Niebos, Greece 2003
Eleanor waded ashore. She was still a little giddy from the experience, or perhaps it was her sleeplessness and fatigue finally catching up with her. But she wanted to dance once more with those whom she had always loved. She hopped through the surf and when she reached the shore, she grabbed Methos' hands and started dancing about him. Slowly, still a bit cautiously, he joined in the movements. For a moment, it was almost like old times... almost like that first time they had danced together. She looked at him brightly and threw back her head in laughter. Finally she was rewarded with a smile.
Then she reached down to Phillip and urged him to join in. The two of them had never danced together, nor had the three of them ever attempted this. Always, she would dance with Methos... or she would join Phillip in the dance of sparring... that inside out, upside down reflection of the dance. But never had the three of them just danced together as one.
And for a moment there were the three of them... hand in hand in hand, on a spit of sand, on the edge of a great sea. Round and round they danced and laughed, twisting in and out in a pattern that was familiar yet ever different... the pattern of life... the dance of life.
Once they stepped the final two symbols they collapsed onto the sandy beach laughing. The tide was just beginning its inward journey. Before too much longer, the small beach would vanish below the waves for a few hours. Then the tide would turn again and the beach would slowly emerge once more.
For once... when Phillip began telling tales of Danae, oracle of Poseidon, naiad of Ocean... immortal and teacher... Methos did not groan. Instead when he had a chance he spoke at last of Aja... Priestess of Nut... Voice of the Goddess... The Lady of Living Water Who Brings Life to the Desert. Much of it he had never spoken of to anyone except to Eleanor. One and the same... the riddle that had touched each of their lives in some way. Finally they were quiet.
"Darius knew her too." Eleanor said quietly. It was the first time she had uttered his name since arriving.
Phillip sat up.
"Why am I not surprised," said Methos softly. "I always thought there was some reason we didn't take his head that day... some reason we let him live."
"Tell us... " Phillip encouraged.
"There's not much to tell. I am not a teller of tales like the two of you... as you may well recall! A wandering woman came to the encampment where he grew up and hired him to help her search for a lost sword that she said had belonged to her brother. He found it for her under the earth... he took it from the hands of a man who lay dead but who grabbed at him when he took the sword. He gave it to the woman he knew as Anya and then she gave it back to him. She told him, that as long as he wielded that blade, he would never die. After his first death, he figured it was the sword that made it so."
"So that's where he got that thing!" Phillip said. "Wonder why she gave it to him?"
"He said it was because it had no power over him as it did with most of us. How did you end up with it, Methos?" Eleanor asked. "It was that sword you were carrying when we first met."
"O ro' dred and Nin wanted it in my keeping for a time while they were traveling. I gave it back to them later. I never wanted that thing... but over the years every time I saw it... someone was always offering it to me, asking me if I wanted it." Methos shivered. "I always thought there was too much blood on it!"
"But you used it when you had it!" responded Phillip, nodding in the memory of a certain quickening to which he had been witness.
"Oh yes, it had a very keen edge. It was a very thirsty sword." Methos shivered again. "Do you know where it is now Eleanor?"
She smiled but said nothing.
A wave crashed over them. "We need to head back or we'll be swimming
home!" Phillip said rising. He retrieved his backpack from the edge of
the surf and led the way back to the harbor side of the island. Almost
reluctantly, Methos and Eleanor followed. She almost felt at peace... but
there were still some shadows she needed to deal with... perhaps tonight...
In Mead, There is Memory
"This is a mistake," Eleanor insisted as the three of them stopped not far from Darius' church on the Rue St. Jacques. They were just far enough away that they couldn't feel him, nor could he feel them, they hoped.
"Nonsense... mead is just what we need to polish off this evening!" Phillip insisted.
"What if he's not there?" Edward's voice sounded strangely odd. She was not certain what was going on with him... but she was far too drunk to argue. She really did need to pace herself better during these parties. One of these days, she feared, things could get out of hand. She shook her head, but groaned at the throb of a headache just starting.
"He's always here..." But she knew he wasn't always there... especially at night. Especially when he slipped out for his errands or his research. But that was a secret she had sworn to keep.
"So what's the plan?" Phillip turned to Edward. "You're the problem solver... I just set the agenda..." Beneath his broad brimmed Musketeer's hat his eyes sparkled in amusement.
"If he's there we will insist on the mead... if not..." Edward smiled in the darkness, "I am certain Eleanor knows where he keeps it. Right?"
She nodded reluctantly.
Phillip put out his hand. Edward and Eleanor did the same. "Then we are agreed and together!" he said and all three laughed. Arm in arm in arm... they rushed down and across the street, through the gate and into the church. Ahh... Darius was there! This should be interesting!
Unusually, there were some candles lit and flickering in what should have been a dark church. Darius stood waiting for them before the altar, his hands hidden within the sleeves of his robe, he shook his head patiently as the three of them stormed through the door and up to the chancel rail, laughing drunkenly all the way.
Phillip drew his rapier. "We are here for the mead, Brother! Surrender it or we will not leave!" Then all three of them nearly collapsed in gales of laughter.
"Eleanor... what is this madness... people have been worried about you these last few weeks. And look at you..." he gestured at her, seemingly upset at her male attire as one of the King's Musketeers. "And you two, you are old enough to know better. This behavior is not good for any of you. Go home!"
"Not until you share the mead! Refuse and we will stay for morning mass... and disrupt the service." Edward bowed ever so courteously. The three of them nearly collapsed once more in laughter.
The immortal priest shook his head and let out a deep sigh. "Very well..." He turned and moved something behind the altar and a stone near it moved revealing a hole in the stone floor. "It's in the crypt." He stood to one side and motioned to them.
Phillip was the first one down, practically bounding down the steep stone stairs into the small damp crypt. In the glow of the candlelight he spied three casks on stools immediately. He lifted the oiled cloth over one and sniffed the aroma. "Ahh... mead!"
Edward entered more cautiously. He was not likely so drunk as he would have them believe, Eleanor knew him far too well. Well, she wasn't quite as drunk as she pretended either... not quite. She was the last of the trio to climb down. She knew the way all too well... but they did not need to know that. Darius followed her.
Phillip found some cups laying about and dipped out some of the precious liquid. He sipped. "Good! Oh... oh... oh... Very good!" He refilled the cup and passed it to Edward who drank and held it in his mouth as if trying to recall the last time he had mead. "Excellent!" He passed his cup back to Phillip who decided to play barkeep and began filling all the cups.
When he passed one to Darius, The priest raised a hand to refuse... but Phillip insisted. "It is your mead, after all."
"Nice of you to remember that!" Darius took the cup and slid down the wall to sit on the floor. He sipped at the golden honeyed nectar.
Eleanor found a seat on one of the stone steps. Phillip looked about and flung himself on a pile of rags stacked in a corner.
Edward looked around, "There is nothing to sit on."
Darius smiled, "There is always the floor. Besides I was not expecting guests."
"Well perhaps you should... it has been too long since you drank with us." Phillip groused and downed another cup. "Ahhh!"
"So..." Edward began. "What's tonight's plan... now that we have successfully lifted the mead!" he snorted a bit drunkenly at his turn of phrase.
"Stories... we shall tell stories!" Phillip suggested with a hearty laugh! "He who tells the best story wins the prize! Shall I start?"
The other three groaned. They all knew how he loved to tell stories and that unless curbed, he would go on all night. However, they agreed. If he were telling stories... they could drink the mead. And so the game began.
"A few weeks ago, Eleanor and I met in Normandy. I wanted to give her a refresher course, show her some new moves, work on an appropriate disguise for her," Phillip gestured at Eleanor. "You may have noticed the applied facial hair... took me hours to get that right! Anyway... a most unpleasant fellow immortal accosted us!
"He came riding in at a gallop! He was a boor, I tell you, an absolute boor! After all... who among us would ride into another immortal's camp, leap off his horse, draw his sword and announce 'I am Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod!' without so much as a 'By your leave!'" Phillip sputtered and shook his head. "All Little Sister and I wanted to do was eat a quiet dinner while waiting for you Antoninus... Edward... whatever you call yourself these days. You were late! And this boor of a Highlander interrupted our dinner. What manners!" Phillip filled another cup for himself.
"Perhaps he was very young!" Darius offered.
"Young, yes... but he knew the rules! Trouble was he must have thought he needed to challenge every immortal he met. Good way to lose his head!"
"So what did you do?" Edward asked.
"I agreed to fight him... you should have seen the look on his face when I assumed first position with a pheasant leg bone in my hand instead of a sword! Even Eleanor could not contain her laughter."
"I was trying so hard not to laugh I thought I would fall over. He was just so damned earnest about it. 'You canno' fight me with that!' he said." her imitation of the Scotsman's brogue brought peals of laughter.
"Who is telling this story?" Phillip said sharply, but he smiled at her. "Anyway... I looked down at the bone as if in surprise, shrugged, tossed it to Eleanor and she tossed me my sword. In one pass I disarmed him, had him prone in the dirt, with his sword and mine at his throat. Then I tossed mine back to Eleanor... told him he was rude and took his head." He threw back his head in laughter.
"He's lying..." Eleanor laughed. "The Scotsman made crude remarks about the lack of size of Phillip's rapier as compared to his claymore. Phillip told him it was not the size of the sword but the skill of the swordsman and then he disarmed him... but he didn't take his head."
"Why not?" asked Darius.
"I felt sorry for him... these young ones need guidance. I think he might have just recently been on his own."
"So what happened next?" Edward motioned for another cupful of the mead. "He was still standing when I rode up. I wasn't certain what was going on at that point."
"Ahh..." continued Phillip, "I gave him back his sword and returned to my dinner. When he insisted once more... I let Eleanor have a go at him. I told him my student needed the practice." He slapped his leg and laughed heartily. "Obviously he was no more successful against her than against me. She had him prone in the dirt twice before you got there. When you paused at the edge of the glade I dismissed her to join you. You really should have joined us and met him instead of riding off with her."
"I tend to avoid meeting young immortals as often as I can. There can be too many unforseen consequences. Besides... I am not always certain these games of yours with them are for the best."
"At any rate, after you two left, I asked the Highlander to join me around the fire. I think he finally got the message."
"And what message was that?" Darius asked.
"Why, not to automatically attack every one of us he sees. It would get him killed... but it was the expression on his face after he asked me how long the boy had been my student that I played the trump card!"
"And what trump card was that... that he was a she?" smirked Edward, remembering the rather lusty kiss he had planted on Eleanor when she had raced over to greet him.
"Oh no..." Phillip chuckled, " That secret I kept... It was that I'd had the same student for almost eight hundred years but that he still had much to learn." Phillip's laughter had taken on a teasing tone and he saluted Eleanor with his mead.
"The next morning I taught him a few moves... and sent him on his way so I could rejoin you two and we could get on with our party."
"Must mean you thought you saw something about him you liked." murmured Darius.
"His style reminded me of Ramirez."
"Do you think he was Ramirez' last student? asked Eleanor.
"Nah... too young! But maybe a student of a student! Anyway... I have more fun beating opponents than taking heads these days... it all gets rather old hat... so who's next."
"I'll go," said Methos sipping thoughtfully at the mead. He smiled across the crypt at Eleanor, arched his eyebrows and then said to Darius, "Did she ever tell you about what happened at the court of the English king in 1453?"
"No!" groaned Eleanor in mock protest "not that tale." She hung her head sheepishly. "Please not that one... will I never live that down?"
"What happened," asked Darius, amusement showing in his twinkling eyes.
"Ohh... Little Sister was in fine form..." interjected Phillip.
"Do you mind?" Methos tossed the empty cup to Phillip for a refill. "I did not interrupt you during your story."
Phillip indicated he would be quiet as he refilled the mead cup.
"We three had decided to get into the tower of London and steal one of the jewels there... a great worthless crystal that had somehow ended up in the collection."
"Why a worthless crystal?" asked Darius, but Eleanor saw he was thinking of something. She knew him well enough that she thought she could tell when he was trying to get information out of someone. But Edward was not an easy man to get information from.
"Because it was big and worthless and I didn't think anyone would miss it! Now may I continue..." They nodded for him to do so.
"Anyway... we were on one of the galleries overlooking the hall where there were musicians playing a madrigal and couples dancing and courtiers bowing and people being polite. In the warm glow of the torches, tapestries fluttered on the walls. The smells of roast boar and fine wine filled the air... It was an English court." He shrugged as if that were all to say about it. "We were in our guise as Lord and Lady Gray and her brother the Earl of Madison." Edward bowed his head slightly to Eleanor and a brief smile passed between them. "We were overlooking the scene and getting our bearings."
"That's when the young popinjay showed up," Phillip could hardly contain himself. He dipped out another cup of mead, knocked over the empty cask and sat on the stool.
"My story... mine!" Edward insisted.
"Oh all right!" Phillip leaned against the wall and crossed his ankles. "But get to the good part. We don't need all this thoughtful construction of events and description of the court. You take entirely too much time to get to the point!"
Edward sighed, "Oh very well...We felt him enter the dance floor and like a fool he stopped and looked around... desperately trying to locate us."
"He was so funny looking!" Eleanor laughed, "I felt sorry for him. His eyes traveled all over the court and he jerked around as he tried to locate just where we were. Finally he happened to look up and saw me smiling down at him." Eleanor batted her eyes.
"Who is supposed to be telling this story?"
"Fine... tell it!" Eleanor snorted.
"Phillip and I had moved back so he wouldn't see us. Eleanor smiled down at him and indicated to us that she would take care of him. After all, we didn't want to leave any witnesses to our activities behind. We had to be certain of who he was and what he wanted. We felt she was best equipped to deal with him. With our backup, of course!"
Darius nodded, "Of course!"
"We followed her as she met with him in a deserted hallway. He flirted, she slapped his face and pulled her knife. She had him against the wall when we joined her to flank him on either side.
"'My lords, my lady,' he said, 'there is no call for this... it was a harmless flirtation. I shall withdraw!'
"I told him too late, he had seen our faces! He offered to help us in any way he could. to make a long story short...We agreed and decided to use him as lookout and foil if we ran in to any problems. Of course he thought he was actually joining in our activities."
"So what was so horrible that Eleanor did?" Darius' question suddenly brought peals of laughter and guffaws from the other two men. Eleanor lowered her face into her hands and shook her head. She knew her face was red.
"After we had stolen the crystal, and just before we parted company, Little Sister pulled her knife and warned the fool if he ever so much as mentioned any of us to anyone...ever... she would know of it and would remove an important appendage." Phillip interjected at last.
"His head?" Darius shrugged.
Again the men howled in laughter. "Well, at the time, her knife was pointing just a little bit further down." Edward commented. Suddenly Phillip and Edward both crossed their legs and looked meaningfully at Darius.
"It was an accident... I swear!" Eleanor wished the floor would open up and swallow her. "The knife slipped... I didn't mean to stab him."
Darius looked at her and arched his eyebrows. Then he threw back his head and laughed heartily.
"Well at least he healed." Edward said at long last. "But I don't think he will ever get that close to an immortal female again. And I don't think he will ever mention us to anyone."
"Who was this immortal?" Darius wanted to know, finally regaining his composure.
"Hugh Fitz...? What was that name?" Phillip shook his head. "No matter... we just called him Fitz after that." And Phillip and Edward convulsed once more in laughter!
"That's not fair you two. Both of your stories make fun of me."
"No..." Phillip chuckled while refilling his cup and looking to see who else needed a refill. "We were having fun at the green ones' expense... and you just happened to have been part of it. Now who's next?"
"Perhaps I should go next," Darius grinned suddenly. "Did I ever tell you Eleanor how I met these two?"
"No... well at least I won't be in this one! Or will I... You did know them long before I showed up here didn't you."
"I was very young and very much like these new ones they love to make fun of. This will be a story on me." Darius smiled and shrugged. "Call it my gift to you this evening, to repay you for telling them about the mead."
Eleanor tossed her cup to Phillip for a refill. This had better be good!
"I was an earnest young warrior... I had been immortal perhaps one hundred years or so. I was very good in battle... very intense and focused. I moved across the battlefield hacking and slashing my way through mortals as if they were only sheep to be slaughtered."
"This doesn't sound promising," Edward said tossing his cup to Phillip. "We don't want serious stories."
"Ahh... but it gets better as you well recall..." Darius also tossed Phillip his cup for a refill. When he had it, he continued, "In the middle of a battle, I realized an immortal stood before me." He gestured at Phillip. "He was slaying mortals as if he were bored with the whole process... he was a skilled warrior. He moved his sword as if it were part of him and he seemed to dance in the movement."
"Yes and you were a bloody barbarian!" Phillip broke in. "No skill... just slash and hack... slash and hack."
"My story...?" Darius paused and Phillip lowered his head.
"Where were you Edward?" Eleanor wanted to know.
"On a hillside watching." He shrugged. "I saw no sense in being in the midst of the battle. Too much chance of being killed with all that 'slashing and hacking' going on." He shuddered, then moved one of the mead casks off a stool to sit on it... obviously tired of the cold damp floor.
"Are you quite through interrupting!" asked Darius. "Now then... where was I... oh yes... this strange and very skilled immortal looked at me, sliced another mortal in half and suggested we go elsewhere to conclude our business."
"No... no... no... you left out a part!" Phillip sat up suddenly.
"I did not... I'm getting to it. I decided to run him through but he swiftly disarmed me and walked off to the hillside carrying my sword. Since I was in the midst of a battle without a weapon... I thought I should follow him. At least out of the way of the battle we could conduct our affairs in secret. Along the way I picked up another sword... but I wanted mine back." Darius paused to take another sip of his mead.
"When we got to the hilltop I met... Antoninus." Darius gestured at Edward. "He eyed me warily. Phillip suggested we wait until the battle ended so I joined them for a drink. One drink led to another... By the time the battle was over, we parted and went our separate ways. And... I had my sword back!" Darius smiled and sat back looking satisfied.
Eleanor was ready to hit him, "How? No one obviously took anyone's head?"
He winked at the other two men, who were chuckling in their mead, "Who is to say I did not take their heads and they are figments of the mind?"
Eleanor tossed her cup at him. "What happened?"
"See gentlemen, you have to leave them wanting more... leave something to the imagination... that's what makes it a good story!"
"We decided," said Edward, "that he would make a worthy addition to our group and he partied on and off with us until his life here took over. When he stopped leaving this," Edward gestured about the crypt, "to join us... we tried to join him here a few times but nothing was ever the same. Until tonight!" Edward raised his cup to Darius and smiled.
The three men chuckled at whatever they were remembering and Eleanor felt totally left out. She grumbled, only slightly peeved. "I do not know why I put up with you three old men..."
At that they looked at her and laughed riotously once more. Once they finally settled down once more they each grinned at her and with one voice whooped, "Your turn!" That caused another fit of laughter from them as if, once again, they were recalling another time...another party... another joke to which she was not a party.
She shook her head. Story telling was just not something she wanted to do, nor could she do it well. But there was something she wanted. "I want to dance! My story is in the dance." She stood in the center of the crypt and began stepping and twirling. Edward had earlier located a small lute near where he was sitting and now began playing it, tuning strings as he did so. Eleanor stopped. Something was not quite right.
She tossed the plumed hat into the corner then looked down. "Boots... I need these boots off..." She hopped on one foot and removed the huge boot and threw it in a corner. Then did the same with the other. Her stocking clad feet wriggled on the stone floor. Ahh... that was better. She tried to twirl and step again. She stopped to remove her sword and buckle, and then ripped off the doublet and coat, pulling loose her white shirt so that it flowed about her. "Better and better," she thought. "Just one more thing..." She pulled off the fake mustache and goatee that had taken Phillip hours to apply to her face, wadded it into a ball and tossed it with her other things. Now she was ready! She nodded at Edward, squared her shoulders and began to dance.
After the first tune ended and she moved into the next, she pulled at Darius' hands. "Dance with me... you never dance with me anymore."
"I do not dance Eleanor."
"Ohh... you dance... you do not dance well... but you dance!" She pulled insistently and he rose and tried to join in the dance, a bit awkwardly. Soon he was moving at her side as if he had always done so.
Suddenly Eleanor screamed and jumped up onto the stone stair... she pointed at something scurrying in the corner along the wall. "Rat! ... Rat! ... Rat!"
Edward and Phillip laughed at that point. Darius met her gaze solemnly. For them the mood had broken.
"What's wrong with the rat?" finally asked Phillip wiping tears of laughter from his eyes.
"Plague." she answered huddling on the stairs. "During the plague they were everywhere."
Darius re-seated himself by the wall.
"Now which plague would that be," Edward sounded suddenly bored as if he had seen it all already and there was nothing new.
"THE plague," Eleanor shivered. Then she walked over to replace her boots and re-don her coat, doublet and hat. She picked up the sword. She did not want to talk about the plague. She did not want to remember the plague! She opened her coin purse and tossed the rune stone into the middle of the floor.
"I am out of this game, and I am leaving, now! You three compete for the prize!" And with that, she left without a backward glance. She did not want to recall the plague!
The following morning, Eleanor carefully tiptoed through the church and peeked down into the open crypt. Darius was there... cleaning up after last evening's frivolity. She was dressed once more as a woman... a healer and midwife to the poor in the area. She lifted slightly the full grey skirt and peered out from beneath the wimple that was the style of the day for midwives and gentleladies.
He looked up at her and shook his head, then righted one of the small stools that had been casually tossed in a corner. "I expected you hours ago," he murmured.
"I am sorry... I needed to check on some of my charges before..." she shrugged, then offered her apology. "I did not mean to tell them about the mead. I was drunk and it just slipped out. Before I knew what was happening..."
"You would think after all this time you would know better than to get caught up in their escapades." His voice was stern, but she caught the barest hint of humor in it and then as he turned Eleanor thought she saw his elusive smile.
"Well... " she said meekly, beginning to descend the stairs, "we only do this once a century... give or take a few years. And Phillip says it is a counterpoint to the Sturm und Drang that is often our lives."
"Phillip would not know Sturm und Drang if it attacked him. He never has. At least not in the over fifteen hundred years I have known him."
By this time Eleanor had reached the floor of the crypt and joined her friend in setting things to rights. She reached down to pick up a tossed cup and carefully placed it on the shelf with the others. She glanced at the stub of candle, then she smiled.
"You meant for me to tell them. That is why you showed me the mead and gave me just a taste of it last month, when I told you I had heard from them." She faced him and crossed her arms. "You knew! You had three casks ready and four mugs, you had candles lit... you planned this. Why you old faker! I should have seen through you last night."
Darius shrugged and smiled but said nothing. He picked up one of the empty casks and tossed it to her. "Will you be helping me to gather fresh honey?"
She deftly caught the cask and nodded, "But you did... you keep refusing to come with us all these years, but you figured out a way to rejoin the party... on your own terms... even if for only a single night."
"Perhaps." He picked up the two remaining casks and started toward the stone stairs to the church.
Something else suddenly occurred to Eleanor. "Who won the prize after I left... who has the runestone?" But Darius said nothing as he climbed the stairs.
"You are like that old spider in the web over there," she called after him, "You sit here and weave your web and catch us all in the threads of your plans. One day you will pounce and that will be the end of us all."
"You are entirely too imaginative Eleanor... such things you say! Now come on, I need to close the crypt."
"I could fight them you know... I probably could not beat either of them... but I could fight them. If they challenged me I could defend myself. But you... against you I have no defenses. I am already caught in the web."
Darius laughed as he disappeared into the church, "Are you coming?"
Eleanor spared a remaining glance at the old spider, "Keep your secrets
old one... someday I will figure out all the answers." Then she followed
Darius up the stairs and into the church.
|The Book of Darius
(This page last updated 08/10/2003)