Coming out onto the veranda an hour or so after dawn, Rhiannon spotted someone moving slowly along the track from the main road. Almost a hundred and fifty years ago, she had chosen to build her house here just for that three hundred and sixty degree panoramic view of the plain all around. No one, mortal or immortal, could approach without giving her plenty of warning.
For a moment or two she watched the small cloud of dust kicked up from the dry dirt track, masking but not quite obscuring a figure no bigger at this distance than a small black beetle. Then she trained on it the telescope she kept for the purpose - the most powerful she had been able to afford - and the figure sprang into focus. A slim, young-appearing man in a loose black t-shirt and jeans, the hunched shape on his back resolving itself into a small pack - a token of a lifetime spent packing up possessions at a moment's notice. As she swivelled the focusing ring, refining the image, she saw lines of exhaustion on his face, shoulders slumped with tiredness.
A year ago she would have had trouble recognising him. Even a few feet away, in Duncan's barge, she had taken a second or two to place that once-loved face. But now, even before she had the telescope properly focused, when he was still way beyond the range where she would have been able to detect a fellow immortal, she felt her skin prickle with a feeling of pure pleasure. Methos. Methos here
After a minute she pushed the telescope aside and walked briskly down to the paddock. She caught a couple of horses - her own chestnut and a quiet grey - and saddled them quickly. Then riding one and leading the other, she trotted down the track towards him. Methos did not look up, or appear to notice her coming, and it seemed to her that it was only when her own body was already alive with awareness of him that he took his mind off the effort of putting one foot in front of another and acknowledged she was there.
"I thought you might prefer to ride the last few miles," she told him, smiling.
He gave her an odd look, but he took the reins and stood in front of the horse, gently stroking her, then leaning his forehead against the arch of her neck. The horse nodded, blowing steam out of her nostrils, liking him. After a moment he mounted easily, bringing the horse round to face towards home again.
Close up, it was not just tiredness that assailed him. There was misery written all over his face, the sense of old ghosts come back to haunt him. She saw things he would as soon have kept hidden, and he knew that she saw. She waited for him to give her that familiar sidelong look, to smile and tell her dryly to get out of his head. But he rode in silence.
Once home, she quickly unsaddled the horses and let them loose in the paddock. Then she followed Methos into the house. His boots and his clothes were caked with dust and dirt. He looked as if he had been on the road for days. She took one look at him and threw him a towel, pointed him to the bathroom.
"Go and get yourself cleaned up," she told him. "I'll get us some breakfast."
When she came back, he was slumped in the corner of her sofa. His short-cropped hair was wet and sleek against skull, and his eyes were half closed. His dust-coated black clothes had been exchanged for a white t-shirt and khaki trousers, and below them his bare-feet stuck out into the room. They looked like they were glad to have room to breath.
She stopped in front of him, putting the tray down on a low table.
"Do you want something to eat? Or do you just want to go to straight to bed?" she asked dryly.
Methos roused himself enough for a flicker of irony to play around his mouth. Then he shook his head.
"I suppose you haven't got a beer?" he asked.
"Tea first. Beer later," she told him firmly, pouring a cup.
He drank thirstily, and some of the colour returned to his face. And he focused on her properly for the first time.
"What on earth have you being doing, Methos?" she asked him, as she buttered toast.
"Walking," he answered bluntly. "Hitchhiking a bit, but mostly walking. For days. Ever since I got off the plane in Buenos Aires."
She had to choke back a laugh. "God, Methos - I know this is the back of the beyond, but there are easier ways of getting here than that."
"Not when you're trying to run away from yourself, there isn't," he answered heavily.
She put her hand on his, but he pulled away from her.
"I'm sorry," he said hoarsely, looking away. "I should have phoned, or "
More than anything else - more than his physical appearance or the look of misery on his face - that shocked her. For God's sake, Methos, you never phone!
"I didn't know where else to go," he finished. "I didn't want to have to explain "
He nodded. "Listen," he said stiffly. "Could I have that beer now?"
She went to the cellar and drew a pint of her own home brew. But when she
climbed the steps to the living room again, Methos was sound asleep on the sofa.
Smiling wryly, she covered him up with a blanket, set the beer down beside him,
and went out onto the veranda to wait.
It was past noon when he woke. Barefoot, he still moved like a cat, and Rhiannon had felt her awareness of him sharpen and intensify before she heard his footsteps. He came out onto the veranda still bleary-eyed and blinking in the light, the beer she had left for him in one hand, his sword in the other. He looked like he had shed several centuries in the course of that sleep, and as he sat down beside her on the porch swing and took a long draught of the beer, he sloughed off another couple of decades and began to look something like the man she remembered.
"What happened, Methos?" she asked gently.
He didn't answer, but pushed back with his foot, kicking the swing into motion, staring out over the plain, over the same dirt track where she had spied him moving early that morning.
"Your past caught up with you, didn't it?" she hazarded. "That past," she added - knowing they both knew what past she meant.
Methos gave the swing another push with his foot.
Rhiannon shrugged. "Don't need to be a witch." She considered his unmoving features carefully. "You turn up here looking like you've been kicked in the balls. You don't want to explain, but you do want me to guess, yes?" she hazarded. "Nowhere else to go - or no one else who knows?"
A shudder passed over Methos's thin frame. He took another long swig from his glass. Then, still not looking at her, he said tonelessly, "There were three - no, four - others who knew. And now three of them are dead."
This time it was Rhiannon's turn to say nothing, and after a minute, silence had its effect, as she had intended it should.
"Ever hear of an immortal called Kronos?" he asked. She shook her head. "What about Koren?"
This time the name struck a chord. "Yeah. He had a gang who carried out border raids between here and Chile last century, when the territory was in dispute. Nasty piece of work - must have wiped out a dozen settlements just in this province--"
"Only a dozen?" Methos put in sourly. "They got off lightly." The hand holding the beer glass was white knuckled, and for a moment she thought it would explode into razor-edged shards. "Same man. Same MO. Different gang," he concluded.
He met her eyes coldly, frozen with self-contempt. "Kronos, Silas, Caspian - and Methos," he recited. "The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse."
For a moment she was tempted to laugh, but she saw his face and bit it down.
"I rode with them for a thousand years," he told her. "They were my brothers. And now they're dead."
"You killed them?" she asked carefully.
"I killed one of them. I killed Silas." He rubbed his hand across his eyes. "A big dumb ox of a man with no more idea of what killing meant than a herd of elephants knows what it tramples underfoot. But, god, he was good at it." He shook his head and his voice cracked with protest. "I liked Silas."
Rhiannon left him a moment or two, then asked very gently, "Then who killed the other two?"
With profound irony, Methos answered, "MacLeod."
"Oh." Rhiannon's mouth formed the word, though she did not think any sound came out.
Methos gave her a humourless grin. "Yeah," he said. "The boyscout knows my past."
Rhiannon realised her mouth was dry, and she ran her tongue over her lips. MacLeod did not belong in this story. Duncan was not built to forgive or understand what Methos had been. "Did he try and kill you?" she managed to ask.
Methos drained the last of the beer and looked bleakly at the empty glass. "No. As a matter of fact, he saved my life. But it was a close run thing for a while."
"I can imagine."
Rhiannon swallowed, taking in the shock. After a moment, she took the glass from Methos and stood up. "I think we could do with another one of those," she said. "This is going to take a while."
For the rest of the day and into the night, the two of them drank beer on the veranda. And very slowly, the story came out.
"I always knew Kronos would come looking for me if he thought I was alive. But I had the advantage. I could watch him. He couldn't watch me." He gave a sour laugh. "It's a hell of a lot easier to track a man who kills and burns his way across continents than--"
"--Than a man who is doing his best to be invisible," Rhiannon finished.
Methos shrugged agreement.
"You said there were four others who knew about you," she said thoughtfully. "Who was the fourth?"
"Cassandra." This time a shudder passed over him that seemed to go from his head all the way to his feet. He had to swallow several times before he could get the name out. "One of our - victims."
He waited for her to say something, and when she didn't, she could see him struggle between the need to tell her more - and the fear of what would happen if he did.
"She was a slave, taken in a raid. A pre-immortal. I - I - I taught her she could not die. It was a - a - useful way of controlling her."
Rhiannon closed her eyes, remembering, as Methos had known she would, the Roman soldiers who had killed her over and over again, trying to rid themselves of an inconvenient British rebel.
"I told you, Rhiannon," he reminded her bitterly. "I could have been your torturer."
She shook her head angrily. "Three millennia ago, maybe. Not now."
They sat staring out over the plain, deliberately not meeting each other's eye.
"So how do you know she's still alive, this Cassandra?" Rhiannon asked after a moment.
"Because she was there," he answered. "Hunting Kronos."
"Cassandra was hunting Kronos. And Kronos was hunting you. And she finally tracked him down, and he finally tracked you down - right under Duncan's nose?"
Rhiannon cradled the beer glass in her hand. Because she'd once acquired a taste for it, she still brewed it in the way that she and Methos had worked out nearly two thousand years before, when they'd combined Hefyedd's way of making mead with Methos's taste for beer and made a bitter brew flavoured with honey. The taste brought back memories - memories of Methos the strategist, Methos the cunning, a Methos she'd once known very well indeed
"Getting a bit careless, weren't you?" she remarked casually.
Methos's face flickered. "That's what Kronos said."
He told her how he'd laid a trail for Duncan and Cassandra, from America to the Ukraine and back again to France. Waiting for the right moment to bring the whole fragile creation tumbling down.
"I had to make sure it couldn't happen again. I had to make sure the Horsemen could never ride again." Methos pressed the heels of his hands against his eyes. "But to do that, I had to be part of it. I had to be one of them. A brother." A look of disgust passed over his face. "I was Kronos's strategist again. I made his plans for him. I made him trust me. I found Silas. I found Caspian. I brought them together. I - I swore to him that I would kill MacLeod."
"You did what you had to!"
He stared at her, breathing heavily.
"You don't know! You don't know how easy it would have been to just go along with it. To let Kronos have his own way "
"But you didn't."
"So long as MacLeod lived." His speech was beginning to slur a little, and the sequence of events he recounted was becoming disjointed. "I asked Kronos who he'd sent after him. I knew MacLeod should be able to take either of them, but I wanted it to be Caspian. I wanted Silas to live. But he'd sent both. Hadn't anticipated that. Mistake - underestimating Kronos." He drained his glass and wiped his hand across his mouth. "Not even MacLeod could take both of them. One of them'd take his head while he was still on his knees."
Rhiannon held her breath, suddenly doubting whether Duncan was still alive.
"I thought he had to be dead," Methos went on. He stared at her, miserable as a child seeing the wreckage his tantrum has caused. "At that point, I would have done anything to stay alive - to stop Kronos taking my head."
"You say that"
"I know that!"
Very slowly, reaching out across the gulf that Methos seemed to be fighting to maintain, Rhiannon took hold of his hand and held on to it.
"You were afraid. You had every reason to be afraid. But if you'd needed to, you'd have challenged him, you'd have taken him."
"You mean I'd have lost my head," he retorted.
"You forget. I know how good you are." Methos laughed, but Rhiannon pressed on. "Besides, by the sound of it, Kronos needed you a whole lot more than you needed him. Big advantage."
"Oh, sure. Kronos couldn't touch me," he countered.
"Bull shit. That's not what I'm saying and you know it."
He tried to pull his hand away but she held on, and after a moment he relaxed a little and she felt some of his weight against her shoulder.
Bit by bit, the story of the final confrontation came out, fragmented, out of sequence. The drink was getting to both of them now, so sometimes she wasn't sure if it was Methos's story that was disjointed or her attention that flickered. She got a picture of Methos sitting outside a cage in a flooded underground chamber, talking to Cassandra. (How had she got there? Was she really there, or had he only imagine it?) Then Duncan arrived. (So he was alive. Thank God.) And Kronos sent Methos to give Silas the order to kill Cassandra. (She must have been there then.)
And then Methos was fighting Silas, and Duncan was fighting Kronos, at opposite sides of this subterranean world, battling towards each other, oblivious to each other until the last moment.
Suddenly the connection with Methos was very strong, and it seemed to Rhiannon that she could see the four of them, the darkness, the sparks flying off the clashing swords, the look on Duncan's face when he saw below him. She held her breath, experiencing the moment when the two swords flashed through the air, two heads severed in the same instant, two explosions of energy, two quickenings
And then, to her surprise, Methos began to laugh. By now the beer had taken possession of him. He had passed through the slurred, unsteady stage, and had reached a plateau of clarity that was beyond drunkenness. And he giggled.
"It was - it was weird. I've never seen anything like it."
"You've never seen anything like it?" The laughter was infectious. She had been matching him almost glass for glass, and though she had probably eaten and slept considerably more the past few days than Methos had, she was pretty drunk too. She laughed without knowing what there was to laugh about. "Dew, that have been must be something."
"Never. Nothing like it," Methos insisted. "Have you ever seen two quickenings together - I mean, really together? They got mixed up together. Then there was this weird light, this sort of squiggly thing " He was laughing so hard now that tears were running down his face. "It was going straight from me to MacLeod. Like a - like a " Words failed him and he dissolved in laughter again, unable to speak. He tried to show her, rocking and swaying and describing the air with his hands - and she realised that what she was seeing looked like nothing so much as an orgasm with an invisible partner.
Her face was wet with tears, and her sides ached. It took her a few minutes to get her breath back. But then she managed to pull herself together enough to ask, "So what happened to Cassandra?"
She saw sobriety hit him with a shock, as if she had thrown cold water over him. Methos took a minute to answer, then he spoke tonelessly.
"She came for my head," he said. "When I was still on my knees. With Silas lying dead beside me." His face flinched, and she knew he could see the sword raised against him, Cassandra's implacable hatred "And MacLeod stopped her."
There was a silence so profound she could hear the wind whispering in the long grass in the plain below. Then Rhiannon murmured, "How?"
"He asked her to let me live. Twice." For a moment they both savoured the eternity that the blade had hovered over his head. "The second time, she put up her sword, and then she disappeared."
"Does Duncan know where she went?"
"Well, if he does, he wasn't telling me."
"Will she come after you again?"
"I don't know." He shook his head slowly. "Not deliberately, maybe. If I ever cross her path again" He shrugged.
"Well, you're pretty good at keeping out of people's way," Rhiannon remarked dryly.
He was staring straight in front of him, and in the moonlight she could see the fine line of hair following the curve of his ear, the nape of his neck. It was strange how much he now looked like the Roman soldier she had first met. While they were together in Wales, his hair had grown, first curling round his collar, then falling almost to his shoulders.
When they had met in Duncan's barge a few months ago, they had connected again so easily - a look, a touch, and it was as if two thousand years disappeared in a blink of an eye. And he'd come to her because he was in trouble. He didn't need to think whether it was the right thing to do. He just came, knowing she would be there for him.
But now, every time they began to get close, it seemed an abyss opened up in front of him, and he pulled back again.
"Methos" She leaned towards him, touched his hair, and he flinched away. "Methos, I don't give a damn what you were three thousand years ago. I only care about what you are now: and what you are is someone who was strong enough to walk away, to change." She moved round, forcing him to look at her. "None of the others did that, did they? Kronos, Caspian - they were still killers. Silas"
"Silas was Silas," Methos finished in a low voice.
"Yes." Once again she put her hand up to touch him, and once again he pushed it away. "But not you," she persisted. "You changed. You stopped being a killer."
His sword had been lying across his knee. Now he lifted it suddenly, so its blade gleamed in the moonlight - and for a moment he held it against her neck.
"We're all killers, Rhiannon. It's what we do."
Rhiannon breathed slowly, allowing herself to feel the steel at her throat. "Methos, you know as well as I do that there was a world of difference between taking the head of an immortal - and murdering a mortal."
"Are you so sure there's a difference?"
She was angry now, wanting to shock him out his mood. "Yes, I'm sure! And I'll tell you something else. Duncan was sure too. That's why he wanted you to live"
"I don't think Cassandra saw much of a difference," Methos cut in. He had lifted the sword away, and now he held it up to the light, turning it slowly first one way and then the other.
"And you're going to let her hold up a mirror to you - and judge yourself by what she wants you to see in it? For God's sake, Methos - you raped her, you tortured her, you killed her. Do you really think she's going to be able to make a sound judgement about what you're like three thousand years later?"
He stared at her blankly, not answering.
"So what are you going to do? Hold yourself at her evaluation for the rest of your life?"
"No!" he said. "If I did, I'd be dead by now." He brought the sword whistling down through the air. "And I still want to live, Rhiannon."
After that, it seemed like there was nothing more to say. Somehow, just
before dawn, they managed to stagger as far as Rhiannon's bed, and without
getting undressed they both of them fell into a deep, stupefying, alcoholic
Rhiannon woke sometime after noon, tried to move, and felt the throbbing of her own head. Too bad being an immortal didn't give you immunity from hangovers. Very slowly, very gingerly, trying not to move her own head more than was strictly necessary, she made herself get out of bed and go down into the cellar. There, among the barrels of beer and the bottles of wine and the racks of drying herbs, were rows of bottles and flasks of varying age, ranged on shelves along the wall. Eyes half closed, she felt her way along the walls until she found and stone bottle with an ageing cork in it. Then she poured herself a measure into a small glass, grimaced violently, and knocked it back.
After a moment she felt her head clear and the room swim back into focus. She poured one more measure before climbing the stairs again. Then she had a drink of water from the tap in the kitchen, went and sat on the bed, and waited.
About an hour later, Methos woke with a groan like a bull elephant in pain. He opened his eyes, saw her sitting there, and promptly shut them again. Then he must have decided that was no better, because with a lot of noise and fuss he began to sit up. He looked badly bent out of shape - worse than he had the previous morning. But then Rhiannon had seen him with a hangover before.
"Here," she said brutally. "Drink this."
He took it from her, then half way to his mouth he caught the smell of it.
"Uggh!" he protested, pushing it away. "Witch's brew."
Rhiannon grinned. "Works though. Go on. Drink it up."
Methos screwed up his face. "You sure it wouldn't be easier just to kill me?"
"Don't be daft. You'd just wake up with a hangover - and a wound to heal."
Some memory of previous hangovers and previous cures must have lingered because he swallowed grimly. And after a moment she saw her own experience reflected in his face - pain receding, the room settling back onto the horizontal.
"What is in that?" he demanded as she passed him a drink of water.
"That would be telling."
"Well, don't patent it. I'm not sure a mortal would survive the experience."
She watched as, out of habit, he put his hand over the side of the bed - and encountered nothing. He pulled himself upright, ill-disguised panic on his face.
"Where's my sword?" he demanded.
She laughed, and nodded towards the iron bed head, which overnight had acquired an impressive design of crossed swords.
He nodded, breathing deeply, taking it in.
"Neat," he admitted, after a moment.
"I had a blacksmith make it for me about a hundred years ago."
His eyebrows twitched up. "That must have taken some explaining."
Her lips curled, a memory flickering on the edge of her consciousness. "Not really."
He smiled ironically, eyes scanning the bed.
"So how do you feel?" she asked.
Methos laughed sourly. "Dirty. I feel dirty."
He didn't just mean that he had slept in his clothes, that the smell of beer was seeping from his pores. She knew that. But all the same, she answered, "Well, you know where the shower is."
After a moment, he gathered himself together, got up and took a towel from by the end of the bed. And a few second later, she heard the powerful gush of water from the shower.
The shower was in a corner of the bathroom, over a drainhole in the concrete floor, not screened from the rest of the room. Rhiannon left him a few minutes while she undressed and tied back her long hair. Then she walked, naked, into the bathroom and joined him under the fall of water.
Methos stared at her, and for a second his face was rigid with shock. Then he stepped back in confusion, unable to get past her without touching her.
"Rhiannon, you can't I can't "
She smiled wryly. "Well, maybe you can't. But I can." She shook the water impatiently out of her eyes. "Take the scales off your eyes, Methos. I'm not Cassandra. I'm Rhiannon. I loved you two thousand years ago, and I love you now. You can walk away from that if you want - that's your prerogative. But don't you tell me what I can and cannot do."
Methos took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. She reached out to him, and he put his arms round her and buried his face against her. She felt him shuddered and realised that he had begun to cry, salt water tears mingling with the warm water from the shower - three thousand years of reined in feeling, washing away down the drain.
The hot water ran out abruptly, without warning, and suddenly they were standing under a cold stream of water, gasping for breath. Together they staggered out of the shower, grabbing for towels, shouting from the shock of it. For a moment they stood there trembling and rubbing at themselves with towels. Then they both started to laugh. Methos grabbed her and held on, as if for warmth, and a moment later they were stumbling towards the bed.
They made love with a wild passion, smashing through inhibitions, crazy, a little out of control. Half way through she guessed that, somewhere along the line, he had lost his fear of hurting her. Not that he was hurting her. But for a few minutes he dropped the guard that he had always kept on himself - even with her, even at their more intimate moments. Had anyone else had ever seen him so exposed? She doubted it.
Lying beside him afterwards, she stared, learning his face anew.
"Witch," he said fondly, pulling her towards him.
"Witch, nothing," she retorted. "You left yourself wide open."
He said nothing, but held her very close, his lips touching her hair. After
a moment he gave a feline stretch that began at the nape of his neck and ended
in his feet. She felt his toes wriggle against the soles of her feet - a sure
sign of deep relaxation. And Rhiannon smiled and nestled back against him.
A few days later, she came in from seeing to the horses and found Methos fitting his few belongings back into his pack. As usual he had given her no clue, and she was caught momentarily off balance.
"You leaving?" she asked, as lightly as she could manage.
"Only for a few days," he told her over his shoulder. "I need a bit time on my own."
"See you in four hundred years, then?" she suggested, not without an edge to her voice.
Methos smiled, the full-bodied smile she'd never been able to resist, the one that creased up the corners of his mouth into two chevrons - old goat that he was.
"Not this time, no."
He held out his arms to her and she went, burying her head in his shoulder.
"I'll be back. I need someone I don't have to pretend with. Besides," he chuckled softly, "this is the only place I know for a thousand miles where I can get a decent beer."
Rhiannon laughed. "Now, that I believe you'd come back for," she admitted.
She followed him out onto the veranda.
"Do you want to take one of the horses?" she asked.
"You'd trust me?" Methos asked, vaguely surprised.
"Not so far as I could spit a rat," Rhiannon answered dryly. "But I do believe you'd look after the horse. I even think you'd probably make an effort to return it."
That made him smirk, but he thanked her and they walked together down towards the paddock. As soon as they reached the fence, the grey that he had ridden when he first arrived came trotting over. She put her head over the white rail and whinnied softly, remembering him.
"Looks like you've been chosen," remarked Rhiannon.
Methos stared. "A white horse," he murmured. "Death on a white horse."
Rhiannon looked him up and down. "Any Death around here and you'll have me to answer to," she told him coolly.
Methos chortled, then shook his head at her. "You must be the only person who could make me laugh about it," he told her.
"That's why you came, isn't it? Because I won't let you take yourself too seriously?"
From the back of the horse, he leaned down and kissed her fondly.
"See you in a few days. And thank you."
She watched until horse and rider merged in a haze of dust, then she turned and went, a little sadly, back inside the house.
continued in Part 2: Journeys.
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Last updated 12/04/1997