For once you have tasted flight
you will walk the earth
with your eyes turned skyward;
for there you have been,
and there you long to return.
- Leonardo da Vinci
Methos felt alive. More alive than he could remember ever feeling before. He had slept well and he had dreamed of the lives of the immortals he had killed and that they had killed. And he was alive and they had been alive and the quickening that was all of their lives combined seemed to sing in his veins.
Methos leapt up and yelled with exuberance. Leaving behind all his material possessions, he ran for the pure joy of running.
He didn't notice when he first started running faster than humanly possible, but when he first leapt from the peak of one sand dune, sure in his ability to sail through the clear sky and land on the peak of the next sand dune and was proved right he laughed with delight, and ran on.
His laughter rolled over the hills and seemed to travel the whole of the desert. A tribe of nomads looked up from their work. It would be a good year. Could they not hear even the gods laugh with delight?
This was one of many times that Methos took on the persona of a god, but this time he neither knew nor cared. He ran and danced and laughed in a grand celebration of his life and all the lives inside him, giving him their strength.
And out again I curve and flow
To join the brimming river,
for men may come and men may go,
But I go on forever.
- from "The Brook", by Alfred Tennyson
When Methos came back to himself from reliving one of his most cherished memories, he saw that he had written on the scroll in front of him. There were the characters for run, dance, laugh. And next to them he had placed life, joy. They were exquisite and playful. They were a work of art.
He smiled. "Master Xi will be pleased."
For the first time since leaving the horsemen and coming here to the east, Methos felt sure he would recover. He would recover from his time as a god of death; he would recover from the amputation like loss of his brothers. He missed them. But he felt at peace. The world was as it was; what would come, would come.
For now, he would study calligraphy in this beautiful new language.
Although it was difficult to focus on his calligraphy sometimes, when the school also taught the way of the sword.
"Master Xi will be pleased."
Methos remained relaxed despite the unexpected voice behind him. He was pleased with himself that he did not startle as he had when he first arrived, and amused at both the words that mirrored his own and the speaker who seemed to have been summoned by his thoughts. It was Master Lee, master of the school of the way of the sword.
"Thank you, Master. I have learned much from Master Xi, and have much more to learn."
"Perhaps. But I think now it is time for you to learn from me."
Master Lee seemed serious when Methos twisted around to look at his face.
"You know I do not carry a sword."
"But I also know you watch the students. A master swordsman need not hold a sword to study its way."
"I once thought I knew the sword but I have lost the way and now I am content with my brush and Master Xi's excellent instruction. I will not hold a sword."
"It is not necessary. Come, walk with me."
A servant came at Master Lee's beckon and after bowing to each of them, knelt to guard Methos' scroll as it continued to dry. Methos finally nodded and rose to his feet to stand next to Master Lee.
They walked in silence. Methos allowed the peace of the land to encompass him. There were ten thousand trees in the forest, but it was only one forest. There were ten thousand cups of water in the lake, but it was only one lake. There were, Methos thought with serenity, ten thousand lives within his quickening, but there was only one life: his own.
He was no longer in conflict with himself and with his dead. They were dead but they lived on through him, as the water lived in the lake.
Methos only slowly came aware that Master Lee was speaking. He was reciting poetry as they walked. They stopped to admire a particular fall of leaves. They walked on.
They reached a point where two lengths of bamboo had been left - in the back of Methos' mind he rather thought that Master Lee had set them there in preparation of this walk - Master Lee picked them up and offered one to Methos.
By the side of the lake, at the edge of the forest, Master Lee performed a kata that was as much poetry as anything he had recited before this. Methos smiled and after a moment joined him in motion.
It seemed a natural progression that soon had them sparring with their bamboo swords.
They leapt and danced; they smiled and laughed. They sparred together in the swaying tree tops and on the still waters of the lake. Master Lee moved with all the knowledge of a long line of sword masters at the school; Methos moved with all the knowledge of all of the immortals that had lived and loved before him and died at his hand.
Together they celebrated the way of the sword, and ten thousand others, dead and gone, celebrated with them.
Though lovers be lost love shall not,
And death shall have no dominion.
- Dylan Thomas
Methos brought himself out of his flashback to attend once more to the funeral of Connor MacLoed.
He was present as a favor to the younger MacLoed, Duncan; and to Duncan MacLoed's watcher, Joe Dawson. He had only vaguely known the elder Highlander, and had respected him before his death. Now Methos was just sort of annoyed at the dead immortal. Suicide in an immortal was particularly unattractive, he thought. Mac however was deeply upset and so Methos stood around to be moral support. It was raining.
Methos considered the rain.
Duncan MacLoed almost certainly saw it as a sign of the world grieving with him for the loss of his kinsman. Joe would likely agree. Methos wasn't so sure, though. He had lived too many lives in desert climates to forget rain's life-giving qualities, and lived too many lives in tropic climates to forget rain's angry destructiveness.
Grief and loss and life and were too thoroughly mixed for Methos to feel that the rain symbolize only one of them. Loss was part of life. Just as the rain meant that the grass would grow, grief meant that you were still alive and would continue to live; love would come again.
There were many kinds of loss and eventually, if you survived long enough, you would run across all of them, Methos mused. Although the world sometimes managed to surprise him with a new type of loss every so often.
You either learned to either live with constant loss, or... not.
Connor MacLoed had not learned this. He had mourned his first wife for nearly four hundred years. He had lost his daughter, Rachel, and had had himself entombed. The final straw though, Methos thought, had been the quickenings.
Connor MacLoed had taken the quickenings of several great magicians.
Most immortals and all watchers, Methos knew, thought that the quickenings were symbolic more than anything else. A temporary pleasure or pain, perhaps. They didn't understand that it was possible to truly gain strength and knowledge from those quickenings, in a very real fashion.
It was to their benefit, though, that they didn't know this. Mortals didn't trust the unexplained and the extremely powerful. And mortals were more than capable of making their opinions known in an extremely deadly manner. More than one immortal had died by being hacked to bits by mortals who recognized them as different.
Immortals were little better when dealing with something other than themselves. An immortal with extra abilities had not right to expect anything approaching a fair fight. The immortal magicians were killed by groups of immortals, or by guns, once invented, or by mortal minions. With the spread of civilization easier communication, immortals hunting those with special powers became ever more common.
It was a thousand years ago, or perhaps two thousand years ago, that the world began to change. Immortal survival started to depend more upon remaining hidden than it did upon being strong.
Those immortals who could do what no mortal man could, either learned to hide these skills, or were killed. Whether that death was from fearful mortals or jealous immortals didn't matter. Neither followed the rules when it came to those with extra abilities.
But when you had once leapt from the peak of one sand dune to the next in a single bound and had once danced in the tree tops and raced across the surface of deep water, it was very hard to walk on the ground once more. Most such immortals had died rather than forgo that joy.
Methos knew that he was one of the very few immortals that had successfully given up the joys of the quickening.
The rain fell and made the world seem new. It beat out a pattern that seemed to call Methos to dance.
It would be so easy to leap up and abandon his mortal persona. He was no more mortal than he was a god. He was simply immortal and he wanted desperately to fill his lungs with air and his veins with quickening and to celebrate the life that was left behind at this dreary funeral.
Instead he stood under his umbrella and watched the coffin being lowered into the ground.
Connor MacLoed had taken the quickenings of enough immortal magicians that their quickenings must have finally given him their yearning for more. The wary immortal had known that he would sign his death warrant if he used the power that must have called to him. He had refused to answer, but he had been unable to not answer. In the end, that conflict could only be resolved by his death. If he was going to lose his life, then he was going to lose it completely.
Methos understood the decision but knew that it was not one he would ever make. He would rather cling to half a life than none at all. He was old, and would get older still. Eventually times would change and he could live again.
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
the courage to change the things I can,
and the wisdom to know the difference.
-Saint Francis of Assisi
"Yo! Get up! We'll miss the reunion. The first centennial is not one to miss."
The voice jolted Methos out of his flashback. He smiled at his friend and stretched before rising from where he sat.
It still surprised him sometime, and pleased him as well, that his subconscious did not startle him awake as soon as anyone entered his apartment. The apartment was, after all, on the fourth floor, and the only way in was the outer window ledge. Someone could of course drive by to get in, but most people were pedestrians and they just made the jump of fifty feet straight up, as his mortal friend had.
"Hey, Ixri. I wouldn't miss it for a years supply of Superman."
"Oh, I don't know, a years supply of Superman might be tempting, but then, I don't have my own lab, unlike some others that I could name."
Methos grinned. He did indeed have a lab in a back room to produce some of the drug called Superman. It had revolutionized his life, after all. It allowed humans to routinely make the fifty-foot jump into cliff-side apartments such as his. It let them run faster and for longer. Some people still drove cars, but most people avoided the cost of maintaining and insuring vehicles by keeping a stock of Superman. If you were poor, you used just enough to get you where you were going. Many of the middle class, which Methos was currently part of, kept up a constant intake of the drug.
"Are you running low? I can give you a good deal on some more," Methos offered. He loved modern drugs and always had a large supply of Superman that he kept available to friends. His friends did not know that as with all immortals, drugs did not work on him. His quickening neutralized Superman as soon as it was swallowed. Methos lived in a social group that was not open to immortals. However, unlike every other person on the planet, Methos didn't require Superman to achieve the feats that mortals now could. Thus he was safer from challenges than even when surrounded by his brothers, riding with the Horsemen. Most immortals had to stay with the extremely poor or the extremely wealthy to avoid Superman, the drug that they couldn't use.
"That would be of the good. We'll talk about it after the reunion, however. Come on."
It was their centennial college reunion, and he would get to see all the other mortals who had been his classmates. Most of the students were now in their hundred forties. It was an age that was now considered young-middle-aged.
The world constantly changed. He had been right at Connor MacLoed's funeral: if he could just survive a period of being less than he was, eventually he could live as himself once more. Times would change and nothing would last forever, neither pleasure nor pain. For now, though, he had finished waiting and had been rewarded. He would enjoy what was his for as long as it remained, and when it was gone, he would wait for it to return once more.
He felt alive. He remembered the flashbacks within flashbacks that he had experienced earlier; it was the perfect time to celebrate his centennial college reunion with all of his mortal friends who were nearly as impervious to death as he was, due to modern medicine.
He shoved Ixri out of his apartment window.
Ixri yelled an obscenity at him before catching a balcony some thirty feet below and then flinging himself to the roof of the next building over. Methos laughed, and leaped onto the same roof.
Soon they were racing across the skyline, leaping from one building to the next, playing an impromptu game of tag, on their way to their old college campus.
Methos' laugh of delight seemed to fill the air.
Some of the people they passed smiled or waved. Some of them yelled or shouted at the disturbance. Some of them ignored the two kids playing. Some of them took a few minutes and joined in the game for a few miles.
Life was surely an experience to be lived to its fullest and celebrated all the while.
Happy the man, and happy he alone,
He who can call today his own;
He who, secure within, can say
Tomorrow do thy worst, for I have lived today!