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The Sword and the Cross

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Introduction: A slightly different version of this story (titled "The Third Day") was written as part of a series ("Origins") based on the Highlander franchise. So Highlander hero Duncan MacLeod is the viewpoint, and main, character. It's only in this segment of my series that he has significant interaction with historical figures...Jesus, and Joseph of Arimathea (assuming that Joseph of Arimathea was a real person; that's disputed).

The reason I think the story is worth posting here is that - while it's clearly fiction - it portrays Jesus as an apocalypticist, who believed God was going to intervene in history, soon, and create an earthly "Kingdom" of the type I describe. Many, perhaps most, serious scholars hold that Jesus did believe that. But many lay Christians are unaware of it. I also think it's plausible to speculate about the possible relevance of Sepphoris. "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence."

My series requires a knowledge of Highlander canon (which I'll provide here), and actually picks up the characters' story in 1998. But this is the twentieth fic in the series - not counting its Introduction - and a lot has happened. Readers will probably be surprised by the opening!

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Highlander-universe Background: MacLeod belongs to a mysterious race called Immortals. (I use the term "race," but in appearance, they can be of any race.) They're all presumed to be foundlings - and believed to be sterile, which makes their origin even harder to explain. After their "first death" (which usually comes at an early age, and always by accident or violence), they cease aging, and almost all types of injuries heal within minutes. Another unique feature: they can sense one another. Not all full Immortals can sense pre-Immortals (who haven't had their "first death"); but MacLeod is among those who can.

They can only be killed permanently by beheading, or explosions in which the head is blown to bits along with everything else. When one Immortal beheads another (or is near a decapitation), he or she receives - via bolts of lightning - all the "power" of the Immortal who's been killed. This is known as a "Quickening." It doesn't work very consistently. It sometimes does and sometimes doesn't include knowledge possessed by the deceased Immortal, even aspects of his or her personality.

Some Immortals in our era believe that a final few will ultimately be compelled to fight one another, in a battle called the "Gathering," until only one survives. The victor will have the power of all members of their race (except those whose Quickenings didn't pass to others), and will receive some sort of "Prize." Among those who believe in it, guesses at the nature of the Prize range from becoming mortal (which some would consider desirable) to becoming ruler of the world.

One rule is always observed in Immortal combat: there's no killing on "holy ground." And a great many types of that are recognized. While they don't know for sure, Immortals have inherited a tradition that Quickenings taken on holy ground might have catastrophic results - not only killing the victor in the fight, but destroying entire cities. It's believed that to be on the safe side, they don't risk killing even mortals on holy ground.

Other "rules" are not universally observed. Honorable Immortals won't gang up on an opponent...disable him with a gunshot before taking his head...attack him when he's unarmed...or attack him while he's (briefly) weakened by having just received a Quickening.

An organization called the Watchers is made up of ordinary mortals, who secretly (for the most part) observe Immortals and record their history. The Society of Watchers has existed for four thousand years.

From that description, it doesn't seem like anything I'd want to read about, much less write about. But Highlander: The Series was enthralling, for two reasons. The producers struck gold with the casting; and at least some of the writing was superb. Characters viewers really cared about had to deal with guilt, forgiveness, the demands of friendship, conflicting loyalties, and crushing losses.

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Duncan MacLeod was born in the Highlands of Scotland in 1592, and became a full Immortal when he was "killed" in a battle between rival clans at about age 30. Here, I'll only say enough about his life to make references in this story clear. (I've also omitted irrelevant sections of my original first chapter of the story.)

In 1815, when he was a British soldier fighting in the Battle of Waterloo, he met an Immortal priest, Darius, who was there to tend the wounded. Darius became his mentor. He was never able to accept the priest's total pacifism; but he did quit fighting in wars, and instead, served as a medic or ambulance driver.

Darius himself had been a warrior until, in about 400 CE, he was "converted" by the Quickening of an ancient holy man he slew at the gates of Paris. While never attempting to "possess" him, the part of that holy man that lived on within him had convinced him to disband his army - with which he'd hoped to conquer all of Europe - and devote his life to seeking peace and brotherhood. He was killed, tragically, in 1993 - by renegade Watchers. So his is one of the Quickenings that have been lost...and with it, that of the ancient holy man.

MacLeod learned about the Watchers in that year, as a direct consequence of the murder of Darius. His own Watcher, Joe Dawson, has become a close friend. MacLeod - himself virtually invulnerable - has enormous respect for Dawson, who lost both legs in the Vietnam War, but found the strength to go on and lead a full, productive life. And they have another close friend: the oldest living Immortal, the 5000-year-old Methos.

In May of 1997, MacLeod was caught up - much against his will - in a struggle with a Zoroastrian demon, Ahriman. Viewers hated that storyline, but it has to be accepted as canon. Ultimately, MacLeod - who'd been the predestined "Champion" - realized he could only defeat Ahriman by renouncing violence. His victory supposedly saved the world from a millennium of chaos.

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The Highlander franchise included several films. Despite their big-screen budgets, none of them equaled Highlander: The Series in quality. But one (Highlander: Endgame), set a few years after HL:TS, had some good ideas...which gave me some ideas (involving a character named Jacob Kell), that I used in this story and another. But I did not simply copy from the film.

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My original Summary for "The Third Day": Duncan MacLeod is now a much older Immortal. His Watcher has become a close friend. Little do they know that their rambling conversation will have a major impact on the world.