Imagine the usual disclaimers. There is no way that the excesses of fanfiction could steal any revenue from Highlander's producers; it's more likely that they only fan the flame. Anyway, before claiming they did, you would have to prove that this story was actually read by more than maybe ten people in the English-speaking world.

Warnings: Angst. Smarm. Glomming. And fantasy violence!



The Good Student





Act One: Absence of Blade





Close to the Rue Orleans in Paris, there was a salle d'armes on the third floor of an old brick pensee dating back before the Revolution. It had just opened; the floor space had been an aerobics studio, and before that a ballet school. MacLeod knew the teacher whose name was on the sign, and he pointed it out to Methos, late one afternoon, in early September when the wind blew chill and the rain bit the skin. Methos scoffed at him. But all the same, they went inside.

"To get out of the rain, that makes sense." Methos stood in the vestibule, shaking water out of his ears. They were both soaking wet. "To then walk up three flights of steep stairs with, no doubt, broken railings? I don't think so, Mac."

"You're posing. How many rainstorms have you been in, in five thousand years?"

"That's immaterial. Discomfort is discomfort. A is A."

"Methos, you're the laziest man alive."

Methos only nodded. "I've got a pocket novel. I'll sit down here and wait for you to walk down Memory Lane."

"You'll come up and be sociable."

"Yeah, yeah, sure. Look, I have a reputation to maintain. These places are so out of character for an ex-Watcher--"

MacLeod put a hand under his arm. "Promise you there won't be anyone you know."

Methos grinned and flicked water into Mac's eyes.

"I'm doing it for you," he said.

He trailed along after MacLeod, hanging back near the doors when a tall muscular Germanic mortal came bounding to fling both arms round his friend. "Duncan! Mein Gott, look at you, man! Fifteen years, is it - I knew you the instant I saw you." The mortal kissed Mac, with a healthy noisy smack on either cheek, and then laughed and slapped him hard enough to knock him sideways. MacLeod took both the kisses and the blow with equanimity, curling his lip. "And not a single white hair! Tell me your secret, immediately. Then, introduce me to your friend."

"You get the introductions, but no secret today," MacLeod said lightly. "Miter, this is Adam Pierson."

"Hah!" said the mortal. They shook hands. "Good grip. Old friend, Mac?"

"A new friend," said MacLeod, "and an old friend. Be nice, Miter."

Miter beamed and took his arm, bringing him further into the room. A dozen students were paired off on the pistes, and six or seven more were just coming off the showers, putting away their fencing kit. The floorboards were shiny with newness, the equipment obviously expensive; there was a smell of paint. It was spacious, airy. Not so much as a scuff on the walls, either. "Take a look! My pride and joy. Go ahead, admire. I've already got over thirty regular students signed on, with a year down in advance."

MacLeod admired it. "I'm envious, Miter. My dojo--"

"You're running a dojo?"

"Well, it barely qualifies as a tax loss, but it's mine. Work for the soul, not for the bank balance," MacLeod said. They walked through the salle, between the cork pistes. "Miter, this place is wonderful. A dream come true."

"It is. All my life I've wanted this. Mac, we must celebrate. I insist that you take me out to dinner tonight."

"My friend," said Mac, laughing. "You haven't changed a bit."

"And at the best restaurant in Paris. No, no, don't say maybe." Miter flung out his arms. "The sky's the limit!"

"The sky's the limit!" MacLeod pantomimed a parry, riposte and cut at chest.

Miter responded with a textbook cut-off. "Aha! Tell me, do you still have that Japanese museum piece? Never mind, I lend you an epee. Shrug off those street shoes and come this way."

It was the work of an instant to grab masks and fencing plastrons. They squared off on an empty piste, while Methos sauntered along the salle wall and looked on with a twinkle in his eye. Miter flourished his epee. "Tell me, have you forgotten the grand salute?"

"Military or civil?" MacLeod responded.

Miter only leered. He laid his mask on the floor, pivoted leftwards, and lifted his epee; facing him, MacLeod mirrored the gesture. In unison, they brought their sword-arms to tierce; they lifted their rear arms in identical graceful curves, legs slightly bent. Thus, on guard, MacLeod said loudly, "A vous l'honneur!" and Miter replied, "Par obeissance!"

"Faites!" said Mac. Instantly, Miter straightened his arm and lunged, aiming the stroke well wide. MacLeod smiled and bowed his head infinitismally; meanwhile, the students in the salle had gathered, gawking, to watch.

With style and flair, the two men saluted to their left sides, with their sword-arms precisely placed at forty-five degrees; their hands lifted, the points of their epees in line with their eyes. They saluted right. They went on guard. Again, Miter lunged, disengaging from quarte to sixte. The phrases of swordplay which followed were as formal as the steps of a dance: parry and lunge and disengagement, in sixte and quarte and tierce - culminating with a breathtaking simultaneous double appel, from which the two men recovered to their original on-guard positions.

One of the younger students, overcome, burst into a round of clapping. Two more shushed him, aghast.

With MacLeod now the attacker, the fencers repeated the opening lunges and salutes, coming back on guard in seven graceful turns of movement to a full engagement in quarte. But it went on and on, joyous as a lambada: the phrases of mock-swordplay repeated, with the exuberant double appel once and again, and salutes right and left; at last, they finished with their foils slanting down, mirror images of one another. Their chins were haughtily lifted, the points of the epees a bare two inches from the cork of the piste.

Neither seemed to breathe. They froze, living statues of duelists.

The students began to applaud. Miter grinned from ear to ear, grasped Mac's hand and wrung it. "Magnificent! Mac, why aren't you training? I have an Olympic hopeful who needs a new master--"

"No, no thanks, Miter. I don't teach here in Paris."

"And that, my friend, is a crime against nature. What about young Pierson here, does he fence?" Miter scooped up a spare epee and tossed it underhand at Methos, who caught it and stood awkwardly, the weapon hanging from his hand. "Ah. He doesn't. Or is he just modest?"

Methos lifted the epee. Then he took one step forward and both Miter and Mac howled in unison: "No! No!"

He jumped back. "What did I do?!"

"Never, never, never step onto the piste in those boots." MacLeod hauled him bodily away, growling despite himself. "This isn't a football field!"

"Sharp pointy objects aren't really my thing." Methos laid the epee carefully down on the floorboards at his feet - as though it might explode if dropped. "I was terrible at rugby in school--"

Miter had already dismissed him. "Well, the sword is not for everyone. Duncan, tell me who you train with now. Obviously you haven't let yourself loose your edge. Tell me what you've been doing, what beautiful women you've been seeing. Tell me everything!"

Unfortunately for him, he was then surrounded by enthusiastic students, all of whom wanted to be taught the grand salute. MacLeod beat a retreat, effacing himself and drawing Methos with him. He murmured, "How long since you've been in a salle d'armes? No, forget that. Have you ever been in one?"

Methos was already shaking his head. "Mac, Watchers who study the sword tend to be looked upon with suspicion by other Watchers. And some of those other Watchers take their security duties dead seriously. Emphasis on the word dead."

"So you have to practice in secret."

"You know, I'm not the first immortal to try to infiltrate the organization. There are plenty of cases in the archives if you want to ask Dawson. And let's say that Internal Security is damn good at spotting funny business--

MacLeod halted. "You don't practice."

"I didn't say that."

"You don't practice! Do you know how easy it is to get out of fighting fitness, Methos--"

"Blah blah blah," said Methos mildly. "Save it for your students, Mac."

". . ."

"And I do practice. What do you call what we did last year?"

"Last year? We did nothing last year."

"No, in Seacouver, remember? There was that damn woman, what's-her-name. We practiced in your dojo."

"Kristin," said MacLeod coldly. "Five minutes of sparring? Oh, forget it."

"Forgotten. Look, don't worry about me, Mac. You're too chivalrous." Methos made a face. "I'm the competition, remember?"

"You are not my competition!" said MacLeod; the thought disturbed him.

"Aren't I?"



By the time he got out away from Miter, the sun was shining brightly and the street was almost dry. There was an ice-cream truck - shades of the United States! - trundling away through the remaining puddles, and Methos sat on the lip of a fountain, halfway down the street. He held an ice-cream cone in either hand. MacLeod took his chocolate swirl cone, but licked it unsmilingly.

"How often do you practice?"

"What?" said Methos. "Oh, leave off, Mac. I work out every week, actually. Just in dead secret."

"You do? Well, that's good--"

"On the trampoline."

"I never know if you're lying or not!"

"Anyway, it's like riding a bike," Methos carried on, airily. "You never forget. Eat your ice cream while it's melting, Mac. You need to know how to enjoy yourself."

MacLeod caught his arm. "Methos, we are not competitors."

But Methos merely stood blinking at him, his upper lip white with ice cream.

Mac could feel his face grow hot. His hand dropped; Methos sighed, and said, "Like riding a horse, Mac. I have never forgotten what I learned in those days."

"You know, you remind me of Confucius."

"But I'm nothing like him!" said Methos, confused.

MacLeod licked round his cone, thinking. He quoted: "'Finding himself rich and honored he behaves as befitting one who is rich and honored; finding himself of low estate he behaves as is fitting for a man of low estate; be he among barbarian tribes he acts as one should act where men and dogs sleep round the camp fire; in sadness and difficulty he acts as a man should in sadness and straits.'"

Methos smiled, slowly, nodding his head. "Is that what you think?"

"Confucius said it, not me."

"He and I always disagreed about everything."

"But I think he got it right. Did he get it right?"

"Damn straight," said Methos. He tilted his head, bright-eyed and birdlike. "And for a young immortal - and you are a young immortal - to practice one's kata every day is vital. But there is something you'll find as you grow older. Eventually the skills do become instinctive. After perhaps fifteen centuries, all you need do is keep fit and hone your hand-eye coordination . . . and you can lay down your sword for ten years, perhaps, while playing hide-and-seek with the Watchers. With no need to alarm your friends, for when you take up the sword again, it will seem as if it never left your hand."

"But you're not a Watcher anymore," MacLeod said. "You can spar. You can ride a horse, climb mountains and fall off cliffs, buy expensive art and stay in the best hotels. You can live an immortal's life."

"In moderation, I suppose. But I don't spar with other immortals, any more than I marry immortal women: either way, you are stripping yourself naked. The strangest fight I ever fought was with light bulbs--"

"I beg your pardon?"

"With forty-eight inch flourescent tubes," said Methos. "You had to handle them with the utmost care, or risk a disarmament with every parry. And you can imagine the difficulty involved in taking a head. You know, there's a moral in that."

"Mm?"

"Yeah. Give me your hand."

He did so.

"Learn to play," said Methos, and tripped him into the fountain.

MacLeod landed headfirst, with enough of a bow-wave to splash himself from head to foot; he sat up spluttering out of the water, red-faced with indignation. "You make me feel like a teenager!" he yelled. Methos was doubled over, weeping with laughter. And it was the work of a moment to scramble out of the fountain, grasp him by the scruff of the neck, and duck him thoroughly once or twice.

And it was then that the warning came.

They both jumped. MacLeod's reaction, forgetting his soaking-wet state in an instant, was to look fiercely and gladly for an opponent; Methos sat up dripping on the fountain-coping, saying, "Oh, great. I'm out of here."

"No, wait, I--" Mac grabbed his arm again, holding him in place. "I know this one. This is someone I want you to meet." Then he said, "Douglas. Douglas!"

He was already grinning from ear to ear.

The other immortal, the tall man in the expensive, elegant coat, came striding toward him. Duncan threw his arms wide, and the newcomer went into them, burying his face for a moment against the drenched lapel of MacLeod's duster; they held one another, fierce as family. The stranger's fists clenched hard upon MacLeod's coat, and there they stood at arm's length, wet and joyous.

And the tides of memory swept over MacLeod like drowning water.

Prague.

The year eighteen fifty-seven.

There, as the guest of a Prussian master duelist, he had been invited to watch one of the Heidelburg-style duels already notorious throughout Europe. A schlager duel, arranged by one of the university fencing clubs which were as closely guarded as secret societies; only because of his connections was MacLeod able to witness the proceedings . . . which had gone on in strict seclusion, behind locked doors. He was the only outsider. What followed had been bloody and not to MacLeod's taste. And of a quality that no immortal could participate in.

The two students, maskless, wearing steel goggles and leather collars, had squared off holding the schlager blades: heavy, clumsy, basket-hilted swords, held above the head so the students' forearms guarded their faces. A strange posture, eerily reminiscent to MacLeod of a challenge between immortals. The duelists had stood at close quarters, forbidden by the rules of the match to move their feet or bodies during the bout, and they had cut exclusively at one another's faces, necks, shoulders. Fighting in one-minute bouts, while between bouts their seconds held their arms to rest them - since otherwise the two men were forbidden to relax their on-guard position. At the end of each bout, the presiding judge had intervened, striking the duelists' blades apart with his own. The objective of the bout was to maim each other's faces.

And this had continued until the loser fell fainting from loss of blood.

That day, the winner had been a Scotsman, a student of MacLeod's own race - a big handsome hero of a man, already with the duelist's scars across his cheeks and jaw for the ladies to drool over. Afterward, he had accepted the praise and congratulations of his peers with utter tranquility, and when MacLeod shook his hand the student looked at him as a king might at a servant boy. "Do I know you, sir? You are not one of the teachers."

"No," MacLeod had said. "But for you, I soon will be."

For the young duelist had been an unawakened immortal.

And the next autumn, reading an account in the newspaper - of a fatal accident, which had mysteriously failed to kill its victim. And then deliberately traveling back to Prague, seeking the same student's company, finding him in an inn close to the university. Just the same man, with his long fair hair: Siegfried, heroic enough to slay dragons, rescue Valkyries, create legends. There were new scars to match the old ones, but Keith Douglas would never be other than handsome. He had turned from the admirers eagerly thronging around him, starting so the beer slopped from his tankard, lifting a hand to his forehead as MacLeod stepped into the tavern. Then he stood staring in suspicion and sudden giddiness.

"I know you, don't I?" he had said.

And MacLeod had drawn him aside. "You do. I have come for you."

Douglas had curled his lip. He had never known the taste of fear. "Yes? Well, you shall have me, man. At your convenience!"

They had met in the university gymnasium after midnight, that night. There had been no seconds, no doctor. "You're mad to want this, man," Douglas had said, hefting his sword.

MacLeod had weighed the heavy protective goggles, the collar which covered the jugular vein. Then he had thrown them contemptuously aside. "Do you never refuse a challenge?"

"Sir, it is not my habit to play the coward."

"I see."

"And I suppose you expect to defeat me," said Douglas, curling his lip.

"I do expect that," said McLeod. He had raised his arm. "This will be your last schlager duel, I fear. But in return, I will teach you what you are."

. . . And Douglas had become the finest student he ever had.

Now, his old student stood smiling blindingly upon him. Then his face clouded. He whispered, "I'm so sorry."

"For what? Douglas, I thought you were dead!"

"For your loss."

Duncan stepped back. "What?"

"For Darius. I heard of his death, but I was in Berlin - couldn't make it back to Paris in time. You scattered his ashes in the Seine, didn't you? It was what he would have wanted."

He had forgotten Darius. He had thought only of Richie. MacLeod turned his face aside, mastered himself. "Yes. It was what he wanted."

"I know how much he meant to you. He was your teacher, after all."

"Yes. Douglas, what are you doing here? We were just--"

"Oh, I own that place." Douglas flipped one hand. "I own a lot of property, now." A glance at Methos. "But I'm sorry, I ought to introduce myself. Douglas."

"Pierson."

"Student?"

"Just a friend. I won't interrupt--"

"No, stay," said MacLeod. He was suddenly very happy. "Dougie, you'll come dine with us tonight, won't you?"

Douglas raised an eyebrow. "Will you be wet, or dry?"

Duncan smacked him. "Dry. Well?"

"Not if it means keeping you from wining and dining my old friend Miter."

"Of course it won't. That's later. What was tonight, Adam?"

"Old home week?" said Methos.






". . . so after you kicked me out, I wandered . . . traveled, found some good teachers. Made some money. Never quite got married. Mastered the Game."

"It's amazing that our paths never crossed."

"No, because I usually avoid others of our kind. But I should have kept in touch. Would have kept in touch, except what with this and that . . . Well, that's water under the bridge. Mac, this was a meal fit for a prodigal son's return. And this wine!" Douglas kissed his fingers. "Magnifique!"

"I see you've got a little polish," MacLeod laughed. "And kept the polish on your blade, eh?"

"Oh, these old scars still interest the ladies - or wasn't that your meaning? Let me carry those. Who is your chess opponent these days, Duncan?" He nodded toward the board set out on the coffee table. "Pierson here?"

"Poker is more my game," Methos remarked. "But I make it a rule to never play my elders. Do you play chess?"

"Better than I used to. Mac used to grind me into the dust. Mac, may I return your hospitality later? On Thursday?"

"That depends. Have you learned to cook yet?"

"Some say so. Adam?" Douglas turned, bringing Methos back into the conversation. "You can be our judge. Unless you have a previous engagement?"

"Maybe at another time. I think I want to catch a little fresh air. I'll be up on deck."

"Your friend's very cautious," remarked Douglas, looking after him. "For one so young."

"Paranoid is more like it."

"Excuse me a moment."

Left alone, MacLeod looked thoughtfully toward the hatch, and then turned to clearing away dishes. Perhaps five minutes later Methos came back in, hands in pockets, head down. He made a beeline to the beer, and sat down with a bottle in his hand.

"Get up and dry, ye pillock." MacLeod tossed a dish-towel over him. "What happened to Dougie?"

"He pushed off."

"And what became of you? I thought you were going to cook that pheasant dish you've been nattering about."

"Didn't feel like it. This is a good time for going modern. Anyway, do you know how hard it is to buy pheasant brains in Paris in this century?"

"Pheasant brains?"

Not noticing MacLeod mouthing words behind his back, Methos wandered over to the chess set and stood gazing absently down. He moved a piece, moved it back. Mac said, "And you don't play poker. Why did you lie to him?"

"Nah, I play poker with the Watchers. Every week, ask Joe."

"And do you win?" asked MacLeod, distracted.

"No. When forced to play, always let the other boys win. That way you'll never lack for friends in kindergarten--"

"You don't like Douglas. Well, all right. I'll keep him away from you, then."

"Mac, you are entirely too protective to be true."

"I was raised to guard those I love," said MacLeod simply.

"A parfait gentile knight."

"Sir Lancelot, in fact." Mac rolled his eyes. He shrugged, and came to drag Methos bodily back to the sink and shove a plate into his hands. "And I suppose you think you're Mordred? You're not."

"You said it, not me. But you'd better watch your own back, Arthur."








Act Two: Fencing Measure





MacLeod stood on the deck of the barge, practicing.

He was reviewing forms for arnis, the old fighting school of the Philippine islands, whose name derived from a Spanish phrase: arnis de mano, harness of the hand. Arnis techniques specialized in the use of the hand, of wooden canes, and of wooden swords and daggers; presently, MacLeod was going through what he remembered of the drills for the single stick. He had always been fond of this particular school of stick-fighting, because of its emphasis on strategy. And just lately its avoidance of actual edged weapons appealed to him greatly. Anyway, he found that doing forms helped him to focus his thoughts.

Some immortals lived alone, never taking a wife.

Some, like Connor, failed to lose the mortal instinct for lifelong love. These married once, and mourned ever after.

Some contented themselves with two wives, or three or four. Some, like Fitzcairn, fell in love with every pretty face. Some hid and some hunted; some maintained sporadic liaisons with immortal lovers, lasting centuries at a stretch. Some immortals paired off, and were inseparable as swans until the ends of their lives.

Some knew many other immortals, but had no dear friends. And even the immortal women they loved were only visitors in their lives, never quite trusted all the way.

Some sought out immortal comrades-in-arms, married sixty-seven times, seemed to crave company like a drug.

MacLeod whirled and struck and made imaginary blocks and parries, using his two-foot cane stick and both hands. He had learned arnis in San Francisco, from a black Philippine sailor who had jumped ship to join the gold rush - the man had financed his claim fee, cradle, rockers, and equipment all by giving lessons. It had been a busy year, for MacLeod. Publishing a ten-page newspaper out of the gold fields - Amanda dealing in a gambling hall and coming to his bed every night - learning this new martial art in bits and scraps of spare time. Fighting for his life almost every week. At the time, he had never through he would need a discipline which did not employ the sword. But already the habit of learning had become an obsession with him.

Learning was life for an immortal, he had always believed; an immortal who did not grow and learn soon vanished from the Game. What was he doing with his life? Killing and death; meaningless episodes with Amanda; the deeper love for mortal women, whose moment was sunshine fading upon grass . . . were these things worthwhile? He should be building a dynasty of students, as Darius had, and Rebecca. He was wasting his life.

Presently, he felt another immortal approach.

Douglas came to the foot of the gangplank, looking up for permission, and then walked aboard. His hair shone in the sun and his color was high. Throwing off his coat, he mimed a question, picked up MacLeod's second stick. They squared off against one another.

Perhaps ten minutes passed, without a word being spoken.

At the end of it, with both of them pleasantly winded, they bowed and backed off, lowering their sticks. "Ah . . . good . . . you still have it!" Douglas leaned over, hands on knees, panting. "Mary Mother, I haven't had such a workout for years. I came for another bottle of that fine wine."

"I had only one." MacLeod raised a hand to his eyes, squinted across the width of the Seine.

"You noticed we have company." Douglas laid the stick aside. "How long has he been here?"

"Wait." MacLeod's cell phone was lying beside the hatch. He dialed, spoke into it. "Mac here. Don't come. I have a watcher." He folded the phone. "He's not an immortal."

"Detective agency, maybe. Mm. Could be following you, or me."

"Yes."

"Want to split up and see which it is?"

"Oh, there's no hurry." MacLeod toweled his face off. "I need to shower. Tea?"

"Damn, you've been corrupted by the ambiance of the mysterious East." Douglas followed him into the barge, and watched with bemusement as he set about brewing tea. "You know, I can't get over the change in you. You used to love fine things around you, the best liquor, weapons, artwork - what happened?" He waited. Then he asked quietly: "Who are you thinking of?"

"His name was Richie Ryan. A student. He's dead."

Douglas' eyes dilated. "Recently? Yes. The Game?"

"No. It was murder."

"I'm sorry again. This has been a bad few years, hasn't it?"

"Yes."

"Mac, I . . . do you know the legend of the good student?"

"No."

"They say," said Douglas, "that for every teacher, there is one perfect student. You may go through a dozen lifetimes without ever seeing him, he may be found by another teacher and die young - but if you meet him, you must give him everything. Even your own quickening, in the end. And there is only peace in it, for he is the son of your heart and in this way, all your strength and knowledge passes to him - and that is the true immortality we have, better even than winning the Game." He smiled, rather wistfully. "I always tried to make you proud of me."

"O' course I'm proud of you, Dougie! . . . After all, how many of my students have survived?" MacLeod brooded. "I've never been a successful teacher. I always seem to drive my students wild. Why is that, I wonder?"

"You care too much."

"All the same. If I had more detachment, would it make me better with young immortals?"

"Maybe, because you'd be harder on them. You cared for me like a father, Duncan. Your friend Pierson, what does he think?"

"How the hell would I know?"

"Well, I thought - you seem close." Douglas laughed a little. "I didn't like him."

"No, and why?"

"He reminds me of Georgie Porgy," said Douglas. "Georgie Porgy, pudding and pie, kissed the girls and made them cry." He made a derisive face. "When the boys came out to play, Georgie Porgy ran away."

"Well, you don't know him, then," said MacLeod tolerantly.

"No, and do you? How many centuries?"

"Barely a year or three. You could say about the same for me too, I guess. Some are harder to get close to than others."

"So you won't mind if I take his head?"

"What kind of a remark is that?" MacLeod whispered the words, aghast. "Did he say something to you, Dougie?"

"I shan't mind facing him. He struck me as a coward through and through. There's no honor in such men, they're better off dead."

The arnis canes lay within reach. MacLeod brought one up and around, striking Douglas' wrist so that the small Japanese cup fell and shattered. "Don't be hasty to judge. Did ye think so little of Darius in his chapel then?"

Douglas knocked the cane aside. For an instant his face was wild with fury. "I see. He's going to be worth my challenge."

"Douglas, wait!"

"Goodbye, Duncan. Remember - you aren't allowed to interfere."

He walked out.

Duncan paced the floor a few times, scowling blackly. It was only after he cooled down that he thought of the watcher on the nearby rooftop, the mortal with the binoculars. Furious, he went topside to look for him; this was a matter he could do something about.

But no one was there.






The American bookstore, Shakespeare and Co., had never closed despite the death of its first owner - the Watcher, the Methos historian Don Saltzer. Anyway, it had always been one of Methos' favorite places. Life was funny. He had stashed things in the hidden cellar under the basement for years and years, never betraying to Don the secrets in his own building . . . and Don must have found the door early on, and never betrayed by a twitch how much he knew. Don had sponsored him into the Watchers, knowing these things. Don had willed the bookstore to Methos after his death; and only then had Methos known for sure that Don had guessed his secret.

A hired manager took care of the business these days. Methos had the pleasure of making buying trips, shipping crates of books home from aboard; lately a lot of his stock had come from other bookstores in Seacouver. And sometimes he amused himself by taking on commissions for special purchases. This was play, not labor.

Today he had called to pick up a fine copy of the Latin farce Liber Facetiarum Poggii by Giovanni Bracciolini, and an Eikon Basilike - two nice, antique books, which he thought he might give to MacLeod. A friend had mailed them from Cracow. The Eikon Basilike had a number of delightful jottings decorating its flyleaves, not to mention a signature of Queen Elizabeth which was, for Methos, the cream of the jest. He leafed through them, rewrapped them and stowed them both in his shopping bag. Also in the bag were groceries. And a Spice Girls CD. He wandered out toward the street, mentally reviewing an old recipe for fritters.

Take crumbs of bread, and sweet apples (he thought, in increasingly old English) and yokes of eggis, and bray them well then temper with wine. Make it to seethe and when it is thick, do thereto good spices - mmm - ginger and galingay and canyll and cloves. And serve it forthe. Perhaps with mawmeny?

He jerked to attention.

Douglas stood on the far side of the street, staring.

Methos stood swinging the brilliant orange plastic bag from his sword-hand, and for just an instant his face was ageless, timeless, of no one race or nation. Gently, he transferred the bag to his left hand, slid his right hand into his coat. The street was busy, a score of mortals or more in sight; this was not the arena for a challenge. Nevertheless his hackles had risen. He turned slightly, letting his shoulders slump and lines come into his face, and allowed himself to appear ordinary and harmless.

The other immortal drifted closer, window-shopping along the sidewalk on the other side of the street. Opposite Methos, he crossed the street. "Nice bookshop. Belongs to you, then?"

"I like books," said Methos. "Harlequin romances are my very favorite. You know - Sword at Sunset stuff. Come to shop for a good read?"

"Mountebank," Douglas said. "Poseur."

"Mmm."

"It's crowded out here. Care to go somewhere more private?"

"Oh, I don't think so."

"You coward."

Methos sighed. "Run along and play, Douglas. MacLeod's a friend; I don't care to slaughter his students."

"You're afraid to fight me. Aren't you?"

"Yes," Methos said. "Incidentally, I went to Heidelburg too. Ever learn the d'Eon parry?"

"Never heard of it."

"Right. The catacombs, midnight. Gallery du Pont Mahon. Be there."






"You're not going," said MacLeod. His voice rising, he repeated it. "Tell me you're not going!"

Methos shrugged. "Yeah, yeah. My plane to Tahiti leaves at eight." He began to search the kitchen. "Can you stomach mawmeny and apple fritter? That's if your current kick for the Pythagorean lifestyle left you any utensils."

"Mawmeny?"

"Unlettered Scottish barbarian. I refuse to cook you your native haggis. Mawmeny is--"

"I know what mawmeny is," said MacLeod in a controlled scream. "Amanda cooks it for me."

"Amanda can cook?" Methos was incredulous. Then he looked at MacLeod and grinned slightly. "Oh, stop fretting. I am well capable of handling myself in a fight."

The arnis canes were still lying across one corner of the bed. MacLeod picked one up, and tossed it over. "Show me, then."

"Show you?"

"Yes. Show me, Methos." Mac hefted the second cane, fell into guard - holding the stick like a foil. Then he lunged.

They engaged, their pretend blades held like long pens in their fingertips - circling, binding, sliding along one another with admirable sentiment de fer: the fencer's sense, through the contact of sword upon sword, for the heart and the mind of his opponent. Thwack thwack thwack went the canes, beating upon one another. The two fighters gave and lost ground nimbly in the close confines of the barge, where the walls were constantly at their backs, and every piece of furniture was a potential trap.

Methos fenced (MacLeod noticed) with great caution, keeping well out of measure and with a notable absence of blade - seldom letting MacLeod's cane engage his. Skittish as a bird that you tried to catch with bare hands. But still, he was laughing. Presently he remarked, "What would Amanda say in a situation like this?"

"She would mention a resort in Barbados we know, where they serve high tea every afternoon and Greek coffee every evening. And at nightfall you wade out into the ocean to eat mangoes until the moon rises."

Methos seemed to consider. "Do they serve capretto incaporchiato?"

Step forward, beat, step back. Feint of stop-hit, met by parry, riposte, counter-parry and second riposte. Thwack. "No!"

"Then forget it."

"Are you planning to disappear?"

"Right after dinner," agreed Methos.

MacLeod's cane was suddenly held in a solid two-fisted grip one-third of the way along its length. And spinning. There was a clatter as Methos thrust, too late to change his angle of attack. He let out a howl and retreated, wringing his stung wrist. Mac said, "You can't do that! It would be dishonorable."

Methos shrugged. His cane blade was snapped raggedly in two. "Shall I stand my ground, then, and let your student hack off my head with a schlager? No, thank you."

"Former student. He's very good, Methos. Better than anyone else I've every taught." MacLeod bit at his lip. "I want to tell him who you are."

"Are you crazy?!"

"I can't let you two kill each other," said Mac miserably. "If I tell him, I'm sure he'll--"

"Do what? Drool and salivate," Methos snapped. "I tell you, the name Methos is like a bell for a dog in certain quarters. Say it in his hearing and he'll go for the throat with his teeth."

"I wouldn't. Richie didn't. He's my student, Methos. I trust him."

Methos looked at him. MacLeod's lower lip was thrust stubbornly out, his eyes were wide. He stood gazing back, innocent and demanding.

"You look like a gypsy's mule."

"I trust him," Mac repeated. "How could he have changed so much?"

"I'll ask him, in the catacombs tonight."

Mac closed his eyes, dizzy with real anguish. "At least let me go with you. Maybe I can--"

"You can't interfere!" said Methos, shocked. "It would be dishonorable."








The catacombs of Paris were older than MacLeod, for they had begun as quarries opening upon the banks of the river Bievre; from the city's earliest years, the buildings of Paris had been built of stone carried away from these quarries, which had laid open to any man willing to work them. Throughout most of these years, also, the dead of Paris had been carried to the Cemetery des Innocens, there to lie tumbled in charnel pits so vast, so deep that the grave-diggers (it was said) immured there three thousand corpses yearly . . . clearing these pits out every thirty or forty years, only to deposit the bones in le Grand Charnier des Innocens: an immense arched gallery surrounding the charnel field. For century after century.

By the fifteenth century, indeed, the stench of the Cemetery des Innocens was a byword in Paris, and all the neighboring parishes complained of its inconvenience and danger, its habit of polluting the air by grave-gases and the water by seeping putrescence. This even though (according to optimists) the mystic powers of the ancient charnel pits could consume a body in nine days flat. By the sixteenth century, the complaints dinned in the ears of Paris' bishop and Paris' parliament, who argued so much over who was responsible that they never did clean it up the mess. But in the year 1805 the civic authorities of Paris got their act together, and the church issued the necessary edict. The Cemetery des Innocens was to be cleared of its dead, and made into a marketplace. The work began . . . and proceeded, day and night, week in and week out (with a necessary suspension during the hot summer months) - at night by the light of torches and bonfires, amidst crosses, monuments, skulls and lead coffins, until the graveyard was emptied.

The crosses, monuments and coffins were decently removed, to be claimed by loving families. The bones were dumped into the catacombs. Every femur, every pelvis, every skull.

The catacombs themselves had been surveyed, shored up and cared for by the city after 1774. In that happy year, several alarming incidents prompted rumors that the whole of the city of Paris was undermined. This was not true; it was only the southern half of the city. MacLeod remembered the wild stories rife in Paris that year. A special commission had been formed to deal with the disaster, and on the very day of its appointment, a house in the Rue d'Enfer sank ninety-one feet below the level of its courtyard. But by 1805, the catacombs were reasonably safe - just as well, for once the Cemetery des Innocens was removed there, the good citizens of Paris took to dumping the dead from other cemeteries after.

That was a time of turmoil. The bodies of the Revolution's battles, its riots and massacres ended up in the catacombs. Upon the suppression of the convents and churches, the remains found in those places were taken there, too. So convenient was this, that rubbish was also dropped in. So thick was the air of the catacombs, afterward, that no man could breath it without retching.

But that was old history. In the twentieth century, the catacombs were orderly places, with the millions of bones (some of which had filled galleries thirty yards deep) decently arranged. So that the tourists of Paris could come to marvel. At midnight, of course, the day's tours were long gone and the catacombs were closed and locked. Any immortal with a little ingenuity could get in. MacLeod scorned to pick the locks, though he could have done it in a trice. Instead, he walked across the the Opera Populaire, and went through the entrance in its cellars.

He had a good flashlight, and his sword. With one in either hand, he walked remembering.

Going down into these tunnels, searching for the lost girl Richie had adored. Telling Richie to stay put, and Richie (of course) waiting only until he was out of sight, before following. Getting his silly head into trouble, as always. In those days Richie had not known he was immortal, and no matter what you told him, he always did just the opposite. Wherever Mac had gone, there had come Richie. A besotted puppy, trailing after a wolf.

A good student.

Richie, all agog over Paris, stumbling through pick-up lines in that awful French. Richie learning to play chess from a patient Darius. Richie sightseeing with Tessa, utterly baffled by the exotic cuisine of her favorite restaurants, trying to order a cheeseburger and fries. Richie, trying to grow up.

The leveled bedrock of the floor was slightly slippery. MacLeod passed enormous round pillars piercing the quarries, the corked mouths of bottles projecting from their masonry walls: these were the old wells of Paris, and the workmen who had shored up these caverns had ventilated the works by breaking into the wells, and luting in the tops of broken bottles. When they had wanted fresh air, all they had needed to do was pull the corks out. But of course, nowadays the wells were filled in, paved over, forgotten. Mac walked on, lost in remembrance.

Immortal memory was not like the memory of mortal men; instead, it resembled the hound of Heaven, forever behind them, waiting to pounce. As their flesh endured unmarred by time or violence, so their minds lost nothing impressed upon them. MacLeod remembered every incident of a life four hundred years long, in flashes vivid as a rape victim's: all-consuming, eidetic, immediate.

Now, summoning up the instances he had seen Methos fight, he relived every sequence of acts, every phrase of swordplay. As if still there.

That time in Paris: stroke by stroke, until in the culminating exchange of the fight Methos had allowed Mac's sword to reach his throat. In the dojo in Seacouver, the next year: every word, every step, every lunge and parry . . . and against Kristin, while Mac stood with back turned, listening. Now, Mac heard that fight in a cadence of metal striking metal, mercilessly brief - two strokes and the sound of footwork, and then the gruesome soft whisper of the sword in flesh as Methos ran her through. So fast. Methos fighting Silas, glimpsed out of the corner of the eye. Silas could have made two of him. And he had whipped around the bigger man in circles, elusive as water.

Again, against Kristin. A chime of swords. Another. Footsteps. The sword sheathing itself in her body.

Again. Stroke/parry, stroke/parry, the wheeling of Methos' steps. Finale.

Methos meeting Richie, effacing himself. Methos after they had told Richie who he was, doing everything he could to make MacLeod's student underestimate him. Methos after MacLeod had just found him, blithely admitting his own harmlessness. But no one who fought as badly as all that could have survived so long.

When forced to play, always let the other boys win. That way you'll never lack for friends in kindergarten.

Was that it?

And here was the first of the visitors' galleries, close by the old workman's entrance to the catacombs. He had taken the paying tour, in 1838. This gallery ran underneath the Orleans road, other galleries branching off. He found the one which had run beneath the old aqueduct, the aqueduct d'Arcueil - how long since they had stopped using the old aqueduct? Years and years. And once it had supplied a quarter of Paris' water.

At the end of this cavern was the little stair admitting upon the gallery du Pont Mahon.

Here a soldier named Decure, employed in the quarries, had brought his lunch every day. Mac had known him, long ago. He had furnished his picnic spot with a stone table and benches; he had carved - there it was! - that picture of the port of Mahon on the wall; he had died in a rockfall here too. There were the famous rocking-stones, which had once seemed about to topple at every blast of the engineers' explosives. Light shone along the floor, up the surfaces of the rocking-stones. A little further along the gallery widened into an octagonal chamber with an open door, through which the light fell. An immortal was there. Mac walked up and looked in.

It was one of the ossuaries, the bone galleries - lined with bones from floor to roof, and furthermore with the bones all sorted. A triple row of arm, leg and thigh bones; a triple row of skulls; the smaller bones stacked neatly beyond. Smaller chapels, all wallpapered with bones. Altars, some made out of heaped bones and some merely ornamented with brown, blind skulls. Methos sat upon one of the altars, reading Clausewitz.

He folded the book shut and looked smiling up, laying aside his sword.

"Thought you'd be along."

"Morbid choice of venues. Can't you find better?"

"Nope," said Methos. "This is for you."

He tossed a bag in Duncan's direction; Duncan glanced inside. "What the - is that a Poggia?"

"Yeah. 1456 edition. Thought you'd get a kick out of it."

MacLeod also recognized the second book, for every dealer in antique manuscripts knew both the Poggia and the Eikon Basilike. The first, written in Latin, was a collection of off-color jokes and crude stories - definitely for adults only. An unwitting compliment? So ribald that it had not been translated into any layman's language until long after its author's death, it was nothing you would bring near a kindergarten.

Honor was satisfied. He felt himself relax. "I take it that Douglas hasn't shown yet?"

"Not so much as a peep on the bagpipes-- Ah. Speak of the devil."

"There you are." Douglas, with drawn sword, was in the doorway. He was swinging a lantern by its handle; in his big loose coat he seemed as huge as a giant, his shoulders barn-wide. "Glad you showed up, Pierson. I misjudged you. Shall we step outside?"

"Lead the way."

MacLeod steeled his jaw and followed. Whatever happened, he had to bear it. Douglas was stamping his feet, getting a feel for the fighting ground; he swung his sword, shrugged off his coat and let it fall. He moved the lantern to the most suitable spot. Meanwhile Methos was paging through his book. "Say goodbye to that thing," Douglas growled, "and let's get on with the fight."

Methos looked up, began to speak and reconsidered. After a long pause, he said with great gentleness (as if to a defective child): "We aren't fighting here. This is holy ground."

Douglas snapped his mouth shut. "It isn't."

"The catacombs are holy ground."

"The catacombs are a Gallic renovation project," Douglas countered, breathing heavily. "Old quarries. Engineers' work. Infrastructure!"

"Well yes, they were. Before they moved all those bones down here."

"This is not holy ground!"

"This is Paris' sacred burial place. Seven million Parisians lie here."

Douglas bellowed, "This is Paris' sewer!"

"You're not betting your life on that," said Methos, "are you? Because I'm not."

"So we'll go somewhere else!"

"Lead the way," Methos agreed. "Where?"

In a growl: "Any street or back alley will do. You're not getting off so easily."

"Too many mortals. This is the cafe section of Paris, remember?"

It was true. It was.

"A warehouse. We should be able to find a--" On the verge of sounding stupid, Douglas cut off. He said curtly, "The salle d'armes. It's not far."

"Sure thing," said Methos amiably.

Douglas stomped all the way up to the tourists' entrance opposite the Denfert-Rochereau Metro station. While Methos sauntered after him, whistling. And Douglas ground his teeth so Mac could hear it. Once he said, "That d'Eon parry. What you mentioned. Of course I know it; it just slipped my mind."

"Of course," Methos agreed.

At the street door to the salle, he stood back and watched silently as Douglas searched every pocket, every fold of his clothes. "If you don't have a key on you," said MacLeod finally, "I can pick the lock."

"Dammit," said Douglas between his teeth. "I have it. I have it. I'm sure I have it . . . Here." His face was red with humiliation and anger. Nevertheless, the key fitted. He stormed up the stair, all but broke the salle door getting it, in its turn, unlocked; and had his street shoes kicked off and his sword drawn before Methos and MacLeod crossed the threshold. "Now," he growled. "No more delaying tactics."

"Wouldn't dream of it," Methos said. "Where can I put this book?"

"Just throw it anywhere!"

"Okay." He shrugged off his coat, tossed it to MacLeod. He put down his book on the floor by the door. Douglas was waiting. Then Methos stepped onto the piste in his cleated hiking boots.

Mac could see Douglas, always the ultra-correct duelist, biting back a scream of outrage at the solecism. Nevertheless, he collected himself, banishing from his mind all concerns save that of the challenge - with an effort, but with success. He took one step forward, his epee lifting, and became an illustration for a fencer's handbook. His face fell into an expression of fierce serenity. His gaze concentrated itself upon one thing only. He sketched a bow. And he lunged.

The swords sang.

They disengaged. Methos said lightly, "Let's hurry this up, I'm hungry. I could go for some toucan at that new Brazilian restaurant in the market district--"

"Shut up and fight."

"Ever eaten toucan? The thing is, cook one and the flesh turns bright blue."

"Ever been forced to swallow your own tongue?"

The swords rang faster.

Having seen Douglas fight before, MacLeod knew what would happen. The first few phrases of the bout would be exploratory - textbook fencing with an extra dose of caution - then, when Douglas took stock of his foe, he would begin to open up attack after attack, with such speed and fury that the opponent would soon be overwhelmed. Then, when the opposition began to falter, Douglas would move in for the kill. His methods never failed.

And he was fencing just so now, keeping his tempo and measure perfectly. His stop-hits were all precisely delivered, his invitations to attack would have made an Olympic coach weep. While Methos parried and countered with a wide grin on his face, and once - having nearly slipped and fallen flat on his face during a lunge - burst out laughing and remarked, "Last time I did that I almost got beheaded. Hey! Keep your elbow straight, there!"

Douglas glowered.

"Poco a poco," said Methos. And he began to chant, matching his strokes to the cadence of his words:

"Listen dry bones.

The powerful God of our ancestors

Who in one breath created them

Will retie your undone knots

You will have new flesh

On which new skin will form

Dry bones, you will live.

Dry bones, you will live again!"

Cyrano de Bergerac, thought MacLeod suddenly - almost speaking aloud. Complete with nose.

"Oops!" Methos was saying. He made a prise de fer; rattled, Douglas gave up ground. Instead of following up the advantage, Methos immediately disengaged and began to inspect his fingernails. "I need gloves," he remarked. "Actually, all this exercise is making me hungry. MacLeod! What do you think of jellyfish with lentils?"

"I never do," said MacLeod grimly. "What do I think? I think this is better than an education."

Something in the words obviously touched Douglas. His face twisted, and he went straight to the attack.

He was now fencing so angrily and so badly that the match would soon be over. He was making a student's mistakes: fighting at the wrong speed, coming in too close with his body, feinting invitations to attack so far ahead of Methos' tempo that he kept defending at quarte while Methos was still thrusting in sixte. While Methos had now slowed his tempo to a snail's pace, following the first rule of any contest: if the other man goes slowly, then speed him up, and if he likes things fast, go slow. It drove Douglas wild. He invited ahead of tempo once - a sloppy novice's error - and knew his mistake the instant it was made; he did it again, clumsily and against his own judgement. Then he lost his head completely. He tried it a third time.

He invited an attack in the high lines, temptingly close to his vulnerable neck. Duncan could see the correct line of parry, riposte, banderole and neck-cut inherent in the twist of his arm. Methos snaked his own arm sideways, and made an angular thrust in the low lines. He sank his blade right into Douglas' belly.

MacLeod had no will to watch further. He turned his back and started for the door.

Behind him, Methos sighed. "Wait just a minute, Mac." To Douglas (groaning on the floor) he said, "That's enough, kid. You can thank your teacher later for this one."

He caught up with MacLeod at street level; Mac glanced darkly at him. "Don't you want the head?"

"I ate before I came," said Methos.








Act Three: Sentiment de Fer





"You shouldn't have humiliated him," MacLeod said, two days later.

He was pleasantly sleepy, having just spent an evening and half the length of a night wining and dining his old friend Miter. At Chez Maurice, they had mastered two magnums of champagne - in honor of Miter's new salle d'arms - and every expensive item on the menu; then they had gone on to bigger and better things. At last, drunk like kings, they had staggered down to the bank of the Seine and there parted with expressions of extravagant love - love like that of a brother for a brother - love like that of David for Jonathan. Or some such thing. Then Miter had taken leave of MacLeod, and MacLeod had toppled into the river.

A good cold bracing swim had done wonders for his double vision. (He did know how lucky he was not to be challenged out of the blue.) And his katana would be none the worse for the ducking; it had been wet before, God witness. He wrung out the ends of his duster, and shook droplets off his hair. There were advantages to shorn hair. His shoes squelched. However, the place Methos was renting was reasonably nearby. MacLeod emptied his shoes out one by one, and strode off. Dripping.

There was the place. The door was unlocked. He opened it without bothering to knock.

He took three steps into the apartment, and halted.

Within, there was only one room. Blue light through the long windows made everything seem carved from marble, swimming with shadows; what was metal, glowed like mercury. It was water light. Methos lay stretched across his bedspread, bare ankles crossed, one hand lax upon the hilt of his sword. He appeared utterly relaxed. He wore nothing whatsoever. He was painted in light and darkness: a naked man, with a naked sword.

Without opening his eyes, he remarked, "Tea's on."

"Do you greet all your guests like this?" Mac took off his coat, eyed it, drew the katana and dropped the coat onto the tiled floor at the entranceway. He kicked off his shoes.

"You're not a guest." Methos opened his eyes. He looked at these things, and then more closely at MacLeod. "Hello," he said, "have you been in a fight?"

"No. Just every nightclub in Paris." The kettle began to whistle, and MacLeod unplugged it. Since his host (who was no host) made no move to be hospitable, he hotted the teapot, emptied it, dropped in the tea-ball and filled the pot. "Where are the cups?"

"Right there. If you don't want tea, beer's in the fridge."

More out of curiosity than anything else, Mac opened the refrigerator. There was no toucan within, nor pheasants' brains nor jellyfish, nor indeed sea urchins; the only exotic note was supplied by a packet of horsemeat, and that could be bought at any of several shops in Paris. Methos was apparently also fond of yoghurt. "I think tea is a good idea. If I get any more drunk, I'm sure to be attacked on the way home." He poured tea. He then began to root through the kitchen cupboards.

"Make yourself welcome," said Methos. He stretched, turned over, and sprawled across the bed, with his head pillowed on his arms. And watched MacLeod, his eyes kitten-bright.

There was a massive oak chest at the foot of the bed. MacLeod opened it, and began to rummage. "Mm. You haven't seen Douglas since the fight, have you?"

"No."

"Good," said MacLeod. He went to an end table. "You shouldn't have humiliated him . . . He's a good man, Methos. His pride is life to him."

"He has his life. He should be thanking you. What the hell are you looking for?"

There. Sword oil, and cleaning cloths. "Is that why you didn't take the head? To please me?"

"Nope. My intention was to avoid displeasing you." Methos swung himself off the bed and up, sword in hand and his weight poised just so: like a dancer, like an actor, like a Greek charioteer. Like a pin-up boy in a calendar. "I don't need to study to please you: you're a surly bastard but we have chemistry."

"You mean, you please me by your intrinsic nature?"

"Exactly."

They stood facing one another: two men with swords. Insolently, Mac looked Methos up and down. "I could say that about any whore in Paris. But they don't make me want to kick their teeth in too."

"That's part of my charm," said Methos.

"Methos, you have all the charm of a Mongol horde." MacLeod sat on the bed, opened the pot of oil. He smoothed the polishing cloth along the katana's blade with infinite loving care. "And don't talk to me like a teacher! What can you teach me?"

Methos dropped his sword across MacLeod's lap, and immediately walked away. He said over his shoulder, "Respect for your elders?"

"I'm known for respecting older immortals," said Mac.

"Yeah, it's in your chronicle, can't miss it. Even if they missed your friend."

"I thought the Watchers never overlooked anything?"

"I told you that you were overestimating their efficiency. They didn't have a word about any Keith Douglas in your history, you must have been more than usually stealthy when you taught him. Who are those people watching us?"

"I don't know. I was going to ask you if you knew them."

"They're not Watchers," said Methos, "not the ones I spotted. Their modus operandi is quite different."

"They may be after Douglas. I can't tell--"

"Mac. Stop fretting over him."

"Am I fretting over him?" Finished with his own sword, he examined Methos' and began to clean it. "Methos, he must be my only surviving student. I had such hopes for Richie, and look what happened. Tell me. Do all of us lose students so often?"

Methos sighed, busy fishing a long threadbare shirt out of a drawer. He turned, shrugging into this garment (it was quite decent, since it reached halfway down his thighs) and said in the manner of a quotation, "'What happens between a teacher and his student may seem to you like a love affair, but it is not. Sexual accords between immortals are fleeting, meaningless. What matters is the teacher-student relationship . . . Further observation is needed.'"

MacLead had stopped, blinked and burst out laughing. He said, "Is that actually written down?"

"Oh, yes. It's in the Watcher manuals. But after a student takes his first head, what does a wise teacher do?"

"Sends him away."

"And when you did this with Richie, Richie no doubt thought it was for your protection, Mac - once Richie had his first taste of the quickening. But teachers know," Methos said, "that we sent our students away for their own protection. Because once they begin to take quickenings, we find them irresistibly tempting."

". . . Yes." Frowning, MacLeod turned over the blade he held. "And your point?"

Methos sighed. He said, "Mac. There is nothing I have not done to mortals in my time. No atrocity so bad I have not committed it. Rape, murder, cannibalism. I've done it all."

MacLeod had stopped polishing, the cloth idle in his hand.

"But," said Methos, "we cannot threaten mortals as we threaten one another: with the drinking of the soul. The quickening. We're like vampires who feed upon each other. But none of us can outrage a mortal in this manner. Their souls are immortal, while ours are not. Nor can mortals threaten us."

"They killed Darius."

"But his quickening was untouched. Duncan, let Douglas live his own life. His time as your student is over. Now that he's grown, the only other thing you can do with him is take his head."

"Methos . . . have you ever killed a student?"

"Yes," Methos said. "Go home and stop fretting, Mac."

He walked home, unmolested.

There were five messages from Douglas on his answering machine. The final one, recorded at two a.m., was only a sentence: "I'll prove you don't have to be ashamed of me."






"Ruined," whispered Miter.

His face twisted with furious grief. "Ruined, ruined, penniless and ruined." His voice scaled up, gathering decibels like coffin lilies. "I shall go begging upon the street!"

They stood on the street corner. Miter disarrayed his hair, tugged at his coat, and paced on the sidewalk all disheveled - as if prepared to go begging then and there. "Oh, stop that," said MacLeod, amused and touched. "Or women will start giving you money, and then your wife will leave you. You'll collect the insurance, and begin again."

The building in front of them had housed Miter's proud little salle d'armes.

It was now a charred brick shell, still smoking.

"And the children!" screamed Miter. "Little Katelina, little Greta, and my sweet brave Adelina! All ruined! The poor orphans!"

"Miter, they can't be orphans unless you're dead."

"Orphans," said Miter gloomily. "They were my best three epees. I named them. Greta, Katelina, and Adelina."

Some distance down the street, behind the firemen's barriers, Douglas stood conversing with a pair of police detectives. One of the latter was taking notes. Firemen were still hosing down the ruins. A small crowd had gathered, goggling after the manner of those, the world over, who find free entertainment in accidents and crime scenes; MacLeod had known the like all his life. Except that nowadays, he no longer met them at public hangings. Douglas seemed to finish with the police, and came striding over.

He evaded MacLeod's eye. There were newborn lines on his face. And his long hair had been cut off.

Impulsively, Mac reached out and pressed his arm. "You look like hell, man."

"That's right, mustn't take it to heart." In a flash, Miter abandoned his own noisy show of grief. "Let the insurance officers weep and gnash their teeth. It's they who'll pay for it all!"

Douglas wrenched his arm free. "Insurance? There'll be no insurance." It was a snarl; his blue gaze, uncomprehending, passed over Miter's suddenly fallen face. "I'll claim none. I don't care. I lit the damned building myself."






"Nice office," said MacLeod.

He stood at a sweep of photogray glass window, gazing down thirty stories. Behind him, across a Turkish rug ablaze with color, Douglas sat behind a desk big enough to set sail upon. The younger immortal was making a show of shuffling papers. The artwork on display around him was worth enough to buy MacLeod's barge and all its contents.

"I'm a wealthy man now," Douglas said, "a man of property." He smiled a little, sadly. "No longer the penniless wastrel I was. Now I'm tied down to lawyers and accountants and none of my time is my own. I miss the good old days."

"Antiquitas saeculi, juventus mundi," said MacLeod absently-mindedly; he was thinking of Methos.

"The good old days were the world's youth? I suppose so. It's funny: when I was your student we seemed the same age. Now you seem like one of the old ones, Mac. Ages older than I could ever be." He shuffled his papers into a pile, tapping the edges patiently into perfect alignment. "You're angry at me over the salle."

"Miter was devastated. Dougie, you should not have--"

"Miter? Oh, don't worry, Mac. I'll compensate him for his losses, start him somewhere else."

"And what about Katelina? Adelina? Greta?"

"Who?"

"His swords. His prize epees. You've melted his dreams, Dougie."

"We're immortal, we can do what we like," said Douglas with an indifference that silenced MacLeod. "His dreams are temporary, after all. What happened to your friend Pierson, Mac? I thought you went everywhere together."

"I wouldn't bring him here." MacLeod was taken aback. Uncomfortable, he glanced down at the papers Douglas was still playing with; then he looked more closely. "What are those things?"

"These?" Douglas started to whisk them away. "Oh, just some old business--"

"These are detective reports!" MacLeod leaned over the desk, gripping Douglas' wrist until he gave the papers up. Then he paged through them, aghast. Address, phone numbers, favorite shops - they were all there. "You had him followed!"

"You shouldn't have looked at those, Mac."

"You mean to hunt him and kill him."

"And you won't stop me!" Douglas slammed the flat of his hand down on the desk. "You're not my teacher anymore, Duncan!"

"He beat you. It's over--"

"He cheated! He didn't fight fairly. It'll be different next time."

"There won't be a next time. Douglas, this is wrong."

Douglas showed his teeth. "This is the Game. There is no morality in the Game! There are no rules. Every one of us is prey for every other one."

"That's just not true!"

"And," Douglas continued, "I will kill him. You can't stop me. He's old and strong, I can tell it . . . and you won't interfere, Mac, ye have no right to. You told me yourself, remember? - between immortals, there can be no friendship and no family. Only the Game. Only the Game!"

A sudden thought, a longing, clouded his face. "... unless ...."

"Unless what?" MacLeod demanded.

"I don't know any other way," Douglas whispered. He subsided into his chair, gripping his hands together. "The Game is merciless, isn't it? It makes monsters of us all."

"It doesn't have to be that way, Dougie."

"Teach me, Mac."

"I beg your pardon?"

"Teach me a better way," said Douglas. He glanced up; his eyes were red-rimmed and glistening. "I know you sent me away once, but I didn't learn all that I could from you. You're strong and yet you live your life in peace. Have I missed the right path? - show it to me. Teach me again, Duncan."






The moment Mac reached the street, he dialed his cell phone. He got an answering machine. "MacLeod," he said. "Douglas is stalking you - watch out." Then he stood drumming his fingers on the back of the phone.

On impulse, he flicked it open again, and made a long-distance call.

"Mac!" Joe's glad voice carried clearly over the transcontinental connection. "How's it going, friend?"

"I'm sure you get regular reports," said McLeod. "Joe, I have a name for you to check. Keith Douglas."

The silence that followed was so long and so comprehensive that, even before Joe replied, Mac already knew the worst. "Look, Mac, it's not Watcher policy for us to inform immortals about other--"

"Fine," McLeod said. He slammed the phone shut, shoved it into his pocket.

He shut his eyes, and remembered.

What year had it been?

The year eighteen-sixty. And Douglas pacing, wild with anger, ripping his arm out of MacLeod's hold - flinging out his hands, unable to speak coherently. "--ran me through, he killed me, I died again! Oh, God. I had no chance. I had, had no chance against him. Made me feel like a child of ten. Mac! - Mac, he defeated me, he killed me. And then he didn't even bother to take the head!"

His face had burned with shame. There had been tear-tracks on his cheeks. Douglas tugged at his own hair, mouth twisting with mortification; and MacLeod had captured his hands, and urged them away.

"Next to him, you were. Give thanks to God that he had no interest in you. It's over, Dougie."

And Douglas had whispered thickly, "I've never been bested in a duel before. Never during my mortal life."

"That life is over. It was an unequal match, Douglas. You've never even fought another immortal, you need centuries of experience before you can take on--"

"I'll find him. I'll find him and I'll kill him."

"Then you'll die, Douglas." MacLeod remembered, very clearly, speaking the words to his student, who had never listened. "You must learn when to back away. For if you don't learn, you will die."

And, months later, Douglas coming back to him. Turning at a sound, a fragment of warning in his heart - another immortal was near him! - in some darkened salle where he had been practicing kata . . . and Douglas standing in the doorway. An older, ragged Douglas, who had looked as if he had hunted up Europe and down Asia. Imperceptibly different. More dangerous. More powerful. And the pride, the innocent sheen of achievement with which he had met his teacher's eyes! So that with a single glance, MacLeod knew that his student had made his first kill.

And the words he was forced to say had been as bitter as wormwood in his throat, the age-old words every teacher learned: "You took his head."

"At dawn this morning," Douglas had said. "In the Luxembourg Gardens."

"Dougie, you have to leave . . ."

What would Darius have done?

MacLeod stood lost in thought, until the security guard from the lobby desk came and peered at him in suspicion; but he never noticed. Yes, he could do this. He turned around and walked back into the building.






While the phone rang in his apartment, Methos was busy breaking into the Watcher headquarters.

He did this very simply. At six o'clock in the evening, when the secretarial staff (for even secret societies need secretaries) finished their shifts and went home, he walked around to the front door. He had a knapsack full of books, and the old blue-and-black vinyl windbreaker that made him look about eighteen. And an expression of innocence on his face.

After meeting MacLeod, he had cut his hair very short . . . thereby bringing his apparent age on par with the other immortal's. Before then, he had been foxing the Watchers and had dressed and acted like a student. It had been important to blend in, to seem harmless and young - too gormless to take field duty, fit only for a desk.

He could vary his age by as much as twenty years, just with the way he carried himself and styled his hair. When passing for a youth, it was important only that he remembered that his face in grief could give him away; as long as he avoided strong emotions, though, no one would question him. Today he mussed up his hair, walked with hunched shoulders, and let the wind bring a bright stain to his cheeks. And the guard at the door let him in with a smile of reminiscence.

A shortcut through the labyrinth of the Methos Library (eight big rooms jammed to the ceilings with manuscripts, chronicles, journals) brought him to the general shelves. Walking through rooms devoted to his own legend always made him cheerful. Who would be the Methos Researcher, now that he was gone?

Only in theory were the general chronicles alphabetical. In practice, everyone borrowed everyone else's immortal's records, and the cross-referencing made senior librarians tear their hair with frustration. Books jumbled every which way. The index listed five books of chronicles for Keith Douglas (photo ID appended) born in Dundee, 1829. Two were jammed into the right place, but upside-down, with loose sheaves of papers sticking out of the pages. It took Methos an hour to find two more.

The fifth had been checked out, but never mind. He carried the four he had to one of the library desks, and began to skim.

Keith Douglas was one of the many immortals with no observed origin. He had first been spotted in the usual way, winning a challenge with a known immortal; afterward his antecedents had been traced, although no one had managed to associate him with MacLeod. He played the Game with vigor, and fought often. He was wealthy, gave generously to charity and was kind to younger immortals, though he had never taken a student. But then few immortals did take students before reaching at least five hundred years in age. (Ah, dear MacLeod. Precocious in all things.) Douglas had a record of restless traveling and had visited every corner of the globe. And wherever he went, he had a pattern of seeking out older immortals, and taking them for teachers.

Something brushed Methos' cheek. His heart jolted. He sat upright with a yell.

But it was only the library cat prowling across his desk, black Minnaloushe with her extra-long whiskers. She was an old friend. Shoulders slumping in relief, Methos stroked her and rubbed her plump shoulders, and she stropped his chin with her jaw and made a noise like an earthquake. "Good kitty. There, kitty kitty kitty . . . Scared me out of ten years, that you did."

"Ah, there she is. Hey, Minnie mouser? Are you helping Adam do his research now? Hallo, Adam. Thought you quit."

"Peter." It was Peter Wilmington, whose immortal was Artemisia of Helicarnassus - ancient and important, but locked up in an asylum for years now. This left Wilmington plenty of time to schmooze in the library. "I found some books in my attic to bring back, so . . ."

"You never could resist a library. What's this now? Mm. Keith Douglas?"

"I thought I spotted him the other day," said Methos.

"Well, he is in Paris. Douglas, Douglas . . . Oh, I remember him. Fine piece of work, isn't he?"

"Does he always kill all his teachers?" asked Methos.

"Hasn't missed one so far. He must be the nearest thing there is to an immortal patricide. Spends his time obsessively courting teachers, and when he's done with 'em, then . . . snick!"

And Wilmington drew a finger across his throat.








Act Four: Corps a Corps





Sometime toward the early dawn, MacLeod walked up onto the deck of his barge and leaned on the railing, gazing toward the Ile de la Cite and Notre Dame. It was chill and there was a touch of sleet in the air, but he could tell already that it would be a fine sweet day. There was a spring in his step this morning, and peace was in his heart. He was happy.

A white night. The teaching Douglas needed wasn't in the sword; they had talked instead, for the whole night through. They could spar later - MacLeod missed a sparring partner. To hone the fighting skills, an opponent was vital; mortals weren't good enough, and immortals he could trust within sword-reach were few and far between. He looked forward to finding out what tricks Douglas might have picked up. There was no hurry, though. For the teaching his student needed wasn't in the sword.

Douglas was below now, making coffee. In a week or so, they could go camping or on retreat, maybe onto holy ground for a few days. Maybe take a walking tour up the English coast into Scotland. Just themselves, their swords, and plenty of time to talk and think.

And here came Methos.

Duncan walked down the gangplank and met him at the top of the street stair. He steered Methos away from the barge. "I've got Keith Douglas visiting," he said in explanation. "Let's walk."

Methos didn't move. "Is he still set on taking my head?"

"I don't know. I know I don't want to see the two of you together until I know . . . I don't want you killing him, I do know that."

Methos sneered slightly. "Psychological dominance is a fearful and wonderful thing. I'm enough of a poker player to hazard that he won't attack me for a while. No, it's all right - I'll behave."

"I don't want either of you dead," Duncan insisted.

"I told you I'd behave."

Duncan's phone rang.

He had it in his coat pocket. Scowling a little, he fished it out and said, "MacLeod. Joe? Hello. What's wrong?" He listened. "All right, but I don't see . . . all right, all right. Give me five minutes." He folded up the phone. "Come," he said curtly to Methos.

"You couldn't keep me away," said Methos.

Inside the barge, Douglas sat cross-legged on the floor, drinking coffee. He had poured two cups. When he saw Methos he rose swiftly and picked up his sword; Methos stood in the hatchway, gazing at him. Neither man moved. MacLeod looked long and hard at them, and then crossed to the little fax machine and flicked it on. A moment later it began to hum.

"Come take a walk with me," said Methos. He said it to Douglas.

MacLeod had just picked up the first sheet of fax paper and skimmed over it. His face went hard; then he said sharply: "No. You stay right where you are - no, stand right there! I want you--"

But Methos had turned and walked out.

By the time he reached the wharf, he could hear MacLeod's voice raised inside the barge. He glanced back. Douglas was coming onto the deck, fast, holding his sword - with MacLeod on his heels, yelling. Methos wheeled and drew, falling into the on guard position. He grinned.

MacLeod got between them. His fist was clutched full of crumpled streaky sheets. He growled and struck Methos across the face with them. "Some anonymous wit sent these to Joe Dawson," he said. He said it through gritted teeth. "Who could that be, I wonder?"

"If they're bills, he has a nerve," said Methos. Douglas was edging sideways around MacLeod; MacLeod flung out an arm and restrained him. Methos sighed. "The moment's gone. Too bad."

"Yes, go," said MacLeod. He opened his hand and the papers fluttered astray. His voice scaled up. "Go away and don't come back!"

"Okay," said Methos.

He got about twenty steps before MacLeod came after him and caught his arm. Methos was annoyed now; he swung around, slicing his sword back into the sheath sewn in his coat. "What?!"

"I know you," said MacLeod. "I want your promise. Don't fight him."

"You want a hell of a lot. Let go of me."

"Promise me you won't fight him!"

"All right, all right, I promise! Be careful what you ask for," said Methos, spitting out the words. "Because you'll get it."






Afterward, MacLeod walked up and down the wharf, catching pieces of paper. He found three, the rest having been blown away. There was no strength in his heart to phone Joe Dawson and beg for more.

Three sheets of paper, faxed and faxed again, from one continent across an ocean and back. They were just photocopies, of pages from Keith Douglas' chronicles.

He pulled out his cell phone and dialed Methos' number.

There was no answer. Surprise.

MacLeod smoothed the papers out, rereading them. Douglas was sitting on the gangplank, watching him patiently; with his knees drawn up and his arms folded around them, he looked like a big tough teenager. So MacLeod folded the sheets and stowed them away in a pocket, and sauntered back to the barge.

"What was on the fax?"

"Nothing. It had to do with Pierson, not with you." He rested a hand briefly on Douglas' shoulder, and walked past him onto the deck. There were no detectives with binoculars surveying them from nearby buildings today. "The men who were watching me," Mac said. "You hired the ones who trailed Pierson. Did you hire the ones who watched me?"

There was a long pause. Then Douglas said, "Yes. I've paid them off and dismissed them. Are you . . . are you very angry with me?"

"Ah, you sound like a child. No, no, Douglas, it doesn't matter--"

"That's what was on the fax? And Pierson sent it."

"No," said MacLeod. "I worry about him."

"You're always going on about him," Douglas grumbled. "He only beat me because he cheated. The d'Eon parry, indeed!"

"Och indeed." Mac had never heard of any such thing as a d'Eon parry. And yet there had been a famous duelist named d'Eon, the Chevalier d'Eon. "But don't discount his skill. In fact, I once . . ."

He trailed off. Yes. Yes, that had been it. During the affair with Kristin, he and Methos had sparred; he had won by using a move Methos didn't know; and later, against Kristin, Methos had used the very same move. After seeing it once, in the heat of an argument and the swift give and take of swordplay.

Douglas said sharply, "See - you're thinking about him again!"

"Sorry. Tell me something. When I sent you away, after you were first my student - what did you feel?"

"Christ!" said Douglas. "It was a long time ago, Mac. How should I remember what I felt?"

"Go home, Dougie. I'll see you later."

And when Douglas was gone, he remained leaning on the barge rail, eyes half-shut. Then, deliberately, he surrendered himself to memory.

. . . In those years, Europe had been in the grip of a craze for all things Japanese. Songs from the Mikado played in drawing-rooms across England and France; the Japanese style of painting decorated every stylish house, repeated on the wallpaper and draperies and vases. Chrysanthemums and cherry-blossoms. Duncan had carried seeds home from the New World, from the mountains of Nevada which he had wandered, prospecting for his own amusement; he had discovered silver and a little gold, lost it all in one riotous night at Amanda's gambling parlor . . . and Amanda, laughing, had paid off her bank loan and thanked him afterward in a way dearer than silver or gold. For love was worth more than money.

But he had carried those seeds from the Americas forgotten in the bottom of his pocket throughout the ocean voyage to France. In Paris, he had paid a potter to make replicas of the bonsai pots he remembered from Japan. And he had planted the seeds. A half-dozen had sprouted and were growing, slowly, slowly - slowly as immortals; they were the seeds of bristlecone pines, which (so said the people of California) could not die of old age, only grow more gnarled as centuries passed. The hardiest trees in the whole world. When they were big enough, he would give them to Darius.

Tiny shears to prink and prune the branches of the little bonsai trees. A stone or two from the Scottish highlands, to decorate their pots. Thick wires of copper, with which to wind their growing boughs, bending them into the ornamental shapes decreed by ancient custom.

Hours of loving work. Then he had looked over his shoulder, and said, "Dougie?"

Douglas had come slowly into the sunny solar where Duncan stood tending his bonsai. He had taken off his hat, automatically, looking right and left. "Mac. Good afternoon to you."

"Douglas. What brings you here?"

Douglas had looked MacLeod in the face, and Mac had been shocked to see the sheen of tears in his eyes. It had been weeks since they had parted. "What brings me . . . ? Nostalgia, I suppose. Mac, tell me truthfully. Why did you send me away?"

"It was the time. You're a grown man now, Douglas, no student of mine. And I have nothing more to teach you. You need to make your own place in the world."

"But I need to learn more!" It was almost a plea. "There's so much I don't know. There are old ones out there who can take my head without working up a sweat. You have to teach me how to take them, Mac. It's my life at risk . . . and I'm lonely." The last was said very softly, hesitantly. "Have we no hope of friends among our own kind?"

"In time they'll come." MacLeod had a perfume atomizer, donated by a woman friend. With it he puffed a fine mist of water over the tiny bonsai plants. He had turned and looked upon his former student with a certain fondness. "As will the return of the confidence I remember in you. You were always the cock o' the walk as a mortal, Dougie. You will be again."

"But I have to learn." Douglas had caught at his arm.

"Douglas, you'll find other teachers--"

"I have to have this!"

When MacLeod had pulled away, Douglas had jerked at his arm. One of the fragile bristlecone pines, jarred, had fallen in a smash of pottery . . . and lay underfoot, snapped in two.

MacLeod had felt the bite of temper then; it had showed in his face and his voice. "Let go of me, Keith." And he had drawn back, shaking free of the younger immortal's grasp.

But for a moment there, hadn't he felt sure he was about to be attacked . . . ?

The Duncan of the present day, looking back, could not be sure. He might have read Douglas' face wrong, or somehow misinterpreted his words. How could he tell? But now, there on the deck of his barge with the morning breeze cold in his face, he felt chilled through and through.

He phoned Methos several times during the next two days. All he ever reached, though, was his answering machine.






"I'm glad you came."

Methos stood framed in the doorway, his long bedraggled coat unbuttoned so that the lapels flapped free; he wore old jeans with frayed holes in them, and a black turtleneck. There was mud on his boots, and on his sharp face was a hard wary expression that made him look a stranger to MacLeod. And now he stood tilting his head, glancing over Mac's shoulders at the long room behind him, the workers busy installing mirrors and the group of men conferring over architectural plans. One of the men was Miter; another was Douglas. There were crates, some of industrial cardboard bearing brand-names, and some of wood marked with legends in felt-pen. These last held sabres, foils and epees nested in swaddlings of oilcloth. There was a stack of lighting fixtures, waiting for an electrician.

"He looks like you," said Methos. His gaze had fixed on Douglas. "With his hair cut like that, he looks like you."

"He's going to build Miter another salle. Bigger and better than the first, he says, all at his own expense." MacLeod made a small awkward gesture. "I don't want him dead, Methos."

"Thanks for the vote of confidence. Damn. Here he comes."

Douglas sauntered toward them. His suit of Italian silk broadcloth, the shoes and tie and the platinum watch he wore must have cost over a hundred times the price of Methos' worn clothes. He measured himself against the other man and smiled a little. Then his face went grave and he held out his hand. "For my teacher's sake," he said.

Methos made no move to shake hands. "Veni, vidi," he said. "Anyway, this is a public place, huh?"

"Adam," MacLeod warned.

"All right, all right, I promised. Friends?"

"Friends," Douglas said. "Now if you'll excuse me . . . ?"

"Well that went well," Methos murmured. He and MacLeod watched the younger immortal cross back to his associates, resuming his business discussion as if nothing had happened. Except that from time to time, Douglas glanced sharply over at them.

"You did promise," MacLeod said.

"Yeah yeah yeah . . . He kills his teachers, Mac. I read his chronicle. He learns everything they know and then when they try to send him away, he kills them."

"I can't believe that."

"Believe. It would have been better if I had finished him, if you had told him who I was . . . And when you do tell him, you great trusting Scots hero," said Methos, "just give me plenty of advance warning, will you?"

"I'm not about to tell him who you are!" said MacLeod.

His words fell into a lull in the conversation. His tone of voice was such as would command attention. The small knot of businessmen craned to glance at him in idle curiosity; Methos wore a small smile; and Douglas said, "Get out."

The men looked at him in astonishment. "But--" Miter began, lifting his hands; Douglas cut him off. "Meeting's over. All of you, get out. Everyone." They began to babble. He shouted, "Get out!" In moments the room was cleared - all save for the three immortals. The last of the workingmen shut the door as he went out.

Douglas strolled closer. As he did, he reached into one of the crates and lifted out a sabre, hefting it in his hand. And as he did this, Methos drew his own sword. "Now tell me," Douglas remarked, "just how old does an immortal get, before he starts concealing his name from other immortals?"

Methos said in apparent resignation, "I predicted this." At the same moment, overriding his words, Duncan said, "Dougie, don't do this!"

"Don't interfere."

"You promised me--"

Douglas thrust in quinte. Methos parried, binding the blade and carrying it harmlessly out of the line of attack. "Promises mean nothing," said Douglas. "Predict this!" Again, he cut and his sword was stopped dead by Methos', angled against it. And again, using a two-handed grip for strength, Methos forced Douglas' sword aside.

"We are all predictable," Methos said. He broke ground, retreating. "Like our chronicles."

"Chronicles?" said Douglas. "This is gibberish. Mac? You can't interfere."

He lunged, his blade slicing forward.

It hit MacLeod's katana.

As might a senior student presiding over a schlager duel, he smashed Douglas' sabre out of line with a screech and a scream of steel. And Methos was immediately backing away, putting up his weapon. Douglas lunged after him, mad for the kill; and Mac checked him with his shoulder, knocking him backwards. "Damn you!" Douglas shouted. "Damn you, let me at him!"

"Back off - no, back off, I said! Fight's over, Dougie." Douglas hovered, making little feints sideways, and again MacLeod brought his katana crashing down against his student's sword. "Dougie, it's over!"

"You can't interfere," said Douglas, and he tried to get around MacLeod. Mac caught the wrist of his sword-hand, and he jerked free, cursing. "You always - don't do that! No don't do that again--"

The swords slid blade along blade with a grating squeal, edges engaging. And Douglas reversed his blade and sliced at MacLeod's neck.

MacLeod's heart slammed. He parried by instinct, his blade describing a circle to gather Douglas' sabre - deflecting it from his throat. With the forte of his blade against the foible of Douglas', he pressed the sword downward. "Dougie, don't do this. You don't want to fight me."

His eyes, wild as a madman's. "In the end," said Douglas, "the good teacher dies for his student."

"It isn't that way! Douglas, we are not competitors--"

His eyes, glazed over with blood-lust.

Douglas swept the sword around, almost taking MacLeod's head. MacLeod saved his life only with a passata sotto - ducking nimbly under the blade. He retired, parrying over and over. Douglas screamed: "You aren't fighting me!"

Redoublement. Remise. Reprise. MacLeod gasped, "I don't want to kill you!"

Douglas slammed against him and for a moment they were corps a corps, wrestling with brute strength to force each other's blades down.

"Dougie, stop this!"

"Damn you! - I want your head!"

Douglas lunged. Wide open in the inside lines. And MacLeod disengaged and impaled him in quarte.

His eyes, wide as a child's. He whispered, "Touche," and began to crumple over the blade.

MacLeod withdrew, drew back his arm, made the beheading stroke.

And the quickening blotted out the world with fire.

By the time it was over, he had fallen on his knees. Mac knelt, his head bowed. He ached all over, as if he had been struck by lightning . . . and he could still feel it, deep and bruising in his bones. It was the only pain that could linger in an immortal's flesh: the lash of the quickening. The Watchers, being after all a society of voyeurs, always seemed to think that quickening was an orgasmic experience; Joe had asked about it once or twice. What use to tell him how wrong he was?

It was not a sensual experience. It was an ecstatic agony, a blow upon the emotions and the mind.

He watched Methos cross the room, stepping over the headless corpse. There was no blood: the fire of the quickening cauterized the wound. Methos touched his cheek. MacLeod said, "Do you know the legend of the good student?"

"Yes." Methos pulled him to his feet and - for just an instant - put his arms around him, kissing his forehead. It was over before MacLeod knew it had happened.

"You are my good student," Methos said.






Methos walked down the Paris street, his arms full of grocery bags.

The sun was warm upon his head. He had bought wine, a baguette, filet mignon and all the makings for bruscetta, with mushrooms to stuff and grill. For dessert, zabaglione and Mandarin oranges. Not that there was anything to celebrate, but when you could get hold of fresh, good, wholesome food in plenty (and fruit, the whole year round!) why not make every meal a feast?

When the warning spoke in his heart, he froze, searching the street. And there was MacLeod - lounging against a lamp standard in the sun, with an ice cream cone in either hand.

Methos stood looking at him. Then he set down his groceries, and held out a hand. Mac handed over one of the cones, and suddenly grinned.

They licked their ice cream, enjoying every drop.

"Thank you," said MacLeod at last. "Methos, what can you teach me?"

Methos considered. "How to maintain the perfect poker face?"

"I have to get over Richie, don't I? Douglas was like Richie." He caught Methos by the sleeve. "He was like me."

"Oh, there's nobody like you," said Methos.

MacLeod withdrew his hand. A little confused, he applied himself to his own cone. Methos sighed and wiped his face, and then gazed moodily into the empty cornet of his finished ice cream; he was evidently one of those people who eat the ice cream but disdain the cone. Presently he remarked, "A vous l'honneur."

Mac lowered his cone slowly to on guard. "Par obeissance."

"Faites."

The sunshine seemed suddenly brighter. MacLeod mimed the motion of a lunge, feeling foolish without a sword in his hand. He saluted, falling automatically into the exact required stance: his sword-arm extended at an angle of forty-five degrees, feet placed just so, hand held in supination. And with ice-cream dripping on the pavement. Methos saluted in supination and again in pronation, just as MacLeod had with Miter - days before, with him casually watching. His every gesture was utterly precise. On guard, with cones engaged in quarte. Full lunge with disengagement from quarte to sixte. Parry by sixte, lowering the point to seconde; lunge; on guard, in sixte.

The perfect dance of swords. Full lunge with disengagement, sixte to quarte. Parry quarte, bringing the weapon into septime with hand in supination. Lunge, returning to guard in quarte.

Methos moved as if he rehearsed the grand salute twice a day. The same two disengagements repeated. Feint with parry in tierce, a pretty passage of ice cream cones. The simultaneous double appel. On guard. Salute to left, salute to right. On guard, in the seven distinct movements dictated by the salute, finally engaging in quarte.

With attacker and defender reversed, four disengagements followed by a one-two and a cut-over, returning to guard.

The sun shone down on them. Girls passing along the street paused, breaking into spontaneous coos of delight - applauding the pretty picture the two men made. And MacLeod found himself smiling.

This was what he wanted. This, this was what Methos could give him. A matching of equals. Someone who did not need to be taught, to be protected, to have pains taken with him. Someone to play with. Someone to converse with. To spar with, no holds barred. To argue with. Someone . . . more likely to outlive him than the reverse.

To trust, and be trusted by.

Double appel. On guard. Again, the graceful double appel executed simultaneously. Salute to left. Salute to right. On guard, arms straight. Methos met his eyes, and his face was unguarded, loving. His heart full of happiness, Mac fell into a classic duelist's pose, arm bent and his weapon held solemnly upright.

"But I'm too old for a teacher," he protested.

Methos gave him the ice-cream cone smack in the center of the forehead, where it stuck out like a unicorn's horn.

"Could have fooled me," he said.






Culinary note: capretto incaporchiato is "trapped kid", or the meat of a kid which was strapped, newborn, in a wicker basket bound to its mother's belly, so that it could reach her udder but not eat grass; a sort of veal of goat, in vogue in Renaissance Italy but (and I'm glad of it) no longer available today. Jellyfish? Apicius liked to cook them. Ditto with pheasants' brains. The recipe for mawmeny is as follows: brawn of capons or of hennys, & dry them well, & toss them small; then take thick milk of almonds; & put the said brawn thereto, & stir it well over the fire, & season it with suger, & powder of Canelle, with mace, quibibs, & anise in comfrete, & serve it forth.

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Last Updated February 17, 1998