T.S. Eliot, "The Hollow Men," IV
Darius stood over the steaming pot and carefully skimmed off the white foam as it rose to the surface of the gently-simmering liquid. He was in the cellar of the rectory, preparing the must for a new batch of mead. This was to be a metheglyn, or spiced mead, so he had added cloves, cinnamon, and other spices to the honey/water mix. Mead-making was his favorite recreation, after chess, and he was an acknowledged master of the art. He had learned it long ago, from Brother Ciaran, the Irish cellarer at the Abbaye du Saint-Pierre at Lagny-sur-Marne, and had since expanded and perfected on his old teacher's techniques. Before he had become a monk, in the old days when he had been a great Goth general, he used to drink mead every day, and never gave a thought to how it was made, or who had done all the work. Now he had a much greater appreciation for the expertise and labor involved.
It was much easier now than it had been in the past. He got his fresh honey from the Franciscan monastery where his friend Enkidu was a Brother, instead of having to process his own from the hive. And the wine yeasts he used to ferment the mead, which came from a commercial supplier, were a great deal more predictable and easier to use. He also had modern fermentation locks on the large glass carboys in which he fermented the mead. But unlike many modern mead-makers, he did not add acids to balance the taste of the mead, or use sulfites to sterilize the must. Nor did he need a hydrometer to tell him when the mead had finished fermenting and was ready to bottle. He simply knew from centuries of experience.
The must finally stopped producing foam, so he turned off the gas ring beneath the pot, and covered it. Later, when it had cooled, he would siphon the must into a carboy, pitch the yeast, and let the fermentation begin. He then turned his attention to a batch of traditional mead which he had started some weeks earlier. Now it was time to rack the mead, transfer it to another container by means of a siphon, leaving behind the sediment in the bottom of the first. He had started upstairs to get a newly sterilized carboy when he felt the strong presence of another Immortal, and heard someone coming through the back door into the kitchen. "Darius?"said a familiar drawling voice.
"Down here in the cellar, Methos!" he called back. "Would you mind bringing down that big glass bottle?"
Methos appeared a minute later, ducking under the low doorframe and carefully descending the worn, narrow stone steps with the container in his arms. "I put the casserole in the oven to keep warm. Making your magical brew, I see," he commented, looking at the pot Darius had been stirring earlier. "Wonderful stuff, mead. Where do you want this?"
Darius showed him where to put the carboy, and Methos stood back and watched in fascination as the priest racked the mead into it, being careful not to transfer any of the gunk from the old bottle in the process, and secured the fermentation lock. The empty vessel would later be washed and sterilized to receive the new batch of metheglyn. Methos looked around him, taking note of the well-filled bins of bottles. "It's been ages since I've been down here. You've been busy. Who is going to drink all this? You've got the makings of approximately five hundred serious hangovers in these bins."
Darius laughed. "Well, if you want to volunteer, we can dispose of a bottle or two tonight, and you can take some with you. Some of this is destined for St. Jerome, since they supply me with my honey. The rest I will eventually distribute to friends. I gave some to Duncan just the other day."
"I hope he appreciates it," Methos said. "By the way, have you blocked off the entrance to the church crypt? I don't see the door. It used to be right over there as I recall." He pointed to a wall covered with wooden shelves.
"Oh, it is still there. I needed the shelf space, so I covered it, but those middle shelves swing out, like a door. That is the only way into the crypt now, since the staircases leading to it from the church were torn out when they removed the original portal and the two nave and south bays three centuries ago. Did you want to see it?"
"God, no!" Methos exclaimed in horror. "I still get the shivers when I remember hiding in that dreary place, and sneaking out through the cellars and tunnels afterwards."
"There is no longer any access from here to the undercellars," Darius said regretfully. "They are full of mud and sediment from too many floods. A great pity, too."
Methos grimaced. He had no fond memories of those tunnels to make him regret that he could no longer stroll through them for old times sake…
Flashback--The Priory of St. Julien le Pauvre, ca 1200.
Methos darted through the dark, narrow Rue du Fouarre, his feet slipping and sliding on patches of dropped straw, mud and other filth better left nameless. His pursuer, less nimble, and not so well acquainted with the tortuous streets of the Latin Quarter, was nonetheless gaining fast. Methos' wound was healing even as he ran, but the blood loss had weakened him. Rounding the corner into the Rue Galande, he darted into a tiny alleyway between two buildings. With great relief, he saw the dark bulk of the Priory Church of St. Julien le Pauvre just ahead. Thank God for Holy Ground, he thought. He slipped into the cloister, and through a side door into the south aisle.
Even through the thick stone walls, Methos could still faintly detect the presence of his pursuer. Kronos was out there somewhere in the Latin Quarter, hunting him. He crept away as far from the main doors as he could get, staying in the deeper shadows of the north aisle. He was safe for the moment, because he knew that even someone as evil as Kronos would not try to kill him on Holy Ground, but he also knew Kronos wasn't going to give up and go away. Somehow, he had to figure out how to get out of Paris undetected, a difficult task when pursuer and pursued were both Immortal and could sense each other's presence.
At the east end of the north aisle was a small chapel with glowing candles burning on the makeshift altar. Methos headed for it, not to pray, but to steal some of the candles to eat. He was desperately hungry after two days on the run with no food or sleep. When Kronos had come for him, there hadn't been time to grab much except his sword. Now even that was gone--the blade had been trapped and broken in the quillions of Kronos' weapon. All he had now was a dagger. Methos knelt down in front of the bank of tallow candles and blew some of them out. Then he ate them. They didn't taste too bad, considering that he had eaten worse things in his time. But he needed something to wash them down with. A little font nearby still held some Holy Water. He scooped it up in his cupped hands and drank as much as he could get. The remainder he sopped up with the sleeve of his tunic and used this to wipe his blood-and-dirt-stained face.
While he was thus engaged, he suddenly felt the presence of an Immortal near at hand. Had Kronos already discovered his refuge? With his heart in his mouth, he crouched on the floor behind a pillar, and cautiously peered around it.
A monk in black robes, with the deep hood of his cowl concealing his face, had just entered the church through a door in the south aisle. The monk was already aware of the presence of an Immortal outside the church just off Holy Ground. Now, sensing Methos within the sanctuary, he pulled back the hood so that he could see better. He was tall, with light-brown hair, and an angular, clean-shaven face. "I'm Brother Darius," he announced in a calm voice. "You have nothing to fear from me."
Methos thought quickly. He must persuade this Immortal monk to grant him sanctuary in the priory, so that he wouldn't be summarily tossed out into Kronos' waiting clutches. Best to appear non-threatening. He knelt down at the altar, arranging his hands as if in prayer, and waited.
Darius soon spotted the other Immortal in the north aisle. The candle-light revealed a thin-faced young man with a prominant nose and short dark hair. His clothes were blood-stained and cut, and as Darius drew near, he could see that the man was in a desperate state. The tension in his body was made obvious by the clenched jaw and the white knuckles of his clasped hands. No doubt he had come into the church to escape from the Immortal outside in the street.
"You are safe now on Holy Ground," Darius reassured him. "Do you wish to be granted sanctuary?"
The young man nodded without raising his head, but his eyes flickered involuntarily to the main doors of the church.
Darius noticed the look. "I promise that I will help you, my brother," he said kindly, putting a hand on Methos' shoulder. The older Immortal flinched instinctively from both the touch and the word. Kronos had forever tainted the word "brother" in the ears of his former raiding companion.
Darius withdrew the hand at once, wondering what this man must have suffered to make him shrink from a friendly word and touch. "Come," he said. "I will give you something to eat besides our candles, and something clean to wear."
Slowly Methos lifted his bowed head to look at Darius. The clear, blue-gray eyes met his own with a look of grave compassion. Methos had to trust him—there was no other way. He nodded, and painfully got to his feet. The monk led him through the cloister again and into a nearby building which housed, among other things, the kitchens and the infirmary.
"What is your name?" Darius asked as they walked.
Methos quickly made one up. "Adam, son of Piers. I am a... a student at the University of Paris."
"And your friend out there?" Darius continued. "What is he called?"
"He's no friend of mine," Methos said grimly. But he seemed reluctant to reveal anything else, so Darius refrained from questioning his guest further, and merely saw to it that he was fed, and warmed, and given the means to wash himself.
"I will see what may be done about cleaning and mending your own clothes, but for now you must dress as one of us—what better disguise, eh?" Darius said, bringing him a monk's robe of black wool like his own. It was patched, but clean and warm, and Methos put it on gratefully. Then the monk showed him to a bare little room with a straw pallet and a crucifix on the wall.
"This is my cell. I have night duty in the infirmary, so I will not be using it tonight. You may sleep here undisturbed. In the morning after Prime, as soon as I am free, I will bring your breakfast and we will talk." Then he was gone. Methos lay down on the hard pallet and slept peacefully for the first time in two days.
In the morning, Brother Darius returned as
he had promised, bringing bread and a flask of water. He also brought unwelcome
news. "The Immortal who pursued you here is still outside. I have spoken
privately with him."
Methos, who had been wolfing down the bread, stopped in mid-chew, and his stomach turned over. If Kronos has told him anything...
"I told him that you had sought asylum within the Priory, and that you do not wish to accept his challenge. I suggested that he go elsewhere, since he would get no satisfaction here."
Methos swallowed hard. "What did he say?"
Darius spread his hands. "Oh, the usual threats, both veiled and open. He then made certain…accusations… regarding your character and past misdeeds, and assured me that I would be doing the world a service by turning you over to his speedy justice." Here Darius waited for Methos to speak in his own defense, but Methos said nothing. At the moment, silence seemed to be his best defense.
Darius continued. "Since he showed me no proof of any such misdeeds, and gave me ample proof of his own less than sterling character, I declined to do as he asked. But as I left him, still growling curses, he swore he would not leave Paris without taking your head."
Here it comes, Methos thought. He's going to ask me to leave. Not that I would blame him--Kronos is a dangerous man to cross. He might burn this place to the ground just to flush me out.
But to his surprise, the monk merely asked, "What can I do to help you? Have you any friends you would like me to contact? Anyone to whom you could send for aid?"
Methos shook his head. He had a few acquaintances in France, but none who could help him in his current predicament. "What I need is a way to get out of Paris. If I remain here, I may put you all in danger. But if I go out into the street, he will be waiting for me, and I do not even have a sword. He knows where I am. It appears that I am between the proverbial rock and a hard place."
"There is another way out," Darius said. "But it is not an easy or pleasant one."
"I am desperate enough to try anything," Methos replied. "As long as it does not involve facing him. If I go up against him, I will die. It is as simple as that."
Darius regarded him gravely, as if making a decision. Then he said, "I will help you if I can. I will send a message to a friend who might be able to get you onto a boat leaving the city."
"But how will I get to the boat without being caught before I reach it?"
"Leave that to me. But meanwhile, I think
it is best to hide you someplace more out of the way, so that the other members
of the community may truthfully say they have not seen you if anyone asks.
Put up your hood and follow me."
Darius led Methos down into the cellar and through a passage into the dark crypt beneath the altar of the church. Methos gulped. He could hear scurrying noises in the far corners where the light of Darius' lantern did not reach. The presence of dead men's bones did not trouble him, but he was terrified of rats.
"I will come for you in the evening," Darius whispered directly into his ear. "I hope to have the arrangements made by then. But you must keep quite still." He pointed upwards to a metal grate set into one of the webs of the vaulted ceiling. A dim light filtered through it, and Methos caught the faint scent of candles and incense. "This grating opens into the sanctuary above. It is one of several that provide ventilation to the crypt. If you make a noise, or cry out, someone up there may hear you."
"But what about the rats?" Methos asked, his voice betraying his fear. "Have you at least got a stick?"
"Sit on this flat-topped tomb," Darius instructed. "The grating will allow some light to shine down on it. You can see the rats if they come, and drive them away with this." He handed Methos a thick piece of rope with a large knot at one end. "Unlike a stick, this will not make much noise."
Methos did not consider the rope to be adequate protection, but he was in no position to argue. His life was in Darius' hands. He hopped up onto the tomb, and took the rope in both hands. Darius went away, taking the lantern with him.
It was one of the worst days Methos had ever spent, sitting there virtually entombed in the near-dark with the scurrying rats, frantically popping them with the rope's end when they got too close. Above him in the sanctuary, he could hear at regular intervals the voices of the monks chanting the offices—he remembered them well: Terce, Sext, Nones, Vespers, and Compline. The time passed with excruciating slowness. He felt like screaming many times, but somehow managed to hold it in. He prayed, desperately, that Darius would not forget about him and leave him here in the dark at the mercy of the rodents.
At last, Darius returned with the lantern, carrying Methos' newly mended street clothes, and wonder of wonders, a replacement for his broken sword. Methos was never so glad to see anyone in his life, and opened his mouth to thank him, but Darius pressed his finger to his lips, warning him to be silent. He led Methos down a tight circular stair into a subcellar, where they stopped briefly so that Methos could change. Darius instructed him by signs to put the monk's robe back on over his other garments. Then they proceeded into a dank-smelling, cramped tunnel. The ceiling was so low that both Immortals had to stoop to walk through it. Dirty water and patches of mud covered the floor in places. "These are our secret underground pathways," Darius explained in a low whisper. "The priory owns numerous properties in this part of Paris, and those with cellars we have connected by tunnels. We use them at need in foul weather, or at night when the streets are too dangerous to traverse. Through these one can travel some distance without being seen, or sensed by someone at ground level. By this hour, most of my brothers have retired, for they will be expected to rise again three hours after midnight for Matins. But in case we encounter anyone, I am on my way to treat someone who is ill, and you are my assistant."
The monk led Methos deeper and deeper into the network of tunnels and cellars, changing direction and levels so frequently that Methos soon felt quite lost. But his guide seemed unperturbed. Methos stayed close to him. There were more rats here than in the crypt, but they ran from the light, or the human presence. Finally they climbed back up to ground level and emerged in a low warehouse on the bank of the Seine. Methos could hear the sound of the water nearby, but to his great relief, he could sense no other Immortals besides Darius.
"My friend is waiting for us at the water's edge with a small boat," Darius told him. "He will take you to a river barge that is bound for Le Havre, and from there, you may take ship to anywhere you choose. I will take you to him, but we must say our goodbyes here, where there is less chance we will be overheard. I wish you a safe journey, Adam, Piers' son, and I hope that I will see you again one day, if you ever return to Paris."
"I don't know how I can ever repay you," Methos said. "You have done so much, although you do not know me. After…what he told you, I can't imagine why you decided to help."
"You can repay me by trusting and helping another, as I have done for you. I do not have the right to judge you for what you may have done in another time and another place. Before I became a monk, I also did many terrible things. But I was given a chance to start over, and change my life. That is what I hope you will do… Methos."
Methos started at the sound of his real name. "Kronos did tell you everything, as I feared," he said.
"Yes. But in doing so, he reminded me of what I had once been. And that only made me more determined to help you. So in the end, his evil intentions were turned to good. Let us go now. We must not keep my friend waiting."
Methos left Paris by barge that night, and after a long journey by river, he arrived at Le Havre, and signed on as a sailor on a trading ship, and left Kronos far behind. So far, so good, knock on wood…
"Methos?" The Oldest Immortal suddenly realized Darius was staring at him, making him wonder how long he had been standing here in the cellar daydreaming.
"Sorry. I was just remembering that dreadful day I spent in the crypt with the rats. I have been a little claustrophobic ever since, you know. It felt like being entombed. The only thing that kept me sane until you came to "resurrect" me was the sight of that dim circle of light above me in the ceiling, and the sound of the monks' chanting coming through it. It was my only link to the world of the living."
"The grating is rectangular, Methos, the same shape as the stones of the sanctuary floor."
"True, but there was a circle in the pattern of it, like a wheel, or a rose window. It's that part I remember. Amazing the tremendous weight of meaning contained in those huge fragile wheels of stained glass—all of creation, Eternity, Life, the Universe, and everything…did you know that if the west wall of Chartres Cathedral were hinged at the floor, and tilted downward, the rose window in it would fit exactly over the labyrinth set into the floor of the nave? And the pathway through the labyrinth represents the journey of the human soul through life."
"Well, I do not believe that is the case with the little rose window and the grating at St. Julien," Darius laughed. "Although the symbolism of the wheel, and the cross within the circle would certainly apply."
"Still, there is something about them that makes one look up with hope…" He gave Darius a little smile. "I never really did what you asked of me back then, trusting and helping another. I guess I'm not the trusting and helping type."
"There is still time for you to fulfill your promise, Methos," Darius pointed out. "And I see you have not forgotten about it, at least."
"No," Methos said truthfully. "I will never forget—any of it."
"Shall we go up to dinner, then?" Darius suggested, to change the subject to something more cheerful.
"Oh, right. I've been so busy reliving the past, I forgot about dinner. I've brought the infamous Road-Tar Casserole as my contribution—your favorite." He and Darius grabbed a few bottles of mead from one of the bins and went upstairs. "And from the smell of things up here, you've made some fresh bread. Where did you learn your domestic skills, Darius?"
"In a monastery kitchen," the priest answered, setting plates and utensils on the table. "Monasteries were the great centers of learning during the Middle Ages, remember?"
Methos found some glasses in a cupboard and poured them each a generous glass of mead. "Somehow, I had always thought that referred to book-learning, not baking and brewing."
"Ah, but one must feed the body, or the mind cannot learn, and the soul will soon depart. And bread and wine have certainly played their part in the salvation of mankind," Darius reminded him.
"The Last Supper, yes. I suppose they must have had lamb for the main course, instead of lentils and chestnuts, though." He removed the dish from the oven and set the dark, crusty-looking concoction on the table with a flourish. "Ta-daaah!"
Darius bowed his head, and said grace. "For what we are about to receive, may the Lord make us truly thankful."
"Amen," Methos responded, and broke off a chunk of new bread.
Much later, Darius called a cab for Methos, who was far too drunk on mead to drive, or even walk. "I know I'm really going to regret this tomorrow," Methos said, "But for now, I feel… fantastic!"
Darius, who was a bit tipsy himself, handed his friend a little packet of herbs. "I couldn't make the poison without also making the antidote. Steep this in a cup of hot water, and drink it before you sleep."
Methos looked at it dubiously. "I'll bet it tastes horrible, doesn't it?"
"Yes, for your sins," Darius admitted with a slightly crooked smile. "But your head will feel even more horrible than this tastes by tomorrow morning, if you do not drink it."
"I think I'd rather have the 'hair of the dog' instead," Methos said stubbornly, cradling the bottle of mead Darius had given him to take away. The priest shook his head, and stuffed the herb packet into his friend's pocket when he wasn't looking.
As they stood together in the hallway, waiting for the cab to arrive, Darius asked, "Methos, would you do something for me?"
"Sure!" Methos said, gesturing expansively. "Ask and ye shall receive."
"If anything happens to me, I would like you to look after Duncan MacLeod--give him some guidance, help him out if he needs it."
"Don't you start thinking like that!" Methos admonished. "If any of us lives forever, it will probably be you."
"Nevertheless, I would like you to promise, just in case," Darius persisted. "It would make me sleep better."
"OK, I promise, mostly because I'm confident I'll never have to make good on it. Satisfied?"
"There is your cab." Darius somehow managed to fold his friend's lanky body into the back seat, and stood waving as the cab disappeared down the street. He sighed. One more little detail out of the way. He hoped Methos would remember his drunken promise when the time came.
Losing also is ours; and even forgetting
Rainer Maria Rilke, "For Hans Carossa"
Darius sat at his desk in the study, surrounded by stacks of papers. I have put this off far too long, he thought. But there were always more pressing matters to attend to. Since the wee hours he had been hard at work, clearing away the mountains of "stuff" he had managed to accumulate over the years—who would have thought there could be so much of it? He picked up a bunch of letters and went through them. Most were outdated and could be thrown away, a few needed to be filed in the parish records, and the purely personal ones he committed to the flames in the fireplace, although not without a certain regret. These were memories he was burning, memories of old friends, many long dead. The yellowed sheets covered with faded script meant a great deal to him. But he did not want to leave them for strangers' eyes to see. He set them alight, one by one, and watched them turn to ashes, saying a few words of prayer for each of the senders.
He was interrupted in his task by the metallic rattle of the mail slot in the hallway. The postman had just blessed him with more papers to deal with. He went out to retrieve them and returned to the study, sorting as he went. Junk mail and circulars went into the brimming trash can, bills, church-related letters, and a mead-brewer's newsletter he subscribed to went into his "In" basket. The two remaining pieces were a fat envelope addressed to him in a familiar handwriting, and a postcard with a foreign stamp. The letter was from Diana Connolly, her weekly "epistle" from St. Jerome. Since she had accepted Enkidu's invitation to spend some time at the monastery, she had written to him faithfully, and her long, copiously illustrated letters had provided him with a bit of much-needed distraction during some very stressful weeks. He set it aside to enjoy later. The postcard was from his Immortal friend Grace Chandel, who, due to unfortunate circumstances involving the death of her husband and problems with her former lover Carlos Sendaro, had been forced to change her name and leave Paris. She had stopped by the church to say goodbye, and he had jokingly asked her to send him a postcard. He had not expected that she would actually do so.
The card said only, "Wish you were here. Will write more later when I am settled. G." There was no return address. Darius raised his hand to his face, and touched the place on his cheek where Grace had kissed him before she left. He had been in love with her for years, ever since he had first made her acquaintance in the 17th century, when she had begun working in Paris as a midwife. And he was certain that she had once felt the same way about him. But he had said nothing at the time, because of his vows. Not long after that, Grace had met another Immortal who had captured her heart, one who was not bound, as he was, to a life of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Only recently, Darius had learned that the other Immortal had been Duncan MacLeod, and that Grace still loved the Highlander, even after centuries and numerous relationships in between. Generous soul that he was, Darius had never begrudged Grace the love that she had found with other men, but he had sometimes wondered what might have happened if he had declared his love for her, and offered to leave the priesthood to marry her. He could have still served God—not all religions required that their clergy remain celibate and unmarried. But he had chosen to keep the cloistered way. Now, fearing that his own death was fast approaching, he was beginning to realize what his decision to remain a priest might have cost him over the centuries, and what it might cost him still.
Richie Ryan, Duncan's young protégé, who had not yet come into his Immortality, was yet another reminder of something he had lost forever. The fresh-faced boy, full of curiosity and zest for life, reminded Darius of his own youth in northern India, and all the dreams and aspirations he had once had. Some of these he had fulfilled as an adult, the far-ranging dreams of conquest and power, worldly treasures, and unbridled passions. But after what had happened to him at the crossroads before Paris, all of this had seemed empty and meaningless. What he still yearned for, sometimes, was a moment of the unfettered joy he had possessed as a pre-Immortal youth, the joy that shone from Richie like a beacon every time they were together.
And now there was Diana Connolly, who had come into his life unexpectedly when her husband James had been killed by Grayson on the way to see him. Even after such a short acquaintance, he had sensed that the connection between them was something unique, but neither of them had really understood the nature of it, or where it might lead over time. And now we will never know, he thought a bit sadly, picking up the little self-portrait drawing she had given him before she left for St. Jerome. I must remember to send this back to her, with her letters. He could not bring himself to burn them.
As he was searching for a suitable box, he felt the presence of another Immortal nearby, and heard someone in the hall. "Darius?" a deep voice called. It was a voice he had not heard for a very long time.
"Daray! In here!" He hurried to the study door to embrace his old friend.
|The Book of Darius
(This page last updated 02/28/2002)