It was the day after St. Valentine's and walls were still decorated with heart-like bits and pieces—less vulgar than other places, but still pretty tacky. The bar was closed, but not empty; Joe, the bar owner, and three of his Immortal friends were sitting at one of the tables, trading stories and opinions. The talk, naturally, turned to legends of St. Valentine, and love and marriage in history and art, since there were some theme exhibitions in town.
"And as usual," Amanda complained, "they tend to forget that marriage had nothing to do with love until at least the 19th century."
Methos, who was limiting his part in conversation to witty comments, smirked, "You're more than right, Amanda, but it's art we are talking about, isn't it?"
"And you, Methos," MacLeod suddenly asked, intrigued. He was just drunk enough for half-serious personal questions. "How many of your marriages were out of love?"
A tension appeared at the table, but Methos just shrugged, "About half, I think."
"And the others?"
"Plenty of reasons, Joe, from the most noble to the most disgusting."
"And what was the weirdest reason? Come on, Methos, you do owe us a story tonight."
Usually Amanda's 'persuasive look' didn't work on him, but why not? Just this once.
"Ok, maybe I do. But give a man time to choose."
"We'll wait patiently", Amanda smiled deviously.
Methos smiled back absently, looking through her and remembering…
Marriage for love really was a rare thing, even among Immortals. "About half" could very well be an optimistic estimate. Love was no guarantee of a happy marriage, any more than marriage for any other reason, didn't necessarily mean an unhappy one. And he...
Well, sometimes he married for money (there were times when he needed that); sometimes he married for connections and status (there were times when he needed that, too); and sometimes he was just caught with the wrong girl in the wrong place. And sometimes he was married before he even realized it had been a marriage, much less his own. Oh, marriage rituals and customs!
However, one marriage custom saved him from a very nasty death once. The time… end of 13th century, or maybe beginning of the 14th . The place... Germany? Flanders? The Netherlands? Somewhere in the area of the Thyl Ulenspiegel adventures, anyway. They did have that funny tradition there; a man under the death sentence would be reprieved if a virgin wished him as a husband. The girl who spoke for him... Well, he first saw her face and learned her name during the ceremony at the church. She wasn't pretty or intelligent, far from it. Actually, she was sort of the village idiot (though it was strangeness rather than stupidity), despised and mocked by most of the townsfolk. Lucky for her, she was too sorry for being accused of witchcraft, but claiming a death sentenced was obviously the only way she could get a husband. But marriage hardly had been her primary goal.
Whether it was gratitude, compassion for those who were different, or simply pity, Methos didn't know, but he couldn't just abandon her . So he took her from that damn town and she traveled with him for couple of months, only half the burden he'd expected her to be. And right before winter they found a village, where the need for a blacksmith was stronger than the dislike for strangers, and they settled there. He put the abandoned forge in order, she took care of the house, and something resembling a normal life began.
She washed and mended his clothes, cooked his food (though he could do it better) and warmed his bed, but never said anything about herself. And never asked him anything about himself. Once he healed a serious injury right before her eyes. She watched the blue sparks silently and carefully, sighed with relief, put away the rag she'd grabbed for a bandage, and returned to what she'd been doing. Methos never could tell, was it acceptance or indifference? Ilse (or Ilke? No, definitely Ilse) lived in her own world, where he was only partially allowed. She talked with flowers and birds more than people (including him). At first he'd found it funny, but later came to love watching her during those moments. She looked almost beautiful, kneeling down by an unusual flower or whispering something to a bird that trustingly sat on her elbow. And she came to love watching him work at the forge, spellbound by the wonder of creation, even if it was the creation of a mere scythe. It was a strange marriage, but a calm and steady one. Yes, he'd been happy and mourned Ilse greatly when, after 10 years, she'd passed away during the latest plague. And he remembered her, and thought of Ilse every time he crossed paths with an artist or poet, balancing between genius and insanity.
"Hey, Old Man, are you with us? You look like you are in Renaissance Italy at least."
"Something like that", Methos mumbled under his breath and added a louder: "Just a moment, guys."
But Ilse's story wasn't the one those around him were ready to hear—or believe. The blacksmith and the village idiot, doesn't sound very exciting, does it? And the poor girl had endured enough mockery during her life; he had no right to use her to amuse his friends. Fortunately, he had enough stories to meet their expectations. That merchantess from Venice would do, or that blonde flautist from Warsaw...
"Well, lady and gentlemen, once upon a time..."