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The Good Teacher

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These stories on my page fall into a series: Adamas, That Which Survives, The Reflecting Pool; Living Water, She, Lost Horizon; The Good Student, Tall Tale, Gogmagog, The Demon Lover, Sorcerer's Apprentice. This is the last story in the series.

Imagine the usual disclaimers. Acknowledgments to Nicolas, who provides me with immaculately rude French dialect. And to Nancy, who read the first part of what I had written and said, "But there's nothing new in here!" and that gave me a really enjoyable idea . . .





The Good Teacher

Unable to come to you, and helpless to invite

The heart remains lonely, separation makes me burn

Shall burn the body to ash, like smoke soar above

May RAM bless the mind, His grace extinguish the flame

Shall burn the body to make ink, I write the name of RAM

Write I shall with bones as pen, the wick being my life

My blood fueling the lamp aglow, I shall see the face of Love . . .

Kabir





Prologue

Amare et sapere vix deo conceditur:

Even a god finds it hard to love and be wise at the same time



A woman as delicate as a Grecian statue.

She sat in a windowsill, in an old mansion in Fontainebleau, and behind her was a view of grapevines and climbing roses. Panes of stained glass here and there cast a colored light upon the carpet, highlighting a pattern of waves and leaping dolphins. Everything seemed so much brighter than the gentle tints of her pale cheeks, her pink mouth and smooth blonde hair. And it was all old, most of it very old indeed; the fragments of statuary scattered here and there were two millennia old or more. There were only two pieces of modern furniture in the entire room. One was a radio on the table by the door, but it was covered by a length of antique cloth. The other was a television in the corner, but it was covered with dust.

Her profile was as antique as the marbles of classic Greece. There was a spindle in her hand, held braced against her skirts; a soft tangle of fleece was heaped in her lap. Her hands never stopped moving. She was spinning wool into thread while she mused--as had been her habit for over twenty centuries.

The sounds of men talking came through an open door. They were playing poker back there and gossiping, her Watchers.

". . . still haven't identified Adam Pierson . . ."

"Maybe he's someone new."

"No way. No hell of a way. Why, Pelletier wrote in his last report that he was hard-put to keep Pierson from spotting him--and he's the best we've got! Years of fieldwork and never seen by an assignment--"

"Till Amanda Darieux caught him with his pants down. But those were special circumstances."

There was laughter from the other room.

"Pierson is teaching MacLeod."

"You think?"

"Got to be. Look, they're always together these days. Hanging with each other during the Keith Douglas thing, the dark quickening incident with the Khazarian immortal, that funny business during the eclipse in England--always together. Typical teacher-and-student behavior. We've documented it a thousand times."

"Peter Wilmington is bringing the Pierson chronicle down from Paris. We can all have a look at Pelletier's surveillance pictures, brainstorm a while-- Think I can hear him arriving now, in fact."

Over the hum of bees in her roses, she might have been able to catch a faint wash of car-sounds: rumbles, the blare and bleat of horns from the road beyond the garden wall. But she ignored it all utterly, went on with her spinning . . . while behind her, doors opened and shut, her Watchers spoke-- "About time, Wilmington old man, what kept you?"--an attache case clicked open, and papers rustled. It might as well not have been happening, for all the attention she paid. Then she stiffened, and gripped the pointed spindle like a weapon.

A shadow filled her window. A shadow with a sword.

A shadow with a sword . . . and a boom-box, too.

The sword was in his right hand, and the boom-box was on his left shoulder. He grinned, lolling out a long pointed tongue and exposing a stud in the shape of a lightning-bolt. He wore a black mesh shirt, through which curled jet-black chest-hair. His head was crowned with spikes tinted neon-blue. Tiny spikes of blue-tipped hair jutted also from his chin, which was otherwise unshaven and--unfortunately--receding and weak. His nipples were pierced, his belly-button was ringed. His arms were tattooed to a fair-thee-well, and if his pants had been any lower-cut, he would have been arrested on the way to challenge her to the death.

"Well hello there gorgeous," he said, "Jose Sallini is what they call me."

The woman spinning wool did not rise. "My name is Artemisia of Halicarnassos."

He flicked out his tongue again. "Maybe you were. But now I think you're just yesterday's news." His gaze darted past her, going over every corner of the room--searching for weapons or traps. "What, don't got no sword? Too bad. So sad. Come out and die."

"Peter," she called, to the other room, "go get Michel, would you please?"

"--I knew there was some reason I got bored of the cybercafe. Wanted to go for a stroll. Explore. And--bonanza. Little did I know what I'd find!"

He had set down his boom-box. Music blared through Artemisia's peaceful garden: it was all drums and feedback and shrieking voices. Meanwhile the challenger struck a pose and flexed his biceps. "Don't bother yelling for help, honey. Nobody's hearin'." He waggled his sword. "Got to the count of ten, then I come in after you. One. Five. Nine--"

A man stepped through a gate into the garden, behind him.

Jose Sallini thrust out his unshaven chin. "You're mortal," he stated. "Nice sword."

The man smiled slightly. He was over six feet tall, dark-haired and broad-shouldered, and he moved like a sauntering tiger. The blade he carried was no toy, either; it was Spanish by the look of the damascening, and the edge had the cold sheen of razor sharpness. The mortal raised the sword in a half-salute. The woman in the window lifted her face, eyes glowing as she threw him a glance, and he tossed back a kiss off the tips of his fingers. Then he attacked.

Within half a minute, Sallini knew he was in trouble.

Any other day, he would have sneered at the thought of a mortal who could best him. But the man fought with strength of ten. His sword-arm was like lightning, his lunges invincible; the supple turn of his wrist exposed a faded black tattoo, enigmatic symbols enclosed in a circle. It was the Watcher logo, but Sallini was ignorant of such things. The immortal, outclassed, found himself riposting wildly; he gave ground, retreated; he was even frightened. It was humiliating. The mortal never even broke a sweat. Only, his gaze returned again and again to Artemisia of Halicarnassus, and Jose Sallini had the insane impression of intruding; it was as if no else one existed for the two of them. "Putain de merde," he burst out at last. "Who the hell are you?"

The swordsman's remote gaze lingered on him. "Three national fencing championships," he said. "Two Olympic medals. European champion of 1999. And," he added, "Society for Creative Anachronism tri-kingdom millennial tourney, grand winner heavyweight class and general melee."

Jose Sallini snarled. ""Espèce de connard!" With a supreme effort, he drove his opponent back. He slid one hand inside the back of his leather pants, jerked out a tiny gun. "This ought to show you, you espèce de fils de pute!" At that moment, the woman watching in the window stood up, unspun wool cascading from her lap. She crossed her arms, looked him in the eye. And he went pale. The breath caught in his throat, almost in a sob; then scarlet color flooded his face, tears started to his eyes. "Merde!" he blurted. "I never thought--" The gun dropped from his limp fingers. He took one long step toward her.

It was then that her mortal defender swung his sword, and took off his head.

The quickening felled Artemisia to the floor. When she woke, it was all over. Her darling Michel bent over her, five other Watchers hovering anxiously behind him. Every pane in her window was broken, the carpet was covered with rubble; her wool was smouldering cinders and her spindle had carbonized . . . but that was nothing. Nothing, while Michel stroked her hair. Artemisia drew a deep breath, and patted his cheek.

He caught her hand, pressed kisses to the hollow of the palm and every fingertip and the tender inside of her wrist.

It was the only intimacy they permitted themselves. Gently, Artemisia drew herself away; her other Watchers bowed their heads, and one of them wiped away a tear. Peter Wilmington still carried a file-folder tucked under his arm, so quickly had they run to her rescue. Fallen photographs and papers lay scattered across the floor. "Look," said Wilmington, "your TV's exploded."

She only shrugged; the television had meant nothing to her. She let them touch her hand in homage, brushed splinters of glass off her skirts and let the quickening settle in her mind. Michel had moved away, and was occupying himself picking up the fallen papers. She even managed to laugh a little. All the other Watchers were older, their hair streaked with grey or white; her Michel alone presented the appearance of a man her own age, and yet she herself had lived longer than all of them combined. Her dearest Michel.

Ah, love made even the most ancient hearts young. It was very natural to go to him, to share a smile (though they never touched), to join him and help him tidy the litter by the door. It was there that she froze, her hands full of photographs.

They were grainy black-and-white snapshots, taken by a remote lens. They were typical Watcher surveillance photos, that was all. "Peter," she said, "who is this man?"

"It's just an unidentified immortal from Paris," said Peter Wilmington, confused. "He goes by the name of Adam Pierson, but--"

"But I know him," said Artemisia of Halicarnassos, who was over two thousand years old and lived more in the past than the present. "He's Methos."







One

Vita non est vivere sed valere vita est: Life is more than merely staying alive



Duncan MacLeod thought he had never been happier.

It had come about in a backhanded way; he should not have been happy now. In just the space of a few years, he had lost so many that he loved. First Darius, then Tessa, then Fitzcairn and Richie, and now finally Connor; everyone who had meant anything to him. The links to his past had been severed, one by one. The links to his heart had gone with them, snapped clean through. And what did he have now? An empty life. An empty future. There were only three people now alive who gave meaning to his existence. Joe Dawson, Amanda, and Methos.

And yet with their company, he had found such contentment.

Here he sat, in Joe's Paris bar, with a half-drunk lager at his elbow and a dish of pretzels. It was long after hours, at the end of a long peaceful day. And the stuff of happiness was all around him. Joe was at the end of the bar, reading in a reverie; it was one of Methos' old journals that he had. Amanda, bewitching in black satin pants and dancing pumps, sat perched on the barstool next to Mac. Tiny silver mirrors sparkled on her angora sweater; she hugged Mac's arm to her, nibbled at his ear. On his other side, Methos lounged. They were arguing.

". . . I still don't see why you can't come to the symphony with me. And no, I'm not interested in your noisy rock concert."

"Be reasonable, Mac. You have to stay up with current trends." Methos made a face. "Symphonies," he mocked. "The full orchestra, the half-empty hall--you do know that half the world's orchestras are teetering on the verge of bankruptcy? There's a reason for it, my friend. It's called the boredom factor. As for Mozart, I've told you my opinion."

"You have no call to describe him as antediluvian. You--of all people!"

Methos shrugged.

"You'd think to that someone your age," Mac grumbled, "Mozart would be virtually contemporary with Eminem--"

"Oh, he is, he is . . . as far as I'm concerned. You, however, should take a different view. You live in your past too much, Mac. It's not healthy."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Culture is a wave, Mac," said Methos earnestly. "It's not just the junk that was in vogue when you were still mortal. That's out-of-date now. Renaissance paintings, Italian opera, the flower of chivalry, Sir Walter Scott--all that stuff is dead as dust. You have to move on too, or else another four hundred years will pass and you'll look up and discover yourself in an alien world . . . you've got to surf the wave. Embrace the new. Otherwise you'll just get even stuffier than you are now."

Amanda began to laugh.

"Next you'll say Eminem is as good as Mozart--"

"Nope," said Methos. "Mozart was a bad boy, but with good music. Eminem is a bad boy with bad music, but really, really good merchandising. But I don't want to take you to see Eminem--who said I did? Wicked Good is ten times better."

"Wicked Good?"

"The best band that ever came out of Boston. Hey, Joe! Tell Mac you agree with me."

"You've got tickets to Wicked Good?" Joe set aside the journal, face brightening. Meanwhile Amanda, fast as thought, had whisked around Mac and was next to Methos, pressing up against him and breathing into his ear: "Wicked Good tickets? You have Wicked Good tickets? How did you get them? Who do you know? Methos, I mortgaged my soul for them last week, but they've been sold out for so long--"

"Never fear." Methos dug in his coat pocket and produced a sheaf of tickets, flourishing them like a magician. One ticket went to Amanda, one to Joe. "I emailed Mick Jagger's agent's secretary, she got them for me. Lovely girl. We used to date. Way back when." MacLeod rolled his eyes, and Methos fanned the tickets enticingly under his nose. "Expand your horizons, Mac. C'mon. Say you'll come to Wicked Good with us."

"All right, all right, I'll go," said Mac. He had to smile: Methos was laughing at him, Amanda was cooing, and Joe Dawson grinned from ear to ear. Nevertheless, he jabbed Methos with a finger. "But only if you listen to Mozart with me."

And Amanda flung her arms around him and kissed him; was there any greater happiness than this?

The phone rang.

Joe Dawson, still gloating over his ticket, reached across the bar and took the call. He listened. He stiffened all over. He held the phone away from him as if it was a snake, then dropped it rattling onto the bar. "MacLeod--" he began.

"What is it? Joe, are you all right?"

"It was just a voice," said Joe. "It--I didn't recognize him, but it must have been a Watcher. Just said one sentence, and hung up."

Mac put a hand on his arm. "What did he say, Joe?"

Joe looked at him with stricken eyes. "'They know who Pierson is.'"


Etienne Pelletier was Adam Pierson's Watcher, and a very good Watcher he was. Twice a year, he taught seminars at the academy, and all the other Watchers looked upon him with awe; not in two centuries, they whispered, had a covert operator that smooth appeared in their ranks. He could trail anyone, anytime, anyplace. He could read the entire choreography of a swordfight from a few scuff-marks on tarmac. He could read lips. In four languages. He could all but read the minds of his subjects. Why, there wasn't a trick of the trade he didn't know!

He was a very happy man.

Oh, he had kicked and screamed and raised Cain when the Western European Bureau took him away from Amanda. How he had sulked! For weeks, he had been inconsolable. Amanda the thief, she of the dazzling smile, had been perfection in Pelletier's biased eyes. She had been a Madonna to him, and if she was in truth no more than Our Lady of the Light Fingers, still she had stolen his heart. What was Adam Pierson, compared to her? A boring ex-Methos scholar. A great gangling lunk, clad in raveling sweaters, and with a profile truly ludicrous. No glamor about him. Not a scrap of romance to be found in his whole lifestyle. And--the final humiliation!--the man was English.

And yet . . .

Grimly, Pelletier had knuckled under and set about watching his new assignment. There was the necessity of compiling a complete biography. Pierson's background and origins had to be researched. This sort of detective work was new to Pelletier, but he discovered in himself a knack for it. Then there was the task of shadowing his immortal. A mere detail, one would think. But no. Pierson had seemed such an easy subject, but Pelletier found his skills taxed to the utmost. Why, the man could vanish like smoke! And he had sharp eyes, too. Pelletier was harder-put to stay unseen than he had ever been with Amanda.

A grudging respect had followed. Pelletier enjoyed a challenge. More respect came as he delved into the background of 'Adam Pierson'. Such perfectly faked documents! Such audacity! False birth certificate in hand, every detail of his mortal life rehearsed, he had insinuated himself into Watcher circles and fooled every single one of his new associates. There wasn't a test he hadn't passed with flying colors. Who would have believed that the mild-mannered Methos researcher was an immortal in their midst?

Yes, Pelletier could admire such a man. He found himself looking forward to each new day's work. The challenges were daunting. The stakes were high. When Pierson suddenly turned up with several million pounds cash and bought an English mansion for a summer home, Pelletier felt an indescribable thrill. It was as if a gauntlet had been flung before him. With every passing week, the Watcher became more convinced of one thing: his immortal was no ordinary immortal. His immortal was exceptional.

Amanda Darieux? Forget the jade! (Sweet though she was.) Adam Pierson was the assignment of a lifetime. Yes, Pelletier and Pierson were the perfect operative and subject--as Pelletier now congratulated himself, daily. The European Bureau's sneakiest Watcher, matched with surely--dared he say it?--the wiliest immortal alive.

Which brought him to this sunny afternoon in Paris. He was perched on a rooftop, high-power binoculars in his hands, running surveillance. With Peter Wilmington behind him, also accoutered with binoculars.

". . . ever think of yourself as a glorified Peeping Tom?"

"Certainly not," said Pelletier, eyes glued to his subject. "We serve a noble purpose . . . See what I mean? From behind this smokestack, you can look through almost every window."

"Whew," said Wilmington, impressed, "put a few video cameras up here, and you could document his life twenty-four/seven."

Pelletier grunted. His binoculars tracked his subject, moving about the kitchen of the rented apartment. What was he doing now? Oh, just unpacking his groceries. And there came Duncan MacLeod. Enter stage left, with book in hand.

"Hallo," said Wilmington, tracking MacLeod. "Prince Charming has just hove into view."

"The self-righteous stiff-necked Highland prick--"

"You don't like MacLeod? But your immortal likes him."

"He probably used to pick his teeth with his claymore," Pelletier muttered furiously. "Probably thought a louse-free day was a gift from God. Flashy bastard, I don't know why Pierson even puts up with him--"

Intrigued, Wilmington lowered his binoculars and scrutinized his fellow Watcher. "You've become quite attached to your subject, haven't you? You used to have no time for him." Pelletier grunted again. "Anyway, the Highlander's quite highly thought of by the directors. Myself, I'd love to be in Joe Dawson's shoes." Wilmington thought about this, added, "In a manner of speaking. But you know, they give Joe more latitude than I would have believed possible. And as for MacLeod himself, there'll be fifty Watchers queuing up to be assigned to him the day Joe retires."

Pelletier said nothing. He knew that Wilmington was utterly contented with his own assignment, Artemisia of Halicarnassus--even though Artemisia herself was clapped up in a madhouse and would probably stay that way for the rest of her immortal life. But then, it was a byword in French Watcher circles that those who watched Artemisia led a charmed existence. Her Watchers, present and former, seemed to spend all their time together, playing whist, chatting, keeping to themselves. A secretive bunch. Pelletier didn't understand them at all.

. . . What were they doing, down there? Aha. Pierson was talking. Pelletier focused on his lips. ". . . of course they know. Think they're stupid?" Then: "Why else buy that house?" Then: "No, I don't think they really know--"

"MacLeod looks worried," Wilmington commented, also watching. There was a pause. Finally Wilmington broke it: "So . . . what do you think of the double quickening thing?"

"Dawson's report from Seacouver last month? Didn't he also mention poltergeist phenomena, hauntings, astral projection, the Frankenstein monster, mummification--"

"--well, yes, but--"

"--the entire report is nothing but gibberish! Worse than the basest ravings of American television. Double quickenings indeed! Ridiculous."

"He says he saw it with his own eyes."

"He must be on medication. Why, I watched a quickening in Pierson's vicinity just yesterday and nothing like that happened." Pelletier permitted himself a reminiscent smile. "Amanda against some German lout who jumped out of an alley. She boned and filleted him in under three minutes, I timed her with a stopwatch--" He shook himself. "Anyway, MacLeod and Pierson were standing by the whole time, and I saw nothing untoward."

"I've never heard of anything like that, myself," Wilmington admitted. "The rules are pretty clear-cut: whoever takes the head, gets the quickening. No sharing."

"Exactly. That's the way it always is."

"Anyway," said Wilmington after several minutes of quiet surveillance, "I'm surprised you're accepting reassignment so well."

The binoculars fell from Pelletier's nerveless grip.

"Reassignment? Reassignment?? Reassignment!?!"

"Oh dear," Wilmington said. "You didn't know?"

Pelletier turned to him, his eyes stark with fury and fear. "Reassignment! They can't do this to me. No one can watch Pierson the way I can--no one understands how exceptional, how--I'll fight it. I'll take this all the way to the Tribunal and higher! I'll appeal to the European Directorship!"

"Now, Etienne, calm down, calm down--"

"They promised me!" Pelletier ground his teeth, and then mastered himself. "Who's my replacement?"

"Why--it's Michel. Michel Gaultier, whom I was training for Artemisia?" Wilmington himself seemed unusually flustered. "Apparently he decided to opt for a more active assignment. I didn't learn of it myself till just yesterday, but they presented it to me as a fait accompli. I thought it had all been arranged."

All the warmth had gone out of the day, and the sunlight had lost its cheer. Grimly, Pelletier took a hold on his binoculars, squared his shoulders--but he still scowled like thunder.

Reassignment?







Two

Bene qui latuit, bene vixit: One who has lived well has lived unnoticed

The first attack came within the week.

MacLeod and Methos were strolling through Montmartre, on their way back to MacLeod's barge. Mac's arms were full of groceries, and Methos was toting a case of beer and munching on a croissant. "I've got a new Watcher," Methos remarked.

". . . You do? I thought you said you'd never managed to spot the old one--how can you tell?"

"Because his replacement isn't as good. I think the old one was a guy named Pelletier, used to watch Amanda, you wouldn't know him. But he's famous in Watcher circles. Stealthiness squared and cubed. If it had been Pelletier instead of Joe who was assigned to you, Mac, you still wouldn't know about the Watchers--that's how good he is." And Methos sighed. "The new one, on the other hand . . . I see him a lot."

MacLeod just shrugged. "So who is he?"

"Don't know. He must be after my time. But he sticks out like a sore thumb. I would be insulted," said Methos lazily, "except that, of course, a bad Watcher will be so much easier to evade, should the need for evasion arise. I'm all in favor of shoddy Watchmanship these days. 'The Worse The Better' shall be my motto--"

"Isn't it always?"

"Now that's a low blow, Mac."

"Anyway, I don't agree with you."

"What?" said Methos. "Not 'For Better, For Worse'?"

"No, not that! You idiot. About me living too much in my past. You're doing exactly the same as I am," Mac said, "except you spend all your energy leaving your past behind, don't you? The good and the bad alike. You live only for the present, you can't even learn from your mistakes. You've remade yourself into Maya. The fleeting illusion, the momentary world." Methos was looking at him with a remarkable nonplussed expression. Mac searched for the exact right phrase: "Neither illusion nor the mind, only bodies attain death / hope and delusion never die--"

"Maya mari na man mara, mar mar gaye shareer / asha trishna na mari, keh gaye das Kabir," Methos echoed. "Okay, Sol invictus! Only, I didn't know you read Kabir."

"Doesn't everyone? And who are you calling--"

He broke off in midword.

Then MacLeod bent over to set the groceries on the sidewalk at his feet. As he straightened, his hand went to the opening in his long coat, and there was a rippling flash as his katana came free of its sheath-pocket in the lining; just for an instant the bright steel shone, lovely in motion as a bird whose wings catch the sunlight, and then he swung the sword around and concealed it behind his arm, lest mortal passers-by see it and be shocked. (Meanwhile Methos stuffed the remainder of his croissant into his mouth.) And MacLeod strode three steps forward, turning toward the alley-mouth on the left. "I'm Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod--" he called.

The alley was filthy, dark with inky shadows. Garbage bins all splotched with painted-over graffiti lined it like sentinels. Another immortal stood half-hidden in the gloom--almost invisible, nothing but a tall blur of coat and scarf and hat pulled low, eyes brilliant under the hat-brim. Eyes that shone like liquid sapphire. But it was a woman. The shape outlined by the clinging coat was streamlined, curving and sleek, and between the gap of the lapels gleamed bare flesh and low-cut silk.

Her hands were empty. She held them out, displaying them. "I know who you are," she purred.

"Lucretia?"

"Aha, you do remember, my Duncan." As she came strolling forward, she smiled at MacLeod--but looked warily under her eyelids at Methos. Then she tipped Mac's sword up, stepped close, and kissed him on the mouth.

There was now a tiny gun in her right hand, and a knife in her left. Mac caught her right wrist, forcing it back as the gun went off; the shot whined past his cheek, missing. "There can be only one," said her bedroom voice in his ear. Then she sank her teeth right into the earlobe, ripping and worrying. Mac bit back a scream as the knife slid in under his ribs. "There can be only--aaarhhh!" His arm swung, she was flung backwards, her mouth bloody and half his earlobe gripped between her small white teeth. A diagonal cut had shorn her coat in two, so that the material fluttered free from shoulder to waist. That was from his katana. She doubled over, the long shallow wound instantly closing, and then leaped straight at him. With a sword now in either hand.

"You can't interfere!" she flung at Methos, as she closed in combat with MacLeod. "Ah, dear Duncan. Always so chivalrous. You recall I always claimed that the female assassin was more effective than the male. We can get in so much closer to the target."

"Don't talk," said MacLeod, with blood splattering down his neck as his ear healed, "fight."

"Did my knife touch your heart?" And she licked her bloody mouth; then her lips formed a luscious kiss at him. "Or no, it struck somewhat lower. Perhaps I shouldn't have been so eager. I could have let you take me home tonight, love me a little--an aperitif, a smidgeon of pleasure, before the main course is served--"

"And the main course would be what? Shish-kebab?"

Mac spun completely around. Rip went the katana. She fell, the blades clattering on the pavement; and there she lay, sapphire eyes glaring, disarmed and defeated. He stood over her, then stabbed downward, dispatching her (temporarily) with one neat stroke. "I'm afraid you've killed my appetite," he said, as he did.

". . . And there was applause from the audience." This was Methos, clapping his hands as he strolled forward. Clap, clap. Clap. "Aren't you going to finish?"

"No lectures, please." Mac made the katana vanish. "Her name is Lucretia Calabriana, I used to--know her. And no, I'm not going to take her head." He glared at Methos. "That would be wrong. Wrong, wrong. Now who's the one mired in the past? You think death is the answer to everything."

"Oooh," said Methos. "Sol invictus, instinctu divinitatis. All right, I'm done. But let's bloody get out of here, before--"

It was too late. MacLeod had just hefted his groceries again, Methos was picking up the case of beer. They were caught off-guard. Mac heard a roar of motorcycle engines, fetched around and spotted a double blur powering toward him. Two motorcycles. One on the road, one on the sidewalk. With riders whose heads were round shining helmets afire with paint. The cyclist with the dragonhead helmet bestrode a great scarlet hog. The one whose helmet was a nest of all-colored Argus-eyes straddled a vehicle pinstriped silver and black. Behind them raced a third bike, and a fourth.

Also a fifth. A sixth, a seventh. And more yet.

"Oh, for heaven's sake," said Methos. "What is it with your lifestyle? I'm getting sick of this."

Vrooom. "I'm a little sick of it myself," said MacLeod. "Are they challenging us in packs, now--?" Out came his katana as the leading pair of cycles howled toward him. The right-hand cycle leaped off the curb, right over Lucretia's lifeless body. Both riders were shouting wordlessly. Mac had his sword raised, poised to cut off heads. All the riders were mortals. It gave him pause. He turned as the bikes came on, reversed the katana and slammed the pommel of the blade into the nearest rider's turquoise helmet.

The other bike hurled past. Turquoise Boy somersaulted out of his seat and flew headfirst through the window of a store entitled Cadeaux Pour les Jeux - Toys Of The World. Glass went everywhere.

MacLeod continued turning, spinning to face the oncoming cycles. Three were coming straight at him. Behind them? Ten more at least. On the pavement, Lucretia suddenly convulsed and began to cough her way back to life. He sheathed his sword, held out his hand without looking. "Methos. I'm tired of this. Let's try something different."

"What sort of thing?" said Methos.

"Ever done gymnastics?" Mac took a firm grip on Methos' wrist, and ran. Methos ran with him. Ten strides straight at the onrushing wall of cycles--and Mac flung his weight backwards, doubling his hold on Methos' wrist, and swung the other immortal right off the ground. He spun Methos around, and Methos twisted with a ripple of muscles, kicked vigorously out. Two cyclists went down, swerving and toppling--felled by the impact of Methos' sturdy hiking boots. Two more fell, knocked down as the first two ploughed sideways and went over. MacLeod released Methos, stepped sideways, shot an elbow into a helmet as the remaining bikes roared by. Another down. And Methos had unhorsed yet another. "Methos! Here!" Methos ran at him, Mac cupped his hands and Methos sprang straight up--landing one foot in the saddle of Mac's hands--and over with a hand balanced on Mac's shoulder; Mac heaved. Methos shot overhead like an acrobat out of a cannon. He tumbled, straightened, and mowed down several more attackers. They fell like ninepins.

Seven or eight down. On roared the remaining cycles, with a resounding vroooom. But they were slowing, skidding to a stop in a spray of road-gravel. Turning themselves around, ready for another charge. Dragon and Argus were in back of the pack; the cycle in the lead was a mighty Harley-Davidson. Dead black, save for its rider, who wore silver. Silvery leather embossed with studs till it resembled chain-mail, and his helmet was crested and visored like a medieval knight's helm. MacLeod stared into the blank glass of the faceplate, and the hair rose on the back of his neck; he had the strangest impression that he was facing another immortal. But he was mortal, they all were. Mac could sense it.

The knight on the black Harley spoke. His voice was hard, flat, humorless: "Kill them. Then use the nets." He was carrying a submachine-pistol.

"This way!" Methos yelled; he was already running. Mac turned and dove through the wrecked toy-shop window as gunfire ratatatted in his wake.

He landed by Methos, a display of soccer balls cascading around them. Methos hauled him to his feet. Bullets stitched across toy-racks behind them, across dolls boxed in gaudy cardboard, across a pyramid of stacked teddy-bears that exploded in colored fluff. "What now?" shouted Methos in Mac's ear.

"Ever played skip-rope?" yelled Mac.

"After my time!"

There was a whole pile of skipping-ropes in various neon shades. And an especially-long rope hung on display, with bits of tinsel dangling from it. MacLeod yanked on it and it came loose; he snapped it, and Methos caught the other end. As the first motorcycle burst through the shop-window, they charged forward, holding the rope between them.

Skipping-rope met cyclists amidships. Down went the cyclists, and their motorcycles cannoned into the racks of toys. Things fell. An alarm was blaring now, somewhere. "The police will be here any moment!" said Methos.

"The guns," Mac said. With common accord, he and Methos set about collecting guns. Only three motorcyclists had leaped the window-frames; the remainder were still on the street, Mac spotted them milling. Methos had a submachine-gun now. He held it like a professional. MacLeod had found two more . . . and also Turquoise Boy, whom he surprised trying to sneak out at the shop door. He hauled Turquoise Boy forward, holding him by the scruff of the neck, and heaved him bodily at the broken window. "Go find your friends," he ordered. "Tell them they've lost the element of surprise."

Turquoise Boy went through the window, cringing. He waved a child-sized soccer jersey as a flag of peace. His companions--limping, holding various parts of their anatomy--scurried in his wake.

"And that's another thing," MacLeod said, relaxing. "Mozart and Eminem. The reason I prefer classic over modern music is very simple: the classics are good, the modern stuff reeks."

"Oh, I don't know. Think about Pink Floyd."

No gunfire sounded, beyond the shattered glass. Only the same flat emotionless voice, saying, "Withdraw." And then a renewed roar of engines.

Methos threw down the gun. "Let's go."

"Did you hear them?" said MacLeod. "They were mortals. But they knew what we were."

Methos said, narrow-eyed: "And Harley Boy? I could swear he was my new Watcher."

By the time they got outside, Lucretia too was gone.







Three

Dura lex sed lex: The law is hard, but it is the law

"Artemisia?"

Artemisia was painting, using the oil colors she had become familiar with during the Italian Renaissance; five hundred years later, she still thought of them as new and suspicious. And yet she could not resist their charms. Brighter than the finest silk they were, vivid as jewels of faience from Egypt, glowing like glazed murrine out of the wilds of Pontus. And what she could accomplish with them! She could paint pictures more lifelike than life itself. Though sometimes she stood back from the result and felt her skin crawl . . . it was too much like witchcraft, too eerie, what she could do. Her Watchers brought her acrylic and gouache colors, video-cameras and photographic equipment, computer graphics programs; they promised that with these, she could do even more. But she shrank from such things. She did not understand them.

In her mind and in her heart, always, she harked back to a simpler age. She dreamed of Caria, the land of her youth: a Cretan colony become a Persian satrapy, its court Hellenic in customs and language. Caria, and the polis of Halicarnassos. Where the waters of the harbor were the brilliant blue of the Aegean, where the mountain meadows were carpeted in narcissus and wild hyacinth. Caria, where she had grown up, foster-daughter of one tyrant and wife of another. Caria, guarded by heröa: supernatural champions.

"Artemisia?"

. . . Oh, it had never been a land of riches; indeed, it was most famous for those who left it, exported as mercenaries and slaves. And yet on the banks of the Maeander, there had been rich grain-fields, and the grapes and figs and olives of Mylasa had been famous. And from the cedar of the mountains, the shipyards of Halicarnassos hewed wealth with hollow hulls, wealth with linen sails and long, straight oars--wealth in the shape of great cargo ships, sought after throughout the world. Why, half the ships that brought Pontic corn to Greece had been built in Halicarnassos. Most of all, Caria was assured of peace, for its ruling dynasty--the Hekatomnids--was favored by the gods. Godlike children were brought to them to foster, and intermarried into their line. Artemisia herself had been merely the last of these. These half-divine children died in their time, and rose again, invulnerable. Invincible in battle. The heröa. Immortals.

"Artemisia? I've failed you."

At last she stirred, drawn from the kingdom of recollection. "Michel," she said, and smiled at the canvas; her half-completed painting was a portrait of him.

He knelt beside her, reaching out tentatively to brush the hem of her skirt. Her darling Michel. Dearest to her of all her many Watchers. His hair was mussed, his cheeks were crimson with guilt, and he looked everywhere except at her, avoiding her eye. "I didn't get Pierson. I didn't even manage to get MacLeod."

What? thought Artemisia, vaguely. She shut her eyes, remembering her lost youth. A more innocent age. A mystic age. A witch had come from Crete, bearing her, a babe in arms. She had taken her to the tyrant's palace, placed her in the cradle next to Mausolus the heir, bound their wrists together with a twist of plaited grass: "Raise her as your dearest kin, for this is the daughter of a god." So the witch had commanded, and so it had been done . . . as it had been with Artemisia's uncles and cousins, and with her elder brother Idrieus. All immortals, ensuring the power of the ruling Hekatomnid family.

When womanhood came, she became the bride of Mausolus; she ruled beside him. When Mausolus died, she ruled in his place. How she had mourned him! She had raised him a tomb which became a wonder of the world. She was the Amazon of Halicarnassos, Artemisia the virago, who commanded her own fleet in times of war.

The immortal Amazon.

In all that time, the only shadow upon her had been her own barrenness. Till a merchant out of Attika had come sailing to Caria's shore, to break her heart and ruin it all: Methos.

Now . . . "Duncan MacLeod," Michel was repeating, wringing her skirt in his hands. "Pierson's companion. He's powerful, you would have liked him. But--but--I failed miserably. The only consolation is, they won't be able to trace me--"

"Trace you?" she said suddenly, her attention snagged. "Michel, are you in danger?"

"Trace me back to you! Oh, ma merveille, have you even been listening? You have to listen. Or else--"

She reached out without thinking, and touched the gleaming oils of his portrait; she stroked the lips of the painted face with a lover's yearning. The paint was still wet, and stained her hand with livid colors. Yellow ochre, burnt sienna, white lake. And the marks dabbed by her fingers on his picture rubbed through to the underpainting, alizarin crimson like fresh blood. "Michel, mon chalon?"

"Oui?"

"Do not fret so," she said, and smoothed the hair of the portrait--longingly, tenderly, protectively--never caring that her touch left streaks of carnage. "But when you try for Methos again, let me come with you."


A day later:

Lucretia of Calabria stood on the bank of the Seine.

Clenched in her fist was a crumpled sheet of paper; it was a detective's report, for which she had paid a pretty penny. But it gave her the location of Duncan MacLeod. It would have been so much easier if he had had a fixed address!--for there he had been in the phone book, and not even under an alias. Now, though, she knew where to find the barge on which he lived. And here she was. High above the Nobile, gazing down from the embankment on the opposite side of the river. She was armed to the teeth. Her mouth was already watering. Tonight she meant to feast.

She was just far enough away that the two men in MacLeod's barge would not be able to sense her presence. So she had the advantage. As for them--well, the night was warm, and they had come up onto the deck, and were playing chess. Never suspecting that Lucretia was watching. Nor could they guess that their voices drifted across the water to her--that she could hear every word.

"I knew her," MacLeod was saying, "in Rome. Seventeen-sixty-two, it was. I was there when she became immortal. I taught her to fight, even. And I was madly in love with her. Naturally."

His companion clucked sympathetically. "Naturally. Mac, is there an immortal woman in the world you weren't madly in love with? At one time or another."

"Och, no, I don't think so," said MacLeod. "Check. Mate in seven?"

The other man sneered and moved a piece. Across the Seine, Lucretia Calabriana regarded him with suspicion. She had been scheming, plotting, planning, giving thought to the quandry of quickening . . . that is, if she took MacLeod's head (snick, snick, caput!) what would MacLeod's friend do, while she was down and out from the aftereffects?

"Check," said MacLeod, again. "Mate in six, now."

"In your dreams," said the other, offended. He sacrificed a knight, moving himself out of check. Lucretia's brow creased slightly as she watched: she fancied herself a good enough player, but his game made no sense to her. And that meant danger. Yes, she feared him. "If you were lovers, why is she trying to kill you now?"

"I said I loved her," Mac said, sharply. "Not that we were lovers. She was defenseless, remember. Only a child, and in my power. It would have been wrong to take advantage--"

"Oh, so that's why she's trying to kill you now?"

MacLeod picked up a pawn, brandished it. "Pawn becomes queen. Mate in three. --You and your jokes! Tell me then: when we first met, I remember making myself defenseless before you. I'm a child next to you. I was in your power. I offered you my head." He set down the pawn with a precise little click. "Why didn't you take it?"

Methos shrugged. He ignored the queened pawn, moved a rook on the far side of the board. "Check and mate," he said, pushed back his chair and strolled away.

Mac studied the board. Then he groaned aloud, tipped over his king and followed.

Side by side, they leaned on the Nobile's railing and watched the lights of Paris flicker over the Seine.

"Every immortal has his weaknesses," said Methos.

"Even the very oldest," said MacLeod. His voice was calm; he had long since grown used to the idea that he was Methos' weakness. "You remember the legend of the good student?"

"Yeah. Course I do . . . You had a point?"

"There should be a matching legend," MacLeod said, "about the good teacher. Don't you think so?"

"And how would it go, this legend of yours?"

"The way all good legends do. The instant you hear it, you know you're already living it. And there's a subtext. You have to have faith--no matter what happens--you have to believe--no matter what you hear--you have to love, you have to trust. No matter what," said Mac, and met Methos' glance.

Neither man said more. They stood shoulder to shoulder, smiling down into the river. Then--

They stiffened simultaneously. They had both felt the warning, strong and clear; Methos groaned aloud, and Mac growled under his breath. "Bloody hell. It's Lucretia again. Is this my punishment for not bedding her back in '62? I am not going to fight her, Methos." Nevertheless, he reached under the chess table, and retrieved his katana. Meanwhile Methos was staring down the length of the quay. He pointed suddenly. There, in the gleam of a street-light, was a man. With a sword.

A stocky man, ill-groomed, with acne-cratered skin. He wore the leathers and spiky haircut of a Parisian gang member, and held his sword as if he barely knew which end could kill. Indeed, his arm wavered and his expression was dubious--highly dubious, verging on outright fright. Not in the wildest ravings of delirium could he be mistaken for Lucretia Calabriana.

Mac threw down his katana. He took up the wooden sheath instead, swishing it through the air. "Stupid puppy. Wait here, will you? This won't take long--"

"--Mac, wait, he could be--"

"--dangerous? I don't think so," said Mac, and he went down the gangplank like a lion into the jungle. Methos remained on the deck of the Nobile, biting his lip and looking every which way.

He had his own sword, of course. He looked left, along the length of the dark quay; Mac strode right, toward the challenger. Slowly, Methos walked off the barge. There was very little light . . . but the sense of the other immortal's proximity shrilled in his head, rang in his bones. No doubt but that someone was out there. He turned at the bottom of the gangplank, and moved warily along the quay. Leftwards.

Fifty feet onward, he halted. "I thought so," he said quietly.

Lucretia stepped out of the shadows. One of the Ile-de-France bridges arched overhead, cutting off the lights from the street above, and there she had waited, at the foot of a concrete access stair. "Bright boy," she remarked. "You spotted my decoy."

"You hired a dupe?"

"A mortal? Yes. And I'm sure that dear Duncan will detect the empty cup under the yummy melted-marshmallow topping--but too late. Because by then, he'll have no choice except to let me eat and run." Out came her sword, a flash in the night. "You made me think, you see. Him, or you." Another flash: she was laughing. "One is so defenseless after a quickening. I take your head, he'll be his usual chivalrous self and let me leave to fight another day. But take his, and face you, and--well really, how many other men are as good as Duncan MacLeod?"

Their swords met.

The first passage of arms was brief, but so forceful that it left her arm shaking straight up to the shoulder. She disengaged, retreated--ducking into the shadows where he would be reluctant to press his advantage--and took a good double grip on her weapon. She needed it. He gave her no breather. He came right at her with a frightening eagerness, hammering her blade down, all but knocking her over. Step by step she yielded ground. By the end of this second passage, her heart was thumping in her chest and her lungs screamed for air. She was seriously alarmed, and glanced toward the Seine; if she could get to the river, she could escape-- But when she began to circle in that direction, she found him blocking the way.

At the end of the third passage, he grinned at her and said, "As good as MacLeod? I am."

She flung up her arm in a feeble parry. "Finish it, damn you!" Methos merely shrugged agreement. He whalloped her blade in the forte, clang, clang, clang--and Lucretia and sword parted company. The sword spun into the air, ending with a splash in the river. Lucretia landed on her back on the concrete.

"Of course that depends on what you mean by good," Methos remarked. He raised his sword.

"M--Adam?" That was MacLeod, coming up the embankment at a run. "Adam! Don't." Methos paused. Mac struck his sword aside. "I said, don't. What part of Quit killing don't you understand?"

"The part where you tell it to me." Methos glared, thoroughly out of sorts. Then he flung up his hands. "All right, all right! But it's a mistake." And he went off and sat down on the gangplank of the barge, muttering. "Thus, beginning at the remote Ocean of Britain, where the sun sinks beneath the horizon in obedience to the law of Nature, with God's help I banished and eliminated every form of evil then prevailing, in the hope that the human race, enlightened through me, might be recalled to a proper observance of God's holy laws . . ."

MacLeod sat next to him, put an arm around his shoulders. "Cheer up. Amanda says that everyone who spends time with me ends up stuffed full of morals like geese fattened for pate."

Meanwhile, Lucretia was making her escape; she had been run through the lungs, and was in no shape to fight on. Besides, she thought MacLeod was watching her from the corner of his eye. She ground her teeth together as she hurried away, vowing to return and avenge this slight. Perhaps from ambush, with a cannon . . . ?

Before she had gotten thirty feet, a mortal with a gun stepped into her path.

Mac and Methos jerked to attention as a shot rang out. There was Lucretia, crumpled and dead, with a man standing over her. He was holstering his revolver. Then he reached into the breast of his silver leather jacket and withdrew a submachine-pistol. "One down," he remarked, in a cold flat voice; he aimed the weapon in the general direction of Lucretia's neck, fired a short burst.

Lucretia died. MacLeod and Methos were coming at a dead run. Too late. Too late. Too late. The mortal turned and began to walk away. Wisps of mist curled creeping from Lucretia's headless neck; Mac ploughed to a halt, seeing quickening in the offing. He had just enough time to recognize the mortal assassin--it was the same man who had led the motorcycle attack--and hear him say, casually, "And two down." Then the quickening hit him.

Drifting sparkles appeared, light as dandelion-puffs. Rising through the concrete, bobbing upwards. Spiraling around MacLeod. A mist followed, glowing. It wound ghostly fingers of St. Elmo's fire up his legs, along his body. Was that a woman's wailing that went with it? Mac groaned, lost. And the light settled in his eyes, gleamed along one side of his face. Rays of brilliant white suddenly shone from under his skin; his back arched, his arms went up, his face contorted in ecstatic agony. Radiance streamed from his flesh. Six feet away, Methos was caught too.

It seemed to Mac as if this had always been happening: he caught the backlash of Methos' quickenings, and Methos caught the backlash of his. Methos had never explained. MacLeod knew enough only to steel himself against the stab of lightning. It brought with it strange images (as it always did) but the hallucinations of normal quickenings were fragments of memories, dead before they ever reached MacLeod. They were the memories of whoever he happened to behead. These images were different.

He saw men and women beyond number, some mortal, some immortal: Zarina at the holy spring in Brittany--Cassandra gasping, "You call down divine fire!"--marching against the Persians, and Aramatha Thraitta hitting him with her cook-pot--the Four Horsemen charging into battle--Hugh Fitzcairn doubled over in laughter--in the front line of a Byzantine army, fighting a berserker Darius, as the Goths attacked with their favorite weapons, battle-axes flung like spears--and later, walking side by side with Darius, heads shaven, both of them in the robes of Buddhist priests---and himself, seen from the outside. Kronos. Silas. Caspian. These were living memories. With each face came a name and a fragment of love or hate or fear . . . Methos' memories were all made up of people! And Mac gasped, momentarily overwhelmed by five thousand years of human contact, "What is that when either of us takes a head??!"

Another immortal was coming.

Dazed by the quickening, Mac could barely move. But he could feel her all around him. Not like Lucretia's mortal hireling, who had turned and run the instant Mac came close, a craven coward--no, this was the real thing. Like a singing of wild birds. Like a rush of blood, a seashell choir. Like wings whistling overhead in the night. Someone ancient. And he was unarmed, and almost too weak to fight.

What happened next, he remembered ever after in flashes. Incoherent glimpses, senseless dream images. They scattered in his memory like pearls falling from a cord, slipping through his fingers, rolling away. Lost.

The mortal with the gun had returned, with an immortal woman on his arm. The woman was no one MacLeod knew. She was unarmed. She was beautiful. She was furious--angry as a gorgon, lovely though she was. The mortal was saying, "We lost the first quickening, but I got you two more, and powerful ones too," and he was just raising his gun to fire, when the woman stepped into his way.

"Methos of Athens, do you remember me?"

After, Mac distinctly remembered glancing in confusion at Methos. And being dumbfounded by the look on Methos' face: scorn, suspicion, perhaps amusement at an obvious trap. And then Methos' eyes widened. He faltered, swallowing, his face flushed. He spoke almost in a whisper: "Are you what I think you are?"

"Let me behead them," the mortal began. By his height and the way he moved, he was the helmed rider of the Harley-Davidson. But the woman turned on him; this time she actually slapped him across the face. He gave way in confusion, and the woman walked straight past him, straight past MacLeod, straight to Methos--as if no one else existed.

"Perhaps I've changed my mind." She lifted a hand, as if to touch Methos' cheek, and Methos backed away. "Beloved," she said, "my beloved." She put her hand over his on the sword-hilt, and he let her. Her voice dropped, almost caressingly: "It's been so long. If you beg, maybe I won't let Michel shoot your head off."

Enough. It was enough.

MacLeod strode forward. "I don't know what's going on, but all of this has to end. You're the ones who tried to kidnap me earlier? Well, you didn't manage then and you won't now either." Furious, he caught hold of the woman's arm; afterward, all night long in fact, he replayed the moment in his mind, going over it endlessly, trying to make sense of it. She was so close, he could smell her perfume . . . but at the time, this meant nothing to him. "What happened to the rules of the Game? I have no quarrel with you, but if you don't explain yourself, I'll--"

He broke off. As if a blade had been thrust into his vitals. As if night was day and day night; all that had happened had been that she looked up, raising her eyebrows disdainfully; all that had happened had been the world rocking under his feet.

"Make him let go of me," she said, turning away. The next instant, Methos slammed Mac's arm down, breaking his hold; Mac staggered, almost losing his balance. His mind was utterly blank. Methos slammed into him again, pushing him bodily backwards. The woman was already moving off. "Come along, Michel, we're leaving." Over her shoulder she tossed the words: "Methos, next time we meet, perhaps I will take your head!"

One final image: Methos threw himself away from Mac, sheathing his big sword, heading for the Nobile. "Come along, MacLeod." The woman and her mortal companion had already half-vanished in the mist. MacLeod took three swift steps after them. "Mac! Leave them be!" Methos snapped from the top of the gangplank. "Get up here. You saw her?" And when Mac nodded dumbly, Methos said, "Lay a finger on her again--and I'll kill you."







Four

Omnia mutantur nos et mutamur in illis: All things change, and we change with them

Etienne Pelletier was too contrary a soul to take reassignment philosophically. Armed with binoculars, a notepad, and bloody-minded stubbornness, he was still doggedly following Adam Pierson.

He saw the whole thing.


Imagine whispers in the dark:

"What are you doing, Artemisia? You shouldn't take such risks, not in your--"

"Hush, child. I wasn't in peril. Why, you've seen immortals fall to their knees before me, kiss my feet even. Mortals might hurt me, but they? Never. Never. I am far past the time of being in danger from the Game."

"Well, but Methos is your enemy. Isn't he?"

"Yes. No matter. You must not fear for me, ---."

"But--but that quickening--I've never seen anything like that, never heard . . ."

"Shh, Michel. It's just that Methos is old. Yes, and powerful. As is his friend. Duncan MacLeod, did you say? And he's with Methos. He's Methos' student. He has to be."

"He does?"

"Of course. It's obvious. Mon aimé, you must stay away from them both--"

"I'm not afraid of MacLeod and Pierson," said Michel, his voice sulky.

"Wait! Someone is coming."

The two of them hurried away into the night. As they did, another man and woman came strolling along the bank of the Seine. They laughed together as they came, old friends; the man used a cane. He was (of course) Joe Dawson, accompanied by Amanda. "That was an immortal," said Amanda in a hiss. "And the man was jingling. Who were they?"

"I didn't see--" Joe started.

"Joe, they were coming from the barge. I think maybe-- Wait here."

"You have got to be kidding," said MacLeod's Watcher, and went after her as quickly as he could.

She had run along the embankment, sword in hand and her long white coat swirling; the sharp click-clack of her high-heeled boots fled before him. Joe had misgivings. The night was dark. With trained instinct (for he had been a Watcher for many, many years) he glanced at his watch, noted the time, made an entry in a mental journal. And what did he hear, ahead? More voices. Joe slowed down, breathed a little easier. Yes, that was his immortal's voice, Mac was alive and well--

And hopping mad, apparently.

His shouting voice reverberated along the riverside. Then it cut off. Amanda spoke, clearly upset: "Mac! What's up?" Joe all but ran the last few steps along the embankment. "No, no!" Amanda cried, "Stop it, you two!"

There was Mac. There was Amanda. There was Methos. Methos stood on the barge's gangplank, and Mac was with him, hands clenched on the lapels of Methos' shabby coat--he had been shouting into Methos' face. For an instant Joe saw both Methos and MacLeod freeze, their eyes on him. And it dawned on him: he was mortal, he was an outsider, this was some quarrel so private that-- Joe faltered, almost retreated. Why, MacLeod was glaring. And as for Methos, his face was utterly and damningly blank.

Then Mac shoved Methos away from him; Methos reeled backward. MacLeod's fist shot out. Methos' head snapped back. There was a spray of blood. Methos sat down hard on the unforgiving concrete, both hands clapped over his nose. And MacLeod stood over him, still as Judgement. Amanda sprang and clung to MacLeod's arm. "No!" she cried again. "Mac, stop!"

"Hi, Joe," said Mac in a dead cold voice. "Tell me. Do you keep one of those Watcher identikit packs back at your apartment?" And when Joe nodded dumbly, "Good. I want you to identify an immortal woman. And once you do, I need everything you have on her. Her name, her associates, her location. Her Chronicles. All of it."

"B-but--" said Joe.

MacLeod whirled on Methos. "Unless you're willing to start talking, and start talking fast."

But Methos sat mute. Blood leaked between his fingers and across his mouth; his eyes were wide and stark. He said nothing.

"Then go," said Mac. "Go away."

Methos nodded, picked himself up, walked away. MacLeod watched him go. Amanda and Joe, aghast and appalled, watched the two of them. Then Mac strode up the gangplank of the barge, and vanished within. When both were gone . . .

"Oboy," said Joe.


"I have thrown down the apple of discord," said Artemisia; she was in a hotel room, holding aside a curtain and gazing through a balcony door at the Paris skyline. While halfway across the city, Joe Dawson sat at his computer, grousing to himself, "She'd damn well better be Helen of Troy--whoever she is. After all this fuss."

But Artemisia knew nothing of this. The luxurious room was alien around her: television, VCR box, the subdued romantic lighting and the Bauhaus furnishings; even the crystal-clear sweep of window-glass, even the arrangement of full-blown roses on the coffee table, all were equally strange. Unsettling. Her heart did not accept these things, the wealth of the modern age. She yearned for the white-washed walls of Caria in her youth; frescoes of Dionysus and Bacchus, and the priapic herms that watched over every door-step, every gate in her city of Halicarnassos. Where the wine-faced sea lapped along the shores of the harbor, and the ships with their immense masts and double steering-oars rocked sedately at anchor. All the world's cargo had passed through their harbor. When she was young.

Her lips moved silently. She shut her eyes, reciting an old rhyme. These cities, these products. From Egypt, rigging for sails and papyrus; from Syria frankincense; from glorious Crete cypress for the gods; from Africa ivory in plenty for a price . . . from Phrygia slaves, from Arcadia mercenaries; from Pagasae servants with a brand-mark on them . . . from Cyrene stalks of silphium and hides of oxen . . . from the Syracusans, pigs and cheese. God damn the Corcyreans and their hollow ships, because they will sit on the fence. From Sitalces, an itch to bring the Spartans up to scratch, and from Perdiccas, fleets of ships with a cargo of lies!

Cooks from Elis, cauldrons from Argos. Wine from Phlius, coverlets from Corinth. Fish from Sicyon, flute-girls from Aegion. Eels from Boeotia.

And from Athens, perfume.

". . . a ship new-come from Athens, sister." That had been the voice of her brother Idrieus, ringing out of the past. "They have perfume and honey and the silver we contracted for last year. Come to the dock with me, I'll buy you your choice of presents. You have to get out more. Artemisia? Are you listening?"

"Was the sculptor Timotheos aboard? I expect him any day now."

"Oh, the Furies take your stone-masons and sculptors, girl! Your hair is powdered green with stone-dust, your face is white as marble." He had hugged her worriedly, chucked her under the chin. "And what's this--wax and ink under your fingernails? I swear you designed that accursed tomb yourself. We're immortals, Artemisia. We're not meant for building. We were born for war."

"I mean my husband's tomb to be famous throughout the world--"

"Yes, yes. But today, you're going to sniff perfume with us. And you'll forget about the monument--just for this one day."

They had ended up all walking down from the palace together, all the immortals who had made the Hekatomnid dynasty great. It had been the brilliant sun-white hour before noon, and she remembered strolling arm-in-arm with Idrieus, nibbling on a fig. Their fellow heröa surrounded them. There were Pixodaros and Orontobates her uncles, Ada the Younger whom Idrieus had raised, and Hyssaldomos, the oldest of them all. Her brother and uncles carried themselves like godlings; unmarried Ada had suitors likening her to grey-eyed Pallas. As for Hyssaldomos, he always looked so young and fair that unsuspecting mortal sailors swooned over him, tried to kidnap him to their ships and carry him away overseas (and died for it, every one, the poor besotted fools). They were all without flaw--human beauty without blemish, human strength captured in its prime, flowers caught in immortal ode at the moment of purest bloom. Heröa.

Though they did not know it, their kind was already dying out of the world. How could she have guessed that their day was done?

"Enjoy your immortality," Hyssaldomos murmured slyly into her ear. "Yes, I know Mausolus was your first love, and his death has left you empty of all but tears. But what of it? Look at me. I've buried and mourned over thirty mortal philoi in my time, and every precious ephebe was dearer to me than my own skin . . . But life goes on, my sweet. It's good for you to get out. Enjoy the sun and the salt air. Forget your cares, darling girl."

"I know I will," said Ada, looking about her with sparkling interest.

"Soon you'll heal," Hyssaldomos promised. "You had all the flowers of marriage, if not the fruit . . . Yes, we know how much you yearned to give him sons. What of it? Your lot was still better than that of a mortal wife! They are born only to be married, married only to bear children, bear children only to give all for their welfare till death comes. That's all."

The other heröa nodded. Ada wore her chiton like a man's, because of what she was, and twirled her walking stick with a carefree air; she had a smile for every passing mortal, especially the young handsome ones. She could command a ship's crew and repulse a whole boatload of Rhodian pirates without a second thought. Artemisia, though she now dressed in mourning and had not fought since her husband died, knew herself equally capable . . . but what did it matter? Nothing mattered. And if she had wanted the fruit of marriage as well as the flowers, that mattered just as little. She forced herself to pay attention to Great-grandfather, who was still practicing his speeches as if at a symposium; he had gotten fine in his talk, since visiting Thebes six years back.

". . . They give birth in suffering as great as that of battle, sacrifice everything for their young--yes, their captivity is like that of slaves taken wounded in war and then made to labor lifelong for their captors. More, we do not ask slaves to rejoice in their slavery, and when they rebel we are not shocked--but we expect wives to love their children, and call them unnatural if they don't. Who has not seen a mother bird feed her young out of her own mouth, and said, 'How beautiful!' Whoever has, is praising the agonies of mortal women by proxy." He broke off. "By Bacchus' sacred passion," he breathed, "who's that?"

Another immortal, it was--treading down the dock, a gang of mortal sailors in his wake. Hyssaldamos was suddenly lounging, leopard-eyed with interest. As for Ada, she took one look and bridled like a Thracian filly. The newcomer had halted, reaching instinctively for his sword. Then he had relaxed, laughter flooding into his face; and his gaze had met Artemisia's, and how she remembered that. Her first sight of him. Of Methos.

The Athenian ship was half-his; he had a share in the cargo, and was acting as sailing-master too. Hence the fine striped pattern to his chiton, the gold rings in his ears. He had been brown from the sun, fine laugh-lines round his mouth and eyes, and how wide and white his smile had been! ("Eros limb-loosener," Hyssaldamos was saying, rapt, "there's someone who looks worth spending a century with.") But what had struck closest home to Artemisia had been his air of bonhomie and good cheer--happiness like perfume, a gift that was hers for the asking.

. . . And now it was almost twenty-four centuries later, and she still dreamed about him some nights. She shivered, restored to an alien future: the smell of air freshener, the background buzz of electricity that set her nerves on edge. Michel was just coming out of the bedroom, piles of blankets in his arms. Later she would lie alone in the vast uncomfortable bed, and he would sleep on the floor at her threshold. And there would be coffee, that hideous stuff, to break their fast--for in what hotel in France could one obtain oat-cakes and red wine?

Never mind. "He taught me everything," she said, to the uncaring Parisian sky. "Then, betrayed me. But what's gold in the heart will still show true on the touch-stone, no matter how many years pass." Then she quoted Anakreon: "The knucklebones of Eros are madnesses and the dins of battle."

While, halfway across the city, Joe Dawson looked up from his computer. MacLeod--a grim and brooding MacLeod--stood waiting. "Her name is Artemisia," Joe reported. "The guy she called 'Michel'? That's Michel Gaultier. Young hotshot, fresh out of the Academy. I don't know him. He was being trained as her Watcher, but was reassigned--hm, that's funny--to Adam Pierson . . . ?"

"Where is she now?" Mac demanded.

"She's missing," Joe said. "She's been missing since day before yesterday . . . God, her Watchers must be having kittens."


Methos was no longer a Watcher. He was shut out of the Watcher network, which he had used to cruise at will; if he wanted news of other immortals, he had been resorting to sneaking in and using Joe's computer. However this was not now an option. So he did the next best thing. He started going round hotels, bribing concierges and asking questions. Money, he had. Lots of it.

Soon enough he found Artemisia's refuge. He got her room number, and retreated. Sitting in his car, several blocks away, he rang the room. And when a man's voice answered, he said, "Hello, this is Adam Pierson and you must be my new Watcher." He made his tone light and stinging: "You've not very good, are you?" The voice swore at him. "I'm sure I am," Methos answered, "in fact I come from a long line of real bastards. I need to speak to Madame Heröa de Halicarnassos, could you put her on the line please?"

Several minutes passed. Silence on the other end of the line. He waited.

A new voice, stiffened by loathing, said, "Methos."

"Artemisia."

"I knew I'd find you someday, Methos--"

He held the phone away from his ear. Half to himself, he said, "I've heard that tune before." Then, into the receiver: "Speak French, woman. This is the modern world. You do know some language more modern than Ionic Greek?"

"I knew for a long time I would find you," said her voice in vigorous French, "and yank out your intestines to stuff with sausage-meat. And what would I mince for the sausage? I'm glad you ask."

"I can guess," he said, cutting her off. "I take your point . . . So how long has it been?"

"Almost six hundred years, for me. Since first I became--" She cut off. "And I was alone . . ." A long pause. Then, furiously, she went on, "I suppose you know how that is. How it is to be hunted from place to place, stalked by every other immortal, as if--as if I was the twice-accursed Prize of the thrice-accursed Game-- To have to hide."

"I have had that sensation," said the world's oldest immortal. "Artemisia, listen. You shouldn't be doing this--"

"Putting myself at risk?"

"Putting us all at-- Yes, putting yourself at risk! And you know it."

"It was worth it," she said coldly. "To find you."

There was no point in talking further. Methos hung up.

It sometimes seemed to him that all the sorrows of his long, long history lay biding like alligators, ready to snap and roar. Centuries passed; empires rose and fell; and his women never forgot--what was wrong with him, that he left such an impression? Artemisia's voice echoed in his mind, more vivid in memory than in the present. Her voice full of apology: I'd marry you today, but I'm the dynast in Caria. They'd say I brought an Athenian to usurp Mausolus' place. Her speculative voice: But really, we needn't marry if we're together. Let's dedicate our own holy place in Crete. You'll rule, fighting off all challengers. And I'll reign by your side, your immortal lover. Her ambitious, wheedling voice: From us would spring a lineage of heröa beyond compare, immortals fit to rule the world . . . if only you initiated me into the old ways, Methos. His own voice, perhaps laughing at her--and hadn't that made her livid? (Such arguments they'd had! And so much fun making up, afterward!) You're just toying with me, Artemisia. You say you want a return of the old ways--you want us to live as Darius does now, lord of the holy grove in Crete, or Lyksos and Zarina at Nemet in Italy. But those customs are already all but forgotten, and in another thousand years or so, they will have perished out of the world. Let them die! Deep down, you know what you really yearn for. You want to live the life that mortal women live, with their husbands and children and grandchildren. You want your mortal husband back. And in the end, there had been only her weeping voice. Why do you ancient ones make such a mystery of everything? Confide in me. Trust me. Methos, don't you find me worthy?

In love, in compassion, wishing only to kiss away her tears--he had whispered a secret in her ear. Big mistake.


Michel Gaultier took the hotel phone away from Artemisia, who retreated as if she had been contaminated and then went off to wash her hands. As for him, he rang up the hotel desk. "Excuse me," he said. "This is room sixty-five. I fear that my wife just received an obscene phone call . . . Yes, quite shocking, though no surprise . . . Yes, a stalker, poor child . . . But the police have asked to be notified . . . You keep a telephone record, I presume? Could you give us his number?"


Pelletier, unshaven and distracted, was hammering on an apartment door. "Peter! Peter it's me! Listen, I know you're there--open up and let me in!"

After what seemed a long time, he heard footsteps approaching the door. Slow footsteps, somehow uncertain; this was not the firm step of the Peter Wilmington he knew, a man in the prime of later life. "Peter?" he said.

The door opened.

"Peter?" Pelletier repeated, aghast.

Wilmington looked years older, his shirt buttons all awry and his normally dapper hair in disarray, so that grey strands hung down and a bald spot was pathetically laid bare. There was a phone in his hand, a sheaf of papers hugged to his chest. His eyeglasses were askew. "Oh . . . it's you, Etienne . . ."

Pelletier took him by the elbow and frogmarched him into the tiny studio apartment. "Sit down," he ordered. "Give me those--yes, and the phone too. You need a drink, eh? Just wait a bit." He splashed gin into two glasses, thrust one at Wilmington. "Salute!"

"Long live the Queen," Wilmington croaked, and downed the liquor in one long swig.

"My friend, you look like hell." Pelletier sipped at his own glass. He had come to make accusations and demand answers, but this was not the time for such things. Besides, from the look of things, the other Watcher was not so far from a stroke. "Peter, what's happened?"

"Benoit is dead . . . he died yesterday . . ."

"Merde!" Rene Benoit had been another of the Artemisia team, a pleasant man with whom Pelletier had shared many a Watcher in-joke. "How long has he been in the hospital?"

"He died at home, in his sleep. He's been just wasting away for--well, for months now." Wilmington, with drugged movements, took off his glasses and polished them on a handkerchief. "The doctors couldn't give us a reason. But we knew it was coming, all the rest of us."

"I knew he was sick, but . . . Damned doctors! At least the end was peaceful, eh?"

"Yes. He died content."

"Look, Peter. About your immortal--"

"She's--I--she's gone, Etienne. Artemisia. She vanished and none of us could find her. We've been searching ever since yesterday afternoon--except I've been with the undertaker, making arrangements for Benoit--we're his only family, the Artemisia team--"

"There, there." Pelletier poured more gin. "But your immortal, she doesn't know how to drive a car or use a phone? How can she find her way in a modern city? And she's all alone." Now was not the time to mention that she wasn't alone. Slyly, he added, "How will she survive?"

Wilmington's face crumpled.

"Oh, merde," said Pelletier, his resolve melting away. "Peter, I saw her. She was with that enormous protegee of yours. The unspeakable Gaultier. There was not a hair out of place on her head." He couldn't play it calm any longer, he leaped to his feet. "Accosting Adam Pierson. My Adam Pierson! With my own eyes I read her lips, and she called him Methos." He all but tore his hair at the memory. "Putain, c'est la merde totale! She's old enough to have known Methos, too. Naturally I have come straight to you. Peter, you have to tell me--how--if--"

But it was too late, he had miscalculated. Wilmington was now shaking his head, looking away; his expression was determinedly noncommital, his moment of weakness had passed. "Etienne, I don't have a clue what she could have meant by it. She isn't compos mentis, after all." He paused, seemed to reflect. "Anyway, it could have been someone else. Did you even see her clearly?"

"Naturally I know who I saw," said Pelletier, affronted. "I know the face of every immortal alive."

"Yes, yes. But your head could have been turned by a pretty figure."

"I looked at her face, not her neckline! One must, to read lips." Pelletier made a few emphatic signs, shook his head. "I didn't ogle your immortal, if that's what you fear. But listen, if Artemisia really knows Methos, perhaps you can guess--"

"No."

"But if she once knew--you're her Watcher, surely you--"

"--Etienne, I do sympathize, but Pierson isn't your immortal anymore, and really he's neither your business nor mine. And I have to arrange Benoit's funeral." Wilmington suddenly looked dreadfully weary. He picked up his forgotten papers: lists of items and notations, endless things to do. "A private service, this Tuesday. I'm his executor."

"J'en ai vraiment plaein le dos!" cried Pelletier, tried beyond endurance.

"Please let yourself out," said Wilmington, shuffling his papers. But when Pelletier slammed down his empty glass and stalked to the door, he looked up as if struck by a sudden thought and said, "Etienne? Answer me seriously--what's every Watcher's dream?"

"Why--immortality, I suppose," said Pelletier, taken aback. "To be like them."

"Precisely. And I tell you, Benoit died a happy man . . . I'd attend the funeral. If I were you."

Pelletier waited till he was safely out the door and had closed it very gently behind him. Then he said again, but in a whisper: "J'en ai vraiment plaein le dos."


"Methos."

"Artemisia? How did you get this number?--no, never mind. Was it that Watcher?"

"My own helpful Michel." There was a rustle of movement on the other end of the line, as if Artemisia had turned her head; her voice said, distant and affectionate, "Mon doux amour--"

"Your soon-to-be-a-memory Michel, you mean," Methos broke in. "You shouldn't be messing with your Watchers this way, Artemisia, it's murder." A pause. "Come to think of it, that's my Watcher, too. I think I'm insulted. Go find yourself a real man."

". . . Well, actually, that was why I called . . ."

"Oh. You mean your sausage-stuffing plans have been indefinitely delayed?"

"I've changed my mind."

Methos held the phone away from his ear and looked at it. "What?"

"In the flower of my youth, you were the one I loved," said her sweet voice, "in the flower of the world's youth, you showed me forbidden fruit. The apple of discord. I bit down, and everyone I loved perished for my crime. You did that, Methos. You poisoned our happiness. Everything that happened was your doing."

"No, you're wrong--"

"Shall I not have reparations? Shall I not exact payment?"

The line went dead.







Five

Non mihi, non tibi, sed nobis: Not for you, not for me, but for us

Two lives match.

The lack of murderous intentions, among immortals, is itself the first step. It's always easier to take a head than make a truce; one way is final, the other dubious. And dangerous. More of Mac's kind had died from lowering their swords in error, than ever had in open challenge. Friendship can come later. Trust has to be earned first . . . But sometimes trust and friendship come. Two lives fit themselves together. And it's found (with great surprise) that they dovetail perfectly, not because they're the same, but because they're opposite. Methos' passion for journal-keeping, Mac's delight in the martial arts; Methos' slyness and Mac's honesty; Methos' history and Mac's curiosity. Age and youth. Changefulness and stubbornness. Water and fire. And of course Mac's career had mostly consisting in seeking out older immortals to learn from. Who had more to teach, than Methos? Each supplied something missing in the other.

For--well, wasn't it years now?--it had been that way. Mac had gotten used to taking it for granted. Methos blew into his days like air and darkness, vanished as unexpectedly as a candle blown out. And if he went away, so what? He always came back. Just glancing around the barge frightened Mac, now: so much here belonged to his friend and not to him. Half the CDs in the rack were jazz and rock. The books in the corner were Methos' (he always dumped his books on the floor!) and the refrigerator was full of his brand of beer. Also his leftovers. He said he was teaching Mac how to cook. Some of the leftovers of their lessons were so exotic that they resembled science fiction. ("Duncan, you haven't lived till you've tasted sow's womb. And I have a recipe for conger-eel you have to try. I learned it from a playwright called Philemon, he said it was so good he could bring dead men came back to life with just a whiff of the sauce--") Mac's life had been taken over by Methos.

Even Amanda, perched atop his desk, papers shoved aside and their careful order askew--her short red skirt the brightest thing in the barge, her legs crossed just so and her smile holding a promise all its own--even she was as much Methos' friend as his, now.

"C'mon, Mac. You know you're just sulking. Whatever it is, he'll explain, you'll find you were wrong, it'll all blow over and you'll end up kicking yourself for your dumb Scottish pigheadness. So give in. Phone him."

"It's not like that."

"Oh sure it isn't. Well there are penalties for stupidity, Mac, just as there are prizes for good behavior." Amanda pointed a finger at him. "Be nice, and it could pay off big-time. I have just three words for you, mister: flavored body paint."

"It's--what?"

"Gourmet flavored body paint," said Amanda lasciviously, and the wickedness of her expression was not to be described. "It's new."

"Amanda, that's four words--"

"Champagne flavor. Sauterne. Armagnac. Or the funky bar-theme series: zombie, Long Island Ice Tea, grasshopper, mint julep. Or French-school gourmet cooking--think truffle, with interesting sauces--or Italian. All lickable. South Californian fusion? Exotic tropical fruits? Japanese? I have them all."

"Well," said Mac. He sat beside her. "What about your detective boyfriend Wolfe?"

"Nick? People grow apart," said Amanda with a twist to her lips, "and, ah, you know the newly changed. They get infatuated with the first immortal who teaches them, but the bloom soon wears off the rose . . . He's in Cannes, actually. Thought he'd try to pick up work bodyguarding a starlet or two. I understand from his last email that a fashion photographer spotted him, and now he's signed a two-year contract. Modeling underwear, for Calvin Klein. You know how these things happen."

"He's a busy boy," said Mac; Amanda's arms were around his neck. They kissed. She hoisted herself into his lap and got busy. Soon enough she was taking his hand, sliding it into the pocket of her little bolero, and-- "I thought you were just joking about the body paint!" he said.

"Would I joke about a thing like that? Special present, Highlander. See? Scottish flavors. Twelve-year-old double-malt oak-aged Glenlivet." She lay back--still sprawled across his lap--kicked one foot in the air and just smiled up at him. "Now forget about Nick and let's see if we can't do some poses for United Colors of Benetton." And he was just bending over her, when--

"Damn!" Mac sat up. Amanda sat up and toppled off his lap, landing cat-like on her feet. She darted across the room, doubtless going for a weapon. "Never a moment without a challenge," said MacLeod furiously, grabbing his sword which lay propped against the chair, "and always at the worst possible time-- Oh, hell."

It was Methos in the doorway. He came down the shallow flight of steps, shooting Mac a wary look. He held a book.

"Hallo, Mac. I'm unarmed."

"So I see."

"Well, well!" said Amanda brightly. There was a wonderful false ring to her tone. Mac shot her a glance and she had the grace to blush. "Hi, Methos. You know, it's stifling in here. Think I'll go above and take a turn around the deck, catch some fresh air before it's all used up."

She patted Mac on the head; if possible, he stiffened even further. Up the stairs she tripped, turning sideways with a slither as she passed Methos. She patted him too, and not on the head. A final cheeky, "Play nice, boys!" and she was gone.

Left alone, Methos and Mac looked at each other, then away. Neither man wore much expression.

"I came to get my journals."

"Help yourself."

"Fine."

Methos moved cautiously further into the barge. There were a couple of books on the counter; he dropped the one he had brought, picked them up. Another couple, on a chair, caught his eye. And there was a whole stack behind the stereo, on the floor. At least, he thought as he gathered them up, Mac didn't attack me on sight. Especially since I lied about being unarmed, and he knows it. And this isn't the time or the place for a facts-of-life chat, especially since Amanda is probably hovering just outside the door, listening. Meanwhile MacLeod, his face unreadable, had crossed over to near the pot-bellied wood-stove (in which a rousing fire roared). Methos watched him like a hawk. Mac picked up the book Methos had dropped on the counter. "What's this?"

"It's for you. Peace offering. It's Kabir."

It was: a volume of poetry by the Indian mystic Kabir, his religious poems, his love poems, and a selection of dohas. The Highlander gestured abruptly, helplessly with it, and the cover flapped. "You wanted your journals," he said. "There's one by your heel there."

"Oh. Yeah." Methos straightened, his arms encumbered by heavy books. "Didn't I stash some gloves around here too?" Mac pointed; Methos set the books by the door, and pocketed his gloves which were lying in open view near the sink. "And there were my spare weapons," he said. "The matched set of throwing knives? Think I left them under the bed."

"You're pushing it," MacLeod warned.

"Do you know how hard it is to find good throwing knives these days?"

"Damn you," said MacLeod. "Your .357 Magnum and five clips of ammunition are locked in my sword chest. I wish you would quit leaving that thing around loaded."

"An attack," Methos said, "can come at any time." He walked around the desk, pulled open a drawer and fetched out the key to the sword chest. He unlocked the chest, rummaged around inside for his gun and ammunition. There they were, tucked into a corner by the claymore and the museum-quality shuriken collection in its glossy velvet-lined box. He checked the Magnum, found that Mac had unloaded it--predictable, he thought--and promptly put in a clip. All this, he did as if Mac was not standing, book of poetry in hand, two feet away. Glowering.

He made the gun vanish. He went to the CD shelves, began to pull out albums.

Mac took a sudden step toward him. "Here. Let me help."

Together, not touching, they went through the CD shelves. When half the rack's contents were on the floor, MacLeod began fetching books to join them. Methos opened the wardrobe at the foot of the bed, and began to rummage through MacLeod's clothes. "I used to know him," he said. "Kabir, I mean. Smart guy, smarter than many. He knew about immortals, did you know that? The virtuoso game of time--that's what he called the Game. He wrote: Reading books everyone died, but none became any wiser / Only one who reads the words of love becomes wise . . ."

"Naiharva hum ka na bhave," Mac agreed at random. "That's my sweater," he added.

Methos merely pulled the sweater over his head, smoothed it down and admired the sleeves. "It fits me." He scooped up a few more sweaters and grinned at Mac. "All this stuff. Maybe I should go away and come back with a box."

"Oh, hell. Forget that, Methos." Mac pulled the hostage sweaters away, dumped them back into the bottom of the wardrobe. He sat on the bed, and Methos sat beside him. "So," said Mac. "Artemisia of Halicarnassos."

"Joe found her, then," said Methos. He assumed the most harmless expression he owned, ready for anything: denunciations, outrage, indignation. All these things were like familiar chords in a very old Mac/Methos song, one he had never liked, a thoroughly tiresome one in fact. It was dead boring. He wished Mac would grow out of it. He wished Mac would grow up.

But all Mac said was, "She's beautiful. I read her Chronicles . . . She painted in Italy in the sixteenth century, did you know that? I've seen her Judith and Holofernes--it's in the Louvre--and several Salomes by her hand. Almost met her a score of times."

His voice was calm, simple in its affection. Methos stole a glance at him, and found MacLeod looking back with a patient face.

"You must have loved her very much."

"It wasn't love," Methos said, "it was a pseudo-adolescent hormone-induced crush."

"Oh?"

"Well, okay. I loved her. But there were too many things between us." Methos looked down. "Secrets. Lies."

"I think I knew from the beginning," said Mac, "that most of what you told me were lies. From the very first hour we met. But I didn't want to push. Probably because I was afraid. Didn't want to know what you were hiding. And I was right: look at the Horseman business. But when you said you didn't know what the Game was--when you said you had forgotten your early years--well. Only a fool would have taken you seriously."

"Our whole lives are about secrecy, Mac."

"What, about concealing our immortality? That's different. I don't have to lie to others of my own kind." Mac smiled a little. "Or to my teachers. Don't think you're not as dear to me as Darius ever was."

They were both speaking very quietly now, almost in hushed tones.

"There are lies and lies," Methos said. He narrowed his eyes, leaned toward MacLeod. "What could I have said? Admitted to my happy childhood with mummy and daddy and all the other little immortals? And I could tell you--" he breathed in deeply, "--of the perversion of the Game, of the old ways--the holy wells and the standing stones, do you know they were all made by immortals?--and if we still held to the customs of our forefathers, I would take you now onto holy ground and not let you lay eyes upon any woman mortal or immortal--" Mac moved suddenly, brows meeting in a puzzled frown, "--till I had taught you everything. Because the secrets are all about heartbreak and loss. That's all there ever is."

"Methos. It's all right." Mac laid the flat of his hand on Methos' cheek. Methos jerked back, eyes gone wide. A spark leaped between them. "Whatever you have to say--" Mac was saying; he broke off. "What just happened?" he whispered.

The deck door opened. "Hey, boys!" Amanda looked in, hand on the doorjamb and her voice determinedly bright. "Getting awful quiet in here. You're not fighting?"

"I have to go," Methos said.

"Godspeed," said Mac. With clear eyes, he watched as Methos jumped up and made for the door. Amanda stood aside, her lovely face alight with enquiry and surmise; she looked a thousand questions, and Methos averted his gaze as he slid past. "When you're ready to talk," Mac said, and Methos stopped with one hand on the doorknob, "I'll be listening."


One last phone call:

"It's time, Methos."

"Artemisia?" he said warily.

"Time for you to pay for all you did to me and mine. You're going to do exactly as I say. And no tricks. My sweet Michel has a, a long-distance sniper rifle with a telescopic sight." Her voice was slightly flustered as she said the words; then she went on, hard and cold: "I shall have him lie in ambush and aim for the neck. Not your neck, Methos. Your student MacLeod's. Did you think I hadn't noticed your pretty MacLeod? And Michel never misses. I'll be at St. Barbara-by-the-Seine tomorrow afternoon at three. Be there too--if you value your student's life."

Click went the line.

"He's not my student," Methos said to the cell phone. "He's my friend."







Six

Vade in pace: Goodbye

Rene Benoit's funeral was held on a windy bleak afternoon, and was largely unattended. He had had no family, and few outside interests. His landlady was there, sniffling into a handkerchief and saying sweet things in a Provencal accent; there were several neighbors, mostly elderly men with whom he played chess on Saturdays. His co-workers from the Artemisia Watcher team stood clumped together in the back of the very small crowd. They all wore overcoats, the collars turned up against the chill. They carried umbrellas. What could be seen of their faces, looked doleful.

From his surveillance point halfway up a tree on the edge of the graveyard, Etienne Pelletier marked them one by one. There was Wilmington, and Jamie Simpson from the Isle of Man, old Isaac Ellerie, a dozen others . . . They looked, he thought, just like brothers. But then, didn't all Watchers look alike in the end? Lifelong secrecy left its mark on them; they became dry as old sticks, withered away in the service of their more-flamboyant immortals. Ground by the twin millstones of bureaucracy and conspiracy. A dull dry grey look. Of course it didn't help that half of all Watchers recruited harked from England, that bastion of the dull and dry and grey.

Take Wilmington, for example. The man was completely unable to do anything in a straightforward way. No, it was clues and half-hints and, "I'd attend Benoit's funeral if I were you . . ." Couldn't he just come out with it? Pelletier chewed on a toothpick, and thanked God that he had escaped that doom--for wasn't he French?

And he looked hard at the Artemisia Watchers, but failed to find the one he sought. Where was he, a head taller than his comrades and thirty years younger? Where was Michel Gaultier? Pelletier felt a sour vindication: obviously the man lacked all loyalty toward his former friends. Didn't even care enough to grace Benoit's funeral with his presence. And this was the son of a pig, the pretender who had stolen his immortal from him? Well, time would tell as to who was the official Adam Pierson Watcher. Time and audacity. Pelletier felt that his battle was yet to begin. Let the best Watcher win.

He raked the scene with his binoculars, frowned. No Gaultier. And not the other one he had expected to see, either. Where was she, Artemisia? Certainly he had only glimpsed the woman once, but that meant nothing; he was a professional, he had reviewed her file photographs and she couldn't elude him now. Lovely thing that she was. Ah yes. A tall woman and a very ripe armful indeed, no modern mademoiselle with their bony chests and easily-injured airs--as if a good roll in the hay would leave them protesting abuse. (Pelletier had never quite gotten the point of modern feminism.) Such shoulders! Broad and white and sloping. Such a neck! A Grecian swan, slow-moving and gracious. Lovely.

. . . But what was that?

Pelletier stiffened. Yesss--it was Adam Pierson watching from a distance, behind a chestnut tree to the left. That gangling broad-shouldered silhouette could not be mistaken. Not by Adam Pierson's own Watcher, anyway. Ex-Watcher. And where was his current Watcher, who now had not one but two reasons to attend? A wash of jealous rage went through Pelletier, as he swung his high-power binoculars back and forth and still failed to spot Michel Gaultier. The incompetent ninny wasn't anywhere to be seen! What was wrong with him??

By the open grave, the minister continued the service, undisturbed. It looked as if none of the Watchers down there had noticed anything untoward. Pierson (Methos, thought Pelletier, gloating) seemed unwilling to approach. Had he even known Benoit? What was he doing, loitering here? And there . . . there . . . there, he was moving forward. A light rain began to hiss through the leaves of Pelletier's sheltering tree; the sky above was a sweep of brilliant grey cloud. He had a ringside seat.

What was that in Pierson's hand? A cell phone.

Yes, he was snapping his phone open, putting it to his ear. Stepping forward, into the light. And voila! Forgetting the funeral, Pelletier leaned forward intently. He was now in an ideal position to lip-read. What was Pierson saying into that phone of his? He groped for the tiny tape recorder he always carried, began to dictate. "Pierson, on phone: Okay. It's you. But just listen. You've seen MacLeod and you know, mm, know what he is." Pelletier, eavesdropping, raised an eyebrow. "Threatening him like this is . . . he listens . . . a crime against us all . . . he listens . . . too few left. Too few what, I wonder? Too few immortals? Of course there are, but--wait a moment, Pierson's looking around. What does he see? He says, ah, Wait. I have to go. He's here now. MacLeod."

Pelletier raked the surroundings with his binoculars. And there. There they were. Joe Dawson. And Duncan MacLeod.

They had just appeared from the direction of the car park, and were making straight for Pierson. As for Pierson, he had stowed away his phone and was waiting for them to join him. Well, well, well. Pelletier spat out his toothpick and sighed, for there was only one way that Duncan MacLeod could have know about this funeral. Dawson's reputation for breaking the rules on his immortal's behalf was well-known; the Highlander would have gone to him for information, and the quest had brought them here. So. Everyone who was anyone was here, it seemed. All save the villain Michel and the mysterious Artemisia.

"Now MacLeod has reached Pierson. I don't see any other immortals lurking. Pierson, to MacLeod . . . he says: You shouldn't be here, Duncan. MacLeod, halting: Do you want me to go away? Pierson, after pause: No, but this isn't . . . mm, isn't the right time. Dawson says something but I can't see his face. MacLeod says: Joe? Can you give us a moment. Dawson nods, moves off. Then MacLeod turns toward Pierson and says: Methos--"

Pelletier absolutely froze. "He did it. He did it. Oh, bless the Highlander, he said it, right in plain view! He called Pierson 'Methos'!" His heart ran fast, his skin went cold, he shivered all over with nerves--surely a coronary was in the offing. And he deposited a smacking kiss upon his mini-recorder. "Sacre bleu! I am the greatest Watcher ever born. Corroborative evidence by a trustworthy immortal--tomorrow, I bronze these binoculars--now what're they saying?"

Joe Dawson had walked a little distance away, stood facing the gravesite and the funeral service still being conducted. The two immortal men stood together; Duncan MacLeod moved as if to put a hand upon Pierson's--Methos'--arm, then drew back and asked a question. Pelletier watched with possessive fondness. "The Highlander asks: Is this private enough. He says, I think: It's holy ground. And I'm unarmed. And, Mac we used to fight on holy ground all the time, says Pierson." Pelletier sighed from his very heart. "Says Methos," he amended, and thought of Michel Gaultier, absent from this moment of triumph. If this wasn't supreme contentment, Pelletier didn't know what was.

He envisioned glory and everlasting fame. He imagined other Watchers begging humbly for a glimpse of his field reports. Perhaps he would overhear revelations, secrets fit to set the whole Watcher community on its ears--

"Oh no! They're turning away, looking over the Seine! I can't see what they're saying!"


"There's a lot you didn't put into your journals, isn't there?" MacLeod said.

Methos glanced over his shoulder, toward the gravesite. "Rene Benoit," he said. "Used to know him. He's been sick for months now, but I never put all the pieces together . . . Mac, I never put anything important in my journals. They're just for the day-to-day stuff. Anything incendiary, I don't commit to paper."

"Incendiary: that's an interesting word to choose."

"You bet. It's--" Methos grimaced. "You know, I'm too old for this. This would have been so much more fun in my good old bad days."

"Fun?" said Mac warily; there was a fey look in Methos' eyes that he didn't like. He had a feeling that revelations were coming, the answers to many old puzzles--but still, he braced himself. (Heartbreak and loss, Methos had said at the barge. Whose heartbreak, what loss?)

"Ohh yes, shocking you. Fun. . . . All right, all right. I'm not stalling. Tell me, what's the commonest Watcher misconception about quickening?"

"What? Oh. That it's like lovemaking." MacLeod shrugged; he himself preferred the phrasing of the mystics, their imagery of divine yearning and sacred agony and holy fire. It was more . . . accurate. "Passion."

"Orgasm."

"If you like. Only it isn't, because it's not done in love, is it?"

"Yes, it's a violent act," Methos agreed. "The opposite of love. Still, they have one thing right, it's as intense as any lovemaking . . ." He glanced over his shoulder again. "Which brings us to the point." He stepped around Mac; Mac turned slightly, to face him. Methos lifted one hand, looked about once more for witnesses, and touched the tip of a finger to MacLeod's cheek.

Mac felt the zing as tiny sparkles of quickening danced between them, and then the electric thrill as Methos' entire hand ignited with quickening, and then his lips parted, his head went back, his back arched--as with Methos, every muscle gone taut--and it was a good thing they were in daylight--it was--it-- He staggered where he stood. His whole body went rigid. All the contact between them was Methos' hand on his face, fingers spread, barely touching--but quickening sheeted between their bodies, a ghostly light that no one else saw. This pale fire. Leaping from one to the other. Linking them. From head to toe. It flickered across Methos' flesh, scorched through Mac's skin; he would die of it. Methos gasped in MacLeod's ear. MacLeod heard himself moan out loud.

The light touch of Methos' fingers held him upright like a steel hook. If not for it, he thought, he would fall in ashes. Incinerated. Quickening would burn through his skin as through the glass of a lamp, his life the wick and his blood the oil; Methos would burn his flesh to make his ink, write with his bones for pen. Upon the pages of his body, write--

Then Methos shuddered, began to pull his hand away--and Mac found himself grabbing hold of Methos' hand, flattening his palm desperately over it to keep the connection between them intact.

He was gasping out loud. His other hand was clamped on Methos' shoulder. His mind was blank with shock and incomprehension. He held Methos pinned by sheer strength, and Methos (his eyes gone crossed and a somewhat depraved look of satisfaction in them) said hoarsely, "Ahh!" Then, "Ow. Bit my tongue."

MacLeod's hands snapped open. MacLeod stepped backward hastily. And he shot a suspicious look toward Joe Dawson, who still had his back politely turned and who hadn't seen a thing.

"Don't worry," said Methos, "we were inconspicuous." He grinned at Mac's expression. "Feels good, doesn't it? Now listen, Duncan. There are things you have to learn."


"Methos seems very light-hearted, very pleased about something," Pelletier reported into his faithful mini-recorder, "but MacLeod, ah, the Highlander looks for all the world as if Methos just whacked him with a sandbag. Can't see what they were doing. Methos--" ah, how he loved to say the name, "--Methos however seems to be--whistling? Yes, whistling." How mysterious it was! Just when one thought all vagaries of immortal behavior had been exposed, some new wrinkle was observed. "They turn toward me, walk along the bank of the Seine. Methos is grinning. He speaks to MacLeod, he says: It's not like that, you Calvinist Scots puritan. Shouldn't turn up your nose at innocent pleasures . . . Oh, don't worry, Mac. And quit glaring. I'll still respect you in the morning."

Pelletier blinked.

"Now they are both serious. MacLeod says: Does this mean what I think it means and Methos nods. Another dropped jaw from the Highlander, whatever they're talking about must be beyond belief. Perhaps Methos is relating his life story? Ah, what I would give for that dream to come true . . . What's Methos saying? This is the first rule. Never tell anyone, no other immortal, and no mortals, not even your closest friend--" Pelletier leaned forward, more and more intrigued. "Hm. Never tell anyone what? Methos says, And not Joe either. Well well well well well . . . Merde, they're turning away, looking over the Seine again! Have the fates no mercy?"


"Why didn't you tell me before?" Mac demanded. "Why now, today? Why not yesterday, at the barge?"

"Because Amanda was there."

"She doesn't know?" said MacLeod. He frowned a little in confusion; Methos was shaking his head. "But Darius knew. Didn't he?"

Methos nodded.

"And Rebecca? She knew?" Another nod. "Ramirez?" A nod and an enthusiastic grin from Methos; evidently there were good memories there. MacLeod thought they had better not get into that. "Connor? Amanda?" Methos shook his head. MacLeod was busy calculating respective ages; he said, "And Cassandra?" but was floored when Methos shook his head again. "Constantine?" Methos nodded. But Cassandra had been older than Constantine, older than Ramirez; MacLeod was unsure of Rebecca's true age, but Darius had been older too, and-- It didn't make sense. Cassandra was well over three thousand years old--

"Duncan, you're on the wrong track." Methos moved abruptly: his fingers fastened around Mac's wrist, he yanked Mac's hand up and held it to his face. MacLeod gasped again; the spark and wash of quickening, sheet lightning flickering over his skin, leaped between them again. Methos let go immediately, saying, "You see?"

MacLeod, speechless, stared at his hand . . . from which the spark had leaped. As it had before. Not from Methos into him.

From him, to Methos.

"It has nothing to do with age," Methos said. "Or why is it happening to you now?"


"Now the Highlander looks totally floored," Pelletier reported to his mini-recorder. "It would make me laugh, if only I knew what was going on."

Something else was catching the corner of Pelletier's eye: a wink of light from the furthermost corner of the cemetery. He spared a second to glance in that direction. What was it? "Eh," he said, "Someone's up there in the trees. A single person, stationary." Lurking, much as an immortal about to challenge would lurk. "It's a woman," Pelletier reported. "Tall, with blonde hair. Can't see much of her, but--wait--yes, it's Artemisia--"

Yes, it was Artemisia--he recognized her perfectly--and she was ideally situated to watch Methos. Pelletier was briefly alarmed. The woman seemed to be no friend of his immortal's. Ah well, he consoled himself, they were on holy ground. So be it. Methos was in no danger from Artemisia's sword, and that was all Pelletier really cared about right now.

He shrugged mentally, turned his attention back to Mac and Methos.


The hill with its spreading chestnut trees was behind Methos and MacLeod; beside them was an ornamental barricade, such as would keep a straying child from tumbling over. Beyond the low barrier, the rippling grey water of the Seine flowed past.

Everything he had ever wanted, everything that had always been denied to him because of immortality--it all seemed within his grasp now. Invisible prizes, subtle as quickening itself. All the riddles of immortal existence, of Methos' hidden past. Every secret. Why did it make him suspicious? MacLeod repeated, "So why tell me now?" He rephrased his question at a sudden thought: "No--why not tell me before, Methos?"

Methos said, "Because I don't believe in self-sacrifice. And I do believe in happy endings. But you don't . . . And the other thing you need to know is very simple."

"What?" It made no sense. Why keep this from Amanda? Why keep it secret at all? If he had known this, if he had been able to do this, when Tessa was still alive--

But Methos pointed toward the open grave, into which Benoit's coffin was now being lowered. "Consider that Watcher. Over eight months wasting away before he died . . . Now consider Artemisia. What was it struck you, when you saw her?"

(Pelletier, eagle-eyed, was noting every word.)

Mac said very slowly, "She's about eight months pregnant."


At the gravesite, the service was winding to an end.

Swearing under his breath, Pelletier swung his binoculars about. Where was that woman? He gripped the binoculars till his fingers skidded wetly on the plastic casing. His toothpick dropped out of his mouth. And--

There. There. There. He missed her in his excitement, swung too far and skewed madly back. There was Artemisia! And this time, he let the focus of the binoculars drift downward . . . down from her lovely profile, across her shoulders and the curves of her body . . . obscured by leaves . . . He grunted as though gut-shot. Why, look at her belly! As big as any misbehaving schoolgirl's!

But what was that? Another figure, below and in front of her. Pelletier leaned so far forward that he was in imminent danger of plummeting to the ground. A man, it was--Gaultier, in point of fact--kneeling at Artemisia's feet, something propped on his shoulder--

He was aiming a rifle.

Pelletier emitted a strangled yelp of pure fury. Then he did fall out of his tree.

He hit his head on the way down, and blacked out.


Michel Gaultier was an Olympic-caliber marksman. His face was serene, his poise unimpaired as he squeezed off the shot.

Duncan MacLeod felt the bullet hit somewhere in the vicinity of his left lung. He jerked half around, his mind blank with pain, and toppled.

He lay on the perfectly manicured turf of the cemetery, blood bubbling out of his mouth, and his gaze strayed bewildered among the tall gravestones. Maybe no one else had heard the shot; he certainly hadn't. Below, the funeral service was over; the mourners were scattering. Joe Dawson was coming at the closest thing he could to a run. And Methos . . .

Methos, undisturbed, leaned against the security barrier--not lifting a finger to help. He looked away at something Mac couldn't find, and then down at Mac. He spoke. The words came to Mac from a vast distance, meaningless, faint: "The good teacher knows when the lesson is over." As Joe reached MacLeod, Methos turned and let himself fall over the low barrier.

The Seine closed over him, and carried him away.


Pelletier was not as young as he once had been. Several moments passed before his head stopped swimming, the spots cleared before his eyes, and he sat up with a start, looking wildly about. It was over. His recorder lay on the rain-soaked sward; his binoculars swung high above, hung from a broken branch. Everything was over. The deceased had been committed to the earth. A cemetery attendant was filling the grave, and all the spectators were gone.

Well, to be precise, most of the spectators were gone. The Artemisia Watchers now encircled Pelletier, solemnly witnessing his humiliation. One of them was holding an umbrella over him.

Peter Wilmington held out a hand, heaved Pelletier to his feet. Another Watcher retrieved the little recorder. The remainder tut-tutted over his predicament, and Wilmington said mildly, "Etienne, you've been on field service too long. No need to skulk in the arras, you could have just come down and joined us."

"Your immortal is enceinte," said Pelletier blankly.

"Yes, isn't she splendid?" said Wilmington. "You see, gentlemen? Etienne has already guessed at our little conspiracy within a conspiracy."

Isaac Elerie, mumbling somewhat (for he had long since lost his teeth), observed, "Peter, you've come through marvelously. Etienne Pelletier! What a catch. Forget Michel--"

"--Boy didn't know when he had it good," said Jamie Simpson.

"--Etienne's the perfect candidate to replace him in our ranks."

"Replace him!" Pelletier exploded. "Never! I was a good Watcher to Adam Pierson and I intend to be a good Watcher to him again! Especially if there's a chance he's--" He snapped his mouth shut on the name of Methos. No need to let that cat out of the bag.

But the Artemisia Watchers closed in, eyes gleaming, faces shining with conspiratorial glee. They surrounded Pelletier, cutting off all escape. One even prodded him companionably. "There's no Watcher in the world," Wilmington was telling them, "better suited to finding our truant immortal. And no man I'd sooner see join our number." He shook Pelletier's limp hand. "Etienne, old friend," he said, and his tone held an ominous ring, "we're about to make your dreams come true."







Seven

Omnia iam fient fieri quae posse negabam:

All the things which I denied could happen, are now happening

"I still don't understand," said Joe, some time later.

He felt he had been outstandingly patient. Never asking a question, he had wrestled a semi-conscious MacLeod all the way to the parking lot, heaved him into his car and propped him up on the passenger seat. Then he had watched him heal. After all, he was a Watcher, and here was his very own immortal, shot in the chest, right there in front of him. Quickening dancing in bullet-holes . . . how could Joe resist? So he had unbuttoned Mac's shirt, rationalizing all the way (had to check on the wound) and finding the bleeding already ceased and even the blood all but gone, he had observed with a vengeance. He thought about whipping out his camera and trying for a photo, but wisely decided against it. Besides, he was too busy composing field reports in his head. Etienne Pelletier was not the only Watcher around nursing dreams of posterity.

Now they were back at the barge, and MacLeod was fully healed. Joe had ogled him surreptitiously while he shrugged on a fresh shirt, and there wasn't a mark on him. No entry wound, no exit wound. It was enough to make a man believe in the supernatural.

"I don't understand either." It was the first thing Mac had said since they had left the cemetery.

"Who shot you? What happened with Methos? Christ, Mac, what's happening? I refuse to believe," said Joe mildly, "that you don't have at least a few of the answers. You're wearing that immortal-knows-best expression. I know it well."

MacLeod shot him a look. Then he turned his back on Joe, staring at a porthole, chin jutting and (Joe saw with dismay) his lower lip stuck out.

Joe sighed.

"None of us know who our fathers are." Mac spoke abruptly, his back to Joe. "Every last one of us is an orphan. I've never met an immortal who knew where we came from, why we're here. And none of us can have children of our own. Maybe it's because of longing for the families we lack that we try to find parents and children among our own kind . . . Teachers. Students. Fathers and sons. Or is that just me? Is it my personal mania?"

Unseen by Joe, he brushed one hand rapidly against the other. Then he drew his hands apart: a tiny sparkle played between his fingers, from one palm to the other and back again. MacLeod frowned down at it. It was like an early experiment in electricity, like a party trick with a galvanic machine, like St. Elmo's fire lit from the quickening of all the strangers he had killed . . . and it would give him--what? What would come of it? And maybe the Watchers knew something about it; maybe Joe knew, and would tell him if he asked. The light dancing between his hands strengthened, till it cast blue shadows against his skin.

The sensation was near ecstacy. He thought suddenly of sharing this with a woman in bed. He swallowed.

"Mac, he's not dead. He'll turn up again as soon as he heals." Joe added, "Of course if he swallowed any of the Seine, it might take longer."

"He was saying goodbye," said MacLeod, and the stark unhappiness in his voice made Joe blink. After a long pause, Mac went on, "I've lost so many teachers. I felt as if he was my father." After another pause, "He hated that." Finally, "None of what I felt was real and nothing that I believed was true and everything he said to me was a lie. I don't know where he was going, but he didn't expect to be coming back."

"Hi guys, what's happening? What's with the glum faces--" It was Amanda, come tripping through the hatch and down the shallow flight of steps, her gestures light as cotton candy. But she had caught MacLeod's last words. "Guys?"

"Amanda." Mac turned, folding his hands together; the small dazzle of quickening had vanished. "I-- Something's happened."

"Oh, Mac--" She was across the floor in a trice, next to MacLeod. "You look terrible. What-- Oh no. Methos isn't--?"

"No! He's alive. But he's gone." MacLeod was looking down at his hands. "It was all lies," he repeated. He sounded desperately confused.

"Oh," said Amanda.

"I don't understand any of this!" Joe growled.

"Hush, Joe," said Amanda, patting him. To MacLeod, she said, "You sound like Rebecca. Once, she told me Methos was the prince of deception and that lies and stratagems fizzed in his blood like champagne. Well--not the champagne part, because that was before champagne. But he made her miserable, and I hated him for it."

"When did she say that," said MacLeod tonelessly. "It does strike a chord."

"Okay, but first tell me what Methos did." She made him sit down and listened solemnly to his story . . . most of which was actually told by Joe, who was still mystified but who was more willing to talk. Mac himself said very little. Amanda heard them out. She said, at last, "Yep. Just like with Rebecca." She nodded to herself several times. "Okay. Ready for storytime? It was in the ninth century, when I was young . . ."


Young. She had been that, a weed plucked from the gutter and made to bloom by Rebecca's love: Amanda the thief. Even her name had been a gift from Rebecca, for name of her own she had none; till she became immortal, no one had ever called her anything but swear-words. (Even a thousand years later, if the spirit moved, she could still curse fit to make Mac, with his gentler upbringing, cover his ears and blush.) Rebecca had given her a dozen names before they settled on the one she liked and kept. Yes, she had been young, but she had flourished in Rebecca's care. And thus, in the ninth century:

Imagine her, Amanda the thief, climbing the abbey wall toward her teacher's window high above. Dressed in black, with soot from the kitchen chimney dabbed on her face and hands. And her teeth fixed in a kittenish expression of curiosity and determination. She knew, she had always known, that Rebecca kept secrets from her . . . Certainly, strange immortals came often to visit, former students and former lovers; Rebecca hid Amanda away from some of them, and encouraged Amanda to befriend others. "Find joy in the company of your own kind, child," she said, "for love, to us, is just a sport. And there's no danger in it--so long as you remember, this is holy ground." And Amanda found joy, flaunting herself before immortal men and knowing herself envied by immortal women: a flower now, a damask rosebud, a sweet clove gilly just opening, a veritable nosegay of delight. No longer the starveling weed of yesteryear. However, there was one visitor no one met, not even Amanda . . . one who arrived in the dead of night and vanished as mysteriously, whom Rebecca--at first--would not even talk about. When he came, Rebecca entertained him in her chamber, and Rebecca herself waited on him there. The castle's servants were scandalized, rumors rocketed through the maids' quarters. Naturally, Amanda was agog with curiosity. She had to see for herself.

("There are hints in the Chronicles," Joe Dawson said, "that Methos and Rebecca were, well--")

So there she was--stealing through the herb garden, climbing the ivy and then, up the massive stones of the keep itself, fitting her fingers into crevices no ordinary burglar could have found, just to snatch a glimpse through the narrow slit of Rebecca's bedchamber window. How young she had been! And arriving at the window, she peeked through and saw . . .

A man with homely, pleasant features and a lick of brown hair in his eyes. That was all. He sprawled flat across Rebecca's canopied bed, in the dim and drafty medieval room. Nothing about his posture or expression hinted at nameless orgies or dark secrets. A huge book lay next to him, open, his hand resting absently on the pages, and Amanda had been amused and intrigued--for just an instant--to notice the quill and ink-pot close by, and the ink-stains on the stranger's thumb and forefinger. Then she had seen what he held in his other hand. A linen napkin lying in loose crumples, fallen open around an immense faceted crystal. The Methuselah Stone.

How young she had been, indeed, to think she could sneak up on a fellow immortal! Even as she had gasped with indignation, he sprang to his feet and went for his sword. Her grip on the window-frame had loosened. She had plummeted all the way to the paving-stones below, and died--breaking her bones in twenty places.

And when she woke, she lay amidst crushed herbs--mint and thyme pleasantly scenting the summer air--with her teacher bending over her. Her head was cradled in Rebecca's lap. The stranger knelt in the parsley patch with his sword across his knees. Black henbane framed him, its arching branches stiff with odd pale bells: a poison flower so noxious that one touch could kill. He looked bored.

"Thief!" Amanda shouted. She scrambled up, getting out of reach of the sword, while Rebecca tried in dismay to catch her. Meanwhile she whipped out her own knife. She jabbed it at the stranger. "He took--he stole--he has your stone, Rebecca--"

Rebecca looked at the man, the man looked at Rebecca.

"I was sketching it for my journal," the stranger explained.

"And why shouldn't you be?" asked Rebecca. "It's as much yours as mine." While Amanda gaped and felt foolish, Rebecca took the man's hand and raised it to her lips. "Dear child, this is--what name are you going by now?"

"Well, I've been in Benares," he said, "but I thought I should get back to my own holy ground." He half-sang softly: "Shabse hiliye, shabse miliye / shabka liliye nam / han-ji han-ji shabse kijiye / wasa apna gam. Mingle with all men, use their names freely, obey all good men . . . but live in your own castle. Call me--"

"Manjugshosha, Buddha Gentle Voice?" said Rebecca, slyly. "Or Vajrapani, Thunderbolt-in-hand? Lord of the family of vajras?"

"Krishna Kanai Lal," he said, and she blushed all over. "To your milkmaid, Rebecca." Then they had laughed together, as Amanda looked on in embarrassment.

How young she had been, indeed.

Then, skip over two hundred years, and it was the millennium. Ten centuries had passed since the Passion of the Lord Christ; some expected the world to end any moment, and some expected a new world to arise. Amanda no longer felt so young as she had. She had traveled through Europe and Africa, Cathay and far Tartar and the Indies, and learned who Krishna was, and Vajrapani, and the Buddha Manjushosha. She was worldly. But always, she came home to Rebecca at St. Anne's--with her hands full of stolen treasure, with stories on her lips. With love in her heart. Which brought her to one sunny afternoon, in Rebecca's bedchamber . . .

The old abbey was falling to pieces around her teacher's head, but what did Rebecca care for that? She had decorated her chamber with paintings: landscapes by Greek and Italian artists, and portraits of all those she loved. Amanda's own portrait was there, in a position of honor, and here was Amanda herself, moving around the quiet room, her arms full of fresh-cut roses. The roses were of the kind called the apothecary rose: small and bright, striped with white, sweetly scented. A gentle smile dimpled Amanda's cheek as she bent over Rebecca's bed, with her roses. She was decorating the room with them. Then she felt another immortal coming, flung down the flowers, and moved like lightning.

She ended up behind the chamber door. "Rebecca! I'm back--" said Methos, stepped through the doorway. Then her arm went around his waist from behind, and Amanda slid the edge of her blade across his throat. She hissed in his ear: "One move, and off it comes."

He stood bolt upright within her arms. "Why, cold Aspasia," he said. "And this is holy ground."

By now, Amanda knew who Aspasia had been. She was not flattered. "You know my name. You're not welcome here anymore, Elias."

"I'm going by 'Adam Perun' nowadays. I know Rebecca calls you Amanda, but I won't. Amarantha, Anastasia, Eulalia, Ermengarde--why do you hate me, little rosebud?"

She pushed him away, glaring. Then she made her sword vanish, and scooped up her roses again. "You're not welcome here anymore," she repeated. "Rebecca has done with you. She marries within the fortnight, to a better man than you, and you're not invited to the wedding."

She smiled as she thought of Rebecca's bridegroom. Moses of Troyes, whom they had met at the May Fair in Provins--he was a merchant, handsome and clever (and wealthy) and not only that, but tremendously funny and kind. If Rebecca hadn't seen him first, Amanda might have snapped him up herself. Yes, and Rebecca loved him with all her heart . . . and wasn't that the most important thing?

"Oh, very well," said Methos. He did not appear at all put out--though she picked a fading rose from her armful, and shook it at him till the petals showered off and all that was left was the thorny bare stem. Methos only shook with laughter. "Dearest Clotilda. Enid. Eunice. Oh, Hepzibah, I'll abjure playing Krishna to her Gopi--" The door reopened and Rebecca herself stepped through, clad in white, her face shining and her hair unbound like a maiden's. And Methos cut off in midword, going white. "Rama to her Sita," he whispered, while Amanda and Rebecca looked at him in confusion.

It was only a few hours later that Amanda found Rebecca in the herb garden. Her teacher knelt on the garden path, a weeding knife to hand, and her face starkly miserable. She glanced swiftly up and swiftly away as Amanda came to her, and then suffered Amanda to fling both arms round her and hug her well. "Ah, Amanda, child. Oh, no need for that glum look. He's gone . . . He's gone and he won't be coming back. And I wish," said Rebecca between her teeth, "ill fortune to him. Him and his ridiculous phantasies. For he's the prince of liars and the pope of deceit, and deceptions and stratagems run in his very blood."

Within the week, she married Moses of Troyes; and Amanda, after dancing at the wedding, went off to her own affairs well-content.

But within seven months . . .

Coming unheralded home to St. Anne's, after a three-month journey from the Papal States, Amanda had no thought of sorrow in her mind. She was weary and saddlesore, it was weeping weather; she rode into the abbey stable, leaped off her mare and tossed the bridle to a groom, and ran light-footed across the stableyard. She held her saddle-bags over her head, to keep the rain off. She was laughing. The servants looked glum, but what did that matter? It never occurred to Amanda to stop and question them. There were boxes and bags stacked in the abbey hall, and Rebecca was obviously about to set off on some journey of her own; Amanda was only glad to have arrived in time to catch her. She flung down her saddle-bags, shook the rain out of her cloak. "Rebecca! If you're away to Troyes with Moses, just wait long enough for me to catch my breath, and I'll change mounts and ride along with you--"

Rebecca wore a vast bulky cloak swathed around her, and an expression so strange that Amanda stopped short. The man with Rebecca, holding her hand to lead her out the door, was Methos.

"Where's Moses?" Irrational fear leaped into Amanda's mind. "What's happened? Where's Moses?"

Methos--the man she had known by many names, the man she would later know as Methos--dropped Rebecca's hand and went outside without a word.

"Rebecca! I--you look so . . . Rebecca, has something happened to Moses?"

"Moses is dead," said Rebecca.

Amanda felt her heart thump. "I'm so sorry," she whispered. "How--?"

He had been only mortal, true--but a strong mortal, hale and hearty, with decades left to go. He and Rebecca had looked forward to years of happiness. How had things gone so wrong, so suddenly?

"I always imagined that in Nature, one witnessed the moving hand of God." Rebecca's voice sounded scraped bare: the low words forced through the very grindstones of pain. "Now I know that God has no mercy upon our kind . . . I'm leaving, Amanda. I don't know when I'll return. Not for many years, perhaps."

"You're leaving with . . . with him? Rebecca, let me come with you too, you need your friends around you at these times--grief will make you defenseless, what if someone challenges you--" But Rebecca was shaking her head. Amanda plunged on nonetheless. "And don't go with him. I don't trust him. Are you sure he didn't have a hand in your husband's death?"

"I killed Moses," said Rebecca, and all the weariness of the ages was in her words. "I myself killed him, with my wilfulness, with my disregard of wise advice, with all my arrogance, and my love of violence. Never live as I have lived, beloved Amanda. For Nature is the Devil's claw."

Methos was waiting in the doorway. Amanda watched Rebecca hurry toward him, her head down, body huddled in the folds of her cloak. Long after the two of them had gone, Rebecca's words rang in her ears: "Nature is the Devil's claw . . ."


Nature is the Devil's claw.

MacLeod walked through the streets of the South Bank and thought of Rebecca's words. In retrospect, he knew, the demons that drove him were simple ones. He wanted what he couldn't have. Every immortal did. Here it was, the feast laid out in the sun, but with harpies waiting to drive him away if he dared to risk a taste . . . here it was, intoxicating wine, but he could only drink with his eyes. Nannies pushing perambulators past, little girls skipping rope or playing with colored chalks; boys scooting by, kicking a soccer ball. And men and women walking hand in hand. His gaze was drawn to a lovely Frenchwoman with ash-blonde hair and the most gorgeous of smiles. She was sauntering to her car, her husband beside her with his arms laden with groceries. While shooing alone a pair of toddlers, the spitting images of their father. With an ache of longing, he remembered Tessa.

As he stood in the street, lost in thought, the soccer boys went past like a whirlwind--a waist-tall whirlwind yelling with excitement. One of the boys cannoned right into him; Mac was taken by surprise, and so was the boy. Both ended up on the pavement. Mac had taken the brunt of the impact, shielding the little boy as they fell; he was left on one knee, the wind knocked out of him. Meanwhile the boy bounced back up like a rubber ball. "Hey, mister!" In an unmistakably North American accent. "I'm okay, are you okay? Hey, what's that?"

Mac's hand had been scraped bloody on the pavement. He had thrust it instinctively under his coat, keeping it out of sight.

"You hurt yourself," the boy observed. After a moment, he added belligerently, "Okaaay, like you're gonna bleed to death or something. You're weird."

"Get away from Steve!" That was another boy. Like the first, his accent was distinctly American. He had run back, while the rest of the soccer players were already halfway down the block; now he and Steve stood together, their shoulders touching. Both were gawking openly at Mac. "Pervert."

"It's okay." Mac pulled his hand out into the open; the scrapes were healed. He got up, stepped back. "Go back to your game . . . You just keep taking care of your little brother."

"Oh, he's not my brother," said the older boy. He shrugged at the other soccer players, the crowd of French children surging up and down the street: "We just have to hang together, that's all. You know? Cause if we don't, we'll hang separately."

One second more and then both boys twitched simultaneously and then they were off. Leaping and shouting as they ran headlong along the sidewalk; swerving through the Parisian crowd, pushing each other, shoving. Like wild animals rushing back to the safety of the pack. MacLeod watched them go. There was a small grudging smile on his face. Then he turned around, and there were men with gaudy motorcycle helmets and gang jackets on every side.

They were all mortals. They were very close, jostling him. One had stepped in from behind and now jabbed him with something hidden in a coat-pocket: the muzzle of a gun. "Don't make a move, ami," said another menacingly in MacLeod's ear.

Slowly, calmly, MacLeod raised both hands.

"You must be Adam's Watcher," he said. "And are these flunkies, or lackies?"

"Never you mind," said the big man with the grey eyes. "They're good enough to keep you obedient." MacLeod merely shrugged. He looked steadily at the stranger--what was his name again? Michel Gaultier, the once and future Artemisia Watcher. He looked every inch the Olympic athlete, but an athlete under murderous strain; his head was down and his teeth clenched, his skin shivering in tics. It was unnerving, to see such blind hate in a comparative stranger's face. Or to hear it in his voice, which was no longer dead or cold. "Where is he?" Gaultier demanded.

The words surprised Mac, but he kept his face blank. "What? Did you lose him already? That's careless."

Gaultier made a small gesture. One of the other men hit Mac back-handed across the face, knocking his head sideways.

"Was he supposed to run off with her at the cemetery?" MacLeod wiped his mouth, shot a nasty look at the hoodlum who had struck him; the man recoiled a step. "A wild elopement to the Bahamas, and the honeymoon suite afterward, maybe. Just Adam and your lady." Gaultier jolted a step forward, pulled up short. Mac went on, "How did she force him to come to you, anyway? With threats to me?"

"We can still carry them out," said Gaultier, glowering.

"Not if your audience is absent. There'd be no point."

"You're enough audience. It's you she wants now." A jab of the gun for emphasis. Grimly, "Walk, MacLeod."

"You've got gooseflesh, man," Mac observed. "Is your leash itching?"

Gaultier swore foully at him.

There was a little corner park, barely a block distant. There, Artemisia of Halicarnassos sat on a wrought-iron bench, waiting. As they approached, she stood, and spoke to the bikers in their garish pseudo-armor. "Get back. Out of earshot. Now." There was something in her voice that compelled: they scattered like scared geese, encircling the bench at a distance. "Come," said Artemisia to MacLeod.

This close, her presence affected Mac like strong liquor. It was not just that she was beautiful; it was that she made no attempt now to conceal her pregnancy, which was obvious in the swell of her body, in her arm resting protectively across her midriff. She glowed. Her hair, her skin were blooming with life. She had a fragrance that was not perfume, but as luscious as ripe fruit. It was the allure all older female immortals shared, but in her . . . it held ten times the promise. Any male immortal, seeing her, would be equally stirred; Mac imagined challengers dropping their swords, forgetting the Game, lost in wild dreams of progeny. The inner music of her quickening was overwhelming.

But still she flinched and showed the whites of her eyes when a truck rattled past on the street; car backfires and horns blaring had the same affect. Even the sunlight glancing off the windows overhead made her shiver. She was horribly out of place, lost in the modern world. What kind of courage did it take, to bring her into the heart of Paris? Either courage, or desperate need. MacLeod could barely begin to guess which.

Michel Gaultier went around the bench, stood behind her like a bodyguard.

"We haven't," said the woman, "been properly introduced. Duncan MacLeod, I am Artemisia, the daughter of your teacher Darius, who held the holy ground in Knossos for almost five hundred years." She added, "And yes. I can give you children."

Her words were only the first of many blows. MacLeod flinched as if he had been struck--while she moved forward, circling around him, eyeing him. Looking him up and down, as a woman does a man.

"You've come a long way in a very short time," she said. "You've fought hard, taken many heads. And here you are, reaping the reward. Yes, I've read your Chronicles. How long have you wondered about the origins of our kind, our history, our secrets? I can teach you all those things.

"The men of our kind who can have children are rare," she went on. "The women are ten times rarer. There are rules we observe, to protect our species: the first is, never kill another breeding adult if you can help it." Her lips curved in a smile, and this time the way she looked at him was with satisfaction, anticipation; her mind made up. "Especially, never kill an immortal woman who can bear children. You've only been with women in the mortal way so far. You can't imagine the pleasure we can give one another."

He could imagine it. Oh yes, he could. Michel Gaultier was making angry inarticulate noises somewhere. But it was impossible to care. Not when at any moment--

She laid her hand upon his shoulder.

"Send the Watcher away," MacLeod said in a strangled voice.

"I go nowhere and do nothing without Michel. Never forget that . . . But back to the matter at hand--"

It was as it had been in the St. Barbara cemetery, with Methos. One touch of her fingertip was enough to make him gasp, almost enough to make him forget that they were in a public place, surrounded by mortal strangers, playing children, spectators who never noticed a thing . . . It was worse, because it was a sweetness more perverse than any game ever devised by Amanda. And all so innocent on the surface. Though he was beginning to have an inkling that to Artemisia and Methos, this was really no worse than child's-play. Little boys and girls kissing in the schoolyard. Why not indulge in public? There was no harm in it. And it followed that, if they really let go--

"Impossible pleasure, the kind that mortals wreck their lives to taste. It destroys them. Addicts us. Your Chronicles say you're a sensualist? You've barely begun to learn the meaning of the word." Artemisia said it from behind him, into his ear. Leaning forward, so that her silky hair brushed his throat and cheek.

MacLeod swallowed.

"Lie with a mortal woman now--or with a young immortal--and they'll--" Artemisia broke off. "Never mind that. But share this with another immortal, a mature immortal," she finished evenly, "one who can give you quickening for quickening . . . You'll never crave the kill again. Not when you can have fire from heaven."

Then he felt her touch on the back of his neck, on his spine, the small of his back--at the kundalini points of his body--and every brush of her palm was an explosion of rapture.

"This fire from heaven," she murmured. "That begets immortal children."

He groaned aloud.

"Methos told me, when it first happened for him he was lying with an immortal girl called Cassandra, and she thought it meant he was a god and she was his handmaiden. It divided him from his adopted brothers--Kronos, Silas, did he tell you about them? It's the same with all of us. When the time comes, we abandon our false families, and go out seeking true ones . . . At that time, a woman named Zarina took him as her man, and taught him all the secret things younger immortals don't know. Later, in Caria, he fell in love with me, and showed me how the old ones make love. The lightning licking through me. The quickening, but without guilt. Taking a head is only the shadow of that pleasure. Like this."

He imagined a sheet of quickening playing across the small space between them. Invisible to onlookers, narrow as a sword's edge: a razor of ecstacy, lethally sharp. Licks of fire that could burn him to ashes on the spot. But Christ, it would be a sweet death, so good-- Then, laughing a little, she threw her arms around him and laid her cheek against his.

"Let go of her!"

Someone was shouting French swear-words and jerking at Mac from behind; dimly, he realized it. Gaultier, of course. MacLeod growled, deep in his throat. He straightened, one hand entangled in Artemisia's golden hair; Gaultier blurted out something and shot a fist toward him, and Mac turned smoothly, the punch sliding past his jaw, then stabbed the stiffened wedge of his fingers up under the Watcher's armpit. He did it hard, casually, never jostling Artemisia the slightest bit--but Gaultier woofed and doubled over in pain, tears starting into his eyes.

When he straightened, there was pure hate in the set of his mouth.

"Get away from him, Duncan!" So much for Artemisia the seductress. She was gone, and in her place was a tigress with one cub. "Who taught you manners? And have you forgotten all your responsibilities! After Michel has met his first death and become an immortal like us, you will have to help me teach him."

Mac's jaw dropped. "When--"

"Yes," said Artemisia softly, dangerously. She pushed in front of Gaultier. "And if you can't see it, take my word. No one can spot a young immortal before the change the way I can . . . When I saw him among the Watchers, I knew I had to get him assigned to me. Yes, Michel will become immortal, and you and I will make sure he knows everything he needs to survive. I couldn't bear it if--" She stopped. "You and I are for the survival of our kind, MacLeod. It's the old way, the only way. But Michel is for me, always. Never forget that."


Meanwhile:

". . . we Artemisia Watchers have protected her for almost a hundred and fifty years now," said Peter Wilmington sedately. He sat in comfort, cup of tea in hand and teapot poised to pour out for Pelletier, who felt ready to jump right out of his skin. He wanted to leap up, to pace, to exclaim and wave his arms about; he itched to do something, anything. In contrast, Wilmington was as cool as a cucumber. His fellow conspirators surrounded him, nodding in bland approval; he was the very image of a man at peace with the world. At peace, and ready for exposition.

Pelletier ground his teeth and forced himself to sit still.

". . . what is the question every Watcher has asked, since the dawn of our order?" Wilmington sipped tea genteelly. "Well, 'What's the Game about?' of course. But also, 'Where do little immortals come from?'"

"I always thought they were just born from big immortals," Pelletier muttered into his cup.

"Yes, that's the official theory. With a few frills to account for their apparent one hundred percent rate of abandonment. Amnesia . . . premature birth . . . unnatural pregnancies . . . hollow hills, fables of the 'Fair Folk' . . . a immortal conspiracy headed by the very old ones, with breeding females kept imprisoned on holy ground . . . oh, abduction and rape theories innumerable. And of course there's that old Academy chestnut about Jack the Ripper actually being an immortal in heat, looking for a mate." More tea. With his little finger crooked just so. "All balderdash, naturally. The truth--" In a sinister tone: "The truth is much less romantic. But then there's nothing pretty about the mechanics of reproduction, eh Etienne?"

"Oh, just jump in and start hitting below the belt," blurted Pelletier. "Nom de Dieu! Give me the story, Peter. I'm old enough to hear the graphic details."

"Oh, very well," Wilmington said. "Go back one hundred and fifty years. She--Artemisia--was on holy ground in Syria when our predecessor Watcher found her and guessed her secret. We have his journal, Etienne, and I assure you it's a delight to read. An immortal woman, pregnant. Imagine how he felt, his wonder, his awe--at this unprecedented, astonishing discovery, such a discovery as every Watcher dreams of making--"

"Oui, oui, I can imagine. Go on, Peter."

"Etienne, why must you be such a spoilsport?" asked Wilmington reproachfully. "Well. To cut a long tale short, a male immortal came sniffing around and Artemisia's Watcher tossed all the rules out the window and beheaded him. Extraordinary circumstances, you know. Then he revealed everything about the Watchers to her, and they entered upon a bargain. Other Watchers were secretly approached, they formed the germ of the conspiracy whose members you see about you today, and for a hundred and fifty years, we have joined together to shelter and guard her."

"She's our treasure, see," said Jamie Simpson, beaming.

"Our darling," Isaac Elerie chipped in.

"Our wonderful secret . . . Artemisia."

"And now she's run off with the Gaultier puppy and you've lost her, you imbeciles!"

The faces of the Artemisia Watchers fell.

"Ah . . . yes," said Wilmington unhappily. "That little detail has not escaped our notice. Nevertheless, our predecessor Watcher--"

"And don't go on about 'our predecessor Watcher'!" Pelletier gripped his saucer tightly. "I'm not an Artemisia Watcher."

"You'll want to become one, when you hear what she has to offer. How do you feel about posterity?"

"Eh?"

"Do you think we protect her for nothing?" asked Wilmington. He looked down, somewhat shyly. And was that a blush upon his wrinkled cheek? It was bizarre. Pelletier reflected that he had known Peter Wilmington for twenty years, and never before seen him embarrassed. "You see, Etienne, this is the bargain the Artemisia Watchers make. We protect her, and see that her children are placed with safe foster parents. Then when our lives are drawing to an end, each of us-- Ah." He cleared his throat. "Goes to her. Each of us has one chance for posterity: our sons and daughters are born immortal. And this means you, too, Etienne. That's what you'll get out of this bargain."

"But . . . one child? And when your lives are drawing to an end? What are you dancing around, Peter? What does she do, pull a black widow spider and eats her mate, she beheads us in the act perhaps, or do we die of a wasting disease within eight months like Benoit--"

"Yes to the last," said Wilmington. "It kills, you see."

Silence fell. With a precise, delicate clink, Wilmington set his teacup down and folded his hands. The other Artemisia Watchers were nodding encouragement to Pelletier; Isaac Elerie was even winking roguishly. They had an air of satisfaction about them, as if they had advanced an offer that could not be refused. Only Wilmington seemed a trifle dubious.

How civilized it all was. Pelletier cleared his throat.

"And if I say no, you cut my head off and have me processed as an 'unknown immortal casualty'?" he asked.

"No, no, no! Etienne, you're entirely too paranoid. We would never do anything as crude as cutting your throat . . . We use poison needles instead." Wilmington smiled dryly at his own little joke, then rose. "Let's walk a moment," he said, taking Pelletier aside. Pelletier rolled his eyes in disbelief, but Wilmington repeated, "Just a moment, Etienne. No more."

The last Pelletier saw of the other Artemisia Watcher was the lot of them nodding wisely over their tea, apparently certain that Wilmington would clinch the deal for them.

It was time to nip their delusions in the bud. Pelletier cleared his throat pugnaciously. "So you want me to find your runaway immortal. Well, forget it. I'm not tempted. Posterity? I've got the kind of posterity I want already, posterity with my own immortal, who--"

"--posterity as the Methos Watcher," said Wilmington point-blank. Pelletier's jaw dropped; the other Watcher went on, "That's what you mean, isn't it? Oh, I know who Pierson is. We all do. Artemisia identified his picture for us. Now, the others don't care--you finding Artemisia is all they really care about--but I . . . Well. Artemisia has a vendetta against Methos, but-- He's the world's oldest immortal, after all." Wilmington sighed. "I actually phoned Dawson days ago and tipped him off."

Pelletier was speechless.

"I knew he'd warn Methos, you see. Put him on alert." He studied Pelletier; then, when he knew he had his full attention, he went on, "Believe that I have Methos' survival in mind. Work with me, Etienne. Now, this is what we need you to do . . ."


She knew, looking at MacLeod, that she almost had him. She could guess just how much Methos had told him: not much. Barely the beginning, even. Just enough to take the edge off. Thinking of it--of the double meaning of the phrase--she smiled secretly, touched him again in the way she knew would blot all reservations from his mind. Immortal women had their own powers over men, supernatural powers that intensified with the onset of true maturity. Immortal women were often witches in their own right. And just to make sure, she leaned close enough to breath a few more warnings into his ear.

"Don't fear me, Duncan. Remember the rule? Never kill another adult immortal. It protects you too. There are so few of us, you see."

"And even fewer women. Why?" He was frowning, a bad sign.

"Shush. Yes, too few women. But you already knew that male immortals tend to outnumber the women ten to one." Again, the touch, stroking along his back, curving her hand to the nape of his neck. Michel was restive, but trusted her well enough not to interfere again. A downcast glance. "You might never meet another immortal woman of breeding age again, Duncan: that's how rare we are. You'll learn to get along without. And that--" letting a little disdain color her voice "--would be why Methos befriended you so eagerly."

She felt him stiffen under her touch. There. Enough said.

But: "And mortal women, then?"

"Never with a mortal woman you love, Duncan." Brutally, Artemisia said, "She'll die a thousand deaths in your arms, young one. Rise from your bed pregnant. And if you're lucky and her constitution is strong, she'll live long enough to deliver the child. Then die for real. They always die."

Such black pain, stark in his eyes!

"It's hard, but when are things not hard for us? No more mortal women for you, poor boy. Be thankful that you found me . . . We understand one another, I think? Now I will tell you the rest of it--and when I have, there's just one little thing I want you to do . . ."







Eight

Docendo discimis: Teach in order to learn

Picture a man without a care in the world.

Methos sat cross-legged in a graveyard, whistling. Everything he currently owned was on his back and in his pockets. He had the clothes he stood up in, his dingy old coat, and his sword--well, that and a few other weapons stowed about his person, but he was an immortal, after all. It was goodbye to the Paris apartment, the English estate, the bookstore and all the artwork (two tons of it, by his last estimate) stored in various warehouses. He was even going to leave behind his favorite pair of boots. Not to mention his collection of rare books, but what did any of that matter?

He had several separate passports and sets of ID with him, always; he had set up bank accounts under emergency aliases. The rest was goodbye. And not just for a year or two, not just for a century: better not to come back at all. Ever. That was the best way to vanish. Up and walk away, without a backward glance. And never come back.

His most important possessions were memories, always. No one could part him from those.

So why was he still here, dawdling?

Methos stopped whistling. He stood up, coat swirling, and said several things in antique Magyar. Then he added a few more words in Sumerian, a creative language for swearing if you ever wanted one--bloody shame, a language that expressive and no one left alive to speak it. Sometimes it seemed there was no justice in the world.

Why was he still here?

"Because I'm an idiot," he answered himself, aloud, to Alexa's gravestone.

Then he stiffened.

There he was, there he was, Duncan MacLeod--as large as life, and that was plenty large enough--Duncan MacLeod, striding toward him across the bleak pavestones of the old cemetery. Mac himself all in his best white overcoat, and with his most stubborn expression firmly fixed in place. Instinctively, Methos darted a look right and left, calculating quick escape routes. Then he sighed and stayed put, because he hadn't been fast enough, getting out of town. Mac halted in front of him, planted like a monument. And glared.

"I thought you might come here."

"Yeah, well, I thought you wouldn't think that--"

"Skipping town, I suppose?"

Well, there was no proper answer to that one, so Methos held his tongue. He'd been stupid. No, he had counted on Mac being just a little slower than Mac had turned out to be; and he'd gotten caught. And he had been self-indulgent. And, he supposed, subconsciously he had been loitering where no Watcher would look for him . . . but Mac would. Because Alexa had been a part of Adam Pierson's life the Watchers didn't know about, but Mac did.

"I've been talking to Artemisia," said MacLeod. "She's mad."

"Oh, she's been mad for centuries," Methos said. "Mostly mad at me. I can take that. But the catch is, there's this rule about not beheading pregnant immortal women. It's a chivalry thing. Ought to be right up your alley." He spoke curtly, snapping out the sentences. Best to get things over with, not linger over the pain. "Put the two of us together, and somebody's head will roll. So it's better we stay apart . . . But you're different. You, I expect she'll get along with just fine." He hesitated. He added, "Have fun, Highlander. Learn a bit."

"No, I mean she's insane," Mac said. "Raving mad." He stuck out his chin in a familiar way. "So you're running away."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah."

"Don't. Stay here and help me fight."


It wasn't easy, being the best Watcher in the world. Such was Etienne Pelletier's melancholy thought, as he contemplated the task ahead. Oh, the burden of fame was heavy, but the yoke of self-respect was harder. When, at the Academy, he had outshadowed every other novice in his Surveillance class without raising a sweat, had he been satisfied to coast? Merde, no: he had kept at it till he was better than the instructor. When, upon first assignment, his immortal's senior Watcher had stuck him with the wetwork and never let him write any Chronicles, had he been content with merely cleaning up severed heads? No, no. He had scouted out every feasible dueling site in town, kept track of incoming challengers, and made damn sure that when his immortal fought, he was on-site and observing half an hour before any other Watchers showed. And that all the other Watchers knew it, too.

When his superior found himself demoted and Pelletier assumed his position, did Pelletier waste time gloating? Again--no. Nor had he settled with what he had. No, it was on to another, more challenging immortal, and another after that one, till there was no trick of the trade he hadn't mastered and he had the reputation of being the creme de la creme of Watchers. For a man had to exceed his past achievements, else what was a horizon for? Onward and upward.

And often, he dreamed of being assigned the truly risky immortals, ones like the Kurgan, or that terminally unpredictable man-killer Kellistra. Or Amanda. Ah, sweet Amanda. His Lady of the Light Heart. And hadn't she seemed the very challenge of challenges . . . an immortal who knew she was being Watched?

Sometimes after a hard day tracking her criminal activities he had come home, looked in his mirror and twirled his mustaches, saying, "Amanda, Amanda, how little you know it, but I am almost your secret lover." And he had reflected that to be a Watcher was to be a stalker with the blessing of his peers, a clandestine admirer yearning hopelessly from afar--ah, there was such sweet romance in it!--and a detective without being saddled with the nuisance of responsibilities.

He had kept a special little ledger in which he toted up the proceeds from her cons and burglaries. It was his game to guess, as accurately as possible, at her total take.

Till Adam Pierson--till Methos--she had been the pinnacle of Pelletier's ambitions.

And now . . .

How to find history's most elusive immortal? He felt like a mountaineer faced with lofty Everest, as he picked the lock and let himself into Joe Dawson's Paris nightclub. One had to be wily. One had to recall the first rule of surveillance: that the human element was everything. This was the rule Pelletier lived by. To find Methos, when Methos was hiding . . . ah well, forget that. Pelletier wasn't about to conquer his mountain by ramming it headfirst. One had to think of the human element. Who could find Methos? Who was probably already looking? Why, Duncan MacLeod.

"Dawson? Bonjour."

The hour being early, Les Blues was still closed. Joe Dawson was behind the bar, polishing glasses till they sparkled, and consulting a junior MacLeod Watcher. The two had their heads together and were deep in professional chit-chat. From the sound of it, brainstorming ideas about an article on Dark Quickenings for the official Watcher journal 'The Vigilant Argus.'

"Pelletier?" said Dawson. "Jesus, you gave me a fright, sauntering in like that. What brings you here?"

"A search for Adam Pierson," said Pelletier suavely. "He's disappeared."

"Oh . . . yes. Heard about that." Dawson coughed behind his hand, and the junior MacLeod Watcher excused himself and went off to do something. "It's always a trial when a subject leaves you high and dry." There was a muted musical clink as Dawson set two shot glasses on the bar counter. "You have my sympathies. Cheers, Etienne. To luck."

"Merci."

The two of them drank, as old acquaintances. They were actually thrown into each other's company fairly often. It was merely something that tended to happen, when two immortals were friends: MacLeod and Pierson spent all their time in each others' pockets; ergo, Dawson and Pelletier kept bumping elbows. It didn't mean they too were friends. Privately, Pelletier thought Joe Dawson had fallen victim to the charisma of his immortal and could no longer be considered a real Watcher. In fact he should have been cashiered back in '97, but he hadn't. No matter. One could still be sociable. But now . . .

Things were different now. Pelletier drained his shot glass and slammed it down. "I want your secret Chronicles," he said, and Dawson jumped guiltily.

"Secret Chronicles? What secret Chronicles?"

"The secret Chronicles you've been keeping on Pierson." Slam went the shot glass. "Ever since you discovered he was Methos."

Dawson's face fell. "You . . . know?"

"Yes, I do!" Time to attack the other flank. "I'm not the only one either. The Artemisia Watchers say she identified Methos weeks ago. Every single one of them is in on the secret." Pelletier made a low growling sound. "She's after my immortal's head, the bitch! Your immortal's head too, I'll wager. Do you know where Duncan MacLeod is just now? She could already have tracked him down."

"We don't shadow him every single second," Dawson protested. "He's gone window-shopping on the West Bank, that's all--"

"Better hope he hasn't stepped into any abandoned warehouses," said Pelletier grimly.

"I-- Excuse me a moment." Dawson picked up his cane, headed for the back room, shouting, "Mike! Put down that inventory and listen, I--"

That was what Pelletier had been waiting for. Immediately, he leaned over the bar and snagged the Les Blues phone. He dialed the number for Duncan MacLeod's cell. When, after five rings, he heard the line go live, he said a single word. "Help!" Then he disconnected.


"You should have thrown that thing away," said Methos, glaring. "Didn't I tell you to?"

"It's just Dawson," MacLeod said. He had call-identification on his cell, and had glanced automatically at the tiny LED display. Till then he had been about to ignore the call, but it changed his mind. "Wait half a minute," he said.

"I could have been in a Greek palaestra, mud-wrestling," Methos muttered.

"Keep it clean," advised MacLeod, and put the phone to his ear.

"Could have been playing tourist in Egypt by now. Haven't gone treasure-hunting in the Valley of the Kings for about twenty-seven centuries. You know, I worked there once as a mercenary. Pharaoh had hired three companies of us from Ionia, we made up slang words for all the biggest monuments--just like tourists, really. Called the tombs at Giza 'buns' and the monoliths in the temples 'skewers', and the names caught on. Pyramides. And obeliskoi. Funny thing--"

"Joe?! Joe are you there!!"

"Mac?" said Methos.

"He said, 'Help,'" said Mac. "Let's go."

"It's a trap," said Methos instantly. "Artemisia and Michel. Plus all their little friends, no doubt. Let's run like deer."

"Methos. Come," said MacLeod impatiently. He went away without waiting to see if Methos would follow; Methos sat for a moment longer, grimacing. Would he ever find an immortal more reckless than Duncan MacLeod? He thought not. Did he regret hanging around with him? No . . . Still, he permitted himself the luxury of a few grumpy thoughts. Till he remembered that the sins of his past had brought all this on them both.

He remembered Halicarnassos, more than two thousand years ago. Mortal workmen sitting about as they ate their siesta ration of goat-cheese and unleavened bread. Mortal wives carrying water home, from the public fountain marked with its enigmatic motto: nispon anomimata mi monan opsin, wash the sin as well as the face. Children playing at pessoi with pebbles, their gameboards drawn in the dust of the road. A little boy running past Methos, bringing his laborer father figs in a cloth; and the father had thrown his son in the air, both of them pealing out a laugh. One high, one low. And Artemisia, framed by her almost-completed Mausoleum.

He remembered the Mausoleum, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world. It was made of green stone and brick and marble. With thirty-six great outer columns, and the interior sanctuary a veritable marvel of ceramic and gold; with a frieze of Greeks and Amazons and a frieze of battling centaurs, and at its doors had stood red and white marble lions. High atop the pyramid at its apex, one hundred forty feet from the ground, was a monumental sculpture of chariot and horses . . . All this had perished within a few brief centuries. Only a few immortals now surviving had seen it in its glory, and Methos was one. And his memory placed Artemisia in front of it, as was her proper place, for she was an artist and the design had been hers, though only rumor attributed the work to her and all the glory had gone to her mortal husband. She herself had been as lovely as Aphrodite of Cnidus.

Smitten with her, he had made his big mistake. He had shown her what happened when an immortal came of age to breed. He had been crazy, thinking the sheer joy he could give her would satisfy her, blunt her curiosity . . . but she was Pandora, couldn't rest till the whole box of secrets was spilled. It didn't matter to her, the spectacular things an immortal of age could do to please her. All she wanted to know was how immortals came of age. She had wheedled and begged and pleaded. Until he told her.

He had explained exactly how her dreams could come true and she had understood how she could have a family--centuries before she should have been taught those things--and she had picked up her sword and tried to kill him. Then she had gone out and slaughtered the family she had. The immortals who had been her adoptive kin, the heröa, Idrieus, Ada, all of them, every one . . . She had beheaded them all, in her blind folly. And had been left alone, with her magnificent tomb.

An epigram of Martial occurred to him: 'Do you ask, Pannychus, why your Caelia only consorts with eunuchs? Caelia wants the flowers of marriage--not the fruit.' But Artemisia had spurned the flowers, treading them under her heel . . . and as for the fruit, it was poisoned.


Etienne Pelletier hurried out of Les Blues; he didn't want Joe Dawson to catch him. Barely two metres from the door, he ran smack into a brick wall.

It was a monolith, a veritable pyramid, a human obelisk. It was Michel Gaultier. Michel Gaultier, large as life--larger, in fact--like Chivalry Incarnate in silver leather, cool shades on his eyes, and a motorcycle helmet swinging negligently from one hand. And--if Pelletier did not mistake--and he never made mistakes of that sort!--a sword concealed beneath his coat. It was the Black Knight.

Methos or MacLeod would have called him the smyler with the knyfe under the cloke. Pelletier was made of more modern metal. Disregarding Gaultier's entourage of biker hoodlums (where had he purchased them anyway, central casting?) he got immediately into his rival's face.

"So. It's you."

Gaultier swung to a halt. "So it's you." Coolly, he added, "The has-been. Got tired of mooning over Methos?" and all the bikers sniggered in chorus.

Did everyone know?

Something snapped inside Pelletier. He thrust his face close to Gaultier's. "You blind, deaf, gutless one-day-wonder, trotting along like Rover at your mistress' heel--you pampered pug-dog of a man--le petit chien-chien à sa mémère, pourri-gâté! Have you slipped your leash?" He spared a glance for the hoodlums, who were crowding ominously forward. And he sneered. "Delude yourself that you're leader of the pack?"

Gaultier bristled. "I'm good enough for my lady."

"Your lady?! You're not her boy anymore, Watcher. Not an Artemisia Watcher anymore." Twisting the knife in the wound: "It's Pierson--Methos--that you're supposed to sniff after nowadays. Will you be as fulfilled, licking him off?"

Gaultier said, "Espèce de connard!"

"Hot for your immortal, you're no real Watcher. That's if you can even get within licking distance of Methos."

Gaultier snapped, "Putain de merde!!"

"And if you do," Pelletier jeered, "I'll be the first to die of shock."

"Espèce de fouinard moustachu!!!"

Pelletier said, "Not within a mile of him."

"Pauvre vieux con gateux!!!" roared Gaultier.

"Petir merdeux!" Pelletier retorted.

Gaultier said, "Arghh." It was an actual growl. His flunkies (or were they lackies?) echoed him. Their hands delved beneath their leather jackets, they flexed their muscular shoulders and seemed to grow wider with rage. Then, controlling himself with an effort, Gaultier waved them off. "He's not worth the trouble. Let him by." He pulled off his sun-shades and twisted them; there was a red spark in his grey eyes. "But soon enough, has-been--"

Pelletier gave him the finger and sauntered away. He played it cool till he was halfway down the street, well out of danger, and Gaultier and all his hired muscle had piled into Les Blues. Inwardly, he was trembling with fury.

He was overcome by a premonition. All hell was about to break loose.

Instinctively, he did as any good Watcher would. He cast a quick glance around him, paying special attention to the rooftops. Then he set off, swiftly. He had to get a good vantage point--the better to see the whole thing.







Nine

Inter armes silent leges: In time of war, throw out the rules

Methos had, naturally, insisted on splitting up with MacLeod; let Mac make his customary cavalry charge from due front, and he would circle round the back and appear in the nick of time. Nonetheless, he was still grumbling as he approached Les Blues. He wasn't a team player. He had never been a team player. Not since the bad old Horsemen era, and even that had been an aberration. It had been Kronos' idea, and Kronos' fault. Methos was well aware that if not for Kronos, he would never have hooked up with any other immortals . . . not for any reason . . . not for any length of time. He didn't even marry immortal women.

And now here he was playing Tonto to Duncan MacLeod's Lone Ranger! How had he been persuaded to break all his rules? Those rules had kept him alive for millennia.

He'd gone crazy, that was it.

Like Pelletier, Methos had attended the Surveillance classes required for Watchers-in-training; unlike Pelletier, he had almost flunked out of the course. But that didn't mean he couldn't be inconspicuous. Centuries of experience, after all. Centuries of experience in everything. Thus, no one spared him a second glance as he strolled along the sidewalk, took a turn into the alley. He, however, watched everyone and everything. His instincts screamed danger. He was early; time now to pick a spot, scan the theatre of battle, and make plans. What was the best surveillance point? Probably up on that high rooftop down the street. The rooftop with the accessible fire escape.

The first rule: whenever possible, avoid fights. Solid gold, that rule. He imagined that following it had lengthened his life by at least two thousand years. The second rule: don't take things too seriously. Ditto. Damn it, he was meant to be Krishna with the milkmaids (as Rebecca had always put it, back in the Dark Ages) no worry, all delight; his immortal peers could emulate Rama husband of Sita, that peerless symbol of fatherhood and responsibility. So what did he do? Clap eyes on a Scots whippersnapper with a scant four centuries under his belt, and there went that rule too.

Horatio to Mac's Hamlet. Enkidu to his Gilgamesh. Harpo to his bloody Chico . . .

Up the fire escape he went, unnoticed. He was taking a pair of binoculars out of his long coat as he went over the roof-railing, darted across a brief exposed space and vanished behind an air-conditioning shaft. He found himself looking at his own ex-Watcher from the back.

Well, well, well. Etienne Pelletier, muttering into a cell phone, already firmly planted in the very lookout Methos had chosen. Did wonders never cease? Methos almost laughed; then he became air and darkness. He moved toward Pelletier with long soundless steps, the binoculars dangling from his fist. Not a footfall, not a rustle, not an errant breath warned the other man. The Watcher was intent on something in the street before Joe's little nightclub, bent forward, a statue of concentration. Methos halted halfway to him. He regarded Pelletier, bemused. Here he was, an immortal spying on his own Watcher, a classic role-reversal if ever he saw one; what was it about today, that turned the whole world on its head? The irony was killing him. And yes, Pelletier had chosen well, this was a dream of a lookout point--over his head, Methos scanned the entire area, with a perfect bird's-eye view. Not making a sound, he looked where Pelletier looked, paying particular attention to entrances and exits at street level. He was calculating the approaches to Les Blues when he heard what Pelletier was muttering so ferociously. ". . . your crew knows all about it, Gaultier knows, Gaultier's goons know, everyone and their grandmother know Pierson is Methos . . ."

Pelletier almost died, then. He never knew the danger he was in. He snapped his little phone shut and shook his fist in the air, oblivious, while Death hovered over him and the world's oldest survivor considered Rule Three: don't let anyone discover who you are . . . Then, if the Watcher had bothered to glance over his shoulder, he would have seen Methos lift the binoculars, taking a turn of the long leather strap around each hand, and presto! instant garotte. Methos bared his teeth. One last step brought him close enough to strike. And then he froze. He blinked, as if surfacing from deep water; he shrugged off the bloodlust of years past like an outworn Hallowe'en costume. The transformation was magical. Death was gone, banished like a bad dream . . . and something five thousand years old gazed at Pelletier with infinite tenderness.

Perhaps three minutes passed. Methos was thinking with furious speed. Any moment now, Duncan MacLeod would arrive.

At a small sound, Pelletier stiffened. He turned. Adam Pierson stood right behind him, one hand outstretched as if to tap him on the shoulder. It was the very same Adam Pierson whom Pelletier had known for years, a man ideally suited to the academic life, never more comfortable than when settled in a library, prone to making horrible puns in obscure languages and to stammering when confronted with the Supervisors. Very young, very shy, often lost in a daydream, frequently flustered over streetmaps and how to tip in bars. Somewhat awkward. He always stood as if his feet were too big and his body hadn't quite grown into his shoulders. No one ever took him very seriously. That was Adam Pierson to the life.

He seemed about to speak, and then the change came over him.

He straightened, shifting his weight, and suddenly his shoulders seemed broader, his whole stance altered and he was poised on the balls of his feet, perfectly balanced. The slight swing of his coat drew attention to its length and the sheer number of weapons it might conceal. Pierson's eyes narrowed, went chilly. His mouth set in a thin line. His jaw hardened, thrust forward. Pelletier followed the slight jerk of his hand toward his coat, and found that all the hair had risen on the back of his neck and gooseflesh prickled everywhere; it was the cold thrill of pure shock. Of course he had known--intellectually--that Adam Pierson was not a mortal man, but this--this--this was an immortal. Pierson--Methos--stared at him till Pelletier could hear his own heart drum in his throat. Finally he leaned forward, attention caught by something he saw behind Pelletier. He put his hands up to his mouth, shouted in a hard flat voice that carried effortlessly to the street below: "Mac. Take it outside."

Methos showed the Watcher his immortal face, because there was a time to jettison the rules. Besides, he and Mac were going into a tight corner and it always paid to have an ace in the hole. That done, he swung on his heel and strode away.

Behind him, Pelletier sagged. He felt as if he had aged ten years.

Below, in the street, Duncan MacLeod had just hove into view. He had heard Methos shouting down at him. Nothing passed over his face, but he nodded to himself; if he was going to hook up with a master tactician, he might as well listen to his directions. As he stalked along the sidewalk, he reached into his coat and drew, sweeping the katana out of sight behind his elbow. He went straight for the front door of Les Blues, with no attempt at stealth. And kicked it in.

It slammed back thunderously, and the Highlander stood framed in the light. Flip went his wrist, and the katana spun into view. There, within the shadowy confines of the bar, was a goggling cluster of hoodlums surrounding Joe Dawson, and Michel Gaultier himself was holding Joe menacingly by the throat. They were frozen, gaping at him--a still-life of villainy and threat, confronting the lone immortal with the sword. Mac said one word, to Gaultier. "Come."

He vanished with a swirl of his duster. Not that he went far. He was betting that Gaultier would be unable to turn down a challenge, and he wasn't about to lose: behind him, through the wrecked door, he heard a hubbub of voices, and then leather-clad figures piled into sight. Michel Gaultier came first. The big Watcher came on with deliberate smooth speed, and yes, he carried a sword. As he strode toward MacLeod, he snapped orders to the men following. They fell back, fanning out. Gaultier halted facing MacLeod, one man against one immortal.

Out came his sword. He saluted, fell into an immaculate en garde. He attacked.

Michel Gaultier knew at once that he had the edge in strength, but this was no surprise; he usually did. Both he and the Highlander were obsessively trained athletes. True, MacLeod had four centuries of experience, something no mere mortal could match . . . but Gaultier had been challenging immortals in Artemisia's name for almost ten years now. And winning, to present the heads of his opponents to his lady. He had fought in every type of condition, had roused from a blind sleep at Artemisia's door once and taken out a brash ambusher bent on killing her in her bed. Nor had he merely defended his ladylove. At her urging, he had picked targets and taken her along while he stalked and fought them--again beheading them in her presence, that she might enjoy the quickening. She had an insatiable appetite for quickening. In this one way, he could gratify her desires. Like a peerlessly trained fighting animal--like the attack dog that Pelletier had named him--he lived in those moments of battle.

So he knew how to kill immortals. He fought defensively, with blinding speed, laying on every stroke like a blacksmith at the anvil. His wounds wouldn't heal; he couldn't afford to take any. He couldn't weaken the Highlander with small cuts either. No, superior strength was his greatest advantage, and his game was to wear his opponents down--for even immortals with their healing gifts could tire like mortal men.

The end usually came when the foe was staggering, easy to overpower. Then he would make a killing blow--and then, without hesitation, take the head. But this time, Gaultier had promised Artemisia he would delay. She had made him promise it over and over, had insisted on the point. "Swear to me you'll do just as I've explained to you," she had demanded. "Everything, no matter how senseless it seems to you. Wait till we see them both together--then do it when I give the word."

He had left three of his bikers in the bar, to guard the cripple Dawson and his fulminating junior MacLeod Watcher, Mike. Now there was a commotion from that quarter. Shouts were heard, something crashed. Methos had just come into Les Blues from the back alley--but Gaultier and his hoodlums on the street were not to know that. The hoodlums were just taking notice, stirring to move in that direction, when their three friends ran pellmell out of the bar. They almost fell over in their haste to exit, held their empty hands above their heads; after them came Mike with a gun in either hand, and Joe with a stolen submachine pistol.

The hoodlums on the street jerked up their own weapons. Too late. Joe Dawson bared his teeth, stitched a fusillade of bullets across the pavement. Chips flew up in stinging sprays, the rattattat was deafening--and, "Just try it," Joe invited, teeth bared. And at Joe's heels, Methos stepped into the sunshine. He carried a naked sword, bloody-edged from forte to point. Then the bikers ceased and desisted. Their disarmed friends from inside the bar fell flat on the sidewalk; they themselves sighed, and lowered their guns.

As they did, cars pulled up screeching at either end of the street; doors opened, and flustered Artemisia Watchers came piling out. It was Pelletier who had called them on his cell phone, but when they spotted the bikers, pistols appeared in their hands like magic. Up went the bikers' guns again, and Joe Dawson threw up his hands. "Look at this mess," he whispered out of the side of his mouth, "the police will be here any minute. Adam, whose blood is that anyway?"

The Artemisia Watchers pulled menacing faces. Gaultier's hoodlums and hirelings did the same. It was a Mexican standoff.

"Old trick," Methos said without moving his lips. "It's mine. Slashed my arm in the alley--it's already healed."

Never before had the quiet street witnessed such goings-on! There was the Artemisia team all grey hair and pistols, the bikers all tattoos and automatic weaponry; there was Methos with his sword and Joe and Mike with their own guns . . . and in broad daylight, in the midst of it, Duncan MacLeod and Michel Gaultier fought on--oblivious.

As for Artemisia, Gaultier had left her safely hidden, a fawn in covert . . . till she had stepped shuddering out of the car which had concealed her, and begun to walk slowly toward Les Blues. She shied at a blare of rock music, coming from an open window in a building above; then she steeled herself, and went on as if the sound was torture. To her, it was. She held a long cloak-like coat around her, clutching it closed at her breast. Her head was bowed. She rounded a corner and saw the drama in the street ahead. Ah! her sweet Michel, her student--there he was, continuing his education like a good boy. With the Highlands puppy, the young Scot MacLeod. And there was Methos. She had asked MacLeod to bring her Methos. (Just as Wilmington had asked Pelletier to find Methos, protect him from Gaultier somehow--though Artemisia didn't know that.) Methos and MacLeod were both so powerful, so full of good quickening--so tempting, ripe for beheading. They would die, and she and Michel would finally be united. Oh, the sweetness that would be, after so many long years of frustration . . . ! Sweetness for her, and more for her lover. He had been barely fifteen when she had found him; he was innocent of other women. They had been chaste together, yearning only for each other. When he finally became an immortal, when they could finally touch one another--oh, the conflagration that would be!

Her other Watchers were also there, but she didn't have to worry about that. She ignored them.

Now. It was time. Artemisia of Halicarnassos caught her lover's eye, as he circled in the action of the duel. Just for a split second. It was enough. She formed a kiss with her mouth, throwing it to Michel . . . and said loudly, "Now."

Several things happened then, very quickly.

Gaultier leaped straight back out of Mac's reach, put up his sword and shouted. "Shoot them both now!"

Before the hoodlums could obey, the flat whipcrack of a gunshot answered.

There was an agonized scream.

Michel Gaultier pitched over, clutching a shattered kneecap. Meanwhile, high above, a disgruntled Watcher named Pelletier put up his gun and muttered to himself: "Think he's going to attack my Methos, does he? Thinks he's above the Watcher rules? Well think again, my fine young friend. And shame on you, for falling under the spell of your immortal. Petir merdeux!"

Below, Artemisia ran toward Michel. Duncan MacLeod had wheeled and was advancing fearlessly upon the bikers, his katana describing beautiful lethal swoops and swings in the sunlight. The bikers were wavering, their gazes pinned on Gaultier whose blood spread in a red pool on the tarmac. Their weapons wavered too. Suddenly one broke and dashed headlong down the street, making for the corner like a world-class sprinter, as Artemisia fell to her knees next to her lover, as she clasped his head to her breast. As he moaned, she peered at his ruined knee. "That's a maiming wound," she said distinctly. MacLeod, hard-eyed, took one last step in the direction of the remaining bikers. They backed away, they threw down their guns, and one of them stood hunched, clasping both hands on the back of his neck in a befuddled parody of surrender to the authorities. The Artemisia team took advantage of the confusion to hasten toward their immortal. And Methos was just remarking to Joe, "Time to make a getaway, the police will probably arrive next," when Artemisia lifted her head.

She spoke and ancient witchery was in her voice: "You two, drop those," she said, and Joe and Mike turned toward her like hypnotized things while their hands opened, dangled empty, and their weapons fell and bounced on the pavement. "Be afraid," said Artemisia, and sweat sprang out on their foreheads, while the biker hoodlums dropped to the ground, writhed and whimpered in terror. "Yes, very afraid," she said, and she turned her attention upon MacLeod and Methos. "Stand still," she said. Power spread from her, rings of water rippling irresistibly from a dropped stone. MacLeod froze. The bikers were transfixed, except that their eyeballs rolled whitely; Wilmington and his conspirators were like statues with goggling eyes; from Mike the junior Watcher came a tiny squeak of shock. Even Pelletier, far from her as he was, found himself unable to move. And Artemisia smiled.

She stood, taking up her lover's fallen sword as she did. MacLeod's shoulders heaved, he was struggling fiercely against her magic, and she could tell that someone had taught him the basics of this kind of fight--but he was obviously still new to it, and no match for her. Only Methos, of all present, was not affected. He watched her warily, but he had lowered his sword and his stance was relaxed. He was no threat.

"Ssh, Highlander," she murmured, "don't fear, I mean no harm to you or Methos." It was a lie, of course. She said it to blunt MacLeod's resolve, making it harder for him to fight her. That left Methos. "Methos? I have no power over you, but you won't stop me. Will you?"

"You couldn't do this when I knew you before," said Methos.

"No."

"Drop the sword, Artemisia. It's over."

"No--"

"Your man is crippled, you won't hurt anyone else. Let your Watchers care for both of you now. It's finished--"

Time to carry out her plan. "No!" She turned, raising the sword with an effort. And stabbed straight down into Michel's chest.

A little breeze stirred dust off the Parisian sidewalk, blew a paper wrapper across the silent tableaux. The frozen men, the silent witnesses. MacLeod, as helpless as if wrapped round with chains. The woman with her lovely merciless face, her cloak belling around her . . . Michel Gaultier, dying in a smear of blood. His lips worked in shock, he even managed to stretch a disbelieving hand toward Artemisia. She bent (and it was awkward) and took it in hers, cradling it against her cheek. "Mon doux," she breathed, "trust me--" Her tears fell on his upturned face. He moaned something. He died.

Slowly, weeping, she worked the blade loose and withdrew it. Holding it, she began to walk toward Methos. "He will rise again," she said, "and then I will give him both your heads."

"No," said Methos, shying back. "You're--"

"You and young Duncan. You're both very powerful. You'll be my gift to him--you know what for, Methos. It was my plan," said Artemisia reasonably, "my new plan."

The dead man lay unmoving.

She cast an affectionate glance toward the corpse. "Michel, darling, wake and join us. We'll be together forever, and you'll be able to give me children. My real family at last."

He did not stir.

"Cheri? I can't give you their heads till you're alive again." She waited--bright-eyed and affectionately indulgent. "Michel?" Any moment now he would be galvanized to life. "Michel, mon tendre aimé? . . . Michel?"

Then she understood what she had done.

"Artemisia," Methos was saying, soft and far away, "he was never going to be immortal, you knew he wasn't," and she heard herself give a wail of grief and mourning--all the days of her future were finished, her beloved was dead--and it was, again, as it had been in the beginning, when she had slaughtered those she loved and found herself bereaved rather than rewarded--and then it came to her: it was all Methos' fault. All his fault. From the very first, his fault. His betrayal. And still everyone around them was a frozen statue; only she and Methos had the power of movement. "No one will hurt you, let your Watchers take you home," he said with terrible gentleness, and she hated him utterly, for her Michel was lost.

"This has to end." Was that her voice? "I won't be left alone in this hellish world." She looked at Methos in helpless appeal, but his jaw set and he stepped back from her, looking elsewhere in denial--oh, was there any way he had not betrayed her?--so she cast the sword ringing to the pavement, and she shouted in a voice of power no mortal man could disobey: "Kill him now! Kill him and take his head!"

There. She seemed to stand at the still center of the moving world. From the corner of her eye she saw her Artemisia Watchers turn upon Methos, tottering old men perhaps, but they had guns and knew how to use them--and her dearest Michel's henchmen, teeth bared in snarls of hate, brought up their submachine pistols--and as Methos gasped, she broke into a wild laugh of defiance, and--

Swoosh.

Artemisia's head rolled along the sidewalk, and Duncan MacLeod--who had broken the spell of her voice when she threatened Methos--put up his katana, his face grim and old. "She asked for it," he said, in a voice thickened by Scots brogue. The bikers were running away, freed. What had happened they did not know; they only knew they had to get away, fast. The poor Artemisia Watchers gathered in a knot round their immortal's headless body, fumbling in horror at each other. MacLeod stood facing Methos across the corpse.

They were still like that--stock still, neither speaking--when the quickening hit them and blotted out the world with fire from heaven.







Epilogue

Si post fata venit gloria non propero: If glory comes after death, I'm not in a hurry



Picture a supremely happy Watcher.

Etienne Pelletier, at peace with his world, sat at the bar in Les Blues and reveled in the attentions of his fellow Watchers. Joe was on one side of him, Peter Wilmington on the other. Mike, behind the bar, topped up his glass with flattering regularity and hung on his every word. As did Joe. And if Wilmington, after downing three fifths of Scotch neat, was staring mournfully into the middle distance--well, it was only to be expected. Any Watcher could sympathize with his plight. His beloved immortal dead . . . under such odd circumstances . . . in fact, the official report would be extremely terse. Just a brief statement. All the confusing details edited out.

Pelletier, on the other hand, was ecstatic as he twiddled his mustaches and held forth: "--the perfect lookout point, naturally. Joe, you are to be complimented on leasing this place--the surroundings so advantageous, so many overlooking windows, so many low roofs! But I stray from the point. The madwoman used her witchcraft to bedazzle MacLeod and set him to find Methos for her. Meanwhile, she sent Gaultier to take you hostage, Joe. Her notion? Apparently to initiate that blockhead Gaultier into immortality, and then hand him my immortal's head." A snort of indignation, then as an afterthought: "Duncan MacLeod's head also. The poor besotted lunatic!--my apologies to you, Peter. Lovely, but mad."

Peter Wilmington put his head down on his arms and mumbled something that sounded like, "My life is over."

"But she thought Gaultier was an immortal?" Joe was intrigued. "Damn, MacLeod tell me nothing-- Didn't she know how many tests he had to pass, to become a Watcher?"

"Well, Adam Pierson passed them," Pelletier pointed out. "But he is exceptional. To continue: you were to have been leverage, in case Methos or MacLeod proved difficult. Naturally, I guessed her plan. The instant I set eyes upon Gaultier, I guessed it. Imagine my horror! Especially since I had just summoned MacLeod here . . . so I could follow him when he left, and find Methos. But since--through my own genius--I had played into Gaultier's hands, I knew it was up to me to stop him." Pelletier coughed modestly behind his hand. "So--I phoned you, Peter, to come collect Artemisia. Then I waited. And when he gave the order to fire on my immortal--blammo!"

Wilmington surfaced, swigged down half a glass of Scotch like ice water, and collapsed again. "No more Artemisia, no more posterity, no more life," he was heard to mutter.

"And then?" inquired Joe, fascinated.

"And then," said Pelletier in triumph, "out with my phone again, and then and there I got on the line with the Western European Supervisor. That detestable ninnyhammer, that bungler who let Gaultier bully him into demoting me. What did I do? Into his ear I whispered a single name. 'Adam Pierson is Methos,' I said, and while he was still spitting his coffee all over his desk, I drove the point in: 'I have incontrovertible proof. And your pet Olympian Gaultier just got himself spitted playing baby immortal, so unless you put me back on Pierson's case I'll trumpet your blunders to every Watcher on the world network and you'll never be able to show your face among your peers again.' In those very words. 'You need a Methos Watcher who won't embarrass you, and I'm the man,' I said. 'Give me back my immortal!' I said." Pelletier kissed his fingertips. "The rest is history."

Wilmington said muzzily into his hands, "And it's court-marshal an' a bullet to the back of the head for me . . ."

"What's that, Peter?" Joe peered at him, then shrugged. "I still don't understand," he complained. "Why all the fuss from our immortals, if Artemisia was just a lunatic--excuse me, Peter--just deranged, after all? Poor woman."

"Ahh, amour!" Pelletier patted Wilmington roughly on the back of the head, effectively shoving his face into his drink. "Obviously it was the entanglement of a long-standing lover's quarrel. What passed between Methos--ah, how I love to say the name--and Artemisia, we may never know. It's as simple as that. What matters is the finding of Methos. The discovery of the century! All else is irrelevant. So says my official report--and I'd like to see," he added, "the colleague who dares contradict me--me, the Methos Watcher!"

And picture an immortal Highlander, sunk in the depths of bitter angst.

He, Duncan MacLeod, stood in a cemetery not far away, before Tessa Noel's grave. A haze of Paris fog hung damply over him. It was dull and grey and lifeless, the perfect match for his mood; his arms were crossed, hands tucked in the sleeves of his heavy coat, and his head was sunk on his chest. It was brooding weather. He was brooding.

And it wasn't that he had broken the new rules Methos had given him, it wasn't that he had beheaded a pregnant woman. No. It was more. Nature is the Devil's claw, Rebecca had said, learning what Mac now knew; then, Artemisia had explained exactly how cruel nature was to immortals. He would never have a family with Tessa, or any other mortal lover. And he wouldn't have a family with Amanda either.

The way an immortal came of age was through killing. The more they played the Game, the more quickenings they took, the likelier it was to happen. That was why so few immortal women survived to breeding age: very few were violent enough. Fortune did not favor them. And Amanda--lovely, charming Amanda--more interested in fun and larceny than the Game, didn't have enough of the murderer in her. She would probably never take enough heads to come of age. As for Mac, he knew he could never tell her the secret. Tell her that they could have everything together . . . if and only if she turned to a life of slaughter?

Nature is the Devil's claw. It punished the peaceable, and rewarded the violent.

Methos had vanished. He had recovered from Artemisia's quickening more quickly than Mac; by the time Mac had opened his eyes, blinking as if blinded, he was already gone. "Thataway," Joe had said helplessly, pointing. It had been too late. Mac had run to the end of the street, gazed wildly around . . . Methos had vanished. He was gone without a word, and Mac knew why. The weight of it was crushing: while saving Methos' life, he had broken all the rules Methos had laid down for him. ("Lay a finger on her," Methos had said--eons ago it seemed-- "and I'll kill you.") Glumly, Mac knew he was fortunate Methos had not attacked him then and there. Artemisia should have been preserved, no matter what; he should have found some way to stop her without resorting to bloodshed. But it had seemed as if Methos was about to die, and--

No matter. There should have been a way. MacLeod bowed his head, and addressed Tessa's gravestone: "I'll probably never see him again." He had lost Tessa, he had lost Darius and Fitz and Richie and Connor. So many things, lost. There would be no children with mortal women, no love with Amanda. All these things were dust on the wind.

Then . . .

He felt the thrill along his nerves; his head snapped up, his hand slid instinctively into his coat. Duncan MacLeod straightened, drawing his sword, and stood like a stag at bay. Peering into the heavy fog. Another immortal was out there . . . circling toward him, an invisible enemy . . . holy ground be damned, he could feel it. He bestowed a final pat on Tessa's gravestone, and began to prowl toward the other immortal. Closer, closer-- What was that small casual sound he heard--like fingers snapping to an unheard song? Mac's eyes narrowed. At the edge of the cemetery, he called out his challenge, and as he did, he swung the sword. "I'm Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod--"

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," said a voice. "I've heard it all before."

Wild happiness bubbled up in Mac.

Methos sauntered out of the fog as if he had not a care in the world, snapping his fingers to a beat, one-two, one-two. As MacLeod pulled his lunge short, he merely stepped sideways and strolled on. Still snapping his fingers. Mac put up his sword and gaped for an instant. Then a huge smile spread over his face, and he followed. Mist eddied around them, there was the illusion of complete privacy; not even Watchers could spy on them now. And with a neat dance step Methos went on--while Mac stalked behind him, flourishing his katana.

No one was there to see, but it was beautiful. Mac let the sword wheel in great flashing loops, describing showy circles and spirals in the air, making a game of the deadly moves--never touching Methos, though Methos put his hand up once and arrested the sword in mid-flash with a fingertip. Inches from his throat. The edge of a good katana could cleave concrete and lop off limbs, the lightest touch could count as a killing blow--but Mac never came close. Nor did the rhythm of Methos' snapping fingers let up. He moved in cadence to the beat, step-step-step-pause, step-step-step-turn, kicking up his feet--with the razor-sharp blade swooping about his ears--watching Mac out of the corner of his eye, and smiling.

He was dancing. These were the country dances Mac had danced as a lad, the court dances Mac had learned later in Italy and France and England: the steps of galliard and saltarella, with reverenza and continenza, Amoroso and Bransle of War and the Ballo del Fiori, and a variation on a spinning La Volta, the dance Queen Elizabeth had adored. Mac knew all the steps, he had danced them all. Methos circled round the point of the sword, and Mac turned in accompaniment, swallowing a shout of joy. The spinning flash of his blade never slowed. This was the way he had once jousted with Connor, in abandoned warehouses and secret places, in secluded graveyards like this one; this was the way they had played together, before Connor's death. Methos was whistling now, head high and eyes bright. He looked so carefree. Fearless. "Hi, Mac. I'm looking for a friend, seen anybody who'd do?"

The fog had lifted, abruptly and completely. Sunshine shone down on them, on Methos' bare head. He was lightly dressed as Mac had never seen him before, in a short-sleeved shirt of thin cotton and threadbare jeans over sandals. Where were his long coat and sweater heavy with concealed weapons, his stout fighting boots, his leather gloves? Where was his normal paranoid caution?

"I thought you were leaving town?" Mac demanded.

"With smiles of the most exquisite misery, and the laughing eye of utter despondency, I bid my Watchers adieu--yeah," said Methos. "But I thought you might be here."

"With Tessa," said Mac. His face clouded. "I . . . I shouldn't have killed her. Artemisia. And I wish there was a way for me to atone. You have a right to be angry, you warned me, and I--"

But Methos said, "Inter armes silent leges. You dummy, you did just what I taught you." He shoved up the blade of the sword, stepped under it and tapped Mac's forehead. Grinning. Then he leaned forward swiftly and kissed Mac smack on the nose. "Broke her spell. Saved my neck. And I . . . She wasn't crazy when I first knew her," he added.

"No?" said Mac, rubbing his nose and grimacing.

"I went, I saw, she conquered me." Methos pulled a face. "There are so many mistakes in my past, Mac! I told her the secret, and like a bright girl she leaped to the obvious conclusion: if she had to take heads to come of age, whose head to start with better than mine? So the next time I saw her, she came at me with a sword. Then when she couldn't kill me, she went berserk and killed everyone around her. Then she blamed me because her family was dead . . . Anyway, I'd rather have me alive than her any day."

"But now the Watchers know the secret! Because of my--"

"No they don't."

"Because of me-- They don't?"

"They don't," Methos said, "because I blackmailed my Watcher to keep quiet. I phoned him, actually. Told him he could tell the world I was Methos, but if he didn't keep his mouth shut about everything else, I'd kill him. I think he believed me, too. He must not know I don't believe in violence anymore."

"You . . . told him you were Methos?"

"What better way to put the Watchers off the trail? Besides, I like Peter Wilmington. Didn't want to see him shot for treason." He raised his eyebrows. "There's this look on your face, Mac. Are you going to say that my secret identity is more important than our survival as a species?"

"But--!"

"And it's good to break all the rules sometimes," Methos said, "kick them out the window, and just live. You know?"

He looked as wide-eyed and innocent as a kitten, he looked as wicked as five thousand years of misbehavior. He looked as if butter wouldn't melt in his mouth. He stood with his elbows stuck out, his weight all on one heel, digging something out of his pocket; then he tossed it at Mac. It was a scrap of paper.

"Gift for you. It's the address of an immortal who lives in New York. In the Tibetan community there--you know it? Doesn't get off holy ground much, though she used to be quite a firebrand. Anyway, I think you'll find you have things in common. Her name is Sang Yum."

There was a pause while MacLeod translated this name and did a double-take. ". . . 'Secret Mother'?"

"Yep. You ought to look her up." With a perfectly straight face: "For a good time."

And Methos strolled off, whistling.

He left a stricken Duncan MacLeod examining the address on the card. There was a phone number, even. Mac closed his hand around it, fiercely. Then--

"Where's your sword?" he bellowed at Methos' departing back.

Methos glanced backward. "Threw it away!"

"What!?"

"I left it behind! And all the other weapons too. I'm unarmed." Methos turned, spread his arms expressively. "Hones the defensive instincts!"

"But--"

"Oh, quit worrying, Mac! And live, remember?"

Mac looked down at the scrap of paper again. He took one step after Methos. Then another.

"Where are you going?"

"Don't know! Somewhere--"

Mac dropped the paper, watched it blow away. Dust on the wind.

"Want company?"

















Note: the old Greek concept expressed in the word heröa is not the same concept we now express with the modern English word heroes. The second derives from the first, but the Greek heröa were mortal men elevated to immortal status, the objects of cults, and could be worshiped as if they were gods. They were given special privileges--burial within the walls of the polis, for instance--and came from every class of society. Some were soldiers who had died in famous battles; some were athletes and Olympic victors; some were statesmen. Some were good men and some had evil deeds ascribed to them. The actual Mausolus was possibly worshiped after his death as a hero. His heroic deeds? He ruled Caria well, and brought fame to his city of Halicarnassos.

The Mausoleum, one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world, was his tomb. His wife, the actual Artemisia, was apparently his sister--sister-brother marriages in ruling dynasties being rife in that region and era . . . common currency and apparently not worthy of much comment, much like the whole concept of heröa.

After Mausolus' death, Artemisia ruled over Caria for approximately two years. Then she vanishes from the record of history. Tradition ascribes to her the completion of the Mausoleum, after which she died of grief. And the Mausoleum? No one now alive knows just how beautiful it was. Within a few hundred years of its building, it had fallen in ruins. Only fragments survive--that, and legends--and as for the city of Halicarnassos, it is merely an archeological site.



Originally posted elsewhere June 25th, 2002