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The Perception of Shadows

Part 1-3

by tirnanog


Bridges of the Seine,
What strange trysts you have witnessed!
Blade kissed blade, then fire.

Part 1

The woman walking along the Seine in the wet, chilly autumn night moved very slowly and cautiously, keeping one, and sometimes both hands against the retaining wall of the quayside. A casual observer might have thought she was drunk, because of the way she staggered slightly from time to time. But there were no casual observers, only professional ones, on the quay tonight.

Across the Seine ahead of her was the dramatically illuminated shape of Notre Dame. Not far now. Just past the Cathedral, near the Pont au Double. She was in pain from the blow she had received, but that was insignificant. James was dead, and his body was gone, probably to the bottom of the Seine. She wanted nothing more at that moment than to join him in the cold, filthy water of the river, but there was something she had to do first. The river would wait for her. Putting grief on hold, she wiped away the tears that kept streaming down her face and blurring her vision, and moved on.

It wasn't supposed to have been like this. It was meant to be a pleasure trip, a belated honeymoon in Paris, a city James knew well, for it had been his home away from home for centuries. He had many friends here, mortal and Immortal, and he had been looking forward to introducing her to all of them. They had just finished dinner at a small restaurant on the Left Bank, and were walking along the quays of the Seine to visit his former teacher, an Immortal priest who kept a small parish church in the Latin Quarter. James had just begun to tell her a funny story about Father Darius when another Immortal stepped out of the shadows beneath a bridge and issued a challenge.

She knew about the harsh realities of the Game, because James had been quite honest with her. She knew he had killed many of his kind in his thousand-plus years of Immortal life, and that there was a possibility he might be killed one day. But he had a reputation as an exceptional swordsman, and few dared to face him. In the two years since they had been together, there had been only half a dozen challengers. He did not kill for pleasure, and had given up looking for fights long ago, but he never refused one. It was a matter of honor, one of the Rules he lived by.

Tonight, he had turned to her with a reassuring smile, handed her his long overcoat, and told her to go on ahead to Darius' church and wait for him there. She reluctantly did as he asked. Immortals, he had told her, fight their battles only in secret, away from prying mortal eyes, but she knew that he was mostly concerned about her safety.

She dutifully turned away and had gone some fifty yards or so before her resolve broke. She turned around to look for James, but he and the other Immortal, who had identified himself only as Grayson, had already disappeared into the dark tunnel beneath the bridge. Seconds later, the ring of metal on metal told her that battle had been joined. She felt an overwhelming sense of dread. Disregarding James' orders, she ran back towards the bridge.

She heard a loud cry, then a sudden silence like the ominous hush before a storm, and instinctively she flattened herself against the retaining wall. A glowing mist came up off the pavement, and collected beneath the bridge. In the midst of it stood a dark figure holding a sword, and at his feet, almost hidden in the mist, a body lay on the ground. Then the storm broke.

Flash after flash of blue fire erupted from the dead body and arced into the victor's, causing him to jerk and twitch violently, and fall to his hands and knees. The Quickening seemed to go on forever before it finally died away in a rain of sparks and smoke. Much of the lighting in the vicinity of the bridge had exploded in the process, which made it difficult to see much of anything. She approached the tunnel cautiously, fearful of what she might find. The victor was still crouched on the pavement, head down, breathing hard. Her foot struck something—she reached down and picked it up. James' sword, but whether it had been dropped or knocked from his hand she could not tell. She stared at it in horror and disbelief, then turned to look at the man kneeling nearby. "James?" she whispered. He raised his head, suddenly aware of her, and began to laugh. It was Grayson.

Something inside her snapped. Without a second's hesitation, she flung herself at Grayson and swung the blade at his head. For an instant she thought she had him, but with a single, smooth motion he easily parried her stroke. Seizing her sword arm with his free hand, he forced her backwards until she was pinned against the tunnel wall with James' blade against her throat.

"Well, what have we here?" Grayson sneered. "A little woman with a death wish? I can easily grant that wish, little one."

She was petrified, but she met his mocking blue eyes without flinching. "Do it. Otherwise I'll try for you again."

Grayson flashed her a devilish smile and chuckled. He seemed almost intoxicated from the Quickening he had just received. "Quite the little spitfire, I see," he crooned. "I like that in a woman. Defiance is so very…erotic." He brought his face up close to hers, obviously enjoying the sense of power he got from intimidating her. His breath and clothes reeked of cigarettes. "On the way to see Darius, were we?" he breathed into her ear. "Then you can deliver a little message for me. Tell him the Big Bad Wolf is going to kill all his students, one by one, unless he comes out to play." He kissed her lingeringly on the mouth, and then without warning, struck her viciously across the face, knocking her unconscious.

When she came to, she was alone, stretched out face down on the cold pavement beneath the bridge, with James' sword underneath her. She must have fallen on top of it after Grayson had knocked her down. Looking around, she saw that James' body was gone, and even the spilled blood had been rinsed away. Smart Immortals cleaned up after themselves, James had told her, to avoid unwanted attention from the authorities. So why am I still here, she wondered. Not that it mattered. Nothing seemed to matter very much, now that James was dead. Then she remembered what Grayson had said just before he hit her. She had to warn Darius. He needed to know what Grayson was planning.

She got up slowly and painfully. Her head hurt, and she felt very cold and somewhat shaky. Walking was difficult, but she found that by keeping one hand on the wall, she could advance without falling down. For protection as well as for remembrance, she took the sword. James' long coat still lay by the wall where she had dropped it earlier, so she slipped it on over her leather jacket, tucked his sword into the sheath hidden within the front lining, and began her trek to the Church of St. Julien le Pauvre. She had a creepy feeling that she was being followed, but whoever it was kept their distance and did not show themselves, so she ignored them. A light drizzle had begun to fall. It collected in fine droplets on her short, straight hair, plastering it down into little spikes, and dripped down her face, mingling with the tears.

Not much further. She had passed Notre Dame by now, and there was the Pont au Double and a stairway leading up to street level. At the top, she turned and saw the the church before her, just across a grassy area with benches and trees. The rectory garden, just as James had described it, with St. Julien beyond.

Light bathed the ancient stone walls and glowed through the arched windows. Heartened by the beautiful sight, she stumbled towards it, searching for a way inside. Along the north wall, near the west end, she found a door leading into a side aisle with a rib-vaulted ceiling. The church seemed quite empty, but candles still burned on the main altar and in the two small chapels of the north and south aisles. Drawn by the flickering lights, she crept to the north chapel railing, and knelt there, waiting.

Darius stood just outside the entrance doors of St. Julien, bidding goodnight to the dozen or so die-hard worshippers who had attended evening service. He could feel cold sprinkles of rain on the back of his neck, and resisted an impulse to pull up the hood of his thick wool habit. A sharp wind from the northwest would bring heavier rain by morning. He waited, tiny shivers traversing his spine, until the last of his flock disappeared into the dark street before thankfully closing the two sets of heavy doors behind him and heading for the sacristy to put away the vestments he had worn for the service. Darius was tired. Sunday was his busiest day, almost every moment from pre-dawn to past dark occupied with duties. While he loved the vocation he had followed for the past 1500 years and found the work immensely satisfying, he reflected that being a Catholic priest was sometimes more exhausting than his former occupation as a Goth general. Now, alone except for God, he allowed himself a small sigh of relief, and thought with anticipation of a hot cup of tea before a warm fire in the rectory.

Darius turned out the lights in the sacristy and the sanctuary, so that the only remaining light came from the candles. He walked down the nave to extinguish the ones on the altar before dealing with the votive candles in the chapels, lit by supplicants at prayers. As he turned toward the north aisle and the passageway connecting the church to the rectory, he caught sight of a cloaked figure with short, dark hair kneeling in the Chapel of St. Joseph, aquiline profile thrown into relief by the glow of the candles. For an instant, he experienced a sense of deja-vu, remembering an autumn evening centuries ago when a dark-haired young man had knelt in the same spot, with the candlelight on his face…

Then the figure moved, and the illusion was shattered. Darius saw, not a vision from a past century, but a slight woman in a coat sizes too big for her, which trailed behind her on the floor like a cape. Her head went up, as if she sensed someone was nearby, and she stood up abruptly, turning as she rose to face him. "Darius?" she whispered in a low voice which sounded both hopeful and apprehensive.

Before he could answer, he saw her sway slightly to one side. Her knees buckled beneath her, and she tumbled into an untidy heap on the floor, just missing the candles. Darius ran to the chapel and knelt beside the limp body. Gently he turned her onto her back. As he did so, the coat fell open to reveal a hidden sheath holding a gleaming broadsword with a distinctive ring pommel and finned crossguards that curved away in opposing directions. The priest gave a small cry of dismay. He knew the owner of that sword. Just days ago, James Connolly had called him from Ireland to say he was bringing his wife to Paris for their honeymoon, and he wanted his old friend to meet her. They were supposed to arrive today, he remembered, but if this was Diana Connolly, where was James? And why was she carrying his sword?

A terrible possibility immediately came to mind, but he pushed it aside for now. If his worst fear proved to be true, he could do nothing for James, but the woman in front of him needed his help now. He pressed his fingers against her throat. The pulse was weak, but he felt it grow stronger beneath his touch. She did not appear to be bleeding, but she had a black eye and bruising on one side of her face, as if she had been struck, or had fallen against something hard. Darius tipped her face towards the light to get a better look, and felt her move slightly. Her eyes blinked, opened, and stared up into his own. She flinched, and with a sudden effort, rolled away from him up onto her knees, right hand groping for the hilt of the sword. His hand closed over hers before she grasped it. "You won't need that," he told her reassuringly. "This is Holy Ground. No one will hurt you here."

"Are you Darius?" she demanded. Her gray eyes, wide with shock or fear, never left his face.

"I am," the priest answered. "And you are Diana, James Connolly's wife, am I right?".

She nodded slowly. "We were on our way here. James…," She had to struggle in order to force the words past the hard knot in her throat. "He's dead... another Immortal... came from under a bridge..."

"You saw it, didn't you?" Darius asked sympathetically. She nodded, not trusting herself to speak again. She was very pale, and trembling violently. He had to get her to someplace warmer. "Come with me," he commanded in a firm but gentle voice, and pulled her to her feet. She could barely stand. He put an arm around her for support, and slowly led her through the passageway to the rectory. Halfway there, her knees gave way again, so he carried her the rest of the way.

He put her on the sitting room sofa and put an afghan over her. "Lie still," he told her. "I'm going to call for an ambulance to take you to the hospital. We need to make sure that you are all right."

"No!" she cried out, dragging herself upright. "No hospital!"

"My dear, you almost lost consciousness again just now. You might have a serious head injury," Darius explained patiently, but she was adamant.

"Too risky... they'll ask questions... I'll be OK... if I can just get warm."

The priest reached over and turned on a nearby table lamp, watching her eyes as he did so. The pupils contracted, reacting equally to the light. A good sign. Perhaps her injuries were not as serious as he had thought. "Very well," he said. I'll put on the kettle for hot tea."

When he returned, Diana was sitting up, watching the fire with the afghan pulled tightly around her shoulders. Her eyes followed him watchfully as he entered the room and set the tray down. He poured her a cup of hot tea, but her hands were still unsteady as she took it, and half of the liquid went into the saucer. "Sorry," she apologized. "I'm still a bit shaky."

"After what you have been through tonight, it's not surprising," he told her, seating himself beside her on the sofa. "Drink now. It will help." She swallowed the tea obediently in small sips, as he instructed. It was hot, very sweet, and not unpleasant, but the taste was strange to her. "What's in this?" she asked.

"Valerian, and some other herbs, and honey. My own mixture. It will calm you. You need to rest."

"I can't rest," she told him. "There are things I have to do."

Darius placed a restraining hand on her shoulder. "You are in no condition to do anything just now. I think it would be best for you to stay here at least for tonight. Later, there will be much for you to do, and to decide, but I think you must postpone that for a few hours at least."

She shook her head, despite the stab of pain it caused. "This can't wait." she said. "The other Immortal, the one who killed James--I think he wants to kill you, too."

Darius frowned. "You actually spoke to him, this other Immortal?"

"I didn't have much choice. He had me up against a wall with a sword to my neck."

"Did he tell you his name?"

"It was Grayson. He said he would kill all your students one by one unless you went out to meet him. He made it sounded as if he knew you."

Darius was silent for a moment. "Oh, yes," he said softly, as a grim little smile crossed his face, "We know each other very well." He sighed. "I am deeply sorry his quarrel with me has brought about the death of one who was dear to us both. It must not happen again."

She glanced at him sharply. "I came here to warn you, not to ask you to face him. He'll only kill you, too!"

"I hope that will not be necessary," he answered. "But if James died because of his connection to me, others may die as well, if I do nothing. I can't imagine why he let you go. The Grayson I know would have killed you without a thought."

"I wondered about that, too", Diana admitted slowly. "I mean, I had just tried to take his head."

"You did what!" Darius was appalled.

"Really stupid move," she agreed ruefully. "But I had just seen him kill James, and I just reacted. It seemed like the thing to do at the time—get the bastard who did it or die trying. Just then, I didn't exactly feel I had very much to live for."

"You loved each other," Darius said kindly. "But he wouldn't have wanted you to kill for him, or to die needlessly. If you love him, live, and remember him."

Her face crumpled into a mask of grief and despair. "I know… I know you're right...," she admitted, tears streaming down her face. "It's just that dying would have been so easy, and living without him is going to be so hard. I thought I understood what I was getting into when I married an Immortal--that I could handle it. James tried to prepare me, told me the worst that could happen, but I guess in my heart I never truly believed that he could lose."

Darius considered the fragile-looking woman sitting on his sofa and tried to imagine her picking up James' sword and charging at Grayson with it. The sheer absurdity of it was somehow very moving. "Nothing could ever prepare you for something like this," he said softly, and reached out to her in compassion. Wordlessly she came to him, burying her face against his chest, and sobbing out what was left of her tears. He rocked her like a child, his hand absently ruffling the damp, close-cropped hair, until her shoulders stopped shaking and she grew quiet. The valerian tea had finally done its work. She would sleep now. He laid her back down on the sofa, tucked her in, and stood up to go.

The light from the dying fire illuminated her still face. Darius paused for a moment, studying it. The thin, boyish face with its high cheekbones and long nose would have been plain even without the ugly bruise marks and smudges of dirt that marred it. Her hair was cut very short in a deliberately ragged, assymetical style which didn't help matters, and an outlandish assortment of rings and studs decorated her ears. He thought he had seen a little tattoo on the back of her neck earlier, but he wasn't sure. An unusual choice for James, he thought, considering what he knew of his former student's taste in women. James typically liked them prettier, but few had held his attention for long. The priest recalled his telephone conversation with James a few days earlier. "I know you think I'm a fickle bastard, Darius, and that this marriage will end up just like all the others. But Diana is different. I know you'll like her."

James had been right--he did like her. And because of that, the incident with Grayson really worried him. Grayson had let her go this once, but he might easily repent the decision and send someone to silence her. And what about this threat against his students? There had been so many over the years, and not all of them maintained regular contact with him. Who besides James had Grayson already killed? Who would he go after next? He needed to warn as many as possible.

Darius went to the study, where he kept a bottle of single malt Scotch for Duncan MacLeod (who did not care for his teas), and poured himself a generous glass. It was going to be a long night. He crossed the room to his secret hiding place, a niche in the wall concealed by a loose piece of stone. There he kept his "little black book" of addresses, and a few other valuable possessions, among them a partially burnt codex written in ancient German. He took the address book to his desk, and began to go through it, making a list of those former students whom he hadn't heard from within the past year or two. Then he reached for the phone. He dialed a number, let it ring just three times, and hung up. He paused for a minute, repeated the process, and waited, sipping at his drink. After about a quarter of an hour, the phone rang.

"Whatever it is, make it quick," a grumpy voice growled into his ear. "It's late, it's raining, and it's cold out here in this phone kiosk."

"Thanks for calling me back, Methos. It's an emergency." Darius said apologetically.

"It always is. So what's on your mind?"

Darius quickly told him about Diana's arrival, James Connolly's death, and Grayson's threat. "I need the current location for about thirty or so of my Immortal students, so I can warn them," he explained. "I was hoping you could check the Watcher databases for me. Plus, I need anything you can give me on Grayson's recent activities, including tonight's ."

"You don't want much, do you?" Methos grumbled. "You know that what you're asking me to do is in violation of Watcher policy? Not to mention dangerous for me?"

"Methos, many of my students have been out of the Game for years. They wouldn't stand a chance against Grayson if he hunted them down. It wouldn't be a fair fight, it would be more like murder. At least if I warned them, they might have a chance to change identities and avoid him, or go to Holy Ground. It isn't just business as usual, one Immortal challenging another. It's Grayson's personal vendetta against me that has put them at risk. I feel a certain responsibility."

Catholics and their guilt! Methos silently thanked his stars he'd decided to give up guilt in the eleventh century. But in the end he reluctantly agreed to help, and dutifully wrote down the names Darius gave him. "OK, I'll see what I can do. It may take a day or so. The usual meeting place?"

"Fine. Thanks, Methos." Darius rung off, and dialed another number. He got an answering machine. He waited for the beep and left a brief message: "Congratulations, Monsieur. You have just won a free cruise to the Caribbean. Call our office for details." The message was really a coded warning to leave Paris immediately. It was too bad--Jean Pierre had spent almost six months working within Grayson's organization, in hopes of finding some evidence they could use to put Grayson out of business and behind bars. But this threat put an end to it. It would have been really useful to have some inside information just now, but Jean Pierre was one of his mortal students, and if Grayson was hunting them down…it was just too risky. He hoped that his friend would heed the warning and go.

He spent the next two hours making more phone calls. Those he could reach he warned, and asked them for help in warning the others. At 2 AM, feeling he had done all he could for the time being, he checked once more on his sleeping guest, and went to bed himself.

A sudden loss can be cruel, but that other,
the one making one thing infinitely ours…

The wind of what memory, from what life did the wind
in passing deposit a mask on my being…

Rainer Maria Rilke, [fragments]

Part 2

The next morning, Darius overslept, and didn't wake up until it was almost time for early Mass. He threw on his habit, hurriedly splashed water on his face, and did a quick-and-dirty shave, thanking Providence for his Immortal ability to heal quickly. He had a slight hangover from the Scotch, and could have used a cup of tea, but there was no time. Before he left, he peeped into the sitting room to see if Diana was still sleeping. All he saw was the empty sofa with the blankets thrown aside. She was gone.

A quick search of the rectory yielded nothing. She isn't a child, he reminded himself. If she chooses to leave, I have no right to stop her. Still, he was concerned. Grayson could have someone out there with a gun waiting for her now, and he couldn't do anything about it. He said a mental prayer for her safety as he headed off to church.

A strange sight met his eyes as he entered the sanctuary. Diana, still wearing James' muddy coat, was sitting on the floor in front of the altar, with his sword in her hand, and a blank expression on her face.

"How long have you been sitting here, my dear?" he asked in surprise.

She looked up at him, and a second or two passed before she answered. "I'm not sure," she answered vaguely, "I think it was still dark. Maybe an hour or two."

"What have you been doing for all that time?" he persisted.

"Not much. Sitting... and thinking."

The uncertainty of her replies concerned him somewhat. "Are you feeling all right?" he asked.

She rubbed her temples with her fingers, wincing as she accidentally touched her bruises. "Well, my head still hurts a little. But I'm better. Not dizzy or anything."

"Why don't you go back to the rectory and lie down for a bit?" he suggested. "I have to say early Mass in a few minutes, but afterwards, I'll make us some breakfast. You'll feel better with something in your stomach."

She shook her head. "Thanks, but I really ought to be going now. There's so much to take care of, people I must call. I need to go back to the hotel--maybe find another place to stay because of Grayson."

"You're more than welcome to stay at the rectory until you can make other arrangements," he offered. "And I'd be happy to help you with whatever you need. I really think it's too dangerous for you to go out alone when Grayson could be waiting for you. Let me find someone to go with you, or better yet find someone to retrieve your things from the hotel in your stead."

"I'm afraid I've already imposed too much on your hospitality as it is. Besides, I'll have to go in person to get the papers and things that were left in the hotel safe." She stood up and sheathed the sword in the front lining of the coat. "I'll call you later. Don't worry--I'll be OK."

Darius was far from convinced of that, but short of locking her up in the rectory there wasn't much he could do. "Please be careful," he admonished her anxiously.

She patted the coat where the sword was hidden. "I will," she promised, waving farewell as she strode down the nave and disappeared into the street.

Mass was over, and Darius lingered in the courtyard talking to one of his parishoners. A total of three people had shown up—perhaps it was time to cancel a few of these morning services. But while he stood there nodding patiently as Madame Brioude went on and on in her quavering voice, his thoughts kept drifting elsewhere. Not only was he worried about Diana, but also there was an Immortal waiting for him in the church. He had been aware of the other's presence for the past ten minutes, and it was a terrible distraction. At last, the elderly lady tottered off towards the Rue Galande and Darius went back inside. He saw no one, but the other Immortal's presence still resonated in his senses. "Whoever you are, I would be happy to speak with you, but first you must show yourself," the priest said, his firm voice echoing in the vaults. A tall, lean figure in a long coat stepped from behind a column off to his right. Darius saw the movement out of the corner of his eye and whirled. "Methos!" he said in relief, recognizing his old friend.

"I have to talk to you. Now," Methos said abruptly. The Oldest Living Immortal seemed a bit more jumpy than usual. His eyes kept checking all the entrance doors to make sure no one walked in on them.

Darius led the way to the confessional and they sat down within its dim confines. He peered at Methos through the metal grille. "I wasn't expecting you so soon. What is it?"

"Well, I won't have all the information you asked for until tomorrow, but I thought you ought to see this right away," Methos explained, opening his notebook and removing a list. He set about rolling it into a narrow tube that would fit between the wires that separated them. "I pulled up Grayson's files for the last month, and checked his recorded kills. More than half of them are former students of yours. Looks like he's not making an idle threat."

Darius read the names on the list Methos passed through the grille. "Oh, no," he whispered, his hand unconsciously making the sign of the cross.

"I see you begin to understand my paranoia," Methos commented dryly. "All I need right now is to have Grayson challenge me in front of his Watcher, or yours. I have enough trouble getting past Ian as it is. You should be careful about this Connolly woman, too, Darius. I saw her out there hailing a cab earlier. She's carrying his sword, did you know that?"

"Yes, I know."

"Did it ever occur to you she might be working for Grayson? Connolly's and Grayson's Watchers should file their reports today, and I'll see if I can check her story against theirs. But meanwhile, if you see her again, don't turn your back on her."

Darius thought of the incident in the church this morning, but said nothing. He shook his head. "I don't think she is in league with Grayson. You didn't see the condition she was in last night, Methos. Some things can't be faked, like shock and bruises."

"So he roughed her up a bit to make it look good. A ploy so you'd feel sorry for her. And it worked, didn't it? You're far too trusting, Darius. I say this as your friend, because I am concerned."

"I seem to recall I trusted you once, despite appearances," Darius observed mildly.

Methos was quiet for a moment. "I haven't forgotten. It's just that I'd hate to lose you, old friend. Take care." Then he was gone, exiting through the side door into the garden.

After talking to Methos, Darius tried once more to contact Jean Pierre. Please be there, he thought, listening to the phone ring and ring. Not that he expected Jean Pierre to pick up, but he wanted him to hear the message he had left on the machine. But this time the machine did not answer. Reluctantly Darius put down the receiver, and turned away with a heavy heart.

A sudden knock at the rectory door startled him. Diana stood there, suitcase in hand, wearing an apologetic look. A cab driver was hauling the rest of her luggage out of the boot of the cab. "Is that offer you made this morning still open?", she asked.

"Absolutely." He took the case from her and carried it inside.

Over a belated breakfast in the kitchen, she related what had happened. "When I got to our room, I found out that someone had been there last night. Nothing appeared to be missing or disturbed, but the whole place smelled of cigarettes. Neither James nor I smoke. I got out of there as fast as I could and came back here. I was hoping you could help me figure out what to do next."

"I'm glad you changed your mind. It was probably Grayson or one of his men who entered your room," Darius said. "Perhaps he has changed his mind about letting you go. I'm just relieved that you didn't find him waiting for you there. He is a very dangerous man to cross, but you are safe here on Holy Ground."

"Maybe I shouldn't poke my nose into something that's none of my business, but what exactly did you do to cross him? Why does he hate you so much that he would kill your students just to get to you?"

"Grayson and I go back a very long way," he answered. "Long ago, before I became a priest, I was a Goth general on the verge of conquering Europe, and Grayson was my second-in-command. Then something happened that changed my life—I took the Quickening of a Holy Man, and chose to renounce war, and become a man of peace. Grayson saw this as a betrayal, and he has never forgiven me. Our Rules will not allow him to harm me on Holy Ground, but he has managed to find other ways—usually through those I care about." He gave her a rueful little smile. "You may end up regretting that you have me for a friend."

She shook her head. "James never did, and neither will I."

There will be a book that includes these pages,
and she who takes it in her hands
will sit staring at it a long time,
until she feels that she is being held
and you are writing.

Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours, I, 61,

Part 3

After breakfast, Darius helped Diana carry her luggage up to the guest room, then showed her where the bathroom was so she could have a much-needed bath and change her clothes. Meanwhile, he retired to the study and continued his efforts to warn the rest of his students, as well as attend to his regular parish duties. When he finally found a moment to take a break, he was shocked to discover it was late afternoon. He put the kettle on for tea, and went to see if Diana needed anything.

He half expected to find her asleep, since he hadn't heard a sound from her since the morning. The door to the guest room was ajar, but he knocked softly before looking in. Diana sat in the middle of the bed, all but engulfed in an oversized Irish fisherman's sweater that must have belonged to James. She was surrounded by piles of his clothing and personal items. He could tell that she had been crying again.

Darius went over and touched her on the shoulder. "I'm making some tea. Would you like some?"

She mopped her tear-stained face on the intricately knitted sleeve of the sweater. "This belonged to James. It still smells of him, you see. If I close my eyes, I can feel him near me, like he was sitting next to me right now. It's so hard... But I have to face it, Darius. He's gone and he's never coming back." She took a long, shuddering breath. "I don't even have a body to bury--Grayson took that from me as well. I wish so much that I could have had a chance to say a last goodbye."

"Even without his body, we could still have a memorial service for James here at St. Julien," Darius suggested quietly. "It won't bring him back to you, but perhaps it would help you say farewell, and find a little closure."

She gave him a grateful smile. "Thanks. I would like that, and I think James would too. You'll conduct the service, I hope?"

"Yes, of course, if you like. We could have whatever type of service you wish, strictly private, or with some of James' friends. Perhaps... I don't know if you have a photo of James with you, but... sometimes if there are no remains, relatives will display a photo of their loved one in the church during the service..."

"No, I didn't bring any photos on this trip... Wait, maybe I have something else, though," Diana said, reaching for a black portfolio sitting underneath a pile of shirts. It was a dog-eared, misshapen thing, which bulged alarmingly in the middle because of the variety of odd things crammed into it. Extra corners of paper stuck out of all the open edges, and it was held together by two enormous rubber bands.

"What's this?" he asked, intrigued.

"Just some drawings," she answered, lifting it and taking the rubber bands loose. "It's my hobby. James had his sword and his poetry, and I have this." She patted the worn leatherette, and presented it to him, rather shyly.

Darius opened it, and examined the contents very slowly. He said nothing, but he appeared to be totally absorbed. Diana watched his face, noting the subtle changes of expression animating his features. It was an interesting face, all planes and angles. She couldn't see his eyes, which were focussed downward, but his wide, rather expressive mouth curved first into a little smile, lips parted, then pursed, then opened in a short laugh. A wide grin followed, then a look of concentrated stillness. He looked up suddenly and caught her in the act of watching him.

"These are all wonderful," he said. "But especially this one." He held out a loose sheet. It was a small pencil sketch of James in three-quarter profile on a cream paper with a laid finish. "I love the eyes—you have caught the mischief in them."

"He dearly loved to play jokes on people and make them laugh," Diana said wistfully, adding, "You can keep that one if you like."

"I couldn't take this from you," he protested.

"I insist," she said firmly. "We'll use it for the service, and then it's yours."

Darius thought for a second. "On one condition--that you will allow me to give you something in return. It's something that James once gave to me, and I think that you should have it now. Come down to the study and let me show you."

As they went down the stairs, they heard the kettle screaming away in the kitchen. "The tea!" the priest cried in alarm, running to turn it off. "One of these days I'm going to burn the place down," he said ruefully, leading the way into the study. He opened a large wooden cabinet and took out a locked metal box. Nestled inside, wrapped in silk, was a small book with silver covers set with cabuchon stones. It was barely as big as his hand.

"This is very old," he told her, placing it on the desk. "It was made over a thousand years ago, in an abbey east of Paris, where James and I first met. There aren't even any ruins from that time left there now."

He opened the book, and Diana saw that it was a gospel book in the insular style, hand-lettered in half-uncials and illuminated throughout with decorative capitals and intricate Celtic interlace designs. The colors were incredibly fresh and bright. She held her breath as Darius turned the vellum pages slowly for her to see. When he located the right page, he handed the book to her, indicating one of the illuminated capitals. It was a large D with two angel figures, one inside and one just above the letter. She gave a small cry of delight. The angel within the letter, with his reddish-blond curls and brilliant blue eyes, was James. No one else on earth could look more angelic, while his eyes held a devilish twinkle. Then she examined the second angel, who had darker hair, and eyes the color of the sea, between gray and blue. His earnest expression, the angular planes of the face, and the shape of the mouth told her this was Darius.

"This is marvelous!" she exclaimed. "I've never seen anything like it except in museums. James told me that you two met in a monastery, but he never talked much about this part of his life, and he never mentioned anything about this book. Would you tell me what he was like then, and how this book came to be made?"

Darius pulled out a chair for Diana, and sat down at his desk. He cradled the little book in his hands and gazed at it thoughtfully, remembering…

"It was in the late 9th century. The Normans were raiding northern France, hitting the coast first, and then rowing their longships up the rivers into the interior. Many churches and monasteries were destroyed, and many died. The raiders came to Paris and burnt St. Julien, but I escaped along with the rest of the holy brothers. We split up into two groups, each going to a different religious community to find shelter until such time as our own could be rebuilt. I went to the Abbaye de Saint-Pierre, at Lagny-sur-Marne, which had been founded by an Irish saint named Fursey. And there I met James—Seamus as he was called then. He was still pre-Immortal at the time, a young man, part of a group of Irish monks who had come to the Continent as missionaries, as a good many did in those days. James was never really suited for monastic life, I think. He was far too lively, and had too much of an eye for the beautiful women. He also had an irrepressible sense of humor that frequently got him into trouble, so he was always doing penance for one thing or another.

"We liked each other at once, though, and became great friends. Religious orders generally frown on any sort of personal friendships, but I think the abbot turned a blind eye, hoping I would have a sobering influence on the young Irishman. In truth, he was more of a corrupting influence on me. He loved to whisper jokes to me under his breath in chapel, and no matter how hard I tried, I usually ended up choking with laughter, or aching from holding it in. Sometimes all he had to do was look at me crossways to make me completely lose my composure.

"James had another good friend at the Abbaye: Aidan, a mortal his own age, who was an accomplished scribe and illuminator in the Celtic style. This gospel book, which he worked on daily in the scriptorium, was his crowning achievement. He liked using real people as models for his figures, and one day he asked James and me to pose for him. James found it difficult to sit still for any length of time, but he was happy at the prospect of getting out of the kitchen duty which was his latest punishment for un-monkly conduct. So it happened that Aidan preserved our likenesses for the ages, depicting us as heavenly messengers, which was truly a great accomplishment as neither of us were looking particularly angelic that day. The entire time we stood there posing James was humming under his breath a dreadfully bawdy tune that he'd learned in an Irish alehouse, which kept Aidan and myself shaking with laughter.

"Tragically, an epidemic of diptheria broke out among the monks in the abbey shortly after the book was completed. Few had any resistance to it. Aidan was among the first to die, and James was also stricken and very close to death. I was immune, of course, but exhausted, as I worked night and day with the infirmarian, trying to save as many as possible, but with little success. Our treatments were so limited in those days that the prayers we said were probably more effective than any of our medicines. A grayish membrane formed in the victims' throats, closing their airways, and they choked to death. It was a terrible thing to witness, to see them struggle for air and not be able to help them. After James died, I was the one who secretly dug him up from his grave when he returned to life as an Immortal. I explained what had happened to him and what he now was, and arranged to convey him to Saint Denis where my friend Daray, another Immortal from St. Julien, was a monk.

"Daray took James in, but shortly afterwards James decided to give up his vocation and return to the world. I thought it for the best. Daray and I found him a teacher in Paris, and he became what he was truly born to be, an excellent swordsman and a poet. He never forgot our friendship. Sometimes half a century would pass before I saw him again, but he always turned up when least expected, usually with a girl in tow, and a bottle of the best Irish whiskey. He was terribly unlucky in love, although he never gave up trying. When he called to tell me you two were coming to Paris, he assured me, 'This one is different, Darius!' "

"I'll bet he said that about every single one of his women," Diana said with a knowing smile.

"Well, sometimes he did…" Darius admitted, and they both burst out laughing.

"Thank you for the book--I will cherish it. But I want to thank you even more for sharing your memories of James with me. It means a lot to hear things about him from someone who knew him so well." She hesitated, then added, "He wanted you to marry us, you know, but in the end we just had a civil ceremony. I'm not a Catholic, you see. I did try to convert, because he wanted it, but somehow I balked at some of the doctrines… it's just not me. I mean no offense to your religion."

"None taken."

"So do you think he was right? Am I different?"

Darius reflected. "I think, deep down, you already know the answer to that question," he replied warmly, as he replace the little book in its its box and handed it to her. "Come. I imagine our tea water is stone-cold by now. Let's heat some more, and find something to eat."

As they walked to the kitchen, she turned to him and asked, "So what song was it?"

"Song?" He looked puzzled.

"The bawdy one from the alehouse that always cracked you up. Was it by any chance the one about Sheila, St. Patrick and the Last Serpent of Erin?"

Darius snorted and turned a peculiar shade of pink.

She giggled. "Yeah, that one always cracked me up too."

This story is Copyright ©1998 by tirnanog and may not be reproduced without permission.

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(This page last updated 05/31/2004)