At the gates of the cemetery, Methos had gone one way and MacLeod, the other, turning their backs on each other, not looking back.
When Methos had first confessed to him, MacLeod had told him they were through, and he had meant it. He had gone along with Cassandra, pursuing the Horsemen, willing to help her kill them. But then he had begun to feel Methos's hand held out to him, guiding him, showing him how to find them.
Cassandra had been sure they were being manipulated. And he supposed they were. But at some gut level, beyond conscious thought, he was convinced that they were being manipulated, not into a trap, but into a position of strength.
And now three of the Horsemen were dead. Cassandra and Methos had gone their own ways. And he had stopped Cassandra killing Methos.
Why? He wasn't sure, even now. He was still angry with Methos - angry beyond expression. And yet he wanted him to live.
For several weeks he moped around Paris, in theory not thinking of Methos at all, but in practice thinking of very little else, until - in exasperation after about the third trans-Atlantic phone call going nowhere - Joe persuaded him to go and see Rhiannon.
"She's your friend too, isn't she? Maybe she can tell you what you want to know. She's sure known him a helluva lot longer than either of us."
"You think she knew about the Horsemen?"
"Hell, Mac, I don't know. Why don't you get on a plane and go ask her?"
Joe had furnished him with a phone number and - less an address than a set of lat and long co-ordinates, which is where he said he would find her estancia. And he'd flown to Buenos Aires and hired a car. At that point, good breeding had taken over, and he'd telephoned to say he was coming. Then he'd driven down through the Pampas to the northern fringes of Patagonia, between the Rio Negro and the Rio Colorado.
It was a pretty isolated spot. Not a bad place for an immortal to have as a bolt hole, MacLeod thought - so long as you didn't mind long stretches of solitude. It looked as though, unless someone sought her out, Rhiannon could spend years here without seeing anyone. Not easy for the Watchers to keep an eye on her either - seeing as no one could approach anywhere near the place without alerting its occupant.
Rhiannon made them both tea. It was hot on the veranda and they sat inside, enjoying the cool and the quiet.
"So," she said pleasantly, after his second cup. "This isn't the sort of place you just drop by. And it's a hell of a way to come for sword practice. So I guess there's another reason why you're here."
"Yes. Yes, there is." He hesitated. Now he'd reached the point, he realised he'd no idea what to say to her.
"Go on," she prompted gently.
"It's Methos." he said.
Rhiannon's eyes flashed wickedly. "Now, I warned you last time I saw you, Duncan. If you've come to tell me you've taken Methos's head"
"Rhiannon! I'm serious."
MacLeod looked away, staring out the window and the endless expanse of plain. "If you must know, I came damn close to taking his head. And you're one of the reasons why I didn't."
Rhiannon was very quiet. "Go on. I'm listening," she said after a minute.
MacLeod went on, conscious with every word that in the last two years he had already killed two of her closest friends, that in all reason he must have stretched the bounds of friendship pretty well to their limits already.
"Rhiannon, I know how fond you are of him. But how much to you really know about him? From before even you met him, I mean?"
Rhiannon was very still, her dark blue eyes fixed on his.
"Enough," she answered. "Why? What do you know?"
"That he was a killer"
"Aren't we all?"
"Not like that!" To his own ears, his voice came out like a suppressed howl and he had to fight for self-control. "I know this is going to be hard for you to believe," he said gently, "but three thousand years ago, Methos was part of a gang who raped and killed across half of Europe. He admitted it to me."
Rhiannon stared at him steadily. "No," she said coolly. "It's not hard for me to believe at all."
"You knew?" For all he had speculated about the possibility, the cold shock of her words rocked in his seat.
"I've always known."
Methos trotted his horse slowly along the barely visible track in the hard earth, plotting a more or less straight course towards the mountains that ringed the horizon. It was easy enough going here, if you discounted the boredom factor. He had been riding for a couple of days, and hardly covered any distance at all in this unvarying landscape. He wasn't even sure if he had left Rhiannon's estancia yet.
Here and there the short, dry grass alternated with scrub and brush. About
a hundred yards away from where he now was, there had been a small bush fire.
The wind blew the smell of burning across his path, and the smell evoked, more
vividly that words or pictures could have done, the memory of another plain ,
thousands of miles away, thousands of years ago, in the Old World.
Somehow, he had become separated from the others. Kronos, Silas and Caspian had ridden back to camp with a small consignment of fresh slaves, and he had been left alone to plunder the bodies of their victims - an exceptional act of trust on Kronos's part.
The bodies of the settlers lay strewn across the floor of the plain like fallen trees, and Methos, forester of men, picked his way among them, taking a ring here, an amulet there, an earring or a clasp. From time to time, when the fruit he harvested was reluctant to be picked, Methos pruned away dead wood with his sword. There wasn't much to be had. This had been a poor village, eking out an existence on this desolate plain, hanging on, as mortals would, to the threads of survival.
The smell of smoke from the burnt wood and straw huts of the village assailed his nostrils as the approached. He pulled his cloak over his face and picked his way more fastidiously, trying not to soil his boots. A burnt arm protruded from the door of one of the huts, and just visible under a thick coating of smoke was a fine bracelet, intricately worked. With a quick swing of his sword, the arm was severed, and Methos shook the bracelet free with a grimace of distaste.
Just outside, around the back of the charred remains of the hut, another body lay. Unusually, this one had its head severed from its body. The headless torso lay separated by a few inches from the neck that had once joined it, the head rolled to one side in an impossible angle. Not one of his cull: he would have remembered that.
Methos stood for a moment contemplating this mortal killed as if in immortal combat. He had seen enough bodies like this, after he or one of his brothers had taken their quickening. But for some reason this mortal-mimicking-immortal held him riveted to the spot. After a minute he knelt and turned the head roughly towards him.
He saw a face not unlike his own - much of his own seeming age, with fairer skin than was common around here, and short, dark hair. After a moment he took and cloth and wet it from his water bottle, then - not knowing quite why he did so - carefully cleaned the blood and smoke and dirt from the man's face.
The raid had taken place at dawn. Now the sun was rising high in the sky. The air was growing warm, and the charnel smell of bodies beginning their long return to dust began to permeate the air. Methos had lived with the smell for so long that his mind filtered it out, no longer recognising it was there. But this time, as he stood up from performing that small office for the dead, the stench suddenly filled his lungs.
Methos looked around him, startled, and saw - not the trunks and roots and branches of mortals felled to make way for the Horsemen's headlong rush, but the heads and limbs and torsos of men and woman and children, bodies butchered with ruthless efficiency.
He looked again at the young man with the severed head, forcing himself to
remember that this was not an immortal. He had not been cut down in combat with
an equal. His knowledge and power and not been shared with his opponent. There
had only ever been one possible outcome to this encounter - and that was death.
His knowledge and power - such as it was - had died with him. And not even his
children (which as far as Methos could tell represented the mortal equivalent of
the quickening) lived on, since they too had been butchered.
At that moment MacLeod was feeling the age gap between him and Rhiannon as keenly as a mortal confronted with his four centuries of life.
"He told you?" he demanded.
"Not exactly. It's kind of hard to explain, Mac." She looked down at her hands, studying their lines, their calluses. ".Methos and I have this - connection. We always have had. From time to time, I get - glimpses. I can see what is going on inside his head." She made a wry face. "Methos says it's because I'm a Welsh witch - but it's never happened with anyone else but him."
In spite of his anger, it was plain to him that she was revealing something deeply personal, something she'd probably never talked about with anyone but Methos. He waited, hearing her out.
"The first time it happened, I'd only known him a few days. He saw the scars on my back, the ones from when the Roman soldiers flogged me. And we talked about my first death - when the soldiers tried over and over again to kill me " Rhiannon turned and looked at him, and there was pain and sadness in her eyes. "I looked at him, and suddenly I knew that what I had suffered, he had inflicted"
"He admitted it?"
"He - didn't deny it," she said carefully.
"So you knew "
"That he was a rapist, a murderer, a torturer. Yes, I knew."
"Rhiannon, how can you live with that?" he demanded.
Rhiannon faced him calmly. "I don't live with it," she told him. "I live with what he is, not what he was."
"And how can you be so sure that he's changed?"
"For the same reason that I know what he was - because I see inside his head."
MacLeod shook his head, still unwilling to believe. "Rhiannon, he was part of that gang, a killer, for over a thousand years."
"Twice your lifetime," Rhiannon reminded him gently. "Hard to grasp, isn't it? And he's been what he is now for three thousand years." She gave him a steely look. "What were you like three quarters of a lifetime ago?"
"I was never like that! I never killed for pleasure!"
"No? How about for revenge."
MacLeod hesitated, memories of Culloden hovering at the edge of his consciousness.
"That was war," he countered. "And it didn't last for a quarter of a lifetime."
Rhiannon's eyes held his. "Because you had friends - good friends - to help you to stop hating," she persisted.
Ceirdwyn's face flickered into focus and hung for a moment in the air between them.
"Yes," he admitted.
"And what did Methos have? His friends, his brothers, were killers. If he stopped what he was doing, he betrayed them, betrayed the only loyalty he had ever known."
"Something must have happened to make him change," MacLeod said slowly.
"What do you suppose it was? A--" He groped for the words. "A 'Light Quickening?" he hazarded.
"Taking the head of a good man? Like Darius at the Gates of Paris?" she shook her head. "I doubt it. Methos is ruled by his head. I think that he stopped what he was doing because it became intellectually unacceptable to him."
MacLeod snorted. "Calculating son of a--"
"Calculating maybe," she interceded. "But can you imagine what it would be like to open your eyes and suddenly be aware that you are standing in the middle of a hell of your own making."
MacLeod stared. "You've seen that?", he demanded.
"No. And I hope I never do. I don't know if I could stand it. But Methos did."
MacLeod nodded. "I guess it would have taken some guts," he conceded reluctantly.
Methos - the twentieth century Methos - knelt by the side of a stream and washed his face, remembering how, nearly three thousand years ago, he had knelt and washed the blue staining from his face - for the first time in centuries seeing his own, undisguised face reflected back at him.
He had made a pile of stones - hearthstones mostly, taken from the burnt remains of the huts. And on it he had laid all the booty he had collected from the raid - an offer to propitiate gods he almost certainly did not believe in. Or more likely to propitiate Kronos, whom he certainly did believe in.
He had laid his white death mask against the makeshift altar. It was no use pretending to Kronos that he was dead. Kronos would believe nothing less than a headless body - and that Methos had no intention of providing him with.
How long had he been unconsciously drifting away from Kronos and the others, that one dead body should make such a change in him? How long since had begun to feel there was more to life than planning the perfect attack, so that village after village in their path had no warning of their coming? More than honing his skill as a killing engine till he could ride full tilt through a village, and still kill with every stroke of his sword? More than holding a blade to the throat of some captured female and slaking his lust on her terrified body? Two, three maybe four centuries Long enough for boredom and distaste to have reached saturation point, so that in the end it took only one tiny catalyst to crystallise into action.
Looking back now, he wondered if his fleeting weakness for Cassandra, his reluctance to share her with Kronos, his willingness to let her escape, had all been symptoms of that slow trend. But his memory was skewed by recent events, and he did not trust it.
At the time, he had not dared stop to bury the bodies. Kronos would be back for him soon enough. He had to put as much distance as possible between him and the Horsemen before that happened.
He had ridden into the mountains, into some of the most difficult terrain in
the world, finding his way by an instinct he could not have explained. And as
if the fates had decided to air his escape, barrier after barrier had come down
after him, cutting him off from Kronos's pursuit. In the mountains, an
avalanche that closed the pass he had used barely a day after he had passed
through. In the valley beyond, an army engaging in a long drawn out and bloody
battle in the fields he had ridden through. Until at last, in the foothills of
the Himalayas, it seemed he had put himself beyond pursuit.
Methos seldom admitted, even to himself, the nightmares that had pursued him on that flight from the Horsemen. Images culled over a thousand years and never given a second thought. Things he had seen only as the Horsemen had chosen to see them. Abstract compositions in flesh and blood. But now he saw them as others did - women with their babies cut from their bellies, men dismembered and left to die in the sun. His own hand on the sword. Killing and killing and killing
Over the centuries the nightmares had become less frequent, until they only returned in his blackest moments. But Kronos and Cassandra had resurrected them. They came again nightly now. They had come as he lay in the bed with Rhiannon. And he dreaded what that could mean.
How far did her witching powers extend? He never quite knew. Was it all just guess work? Or sharing a bed with him, could she look at him in his sleep and see the things he dreamed? Sometimes when the nightmares began, they rose up in the room so real that it seemed impossible she should not see them.
He couldn't risk it.. She was his refuge and he wouldn't contaminate it. Much as he needed her, he'd had to get away, be alone to beat the nightmares back into submission, to regain his control of them. But not to forget. He must never forget.
Rhiannon's acceptance of him, made it easier. The voices in his nightmares - those faces in the piles of mangled corpses that turned and followed him with eyeless sockets and mocked him with tongueless mouths - had taunted him with the narrowness of the distance between him and Kronos. But Rhiannon had shown him a chink between them, and that was enough. He had a toe-hold in his self-respect now, and he would make it back out of the abyss again.
You'd think - wouldn't you? - that MacLeod's judgement would have told him something about himself. MacLeod the boyscout, the immortal scourge? If he thought he deserved to live
But then MacLeod had a capricious sense of mercy at times. Chivalry wasn't only about how you treated women. (Bloody man.) There was always the chance that MacLeod was just giving him time to redeem himself.
Methos gave a sudden bark of laughter that made his horse start and toss her head in alarm. He'd come perilously close, he realised, to being angry with MacLeod for not trying to take his head. Which was about as illogical as you could get.
No, on the whole he preferred Rhiannon's clear, uncompromising,
Roman-trained sense of justice. It was no coincidence that he had told her his
story with his sword resting in his lap. If she had thought he had really gone
back to the Horsemen, she would have taken his head without hesitation. And,
even from Rhiannon, he would have defended himself to the last.
MacLeod's mind turned, coming back to the point where he always began.
"But why couldn't he have told me any of this?" he asked Rhiannon.
"He never lied to you, did he? He never made himself out to be the fount to all goodness?" Rhiannon pulled a face. "And what was he going to tell you? 'Oh by the way, I used to massacre innocent people for pleasure?' He must have prayed you'd never find out. You of all people"
Duncan made a face. "'What I've been, you cannot forgive.'" he echoed.
"That's what he said to me. 'What I've been, you cannot forgive.'"
Rhiannon looked at him gravely, her head a little to one side. "Well? And can you?"
"I don't know," he admitted.
"You saved his life," she reminded him.
It took a moment for that to sink in. Then he sat upright, staring at her.
"How do you know that?"
Rhiannon looked a little guiltily.
"Confession time." She turned her hands palm outward. "Methos has already been here. I heard his version of the story about a week ahead of yours."
Duncan stood up, facing the window.
"You should have told me," he growled.
"Would you have stayed if I had?"
He didn't answer for a minute. Then, "Where is he now?" he asked, his back still turned to her.
"Around and about. I lent him one of my horses, and he went walkabout."
MacLeod made an indecipherable noise at the back of his throat.
"He'll be back in a few days. Or a week. You know Methos."
"Or he could walk in at any moment," he said harshly.
"He could, yes."
MacLeod turned round slowly. "I don't know if I'm ready to face him again yet, Rhiannon."
"I don't know if he's ready to face you again yet," Rhiannon countered. His face must have betrayed that he hadn't thought of it like that, because she went on sharply, "He doesn't need judgement right now. He needs acceptance."
"Which is why he came to you?"
"Yes. That's why he came to me." Rhiannon leaned towards him, her eyes on his. "Duncan, why did you save his life?"
He groped for an answer, but none came to him. "It seemed like the right thing to do," he said in the end.
"It was," Rhiannon asserted. She took his hand in hers. "Duncan, he's a devious, manipulating, shifty son of a bitch, and if you told me you were never going to trust him again, I wouldn't argue with you. But he's not evil. And he's a good friend."
"He's been a good friend to me," Duncan admitted. "When it suited him," he added.
"Sometimes self interest is a more dependable ally than altruism," Rhiannon said mildly.
Duncan stared at her for a minute, wondering if she had meant that as a dig. But Rhiannon's face was innocent, and in the end he let it go.
"I won't stay," he told her. "I don't want to be sitting here when Methos walks back in."
"You have to face him some time," she said.
"Yeah. But not yet."
Far away, low against the bluish edge of the foothills, Methos saw what looked like a small building. He had noticed it some time ago, without being certain that it wasn't just another patch of burnt scrub making a dark speck in the landscape. But now he could clearly see its straight-line edges, unmistakably man-made.
He would have turned away, spurning anything that might force him to face other people. But now there were dark clouds boiling up in the horizon to the south, and change in the smell of the air, the faint beginnings of a drop in temperature. A storm on its way.
On his own he would have weathered it, dug himself in, put up with the discomfort, knowing the worst that could happen would be to be struck by lightning. Not a pleasant way to die, but there were worse and he'd survive. But his horse was not so resilient. Even if they survived unhit, she would be frightened, uncomfortable. The Horsemen, who would mow down a human village without a second thought, would not countenance their animals being mistreated. And neither would he.
He trotted slowly towards the building. He needn't have worried. The nearer he came, the more obvious it was that it was deserted. It was in fact a small group of buildings. A cluster of small stone outhouses were half-hidden behind the barn-like wooden structure he had first seen. Then, at the last minute, when he was almost upon them, an optical illusion resolved itself, a tuck in the landscape unfolded, and he saw that a small stream flowed between the barn and the outhouses.
There was a ford crossing the stream just below that barn, and the stone outbuildings on the other side would be a surer refuge. But the storm was nearly upon them now. There was a heaviness in the air that was making his horse twitchy, and it would be easier by far to get her inside through the big doors of the barn. Methos turned her sharply and brought her up in the lee of the barn, dismounted, and tried the doors. They were locked but only with a small padlock that was easily dealt with. A few moments later, they were both inside.
The buildings might be deserted, but someone had kept them in good repair. With the doors shut behind them, little light leaked in through the roof, and Methos had to shine a torch around him to see anything of the inside. The floor was clean, and there was fresh straw in one corner. A low platform ran most of the way round the walls, and on one side there were some sacks of something Methos couldn't identify. It smelled good too - of new wood and clean straw, and something else, something familiar that he couldn't place. It occurred to him that someone else had fitted it out to use at he was using it - as a bolt-hole in a storm, or just a resting place when home was too far to get back to
The first rumble of thunder sounded in the distance and his horse whinnied in protest, her dancing hooves beating a tattoo on the concrete floor. Instinctively he reached out his hands to quiet her, stroking her, soothing her. He felt with his fingers in the gloom, finding buckles, releasing her from her harness. Then he led her over to the pile of straw and tethered her carefully.
Outside the rain was just beginning. Methos fetched a bucket of water from
the stream and carried it inside. She drank thirstily. When she had drunk her
fill, he settled down beside her, piling straw on the low, wide shelf and
unfurling his bedroll on top. From time to time she shivered at the sound of
distant thunder, and he put out his hand, gentling her.
Somewhere to the south, they heard a distant rumble of thunder. Rhiannon turned and looked through the window.
"If you're leaving, Duncan, you'd better go quickly," she told him "If the rain gets here before you reach the main road, the track will be impassable."
MacLeod nodded regretfully, torn between wanting to stay with Rhiannon, and needing to avoid Methos. Eventually he got slowly to his feet, and together they walked out onto the veranda.
As they watched, a fork of lightning danced on the horizon. If it wasn't for the roll of thunder that followed a few seconds later, it might almost have been a quickening. MacLeod stared, his mind's eye seeing a pair of immortals, swords flashing
"Have you ever thought what would happen if the last immortals left on earth were two of us?" he asked impulsively. "Like you and me? Or me and Richie?"
"Or you and Methos?" Rhiannon said gently. MacLeod looked away, not wanting to face what lay behind the question. "I think we'd fight," she said.
MacLeod flinched. "You mean we'd be compelled to?" he said bitterly "There's no free will?"
"No point in a fight between good and evil if there's no free will," countered Rhiannon easily. She watched him for a moment, head on one side. "You want to know my take on it?" she said. "I think somehow the fate of the mortals would depend upon it. Maybe two quickenings that powerful can't coexist at the same time. Maybe I don't know." She put her hand on his arm. "But the only reason I can think of why two good immortals would fight would be for the sake of the mortals."
MacLeod reached out and put his arm round her shoulders. "And you think Methos would risk himself for a mortal?"
"For a mortal?" she smiled. "That would probably depend on who it was. For all of them? Well, that depends on whether you think he could bear to see that much death again "
MacLeod nodded wordlessly, conflicting emotions fighting for control in his face. As they stood there, another flash of lightning appeared, and this time the thunder followed more quickly.
"You don't have to leave, you know," Rhiannon said. "If Methos hasn't made it back yet, he won't come now."
MacLeod looked - and caught her eyes scanning the horizon.
"You're worried about him, aren't you?"
She smiled, half laughing at herself. "He'll survive," she replied.
"Yeah, he's good at that."
"You staying then?"
"No. It's time I was going."
She nodded, not trying to keep him. As he drove off, he saw her in the
rear-view mirror, turning the telescope to scan the landscape, searching for a
lone figure on a horse.
When the first bolt of lightning struck close by, there was a crack like a gunshot. For a moment every gap in the boards blazed, and the darkest reaches of the barn were briefly illuminated. The horse reared up, a ghost figure in the twilight, hooves clawing the air, until Methos caught her and quieted her.
"No use trampling me to death, old girl," he murmured. "I'll only come back to haunt you."
For perhaps half an hour they existed in a war zone - rain beating on the roof like shell fire, a cannonade of thunder and lightning. Left alone, the horse would have kicked against the walls of the barn in a panic, breaking or cutting a leg for sure. But after a while she seemed to put her trust in Methos, standing still and only trembling slightly when the thunder rolled. When the storm finally passed, she lay down on the straw, exhausted, and from her breathing Methos guessed that she had fallen asleep almost at once.
It was almost perfectly dark now. Methos felt his way back to the platform
where he had laid his bedroll and curled himself up on the straw. He was tired
from the effort of holding the frightened horse, and the sound of her quiet
breathing now was soothing. Almost before he knew it, he fell asleep.
Away to the north, the storm caught up with MacLeod about a mile from the main road. The rain thundered on the roof of the car, churning up the surface of the track and forcing Duncan to slow right down and peer through the rapid sweep of the wipers. At first he seemed to be managing okay but, blinded by the rain and less than a hundred yards from the road, he must have wandered from the track. First he hit a gully, then half way out his back wheels stuck, spinning helplessly and spraying mud over the back window.
Cursing fluently, Duncan got out of the car and into a solid wall of water. In a few seconds the rain had drenched him to the skin, and his clothes clung wetly to him as he stumbled round to the back of the car. It was obvious that he wasn't going to move an inch without something to put under the wheels to give some traction. The boot of the hired car yielded nothing; so - wiping the rain from his eyes with the back of his hand - he strode away from the car, looking for some brushwood he could use.
A few yards from the car, lightning struck, lighting up the area all around and showing him what he needed. MacLeod stumbled on through the deluge, stepped in some hollow that had him in water almost up to his knee, swore in several more languages - and eventually made it to where a patch of loose of scrub clung to the side of the gully. With his sword, he cut enough of it to make a mat under the wheels of the car.
He had to push the car forwards, and slightly uphill, to get the wheels onto the firm surface he had created. It was a heavy car - a powerful model that had seemed like a good idea when he had hired it from Buenos Aires airport. But right now he would have settled for the little tin can Methos insisted on driving around Paris.
Methos. He hadn't thought about him since the car had ground to a halt in the gully. If it wasn't for Methos he wouldn't be in this position. He wouldn't be out here in the rain, in the middle of Patagonia, trying to push a car a hundred yards out of a mud bank onto a road. Methos!
By the time he had succeeded in getting the wheels onto the matting, he was sore and sweating despite the drenching rain. He half pushed and half drove the car the remaining few yards to the road, then stopped, feeling the metalled surface under his feet. For a moment he stopped and looked back, surveying the waterlogged landscape. The rain was so heavy that any other car would not see him until they were almost upon him. But the chance of anything coming along this road, in this weather, in this isolated country was remote.
The rain had soaked every particle of his clothes, and he could feel water seeping form the fabric every time he moved. Every few seconds, lighting danced in the sky, closely followed by a deep rumble of thunder.
Somewhere out there, somewhere no more that two or three day's ride away, was Methos. Methos, who he had believed to be his friend, who - at least once - had undeniably saved his life. For a brief moment he hoped fervently that he was all right. And then again, equally fervently, that he was at least as cold and wet as he was.
Impatiently, MacLeod stripped off his sodden clothes that could now serve
only to make him colder, and threw them in the back of the car. Then,
near-naked and with the heating turned on full, he drove off down the road.
When Methos woke in the morning, the air was fresh and clear.. He felt refreshed, energised, more alive than he had felt since Cassandra first challenged him in the dojo - and vividly aware that he had slept the night through without nightmares.
He went outside to fetch fresh water, and was confronted by a sudden greening of the plain, as tiny herbs and flowers sprang up in response to the dousing of the earth. It was, it turned out, just as well that he had chosen not to cross the ford to take shelter in the stone buildings on the other side. Overnight, the well-behaved little stream had become an torrent, impassable probably for several days. With care he dipped his bucket, pulled up fresh water, and returned to the barn.
Somewhere in the back of his mind, he was remembering another morning after a storm. He and Rhiannon had been out tracking raiders who had been stealing sheep, and had been caught one night by a summer storm that rattled the Welsh hillsides. They had taken shelter in a shepherd's hut, sleeping huddled together in a bed of straw. He could remember the smell that met him when he woke in the morning - the scent of clover mingled with straw, the lingering smell of sheep, and the foxy smell of Rhiannon's hair.
All at once, he was very sure that he wanted to be with Rhiannon. He could beat his demon's into submission. He could control the nightmares. He could protect her as much as he could - and a lot more than she would ever want him to. But right now he wanted to be back at her estancia, waking up beside her in the morning.
He led the horse out to graze on the sweet new grass, idling beside her as ate, listening to the sound of her teeth cropping the fresh leaves. He was probably two days ride away from the estancia as the crow flies, he speculated. He could ride through the cooler part of the day, rest the horse through the heat, ride again at night. He had no fear of getting lost: after all, he had been navigating by the stars since before compasses were invented. These southern stars were less familiar than his native northern ones, but he knew them well enough
Suddenly impatient to be off, Methos collected his scant belongings.
He was still a few miles from the house when Rhiannon came riding out to meet him. The grey recognised home and friends and quickened her pace, pricking up her ears and whinnying softly as Rhiannon's bay came near.
"So you came back?"
"Seems I had a horse to return," he smiled.
"Thinking of staying a while this time?"
Methos thought about how much he wanted to be with this lovely woman, this witch woman he had loved two thousand years ago. "I might stick around for a while, if you'll let me," he answered. But somewhere en route his voice gave a traitorous quaver.
They stared at each other for a moment, neither of them betraying the emotion they felt. Then Rhiannon said,
"I thought of you the other night, during that big storm."
Methos grinned. "Don't tell me. You thought it was the mother of all quickenings?"
"Not exactly. But I did wonder if you were okay. And if you were looking after the horse properly," she added.
Methos leaned across from his horse to hers and kissed her gently.
"Actually, we were fine," he admitted, as they turned their horses back towards the house. "I found this little place about two day's ride away: a wooden barn on one side of the river, a couple of stone outhouses on the other? We sheltered there, dry as a bone."
"Good." Rhiannon smiled absently, and he couldn't tell from her look if she recognised the description or not.
Once inside, she said carefully, "You should know - Duncan was here."
Methos felt the hairs on the back of his neck prickle, almost as if the younger immortal might still be in range.
"The other night, just before the storm."
So close Methos shivered, feeling a mixture of dread and longing for the man he'd called his friend.
"What did he want?" he managed to ask.
"Answers," Rhiannon said. "About who you really are. About whether he can really trust you." Not his head, then. That was something. She put her hand on his arm. "He's had a hell of a shock, Methos. You have to give him time to come to terms with it all."
Methos shrugged and turned away.
"On the whole, it's a lot easier to accept that MacLeod won't be able to forgive me, than that you have," he told her brusquely.
Just behind him, Rhiannon spoke quietly. "He will," she told him with confidence. "He will."
For a moment, irrationally, he felt irritation, as if MacLeod's condemnation gave him a point of reference, something to be annoyed about that deflected him from his anger with himself. Then he looked up at Rhiannon and saw a flicker of amused exasperation cross her face - and knew that she'd read his mind again.
"I don't know why I put myself through this," he growled in protest.
"Yes, you do," she answered serenely, and put her arms around him.
"Okay, maybe I do," he grinned, a little sheepishly. And let
himself, finally, relax.
continued in Part 3: Encounters.
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