Somewhere near Carmarthen, Wales. 2002.
"Well, what did he say?" asked Methos, when MacLeod returned to the car after talking with a police officer.
"The road is closed."
"That much I've figured. Why?"
"Something is wrong with a pipeline. The repair will take several hours."
"There is another one", - said MacLeod peacefully. – "It'll be a little longer, across the woods."
"And do you know this forest road?"
"It's in the atlas."
"Well, drive. Susanin."
"Methos, stop whining. Don't tell me you didn't like the festival."
Methos pulled a face.
They were coming back from Carmarthen, where the festival in question had taken place. It was devoted to Merlin and King Arthur and actually it was quite funny. Several nice plays, a lot of alcohol and no other Immortals. One of Mac's endless friends was among the organizers; that's why he was eager to visit Wales – and drag Methos with him. Not that Methos really resisted, he had planned to leave London for sometime in that moment. (One of his old acquaintances should be passing through – and Methos hadn't wanted to take risk of a chance meeting with him.) And he did enjoy the festival; he just didn't want to admit it to MacLeod. This way it was much funnier.
They were driving through the woods now and suddenly stopped, because the fallen tree blocked their way. MacLeod got out of the car and tried to move it.
"Are you going to help me or would you prefer to stay there forever?"
With a sigh, Methos left the car, too, and together they removed the tree. But then MacLeod noticed a small pass, leading into the heart of the woods.
"Methos, let's check where it leads."
"Who knows, maybe we'll find the Merlin grave!"
"MacLeod, you've read too much fantasy this week. And Merlin is buried in a mountain."
"Well, I'm going anyway. You can wait here, if you want." And he followed the path. Mumbling something under his breath, Methos followed him.
The path did lead somewhere. It wasn't a Merlin grave, of course, but it was something interesting. A large stone, half of the human height, ornate in Celtic style, stood in the middle of a small clearing. Mac approached to take a closer look; it was really old, maybe even ancient, but well preserved. He heard Methos' steps behind him, so he turned back and asked:
"Methos, what do you think, how old…" And there he stopped, startled by his friend's expression. The displeased grimace had vanished completely from his face; he was pale like a snow.
"Back away, Macleod. You are standing on the grave."
"Those are my ancestors you're standing on", Rachel told to him once. The same menace was now in Methos voice. MacLeod went aside, and without any more words Methos came close to the stone, laid his right hand on it and closed his eyes.
The stone still remembered. Fire. Blood, screams and fire. The stone still remembered it all.
"Methos, do you know this place?"
The Old Man gave no sign he had heard the question; instead he did the most unexpected thing: he extracted his cellular with his left hand and began typing.
"What are you doing?"
"What does it look like?" he practically spat, without looking up. "Sending a text."
"Guess I'd better go and look around a bit."
MacLeod returned half an hour later. Methos was in the same position, still staring at the phone.
"I've found a spring about 50 feet away. It's rather cold and very clear."
"Yeah", said Methos absently. "It's Enfys."
Then his phone hummed with a message signal, Methos read the message and finally raised his eyes.
"Duncan, could you do me a favor?"
"Yes, of course." It wasn't usual for Methos to use his given name. "What is it?"
"Could you drive to Cardiff now and meet Jess in the airport tomorrow morning? Her plane arrives at 10:30."
"Yeah, Jess, Jessa, Jessica Stark."
Well, at least MacLeod understood now, whom Methos was speaking about and whom he was sending messages, but still…
"It's her place", Methos waved his left hand, circling the clearing. "I was just a guest, but she belongs here. And there are things she had to do. Would you drive her here?"
"I will. And you?"
"I'll stay here."
"I'm a big boy, MacLeod. And it certainly won't be the first night in my life, spent in the open air."
MacLeod found that he had nothing to say against it. Methos really was a big boy.
"There are a couple of power flashlights in the car and a box of good matches. I'll bring it?"
"If it makes you feel better."
MacLeod did bring flashlights and matches, but after that he finally left. When both the Presence and the car noise vanished in the air, Methos inhaled deeply and put his hand away from the stone. He briefly considered an idea of setting a small campfire, but then the memory of another fire struck through him like a lightning bolt; and he left the flashlights and matches where Mac had laid them. He walked around the stone and sat down, leaning on it. Someone can call it a sacrilege, but he hoped that the long dead Gods wouldn't mind. He was older than them, anyway. And a piece of his heart was buried nearby.
Ivan Susanin is a famous patriot from Russian history. In 1612 he volunteered to show a way to Tsar's refuge for the Polish army, but instead he leaded them to impassable marshes, where they all perished. "To play Susanin" means to lead someone somewhere without really knowing a way or with a real risk of getting lost.
The character of Jessica Stark was introduced in my first story "Is the Earth round?". It takes place several years before "Back in Wales", but both stories can stand on their own.
MacLeod spent a restless night in a hotel. At first blush, nothing extraordinary had happened; Duncan himself had enough places in the world that held significant memories for him, and Methos was a little bit older, to say the least. But nevertheless MacLeod felt worried. Maybe because he'd just realized one more time how little he knew about Methos' past.
When MacLeod saw Jessica, coming out from the arrival hall, his anxiety rose twice. He'd never seen her like this, even during their first meeting, in the aftermath of her husband's death, she was more… alive.
They exchanged brief greetings and set out almost immediately. Duncan was trying to find an appropriate phrase to begin a conversation, but Jessica spoke first.
"Have you seen the stone?"
And since he couldn't simply confirm anything, he just described it and mentioned the spring.
"Aye. It's really Glanlyn."
"Your home?" he dared to ask after a while. Better to keep her talking.
"Yeah. I was raised there, later I became its priestess..."
"He appeared one day, seeking shelter from the storm..."
Glanlyn (somewhere in Dyfed, Wales), circa 590 AD
Aye, there was definitely an improvement. Their handwriting was still far from perfect, but at least now it was possible to distinguish one rune from another. Oh, the rainy days - perfect time for learning. Naturally, boys preferred to train with sword and not with stylus, but they knew better than to argue with the Lady.
Gwenllian was the Lady of Glanlyn' sanctuary for more than 20 years. Of course, now it wasn't the same. When she was a girl, Glanlyn was a large and a famous town, attended by lords and kings, and now it was just a small village with the sanctuary. Hidden in the woods, aside from main roads. But nowadays, when wars tore Britain, to stay hidden was safer.
Seeing her distraction, the boys began whispering; Gwenllian smiled. One thing remained constant in Glanlyn' sanctuary - it still was a home for unwanted children. Children like she once was; and now she became a mother for them.
"My lady", Delyth, her oldest and, to be honest, favorite girl came into the study. "There is a traveler at the gate, he is asking for a shelter. He is rather strange, I should say."
"Well, let's see. Keep trying, boys, I'll return and check."
An unmistakable sensation froze Gwenllian on her way to the gate. The strange guest was Immortal. Actually, she wasn't frightened – half of the village was on holy ground. Besides, in this weather even Immortals would dream only about a warm room, dry bed and hot wine. And an Immortal traveler might prove to be a very interesting person to talk with. So when Gwenllian entered the anteroom, it was curiosity she felt most. The guest looked like a Roman, and a noble one, despite the filthy and wet clothes. His eyes were cautious, but without fear.
"I'm Gwenllian of Dyfed, and this is holy ground."
He bowed. "I mean no harm, my lady. My name is Methos and I'm a simple traveler, looking for a shelter."
"You are welcome, till you respect the Gods of this place."
"I'll be no trouble, my lady. Thank you for your hospitality."
"Delyth, please, show our guest a room he can stay in."
"Yes, my lady."
They'd finally arrived; the fallen tree served as a sign. Macleod got out of the car and opened the door for Jessica, offering her his hand.
"Come," he said gently."I'll show you the path."
Jessica inhaled deeply, like before the dive, and left the car.
Methos spent the night sitting on the ground, half dreaming, half remembering. In daylight he thoroughly searched the area in fruitless attempt of finding anything else, but found nothing. The Glanlyn stone and the Enfys spring - that was all that was left from a place which was once his home...
Glanlyn, circa 590 AD
So the Lady of Glanlyn was Immortal. Unexpected news, but rather good than bad. While they were on Holy Ground, there were no risk of a challenge; besides, Gwenllian surely wanted it as little as he did. On the other hand, an Immortal hostess meant that he didn't have to pretend either Briton or Saxon or Roman and so on, didn't have to invent a plausible legend, trying to choose a race and a religion correctly. Bless the holy ground Rule, the Immortals were one of the most tolerant races in the world, when it came to religion. Funny thought, isn't it?
Initially he was going to stay for a week or so, till the weather would improve; but soon he found a very strong reason to stay longer. The reason was called Delyth. Delyth... Black hair, shining eyes... When she smiled, it made one forget about the rains and winds. Aye, Methos was definitely in love. And that was marvelous. He'd almost forgotten how inspiring this feeling was... He was sure that Delyth liked him; but it was obvious that without Gwenllian's blessing she wouldn't give him a single kiss.
Well, usually he was good at impressing mothers. He'd just never tried to impress an Immortal one. But what's the problem? It'll be interesting to do, at least something for the first time.
Jessica followed MacLeod on the path, but when they felt an Immortal Presence, he let her go first. The Old Man was standing on the clearing between them and the stone, shielding it from their sight. Duncan stayed among the trees, Jessica came close to Methos. For what seemed like an eternity they just looked into each others eyes, then Methos laid his hand on her shoulder and squeezed it, saying something in a language which could be an old Welsh dialect. Jessica buried her face in his chest; he hugged her briefly and then stepped aside, so she finally saw the stone.
MacLeod suddenly felt grateful that he couldn't see her face at the moment. Jessica took several more steps, and then stopped again; Methos went past MacLeod, silently grabbing his sleeve, and took him away from the clearing.
They were standing near the car. MacLeod had a full grocery bag on the back seat, but Methos declined both sandwiches and beer, though gratefully accepted the thermos with coffee. His eyes were constantly returning to the path. The emotional state of his friend worried MacLeod; he decided at least to try asking something. They say, talking helps… And then there was a curiosity, which Duncan, much as he tried, couldn't fully suppress.
"Methos, what were you doing in Glanlyn?"
"What do you know?" he asked sharply. He must have remembered, that he hadn't mentioned the name of the place.
"Not much," MacLeod shrugged. "There was a Glanlyn village there, with a sanctuary and Jessica was its priestess. And you came once during the storm. That's all."
Methos finished the coffee, put the thermos on the hood, and looked at the sky… And finally answered.
"Yeah. I lost my way back then, and was truly relieved to find a place, where I could have a roof above my head and leave that crazy weather outside. I didn't intend to, but as a result I stayed there for a long time."
"Because of Jess?"
"No. Because of Delyth," he smiled. Last time MacLeod saw that smile on his face was when Alexa had still been alive. "Jess had several foster children back then, Delyth was the oldest. Lively girl with a sunny smile. Jessa married us before the stone, and, since Delyth didn't want to leave home, we stayed in Glanlyn. Anyway, it was a good place to live in – holy ground, hidden from the big world. They were happy years, Mac, ten or maybe twelve."
"And what happened afterwards?" Duncan asked the question and regretted it immediately. He was sure he wouldn't like the answer.
Indeed, Methos' face closed and he said flatly:
"The Saxon came."
"Someone always came, MacLeod, someone always came. You should know that by now. Someone always came to burn the temple with all those naïve fools inside. Naïve fools, who believed in inviolability of sacred walls, in protection of their Gods… Someone always came. The Saxon, the Celts, the Germans, the Romans, the Persians… The list is as long as human history, MacLeod, and it hadn't begun with the Horsemen."
MacLeod felt that he must change the subject, but he couldn't invent anything, except another silly question:
"And after that?"
Strangely, it worked. Methos calmed and all vehemence was gone from his voice, when he answered:
"We buried the dead, as close to the stone as we could. The Saxon didn't dare to throw it down or maybe they simply didn't manage to. Gwe… Jess hoped that the stone would protect at least their souls. And after the burial we left Glanlyn. End of the story."
MacLeod was sure that it wasn't the end, that Methos, as usual, was hiding something. But since it wasn't just his secret, Duncan had no right to ask.
Of course it wasn't the end of the story, but the rest didn't concern MacLeod at all.
Wales, circa 600 AD
It took them three days. Three days to bury the dead (those killed in the battle and those burned alive within the sanctuary), to catch a couple of horses and to find any trace of that bunch of Saxon bastards. And then… Two Immortals who had nothing to lose and didn't care how many times they would be killed in the process – for vengeance it was more than enough. Of course, Gwenllian wasn't a warrior; but she was an Immortal and apparently had a very good teacher (she'd mentioned the name once or twice, but Methos hadn't recognized it). So in their vengeance raid she wasn't a hindrance to Methos, not at all. And soon the band, which had destroyed Glanlyn, was destroyed itself. Completely.
"That's all, Gwen", he said, sheathing the Ivanhoe. "We've finished here. It's time to leave Britain."
"No, I've not finished here!" her voice was full with passion, her eyes were burning. "Till at least one Saxon dog remains in the Island, I've not finished!"
"Gwenllian, you can't kill all the Saxon in Britain! It's impossible and pointless and it won't bring anyone back."
"But it gives a meaning to life!"
Methos sighed. He knew that illusion, illusion that vengeance could fill the void inside you, that the smell of the blood on your blade will wash away the smell of the blood of your loved ones. It was only an illusion.
"I won't stop!"
Methos looked into her eyes – and to his dismay he recognized the fire in them. If you don't stop in time, the killing for vengeance becomes killing for pleasure. He knew where that leads and how that ends. And he couldn't allow that. He'd just lost his wife, he couldn't lose a friend! He didn't have too many…
"Are you with me?"
"No," he answered firmly. "I'm sorry, Gwen."
Then with an imperceptible and fast movement he extracted his dagger and threw it right to her chest. He won't let another Death be born tonight.
Jessica Stark, who once was Gwenllian of Dyfed, knelt before the Glanlyn stone and leaned forward, touching it with her brow. She hadn't been here since the burial. Actually, she hadn't been anywhere in Wales, only in England a couple of times, and not by her own choice. She couldn't find courage to come here alone – and she had no right to ask Methos to come with her. She already owed him too much.
Wales – France, circa 600 AD
The last thing she remembered clearly was Methos' dagger in her chest. She honestly didn't know how he managed to drag her first from the heart of Britain to the shore and then to the continent. It was the Presence of yet another Immortal which finally made her come to her senses.
She looked around; there was a big Christian church in front of them, and an Immortal Christian monk or priest was standing on the porch. Methos was behind her, his hands on her shoulders.
"Gwellian, this is Father Darius", he said matter-of-factly. "Darius, this is Gwenllian of Dyfed. She is my friend and she needs your help."
Methos left after a few days, but she stayed. To fight with the Darkness inside her, to look for a new meaning of life. And eventually she won, due to Darius' gentle sympathy, help and advice. She took a new name, after Jesse of Judea, her teacher in Immortality, and began a new life, leaving behind Gwenllian of Dyfed.
A couple of centuries later she met Methos again and tried to express her gratitude, but he just shrugged. "I was there once, Gwenll… Jessa. And I'll be damned if I let anyone of my friends fall to the Darkness this way." They remained close friends in the centuries to follow, but after that she never asked him about his past.
The Sun was already low, when they felt Jessica's returning. MacLeod went away to the driver's door, while Methos walked to the path to meet the woman.
"You ok?" he asked gently.
"No. But it had to be done. Honestly, it had to be done centuries ago."
"It's never too late, Jess."
"Methos, you don't really think so. But, anyway, thanks for saying it. Let's go, I'm not ready to spend a night here."
Methos nodded and opened the back door for her, then sat down himself in the front. MacLeod joined him and started the engine.
It was past midnight, when they checked in a hotel in Cardiff. Duncan tried to get some sleep, but it was harder than he thought – Methos' story awoke his own memories and ghosts. As soon as he closed his eyes, he saw Kahani and Little Deer or ravaged Scottish villages or… All those he had loved and cared for and had failed to protect, and had lost to countless and senseless wars. Soon he gave up the idea of sleep and went down to the hotel bar. Methos was there, sitting at a distant table with a large mug of beer; the familiarity of the sight was almost calming. Mac began to hope that surprises were finally over. Methos waved to him and Duncan joined his friend, ordering a scotch.
"So what's now?" he asked after his drink had arrived.
"I believe now we are at last coming back."
"She flies back to Sweden tomorrow. Her astrophysical identity has to be closed properly, anyway."
"And after that?"
"We'll see." After a pause he added: "Mac, you know Wales quite well, don't you?"
"More or less. Why are you asking?"
"If you don't have any complicated plans on the next year… You could help Jess to be reacquainted with it."
So much about the end of surprises.
"Methos, why don't you do it yourself? She is your friend, isn't she?"
"She is. But it's not that simple." Methos finished his beer and ordered a new one.
"Care to explain?" Mac tried to sound neutral.
Half of the new mug later Methos answered:
"She needs to make peace with her homeland, her people and her culture. With her origins, so to say. I can't help her with that, I simply don't know how people do it."
MacLeod nearly choked, suddenly realizing, how much ancient pain was hidden behind casual words. "Before that, it all starts to blur," Methos said to him years ago, but Duncan hadn't paid much attention to his words then. Back then Methos hadn't been his friend yet; he hadn't even been a real person, just "the worlds oldest Immortal". And only now MacLeod began to understand what it really meant. No matter how greatly Methos was worried about Jess, the fact was that he envied her. Envied her because she could point a place on the map, where she was born (or found), she could remember the language her first words were in. And Duncan himself was more than lucky, because he had Glenfinnan. Glenfinnan, where the graves of his parents were, where his fathers' sword still guarded the area… Glenfinnan, which always will be special, no matter how many other places he'd called home in different times. What was it like, to not remember the beginning? To not be able to say "my homeland", "my people", "my language", even about the dead? MacLeod felt that he ought to say something, but he didn't know what. Methos will never admit that pain openly, will mock mercilessly any words of comfort… All that Duncan could do now – was to fulfill his request. Help their common friend if he couldn't help Methos himself.
"Well, I believe I don't have any special arrangements for next months," Mac said, trying to sound as casual as his friend. "It'll be interesting to waste some more time in Wales."
"But I won't let you skip your part, old friend," the Highlander thought to himself. "And maybe sometime in the future I'll learn how to talk with you about this. Maybe Jess helps when she'll be okay…"
Date: 15 Jan 2010
Subject: PHD presentation
Dear Mr. ******!
I am glad to invite you to a presentation of my PHD thesis "Celtic sanctuaries in Wales in 4-6 centuries AD", which will take place in Cardiff University in May.
Gwenllian Jessica Lanlyn,
Cardiff School of History and Archaeology.
P.S. (written in old Welsh dialect)
Well, I hope you enjoyed the official part, I just couldn't help it :). To be serious, I'd really appreciated if you could come. I couldn't make it without you, but you know that, don't you:)? Oh, and I haven't decided yet, which one of your names I should put in dedication, so if you have any preferences, you still have the time to let me know:). The whole three days:).
Give my regards to Duncan, I'll send him an official invitation when I know the exact date. Oh, and best wishes to your blues friend Joe, I hope I'll be able to hear him when I'm next in London. Well… I believe that's all for now :).
Looking forward to your answer and to yourself in May :). (It doesn't mean you can't drop by earlier, you are always welcome:)).
The world' oldest man smiled at the screen. He felt like he, too, had finished the job begun a long time ago. And it was a good feeling. Amazing, but it really helps, when your friends live in harmony with themselves…