his legs. MacLeod helped, moving slowly at first, as he settled his clothes in place. Methos jammed a pair of fur-lined boots over MacLeod’s feet and laced them up, then staggered to his feet.

“Pierson, hurry up, please.”

Methos looked up and saw that the crowd had closed in, eyeing the three of them like they were a banquet. He helped MacLeod to his feet and handed him a jacket and his katana. “Time to go.”

He faced Maeve. “I challenged and won. By the terms of the Tam Lin Clause, we are guaranteed free passage from this place.”

Maeve smiled, and the sight did not do anything to make him feel safer. “You may safely leave Arctis Tor, but after that…” She shrugged. She looked over her shoulder at Dresden and her face hardened. “As for you, Dresden – I will not forget what you have done this day.”

Dresden shrugged. “The way I see it, you still owe me for the last time I was here.”

Maeve’s pale face flushed, although Methos couldn’t tell if it was from anger or chagrin. He wasn’t inclined to stick around to find out. The crowd parted to let them through, Dresden leading the way, and Methos took MacLeod’s arm -- just to make sure that no one tried to take him again, of course.

“Mac? You okay?”

“Yeah but…confused. How did I get here?”

“It’s a bit of a story – “

“And one that will have to wait,” Dresden said, stopping abruptly. He transferred his staff to his other hand and pulled out his blasting rod. “Hear that?”

Methos listened and heard something, like the rush of wind and wild things, the mournful sound of a horn, and a gunshot. “Joe!”

MacLeod stared at him incredulously. “You brought Joe here? Are you crazy?”

“Yell later, run now,” Dresden said, following his own advice as he took off running back the way they’d come. MacLeod seemed to have recovered, or else battle adrenaline fueled him, as he pulled his sword and followed in Dresden’s wake. Methos paced alongside MacLeod, equally worried about him and about Joe.

When they reached the rift, the skirmish was well under way as evidenced by the green ichor splattering the snow around Thomas and Joe as they stood back-to-back. Thomas slashed and stabbed with his saber, slicing into the goblins and wolf-like creatures surrounding them. Joe defended his back, gun in hand, knocking back any creature that dared to get too close. As Methos reached the crest of the path, a goblin went down with a bullet square in the center of its ugly head, then the gun clicked on an empty chamber. Joe muttered a curse, tossed down the gun, and drew a short-sword.

“Make a hole!” Dresden yelled as he barreled down the path. Thomas had evidently had experience with the wizard; he ducked to one side, shielding Joe behind him. Dresden neatly pole-vaulted over the head of one of the wolf-things and landed beside Thomas, then turned to take the creature down with his blasting rod. MacLeod began cutting his way through the pack and Methos followed, falling into sync with the other Immortal. By the time they reached Joe, he’d had time to reload his gun. Joe put another pair of bullets into a shaggy beast that looked like Mouse’s evil twin, then grinned at the two of them.

“About time you got here.”

“Well, you know how it is when you’re the rescuing hero,” Methos said, taking out the legs of a beast that looked like a walking shrub with claws and fangs. “Dragons to slay, castles to siege, sleeping princesses to wake…”

“Hey!” protested MacLeod, chopping off the head – or what passed for it – of the creature.

“Gotta admit, Mac – you do have the hair for it,” Joe said with a grin. He stabbed at a thing that tried to grab for Methos’s legs.

“Much as I’m enjoying this banter,” Dresden said from behind them as he and Thomas fought in symmetry, “I think it’s time to blow this popsicle stand.”

A hunting horn sounded nearby, and Dresden and Thomas exchanged a look. “The Erlking?” Thomas asked.

Dresden nodded. “Yeah, we’ve worn out our welcome.” He held up his staff. “Forzare!” A forceful wave of energy hit everything on that side of the skirmish, sending them flying through the air. He turned and repeated the action, clearing the way between them and the rift.

“Neat trick,” MacLeod said, staring at their downed attackers.

“It’s not a trick,” Methos said, taking up a position between the rest of the party and their fallen attackers. “He’s a wizard.”

“A what?”

“I’ll explain later,” Methos said. Unbelievably, some of the downed creatures were slowly struggling to their feet. The sound of the hunting horn was also getting closer, and whatever an Erlking was, Dresden hadn’t sounded too interested in waiting around to meet him. “Joe, get Mac through that opening.”

“Thomas, go with them in case something nasty is waiting on the other side,” Dresden added. “We’ll guard the rear.”

Shoulder to shoulder, they fell back towards the rift, moving as slowly as they dared to give the others time to make it through, never turning their backs on what remained of their attackers.

“You’re not bad in a fight,” Dresden commented, warily watching the were-shrubs moving slowly forward to one side of them.

“Neither are you,” Methos replied, cutting off an icy tentacle that lashed out at him. “Thanks for helping us recover MacLeod.”

Dresden shrugged. “All in a day’s work.”

Methos couldn’t help laughing at that. “And I thought my life was tough!”

“Well, any time you get bored, drop in and visit. I’m sure we can find something to keep you amused.”

“Right, maybe next time I can meet a vampire or werewolf,” Methos said sarcastically.

The wizard grinned. “Thomas is a vampire – a sex one, not a blood one. And some of my best D&D buddies are werewolves.”

Methos blinked. “O-kay. Forget I said anything.”

“Done. Oh, and watch your step.”

*****

So of course the climax to Methos’s first and, he vowed, last visit to the Nevernever was finding himself sprawled on his arse on a sidewalk outside a run-down little theater. Not that he was the only one kissing concrete, as the two Fae who’d been guarding the Way were down for the count. Mouse was sitting on the chest of one, and the other was trussed up with a silver cord.

“They started getting antsy a few minutes ago,” Molly said, tying off a knot.

“Good work, Padawan,” Dresden said. “And not to spoil the festive mood, but we’re not out of the woods yet. The Erlking is on the Hunt, and he can open the Way. Until dawn, it would be prudent for us to hole up on holy or neutral ground. Stop laughing, Thomas – I do know the meaning of the word ‘prudent’.”

Which is why they found themselves on the doorstep of McAnally’s Pub just as its owner was locking up. He gave each of them a piercing look, then grunted and waved them in, securing the door behind them and firing up the grill.

“So, about that story,” MacLeod said, after they’d all settled at a table with a round of beer. “Last thing I remember, I was at the party. And then I’m at what felt like the North Pole, naked and freezing my ass off.”

“And you don’t remember anything in between?” Methos glanced over at Dresden, and something in his face said that MacLeod might be better off if that was the truth.

“No.” MacLeod hesitated, then glanced over at Methos and back down at his bottle. “I do remember something. You were talking to someone, and you said you wouldn’t let me go. ‘Not even if I have to march into the bowels of Hades to fetch him back. Not even if I have to sell my own soul to ransom him.’ Did you mean that?”

Methos’s mouth was suddenly dry. “I…”

“If he didn’t mean it, the Fae wouldn’t have let him go,” Dresden said conversationally to Thomas, ignoring the glare Methos directed his way.

“Not to mention the fact that he insisted on being the one to claim MacLeod under the ‘Tam Lin Clause’,” Joe drawled.

A grin spread across MacLeod’s face. “That a fact?” he asked Methos.

Methos glared at the others seated at the table. “You are all dead to me. Dead.”

MacLeod reached out a hand, placing it on the back of Methos’s neck. “My hero,” he said, tugging Methos toward him. “It occurs to me that you have not yet received a proper hero’s reward.”

Methos resisted, his lips twisting mockingly. “What, a kiss from the grateful princess? Her heart?”

“A kiss, definitely,” MacLeod said, determinedly pulling Methos close. “My heart,” he murmured in his ear, “you have had for years. You great idiot.”

As they kissed, across the table, Dresden pulled out a fresh handkerchief and folded away the essence of True Love. One never knew when such a thing would turn out to be useful.

The End