Right, he thought to himself with a rueful smile. It isn't at all holy, it isn't especially Roman, and it's not much of an empire. It was an old joke, but he couldn't help thinking it.
Iolaus had been around for the real Roman Empire. Whatever its flaws--and those flaws numbered in the thousands, as far as he was concerned--it at least had roads and plumbing. The oh-so-Holy Roman Empire had dirt paths and cesspools. There was many a day as he walked the grounds of Lord Helmut's demesne that he horribly missed the hot-and-cold running water of his house in Rome--all he had here was hot-and-cold running dysentery. Nothing like shitting out a window to make you appreciate what you've lost.
The whole continent seemed to be degenerating. Iolaus had been born into Greece at its height: enlightened thought, experimental politics, constant inventiveness, numerous religions coexisting--well, perhaps not peacefully, but coexisting in any case. Now, though, enlightened thought was reserved for a precious few scholars and clergy who shared none of that knowledge, the only politics were that of despotism and feudal overlords, and Christianity had gained a chokehold on everything.
A voice sounded from the other side of the door. "Leave us be!"
"Heinrich, it's Michael. Please, let me in."
He had taken on the name Michael Fischer when he relocated here eight years ago. A small disagreement involving the local law and Amanda had forced him to leave Asia Minor in something of a hurry, and so he travelled north. For some reason, he found himself gravitating to the place where Hercules died.
Or approximately there, in any case. The kingdom that Herc had ruled a millennium ago was long since gone, with barely a trace of its existence left. As was his wont, Iolaus soon found himself entangled in a local problem--in this case involving a woman who had been robbed. The captain of the guard did little about it--mainly because, as Iolaus soon discovered, he was the thief. Iolaus had exposed him, and Lord Helmut was grateful enough to give Iolaus the man's job as payment.
The door opened to reveal the filthy face of Heinrich. He was a good man, always paid his tithes, and produced good crops for Lord Helmut. It pained Iolaus to do this to Heinrich--especially on what was supposed to be Iolaus's night off--but it was dinner time, and that was when whoever poached Helmut's favorite stag was most likely to be eating the evidence, as it were.
Not that Heinrich was likely to be the poacher. But he had to check. That was Iolaus's--or, rather, Michael Fischer's--job now.
"Nice to see," Heinrich said bitterly as Iolaus and his men searched the tiny hut that Heinrich, his wife, and seven children called home, "that my tithes are doing me some good." Lord Helmut had a closet that was larger than the entire place. "After all, we only been loyal to his lordship all our lives and never caused no problems."
"It's nothing personal, Heinrich," Iolaus said, trying to sound soothing. "We're searching everyone. No favorites, no special attention; we're assuming everyone's guilty until proven innocent."
His lieutenant, Viktor--a tall, burly man with a deep voice--said, "All clear, sir. No meat in the house at all, sir."
"Fine. I'm sorry for the inconvenience, Heinrich."
Heinrich softened. "I know y'are, Michael. Sorry, it's just that--"
"I know. Enjoy the rest of your evening."
At least, he thought, he'll have a rest of the evening. I've still got ten houses to go through. Detlev will probably give up and go to sleep. Looks like we sent the kids off for nothing.
He smiled at the thought of his wife and children. True, the children weren't his--that was an impossibility for him. Their father, Detlev's first husband, had died of a fever before Iolaus even came to Lord Helmut's land. Detlev was the one whom Iolaus had defended against his predecessor.
In fifteen hundred years of Immortal life, Iolaus had never actually married anyone until he met Detlev. He'd been married as a mortal, but she died years before Iolaus's first death. Since then, he had plenty of lovers, plenty of women, both mortal and Immortal, that he did love passionately and might have married under other circumstances--but the life of an Immortal hero didn't generally allow for those types of ties.
But what happened in Asia Minor with Amanda made Iolaus long for security and stability. He gave up wandering for the first time--well, first time ever, really. Even before he became Immortal, he'd been hit with the wanderlust more than once.
Then, in the 992nd year of the present calendar, he settled down with Detlev.
He couldn't remember being happier. It was better than his days fighting the good fight in Greece with Hercules, better than his time exploring Europe with Rebecca, better than those wonderful years gallivanting all over creation with Methos.
Methos--there's a name I haven't thought about in far too long. It had been well over a hundred years--maybe two hundred now--since he'd last seen the old man. Back then, Methos had just gotten back from a trip in a leaky boat with a bunch of monks. Iolaus hadn't been too clear on what Methos had been doing with them, and he wasn't sure Methos had been any clearer...
Still, all of that paled in comparison to what Iolaus had with Detlev. And he hoped it would last forever.
It wouldn't, of course. Fifteen hundred years of Immortality had taught him that more than anything. But he intended to make it last as long as he could. Detlev knew it, too--knew his secret, though they hid it from the children, who were too young to understand--and she loved him anyhow, knowing he would never grow older. For that, Iolaus cherished her all the more.
Which made being called away tonight all the more galling. They had sent the kids to a friend's house so they would have the house to themsleves on his night off. But then Viktor had shown up, looking like he'd rather die himself than tell his captain that he had to go on duty to find a poacher, but managing to tell it to him anyhow.
As they trudged to the next house, Iolaus felt the buzz of another Immortal.
Then it receded.
"Is something wrong, sir?"
He looked around, but the feeling was gone. Did I imagine it? It's been months...
But no, you didn't imagine that sort of thing. There had been an Immortal nearby, but he or she ran before Iolaus could do anything about it.
"Nothing's wrong," he said in response to the lieutenant. "Let's get back to the search."
The one thing that had threatened his newfound stability was the recent millennium craze. A large number of Immortals had gotten it into their heads that the arrival of the year 1000 would also mean the Gathering. Immortals were coming out of the woodwork to challenge him--he'd had at least a duel per month, sometimes one per week. It was absurd, really. The idea of armageddon arriving with the new millennium was based on one interpretation of one text of one religion--but it had gripped more people than Iolaus would have believed with a very real fear. The younger Immortals in particular--the ones less than five hundred or so years old--were especially convinced by this absurdity, as were the priests and gentry. Never mind that the date was arbitrary, and in a calendrical system that wasn't used in most of the rest of the world. Iolaus still found himself receiving an inordinate number of Quickenings.
But when the bells rang midnight on New Year's Even of the "Year of Their Lord"--as Iolaus snidely called it to himself--999 and the end of days did not come, the insanity finally ended. Iolaus hadn't seen hide nor hair of another Immortal in four months.
But as long as the Immortal remained hidden, there was nothing Iolaus could do about it. Shrugging, he continued to the next house.
"I guess someone smuggled the stag off His Lordship's lands," the lieutenant said.
"I doubt it," Iolaus said. "They'd need to carry it somehow. If they did it on the main road, we'd have found them by now--if they didn't, then the patrols will find it eventually. All we've done is eliminate the serfs." Iolaus stifled a yawn. "Lieutenant, do me a favor--check the guard barracks, just so we can say that we did, and then get the report from the patrols. I'm asleep on my feet here."
The lieutenant shifted uncomfortably from foot to foot. "I am sorry to have taken you away from your night off, sir, but Lord Helmut--"
"Don't worry about it, Viktor," Iolaus said with an encouraging smile. "It's not your fault." No, he thought, it's Helmut's. As are most things. It was probably that idiot son of his who poached the stag. "But I've done my good deed for the night. Carry out my instructions, and give me a full report first thing in the morning."
Viktor frowned. "First thing, sir?" The lieutenant was aware of his captain's sleeping habits.
"Yes, you have my permission to wake me up," Iolaus said with a laugh.
"Thank you, sir," Viktor said, nodding with relief. He'd made the mistake of waking Iolaus up without permission once before--the bruises were still faintly visible on the lieutenant's chest, though Iolaus had apologized profusely afterward.
With that, Iolaus proceeded toward his home, which was located far enough from Helmut's castle that Iolaus felt he wasn't at His Lordship's beck and call at all times--even though, in truth, everything in Helmut's demesne fell into that category. But Iolaus preferred that his time spent with Detlev and the kids was spent in a place that wasn't immediately visible to Helmut.
As a result, he'd gone out of shouting range of Viktor when he saw the fire.
Speaking German had become second nature to him these last eight years in his role of Michael Fischer, captain of Lord Helmut's guard--but it was in Greek that Iolaus of Corinth cried, "By the gods, no!"
He ran to the house as fast as his armor would allow. "DETLEV!" he screamed at the top of his lungs.
The sight of the house made his heart fall, but his feet run faster. Fire had consumed every part of the house, and it lit up the night with a flickering inferno. A small part of him thanked the Fates--if they were still around--for the fact that at least the kids were elsewhere tonight.
When he was within a thousand paces of the house, he felt the buzz of an Immortal and saw the black-haired man standing between him and the burning structure.
It took him less than a minute to place the face. The scar down his cheek was what brought recognition: Kronos.
Soon after he became Immortal, Iolaus had, along with Hercules, encountered four Immortals who called themselves the Horsemen. Warlords all, they planned to plunder Greece; Herc and Iolaus turned them away at Thessaly, and they never came back. Iolaus later learned that the Horsemen disbanded soon after that. He re-encountered one of them, Methos, in Rome centuries later. To Iolaus's surprise, Methos had changed, and the two had become good friends.
But Iolaus had never met the other Horsemen again. He'd heard rumors that Caspian was in Asia Minor, but he'd had to leave before he could follow it up.
Now here was their leader, and the worst of them.
Iolaus had his sword out, but Kronos just stood there. He wore chainmail, but his sword remained in its scabbard. "Did you honestly think," he said in a maddeningly calm, eloquent voice, "that I had forgotten you, Iolaus? That I forgot the defeat you and that mongrel handed me in Thessaly? It was only a matter of time before I found you--and exacted my revenge."
"MICHAEL!" screamed a woman's voice.
Detlev. Gods, no.
"You may kill me if you wish, Iolaus. But then your woman may not survive. She may not survive anyhow. Can you risk the distraction of a Quickening?"
Iolaus had no choice--and Kronos, damn him, knew that. Re-sheathing his sword, he ran past the murderer toward the conflagration.
He'd rescued people from fires before, lots of times, even before he was Immortal and his wounds automatically healed. He could save Detlev now. He was sure of it.
Pushing his way into the flames, forcing himself to ignore the white-hot agony as embers sizzled onto his skin, he found her, bent over in the kitchen, coughing.
For the first time, he was grateful for the idiotic cape that Helmut insisted he wear as a "symbol of his office." He wrapped Detlev in the cape to protect her from the flames, gently eased her over his shoulder, and then ran back the way he came, hoping that none of the ceiling beams would choose that moment to collapse.
Embers scorched the cape and Iolaus's flesh as he ran back outside, the cool night air feeling like ice after running through the inferno. Once he'd gotten a safe distance from the fire, he gently set Detlev down on the grass.
Of Kronos, there was neither sight nor feel.
"Are you all right?" he asked. Assuming she was, he planned to go after Kronos. Though she had burns all over her...
"The--the children--" she said between coughs.
A fist of ice clenched Iolaus's heart. "They're with Helga."
"They're in there, Michael!" she cried, then went into another coughing fit.
Iolaus rose and ran toward the house. The fire had grown worse, far worse than any mortal could stand. But that would not deter Iolaus. Ignoring the searing pain, he ran through the flames, felt his flesh cook and sizzle, but did not allow it to slow him down. He would find the kids...
He did find them. What was left of them.
Leaving their charred corpses to be consumed by the flames--Iolaus had always preferred that to burial in any event--he stumbled out of the wreckage.
Most of his burns had healed by the time help finally arrived--far too late. Detlev was conveyed to the castle while the other guards tried to put out the fire. Ultimately, all they could do was keep it from spreading.
Iolaus tried to make a show of supervising the process, but his heart wasn't in it, and it took little for Viktor to convince him to relax. He was hurt, after all, and shouldn't exert himself.
Eventually, one of Lord Helmut's toadies came by and escorted him to the castle.
Several people offered their sincerest condolences. Iolaus ignored all of them. He went to Detlev.
He sat up with her for the rest of the night while salves were applied to her burns.
She had sent for the kids after Viktor took Iolaus away. Detlev had always hated being alone, and since she couldn't be with the man she loved, she would be with the children she adored. It had probably seemed completely reasonable at the time.
Detlev Fischer breathed her last at sunrise.
Her final words were, "I love you, Iolaus."
Tears running freely down his cheeks, Iolaus said, "I love you, too, Det." He did not question her use of his birth name. He had no idea that she knew what it was, and just at the moment didn't care how she found out. He held her withered, burned hand in his as she died.
It seemed like Viktor came in only a moment later, but the sun indicated that it was almost noon. "Sir?" he said.
"I hate to be the one to tell you this, sir, but--" Viktor hesitated. "Sir, we searched the remains of your house, sir, and, we ah--"
Though always overconscientious, even Viktor never used the word "sir" three times in two sentences. "Spit it out, Viktor!"
"We found the burned remains of a stag, sir."
There had been a trial, of course. A commoner would have simply been executed on the spot, but Michael Fischer was a respected member of the demesne. An attempt was made to at least create the illusion of justice.
Iolaus, of course, knew the truth. Kronos had to have been responsible. He took the stag, and planted it in the house when he burned it.
Several of his friends wondered why he said nothing in his defense. They assumed that he wanted to die to join Detlev and the kids in heaven.
They were half right.
The only way Iolaus would be free to seek Kronos out was if Michael Fischer was dead. And Kronos was still around. Several times during the trial, Iolaus felt the presence of another Immortal. He hadn't been able to pick Kronos out of the crowd, and it's not like either of them could do anything about it with the crowd around. Iolaus would make sure that Kronos wouldn't live to regret staying behind to watch the trial.
Because he was a respected member of the demesne, they let him choose his method of execution. This was a good thing, as Lord Helmut tended to be partial to beheadings. Iolaus chose to be hanged, which had the added benefit of sparing any of his men from having to perform the act of killing their commander. Iolaus would simply sit on a horse with a noose around his neck, kick the horse, and he'd be dead a minute later.
A hand reached down, and a voice said, "C'mon, I know you're alive again, Iolaus, so don't make me do all the work."
The voice did not belong to Kronos. And, unlike Kronos the night of the fire, the voice spoke, not in German, but in Greek. The Greek of fifteen hundred years ago.
Iolaus grabbed the hand, and hauled himself out of his grave. "Let's move, shall we?" Methos said, now in German. "Christians tend to get cranky where grave-desecraters are concerned--even if the grave belongs to a convicted criminal."
Methos was wearing an outfit that identified him as a local merchant--as usual, he was doing what he could to blend in and not be noticed.
In Greek, Iolaus said, "Methos, what the hell are you doing here?"
"Please, Michael," Methos said, still in German, "I know it's been a few years, but have you already forgotten my name is Herman?"
"Very funny," Iolaus said, following the old man's lead and speaking in the local language. "And Michael Fischer is dead."
"I assume that's why you didn't defend yourself at the trial. Unless, of course, you really did kill them?"
Iolaus bit back a nasty retort. Considering how much Methos himself changed in the five hundred years between their first and second meetings, it was not unreasonable for Methos to at least consider the possibility that Iolaus had changed enough in one hundred to kill his own family.
On the other hand... "I assume you don't really believe that, since you dug me up?"
"Not after watching the trial. You could say I've become good at reading people over the years--particularly ones in despair. Yours were the eyes of one in grief, not one who'd committed murder."
"Glad to see I'm so readable," he said sardonically, and more bitterly than he'd intended. "In any case, I'm grateful. Now that I'm dead, I'm free to chase after Kronos."
Methos's face fell--and was filled with a very real fear. In all the time Iolaus had known him, he had never seen so hollow a look on his friend's face. "Kronos?"
"He's the one who set me up, and the one who killed Detlev and the kids. He hung around during the trial, and--" Iolaus drew himself up short. "Wait a minute--you said you were there for the trial?"
"Yes. And there were no other Immortals around. Believe me, if there were any others besides you, I'd have been out of there in an instant. Besides, it's not Kronos's style to stick around like that. He probably wanted to hurt you as badly as you could have been hurt. And he would have wanted to enjoy it--which would mean he would stay alive as long as possible. Besides, as good as Kronos is, he's never been as good as you. In a one-on-one fight, he'd lose, especially with you as angry as you are now."
A rage built within Iolaus. The only thing that kept him going during the trial was knowing that Kronos was around. Now, to have this denied him...
"C'mon," he said, and started walking northward.
"Iolaus," Methos said in Greek, "that's not the way we want to go. That's back toward Lord Helmut's castle."
"The guards' barracks, actually. I need to talk to someone."
He wondered whether or not the Watchers would send him elsewhere to Watch another one, or if he'd be allowed to remain here.
A hand clamped over his mouth. "Don't make a sound, Viktor."
Viktor didn't make a sound.
"I'm going to remove my hand," said Captain Fischer--or, rather, Iolaus, "and you're going to continue to not make a sound, right Viktor?"
Iolaus removed the hand.
"Now we could go through a lengthy dialogue where you try to pretend you don't know what I'm talking about when I say I know you're a Watcher and that you've been assigned to me."
"N-no, sir. Your predecessor explained your, ah, arrangement with the Watchers when I took the assignment. Based on what he said, sir, I'm actually surprised you didn't contact me sooner."
"I try to leave you guys alone where possible. Usually the deal was that you stay out of my private life, but nobody has a private life in a demesne like this in any case, so it wasn't an issue. And I never needed anything."
"Until now, right, sir?"
"You don't have to call me 'sir,' Viktor. Captain Michael Fischer is dead. I'm just Iolaus, not your superior officer."
"Old habits, sir."
Iolaus actually chuckled at that. "You're right, I do need something now. Kronos."
Viktor frowned. "Never heard of him."
"I'm only going to say this once, Viktor: don't ever lie to me."
The blood drained from Viktor's face. He had read Iolaus's Chronicle, of course, and had seen him take on dozens of Immortal challengers during the Millennium Craze, but he always had such a jovial demeanor that it was fairly easy to forget just how dangerous he was.
That jovial demeanor was gone now. In its place was an Immortal who would kill him without hesitation if he felt it was necessary. And lying about this Kronos person obviously fit the "necessary" bill.
"I-I'm not lying, sir. I've never heard of anyone named Kronos."
Iolaus sighed. "Probably going under another name. All right, I want you to find out everything you possibly can about an Immortal fitting this description." He proceeded to give minute details about this Kronos from the color of his eyes to the length of the scar on his face to what he'd been wearing the night Iolaus saw him.
"I cannot guarantee anything, sir--and a message would take several days, if not weeks."
"Just do it, Viktor."
"Y-yes, sir. How will I get in touch with you?"
"You won't. I'll find you."
Iolaus wouldn't hear a word of it, typically. He was focused on revenge, to a degree Methos would not have credited Iolaus as being capable of. Have to hand it to you, Kronos, Methos thought toward his "brother," when you take revenge, you do it right. You found the one thing that would devastate Iolaus more than anything else.
And Kronos had covered his tracks. Neither Iolaus nor Viktor found anything. Watcher Headquarters knew nothing of an Immortal fitting that description. The only Immortal they had on file with a scar like that was nothing like Kronos in any other respect, and hadn't left Avignon for two hundred years.
"The Watchers aren't perfect," Methos said. "If they were, you and I wouldn't know as much about them as we do, would we?"
Iolaus sighed. "Can't argue with that. But I will find him. One of these days, I will."
"I'm sure you will--I just hope I'm not around when it happens."
"You've never talked about it," Iolaus said. "I take it the breakup of the Horsemen wasn't the most amicable?"
Unbidden, the memories of sinking into a roiling tar pit surged into Methos's mind. He forced them down--but was unable to force the look on Kronos's face as he, too, submerged into the pit, out of his mind so easily. "Put it this way--I have no interest in ever allowing any of my 'brothers' to come near me. They probably think I'm dead, and I'm happy to keep it that way."
"Well, we know how much Kronos carries a grudge. He was willing to wait fifteen hundred years to take his revenge on me. He may find you yet. And if he does, I want you to promise me something."
Methos frowned. He had a feeling he wasn't going to like this. "What?"
"If it's at all possible, if you find him or he finds you, you'll tell me. Promise me that, Methos."
Methos remembered Rome. Iolaus could have killed him, then, and might have, if Methos hadn't talked him out of it.
Methos remembered the years that followed. The bond they'd formed.
The times Iolaus saved his life.
Methos also remembered Kronos, and what he was capable of.
And he knew that if Kronos and Iolaus ever found each other again, the last place on Earth Methos wanted to be was in the vicinity.
But he saw the look on Iolaus's face. If he did not fulfill this promise, Methos might lose the only real friend he had in the world.
Besides, if Kronos did find him, Methos would need all the help he could get. A fighting-mad Iolaus was good assistance in those matters.
It was a quiet fall day. The leaves were piled on the ground in masses of gold, red, and yellow. It was chilly but not cold--enough to soothingly sear Duncan's lungs during his morning run, but not enough to be uncomfortable--and there was enough sunlight to keep things pleasant.
No Immortals were on the rampage. No old friends had come back to exact revenge for some slight Duncan didn't know about. No old girlfriends had come back to stir up old problems. No Immortals were preaching peace and nonviolence resulting in the slaughter of defenseless Immortals.
It was just Duncan and Methos sitting in Joe's Bar, alone but for the owner, enjoying some fine alcohol and good company.
Well, Duncan was enjoying fine alcohol. Methos was drinking a bottle of Heinekin. How a man could live five thousand years and drink that swill had been a constant source of confusion to Duncan.
"You don't know what you're talking about," Joe said from behind the bar.
"Look, Joe, I was there, and I'm telling you, it was a disaster."
"Oh, don't go pulling that I'm-five-thousand-years-old-and-I-know-everything crap, 'cause I was there, too."
"You were at the Newport Folk Festival in '65?"
"Yes. I was just a kid, but I went. And I saw what Dylan did. And I listened--unlike all the philistines like you who just saw an electric guitar and cried heresy!"
"You kidding," Methos said, "Ted nearly had a heart attack, and I've never seen Pete so angry in my life."
Duncan had been following the argument with only passing interest--most music created in this century held little fascination for the Scot--but, while he knew who "Dylan" was, of course, "Ted" and "Pete" were a bit too abstruse. "Who?"
"Theodore Bikel and Pete Seeger," Methos said. "They were both livid when Bob and The Band came on with their electric instruments. It was an absolute nightmare."
"Have you ever actually listened to the music they made?" Joe asked, coming slowly around the bar. Cane in one hand, a mug of something steaming--Duncan suspected an Irish coffee--in the other, he moved toward the table to join them. "It was some transcendant stuff."
"It was raw, unfocused noise. I'm not saying Dylan didn't do great live music with The Band, but not for years. BEFORE THE FLOOD, THE LAST WALTZ, that was all magnificent, but the stuff in the mid-60s--"
Methos cut himself off, and Duncan knew why, because he felt it also: a double buzz. Two Immortals were approaching.
Joe had been about to sit down when he saw the looks on Duncan and Methos's faces. Joe of course knew what those looks meant, though he looked only mildly concerned. After all, four Immortals in a bar usually didn't mean a fight--though it could easily be a prelude to one.
The door opened to a very short man with curly blond hair. He wore a leather jacket over a plain black t-shirt and jeans, and moved with a relaxed confidence.
Behind him was Richie Ryan.
Duncan allowed himself to relax a bit, though he still took a quick glance at his leather duster to see how easily he could get at the katana in its lining if he needed it. The blond man was still an unknown, after all, but Richie's presence meant all would mostly likely be well. Things had been strained between Duncan and his erstwhile student of late--it, quite understandably, took Richie some time to forgive Duncan for almost killing him, and the younger Immortal still had a wary air--but they were on good terms again.
But Richie had gone off to find himself after the false Methos had sent him into a spiral of self-doubt. Duncan hadn't expected to see the young man again so soon.
The blond Immortal looked right at Methos and said something in a language Duncan couldn't place. One or two words sounded almost Greek, but Duncan knew enough Greek to know that this couldn't be it.
Unless, he thought, remembering of whom he was thinking, it's an older form of Greek.
Methos replied in kind, and then got up and hugged the blond Immortal. "It's been too long, Joel."
"Definitely, Adam, definitely."
Also getting up, Duncan went up to Richie. "It's good to see you, Rich."
Duncan was grateful for the smile that greeted him. "Same here, Mac."
And then Richie and Duncan, like Methos and this Joel person, hugged.
"Duncan MacLeod," Methos said as Richie and Duncan broke the embrace, "this is Joel Hunter, one of my oldest friends--though I didn't know you two knew each other," he added, looking at Richie.
"That's a new development," Joel said.
Duncan looked on this newcomer with a mixture of shock and awe. Methos didn't casually refer to people as friends--in fact, Duncan was relatively sure that he'd never heard Methos refer to anyone with that word.
Joel continued: "But first, I need to shake your hand, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod." He put out his hand. Shrugging, Duncan shook it, though unclear as to the big deal. "One of my students--in fact, the best student I ever had--was Rebecca Horne. I owe you a lot for what you did for her."
Duncan nodded, understanding. He'd known Rebecca Horne for most of his Immortal life. When she'd been killed three years ago, Duncan was the one who avenged her death by fighting the man who'd done the deed. "I was glad to do it. Rebecca was a good friend."
"She was the best of us," Joel said. "She should--" He cut himself off. "Never mind. In any case, I'm grateful to you."
"Not something Iolaus of Corinth would say easily," Joe said, grinning broadly.
Joel turned to the bar owner. "And the infamous Joe Dawson, Watcher Extraordinaire would know that."
Duncan frowned. He hadn't expected this. He wondered if it was cause for concern.
Turning his gaze on Duncan and grinning broadly, Joel said, "You can get that I-don't-know-what's-going-on-so-I'm-going-to-set-my-jaw-and-look-concerned-until-someone-explains-it-to-me expression off your face, MacLeod. I know all about the Watchers. Have for quite a while." He chuckled. "Who do you think told Adam here about 'em? And Iolaus is the name I was born with back in Corinth."
"You prefer that to Joel?"
The blond Immortal shrugged. "Whatever you're comfortable with."
Shortly, the four Immortals were sitting at a table. "What can I get you gentlemen? Same as Mr. Pierson here?"
"Joe, don't bother," Methos said. "Everyone here knows who I am."
Again, Duncan frowned. This Iolaus person knew about Methos?
"Fine," Joe said, "you want the same as Methos is having, then?"
Iolaus looked at Methos's bottle of Heinekin, made a face, then said, "No, I'd rather drink beer. Whatever you have on tap."
Richie pointed at Duncan. "I'll have what's he's having." He grinned his trademark grin and said, "You're buying, right, Mac?"
"Oh, am I?" Duncan said with a smile.
"Forget it," Joe said, "it's on the house. How often do I get so many illustrious Immortals in my bar?"
"In that case," Richie said, "I'll definitely have what Mac's having." Then he chuckled. "Waitasec, I'm illustrious?"
Joe went back behind the bar to fetch the two drinks. "Well, illustrious by association, anyhow."
"So, you know Adam here is really the legendary Methos?" Duncan prompted.
Methos laughed. "You have to excuse MacLeod, Iolaus. He hates it when he doesn't know everything."
Laughter spread around the table at Duncan's expense, and after a flash of annoyance, he joined in the laugh. "I was just curious. Considering how you've moved heaven and earth to keep anyone aside from me and Joe knowing you're Methos..."
"The only reason you told me was because of that fake Methos," Richie put in.
Before Methos could say anything, Iolaus said, "Different times. See, nowadays people talk about Methos the five-thousand-year-old Immortal as if he's some kind of legend. Twenty-five hundred years ago in Thessaly, that legend hadn't had a chance to really get started."
"So how did you two hook up?" Methos asked, looking at both Iolaus and Richie.
"Actually, that's why we're here," Iolaus said as he took a sip of the pint of Anchor Steam that Joe put in front of him. "Richie and I met up down in Oregon, and both of us met up with some renegade Watchers."
"What!?" Joe said as he placed the shot of Glenmorangie in front of Richie. "What're you talking about?"
In quick, concise, precise detail, Iolaus told Duncan, Joe, and Methos about a group of Watchers who'd decided that all Immortals who knew about the organization had to be killed in order to keep them secure.
Duncan sighed. Damn you, Horton. All this started because of James Horton, a Watcher who had gotten it into his head that Immortals were an abomination against God and had to be expunged. It was because of Horton that Joe Dawson was forced to tell Duncan about the Watchers. It was because of Horton that Jakob Galati started a vendetta against the Watchers, one that almost put the Immortals and Watchers at war with each other until Duncan managed to defuse it, with the help of Joe and Methos.
And now this.
"Dori said it would get taken care of in-house," Iolaus said.
"I haven't heard a damn thing," Joe muttered with more than a little bitterness. "But then, I'm still on probation, so they may be keeping me out of it."
"Richie and I figured you'd need to know about this, MacLeod, and some other friends you might've told."
Duncan nodded. "I'll give Amanda and Carl a call to keep an eye out."
Iolaus looked at Methos. "You gonna be okay?"
"Why shouldn't I be?" Methos asked with his trademark grin. "Adam Pierson hasn't been a Watcher in over six months. I quit after that little mess with Galati."
"You quit? What the hell did you do that for?"
"The drawbacks outweighed the benefits."
Iolaus threw his head back and laughed. "Ah, the Methos credo. Git while the gittin's good."
Duncan chuckled. "Well, if I had any doubts that you knew the old man here, that just erased them."
"Oh, very funny, MacLeod," Methos said, tossing a bar peanut at Duncan, who batted it aside.
"Still, Richie wanted to let you guys know, and in light of what happened, I figured I needed to be elsewhere." Iolaus sipped his beer and smiled an infectious smile. "I know a little about gittin' while the gittin's good, too."
"So," Joe said, taking a seat between Duncan and Methos, "how long've the two of you known each other, anyhow?"
"Long enough," Methos said, then took a swig from his bottle.
"We've spent many a century keeping each other alive," Iolaus said. "And a lot more time getting each other into trouble."
"As I recall, you were the one getting in trouble most of the time with your tiresome insistence on leading with your chin."
"Sorry, I never had your facility for hiding under tables."
"It's a valuable skill."
"You've certainly practiced it enough times."
"So," Duncan interrupted before Methos could respond, "you were Rebecca's teacher?"
Iolaus nodded. "Yeah. Found her with a tribe of Amazons about twenty-three hundred years ago or so."
Richie snickered in his Scotch. "Or so?"
"Hey, it was a long time ago. The memory starts to fade."
"Yeah," Richie said, "I hear that's a real problem for you old guys."
"Someday you'll be old, kid," Methos said.
"Yeah, but I'll always be younger than you."
Joe laughed. "We're all younger than him."
"Yeah," Iolaus said, "he was already a cranky old bastard when I first met him, and that was two-and-a-half millennia ago."
"It's funny," Duncan said, trying to crowbar the conversation back to the topic he'd brought up, "but I always used to think of Rebecca as one of the older ones. And now I'm drinking with her teacher."
Iolaus shrugged. "Well, I only had a couple centuries on her. We had some great times--and I meant what I said about her being the best of us." He chuckled. "Hell, she put up with Amanda, which is more than I ever would've done."
"You know Amanda?" Duncan asked, wondering if there was anyone the Immortal thief didn't know.
"Oh yeah. Speaking of people getting other people into trouble."
Taking a philosophical swig of beer, Methos said, "She is a past master at that."
Scratching his chin thoughtfully, Richie asked, "Is there anyone sitting at this table who hasn't been royally screwed by Amanda and barely got out of it alive?"
The four Immortals and one Watcher each looked at each other, then each slowly shook their heads.
Quickly the conversation became a top-this session involving crises with Amanda. Richie started with how he let Amanda coerce him into revealing a location Duncan wanted kept secret. Iolaus then told of an incident in Turkey in the late 900s, which led to Duncan telling of finding Amanda in a harem in Constantinople in the 18th century, which led Methos to tell of a time a year earlier when Amanda asked for a "teensy bit of help" with a "decorating problem" that almost cost Methos his sanity, not to mention his head. Iolaus talked about an incident involving a black market during the Korean War, then Joe told of how Amanda basically forced Duncan and Joe to speak to each other. That led Richie to tell of an incident from two months earlier involving Kit O'Brady's horse.
Duncan felt a knot tie in his stomach. "What did you do to Kit's horse?"
"Oh, nothing permanent, Mac. Don't worry, Kit never knew a thing about it."
"Why didn't I ever hear about this?"
"You were busy, and, y'know, Amanda didn't want you to worry."
"I'm worried now," Duncan said, leaning forward.
"Look, she asked for my help--"
"Your help?" Duncan tried very hard to ignore the snickers around the rest of the table as Richie went on with his story.
"Yeah, she asked me to give her a hand. And the first thing I said was, 'Why don't you ask Mac?'"
"Very good of you," Duncan said dryly.
"And she said that I would be more useful to her."
"She said that." Duncan shook his head.
"Look, Mac, I was better suited to what she needed. It was a problem that called for someone who grew up on the streets of this town and knew his way around, not someone who'd be a square-jawed hero flying in to save the day."
Iolaus looked at Methos. "It's a shame when the students grow up and go off on their own, isn't it?"
"Yes, tragic," Methos said, nodding mock-gravely. "But it's always so hard on the mentors."
"I've noticed that, yeah," Iolaus said with an emphatic nod.
Duncan sat back and stared dolefully at his whiskey. "I'm glad you two find this so amusing."
"C'mon, Mac," Richie said, putting a hand on Duncan's shoulder, "it's not like I had a choice. I mean, this is Amanda we're talking about. Do you honestly think I could've said no to her?"
Iolaus shook his head. "I've certainly tried and failed enough times."
"She's an irresistable force," Joe said, "and we're all very movable objects."
Duncan sighed. "Can't argue with that."
Then Methos just looked at Iolaus and said one word: "Woodstock."
Iolaus banged his head on the table and muttered a curse in a language Duncan didn't recognize.
"You guys were at Woodstock?" Joe said, trying not to choke on his Irish coffee.
Iolaus nodded. "Me, Amanda, and the really really old guy here."
"Really really old guy?" Richie said, grinning viciously. "I like that."
"Use it in my presence, and you're dead meat," Methos said, trying and failing to sound threatening.
"Forget it," Duncan said with the knowledge of more experience with one Richard Ryan. "You're stuck with that nickname now."
"In any case," Iolaus said, "it was quite a time. At least it was until one of Amanda's business associates showed up..."
"Why not?" Iolaus asked Methos, taking a toot. "From what I hear, it'd be an interesting way to spend a few hours."
"You go on. Been there, flashbacked that already."
Iolaus chuckled, threw his long blond hair back, and handed the joint to Amanda. She smiled as she took the joint and inhaled. She always loved Iolaus's hair, and it looked even better now that he'd let it grow out. In fact, it was almost as long as Amanda's--which she currently had dyed blonde. It was also, in deference to the awful humidity, tied back in a ponytail.
Methos and Iolaus--or, as they were calling themselves these days, Jack "Moondoggy" Wilson and Joely Hunter--sat on a blanket next to a tent amidst the sea of humanity that had gathered in the middle of nowhere in New York State for the biggest rock and roll concert the world had ever known. Methos had been making noise about how he hadn't seen a crowd like this since the Coliseum. "Moondoggy" had also let his hair grow out, but the style didn't suit him as well as it did Iolaus. Somehow the long hair made Methos look more sinister.
The weather wasn't ideal. It was humid and rainy and muddy, and Amanda's tie-dyed t-shirt was sticking to her body--not that any of the men were complaining about the latter, Amanda thought with a cat-like smile. But she was having a great time. She hadn't seen Rebecca's teacher in ages--not since she and Iolaus had that little to-do with the black marketeers in Seoul in '52. As for the old man, she hadn't seen him since before the war. So when "Moondoggy" called out of the blue to invite her along to Woodstock because his wife was sick, she couldn't say no, especially since Iolaus would be there, too.
Of course, the show wasn't actually in Woodstock, as originally planned--instead it was on some farm in Bethel. They were on their fourth day here, and Amanda had had a ball. The art festival had been full of good work, she'd spent most of the weekend high as a kite, the music had been nothing short of amazing, and she, Iolaus, and Methos got to catch up on old times. And it was good to see that the boys hadn't slowed down with age.
Good music, good friends, good drugs, good booze--what more could she ask from life?
"Tell you one thing," Iolaus said, "if CSNY come out again, I'm dropping the acid, no question."
"Oh, come on," Methos said, "they weren't that bad."
"Compared to what, root canal? Their guitars were out of tune and they were off key for half of 'Suite: Judy Blue Eyes.' Talk about a crappy way to end the night..."
The boys continued their argument about the relative merits of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young's performance that closed out the previous evening's entertainment. Amanda didn't really care that much about the specifics, as long as there was music. Right now it looked like Paul Butterfield was coming out with his blues band. Amanda smiled, and wondered if Butterfield remembered her from that little club in Chicago eight years earlier. As she recalled, his harmonica work only gave the slightest clue as to what he could do with that mouth of his...
Then she saw someone she never expected to see.
Oh God, what is Marco doing here?
She tried to slip away without the boys noticing, but Iolaus said, "Where you going?"
Should've known better than to think I could slip past him. She'd tried to slip away from Iolaus in the past--most notably during that mess in Turkey back in the late 900s, when being able to slip away would've certainly made her life a lot easier. But very little got by the two-thousand-year-old hunter.
"Just saw someone that looks like a friend of mine," she said blithely. "Gonna see if it's her. Be right back. You boys will just have to muddle through without me for a few minutes," she added with a mischievious grin.
"Oh, whatever shall we do without her, Joely?" Methos asked dramatically, putting his hand to his heart.
"Woe is us! Woe is us!" Iolaus cried, doing likewise.
Chuckling, Amanda got up and dashed across the grass and mud in her bare feet. She leapt over fellow celebrants, all at varying stages of inebriation and/or incapacitation. Paul started into "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" just as Amanda walked up to Marco.
Marco stood out like a sore thumb. He'd made a half-hearted attempt to blend in with the crowd, wearing a denim jacket with a peace symbol on the back (Now there's a bad fit, Amanda thought sourly) and bell bottoms, but the crewcut just didn't work. He was the only person at the entire festival for whom the back of the neck was visible. He also had a conspicuous bulge under his denim jacket. And it was a bit too far up and to the right to indicate that he liked the way Amanda looked in a damp tie-dyed t-shirt.
"What's up, Amanda?"
"Marco, what are you doing here?"
"Lookin' for you. Ain't easy findin' one hippy-dippy chick in this mess, lemme tell ya. Been wanderin' around here since yesterday."
"Marco, I'm here with some--"
"The shit was bad, Amanda."
Amanda blinked. "What do you mean, the shit was bad?"
"Jus' what I said, bitch. The shit was bad. An' I came up here, 'cause I got me a policy. Know what the policy is?"
Amanda had a feeling she knew, but an even stronger feeling that Marco was going to tell her no matter what, so she just said nothing.
"It's simple: you sell me bad shit, I kill you."
"It isn't my shit!" Amanda said quickly. Getting shot in the middle of Woodstock would be downright embarrassing. Besides, she was in the middle of several deals, and all her financial resources were tied up--creating a new identity right now would be impossible.
Besides, she didn't want to saddle Methos and Iolaus with disposing of her body.
"I was just the middleman, y'know?" she said quickly, casting a quick glance over at Methos and Iolaus who, thankfully, were still engaged in their little argument. Methos was presently rolling a fresh joint. "I was just passing the stuff on. I didn't know that it was--"
Marco followed her gaze. "It's that guy, isn't it?" Marco yelled.
He was looking right at Methos.
"Marco, no, he--"
"Don't try to protect him, chickie. I shoulda known it'd be one'a these hippie weirdo freaks. Somebody oughtta just shoot 'em all."
Marco was about to open his jacket and go for his gun, but Amanda put a restraining hand on his arm. "What're you doing? We're in a field full of people!"
"C'mon, 'Manda, mosta these people prolly don't even remember their names."
"You only need one person to notice--and they're going to remember the one man with a crewcut they've seen all weekend."
Marco seemed to snarl for a minute, then let his arms fall to his sides. "'Kay, fine, but I want that sonofabitch dead. I came up here t'kill someone, an' I don't like it when I don't get what I want. You bring him over to that bush behind that tree over there."
Amanda's mind raced. All she did was glance at Methos, and Marco, the idiot, just decided that he was the source of the bad drugs. Of course, it was Amanda's own damn fault for trusting those Dominicans who actually supplied the acid. However, she couldn't tell Marco her real source without giving away the Dominicans--and the Dominicans knew she was Immortal and would take steps to silence her in a way more permanent than a mere gunshot. So she had to play along. Poor Methos, this will probably ruin his weekend.
Then Marco grabbed her arm roughly. "You got five minutes to bring that hippie bastard over. Otherwise, I'll come over and plug all'a you, and I don't give a shit how many witnesses, got me, chickie?"
Amanda nodded. She was annoyed, but tried to look scared, since Marco would expect that from the dumb hippie chick he bought the drugs from.
She pulled her arm out of Marco's grip and headed back toward the tent.
And it had been such a good weekend, too, she thought. I've got to stop selling to cuckoo birds. But for whatever reason, she kept finding herself involved with them: Cory, Zachary, Korda...
As she sat back down on the blanket, one of the girls from the next tent over--named Sunflower or somesuch--came by and asked, "Any'a you guys seen Spike?"
Amanda didn't even remember which one Spike was, but Iolaus said, "Not since last night."
"This is so uncool. Nobody's seen him since sun-up."
Sunflower wandered off. Methos turned to Amanda. "So, was your friend who you thought she was?"
"Actually, it was a he."
Both men rolled their eyes. Iolaus took a quick drag of the joint. "What is it this time, Amanda?"
Amanda sat up straight. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"C'mon, Amanda, we both know the drill," Methos said, speaking now in Latin to discourage eavesdropping. "We've known you too long. You've done something horrible, and you need our help to get out of it."
"I can't believe this!" Amanda said in the same language. "I can't believe you two just automatically assume that I've done something horrible."
Iolaus looked at Methos. "She does have a point."
"Yes," Amanda said, feeling vindicated.
"After all," Iolaus continued, "we only have a thousand years of evidence to back up this belief. It'd be pretty rash of us to assume that it's still the case."
"Oh, you're just so funny, Joely," Amanda muttered, folding her arms in an aggravated manner.
Methos chuckled. "Tell you what, Amanda, I'll happily apologize if we're wrong."
"So will I," Iolaus said, taking another toke and passing the joint to Methos.
Amanda sighed. "Well..."
"Look," Amanda said quickly before they could start in on her, "I didn't know this was going to happen!"
"You never do," Methos said.
Sulking, Amanda said, "Fine, be that way. Don't help me. Just let me die with all my finances screwed up. I'll have to live on the street in a dark alley somewhere where any old Immortal can come and take my head."
"Oh, cut that out, Amanda," Iolaus said. "If you were broke, there are about eighteen guys you could drop in on who'd take you in."
"Cory Raines," Methos said.
"Either one of those Scots, what're their names--MacLeod."
"All right, already!" Amanda cried, throwing up her arms. "Look, Marco came up here to find me because I sold him some bad stuff."
Methos hesitated before toking the joint.
"Not the grass," Amanda said, "that's my own homegrown stuff. No, this was some LSD I got from some, uh, friends."
"Friends, right," Iolaus said. "That's why they gave you bad stuff."
"That's not the point. Marco was going to shoot me right here, but I convinced him it wasn't my fault. There's just one tiny problem."
"This ought to be good," Methos muttered.
"He thinks that you sold me the stuff."
Methos sat up straight. "Me!?"
Iolaus burst out laughing.
"This isn't funny."
"Oh, I don't know, pretty funny from here," Iolaus said, snickering.
"Why didn't you just tell him about your 'friends'?" Methos asked.
Amanda quickly explained about the Dominicans and her financial situation that made a public "death" problematic for her. "Look, it isn't my fault, I just took a quick glance over here, and he misinterpreted it. If I don't send you back to where he's waiting to shoot you, he's going to come out here and shoot all of us."
"I don't believe this. Amanda, I can't just let him shoot me. What about Tildy?"
Amanda frowned. She'd forgotten that "Moondoggy" Wilson was happily married. What's this the old man's sixtieth marriage? I wonder if he even knows...
"Joely, can you go in my place?"
"Me!?" Iolaus sat up straight. "Why me? You're the one who gave her the bad stuff."
"Oh, ha ha. Look, I can't just leave Tildy in the lurch like that."
"You didn't tell her you're Immortal?" Iolaus asked.
"I've been waiting for the right moment," Methos said quickly.
"That's what you told me when you first met her six years ago, 'Moondoggy.'"
Amanda rolled her eyes. "Look, will one of you just go back there and get shot so Marco will go away?"
"Y'know," Iolaus said, "I could probably take him. I mean, c'mon, how dangerous can he be?"
"He's a dealer," Methos said, "who came to the world's biggest love-fest packing heat."
"And you're stoned," Methos added, as Iolaus got very unsteadily to his feet.
"I wouldn't normally ask this, Joely, but he's fine as long as he gets what he wants, and it's not like it'd be permanent right?"
"Everything's Gonna Be Alright" ended at that moment, which Amanda refused to accept as an omen. Paul now started playing "Driftin'."
"All right," Iolaus said. "I'll do this, Amanda, but you owe me, understand?"
"Of course," Amanda said quickly.
Now it was Methos's turn to laugh. "She owes you?"
"Look, I like to give myself the illusion of the upper hand, okay? Now where is this guy?"
"I'll bring you to him," Amanda said, also getting up. "And thank you, Joely. I won't forget this."
"Of course you will," Iolaus said with a chuckle.
Amanda led Iolaus to the designated spot. It was as isolated as possible under the circumstances--at any moment, someone could come wandering through looking for a place to pee, but for now, Marco, Iolaus, and Amanda were alone.
"Hey, wow, man," Iolaus said, getting into character, "you mus' be 'Manda's friend. Far out, man."
"This ain't the guy."
"Yeah, it is. His friend is just the courier. Joely here's the one that--"
Marco said, "Forget it, chickie, long's I get to shoot someone." He unholstered his revolver, which was equipped with a silencer.
"Hey, wow, man, that looks like a real gun!" Iolaus said, wide-eyed.
"It is a real gun, asshole."
"Groovy," Iolaus said, staring at the revolver with a dreamy expression.
He still had that expression on his face when he hit the ground, blood gaping from a newly-acquired chest wound.
Chapter 2 of this story takes place shortly after "Old Hunter's Tricks," and between the Highlander episodes "The Messenger" and "The Valkyrie."
More continuity notes will be forthcoming. Other installments of "The Methos Chronicles":
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