Subdued, the immortals retreated from the rising tide and headed left around the shore to return to the village and the villa.
"You know," Phillip commented, "it was taking this pathway in here that set my remaining in this place into action."
"Not this story again..." groaned Methos.
Eleanor laughed and splashed some of the tidewater onto Phillip. "You do tend to go on and on about those days sometimes."
"Well... sometimes the oldest memories are the best ones... sometimes in them are the greatest truths. And sometimes..." he suddenly threw back his head and laughed, "they are the only ones we clearly remember."
"Speak for yourself!" Methos growled mockingly. But even his mood had lightened. He winked at Eleanor and smiled. For all three of them, the journey to the cove had, as Phillip had hoped, lightened each of their burdens a little.
"Now we can party tonight and hoist a tall one for all our absent friends!" Phillip suddenly called out and began to trot ahead of them with a lighter step than he had had since Eleanor had arrived. Perhaps he had needed her here after all.
Phillip's joy was evident in their dinner that night. He had dismissed his servants early and cooked the food himself, as he once had always done. "I should have been a chef in one life," he said twirling his knives expertly in his hands and making precise cuts in the meat and expertly chopping vegetables. "Yes... perhaps I should have been a chef!"
"A chef, whose specialty is fire-roasted game and stolen produce," smirked Methos and ducked as Phillip flicked onions at him with his knife.
Sitting atop a nearby counter, Eleanor watched the playful banter of her friends and realized it was no longer the forced geniality of last night. Phillip's enthusiasm seemed more genuine and Methos... well her old teacher had dropped that icy exterior and really did seem to her to be loosening up a bit. She crossed her legs and took a sip of some of Phillip's wine.
"Did you make the wine, too?"
"Of course... did I ever tell you I was a priest of Bacchus once?" He returned to his preparations. Some Greek music played on the sound system in the background.
"First time we three were together," she said with a smile, "but tell me again anyway. Besides, you never told me all the tales. There were some things you left out..."
So Phillip launched into tales of wine... orgies... and parties to rival even theirs.
After dinner, Methos and Eleanor helped with the cleanup before retiring with their host to the terrace. Once more, Eleanor curled up on the chaise so she could more easily observe the others in their light-hearted arguments about everything... everything, but what they really wanted to discuss.
Finally, it was Eleanor that brought it up. "To absent friends...!" she raised her wineglass soberly. The others followed suit... then one by one they gave the names of all the immortal friends they once had had... complete with stories. Friends who were dead... friends who were no longer friends... enemies who had become a part of them... They named them all... especially those whose memories they held within. Eleanor contributed hers... "For O ro' dred who searched for death but found love... for Nin who gave her life for that love... for Kritis who gave his life for the future... for Kae Dhun..." her voice faltered. "For Kae Dhun whose rage taught me patience and strength." But that was as far as she could go. The one she most needed to acknowledge... she still couldn't. Not yet... not yet!
Her friends had closure... she had only the same emptiness she had had for ten years. Her answers lay further back.
Later she went to bed, still lost in memory. And, as Phillip had said
on the return journey... "Sometimes it is in our oldest memories where
we find the truth."
After Darkness, Comes the Dawn
Black smoke from the funeral pyres blocked out the sun as surely as if it were night. To Eleanor, there seemed to be no end to them. Added to the stench of the rotting corpses and the sickening odor of charred flesh from the pyres, throughout the city was the filth of un-swept garbage, the overflow of the Paris sewer from too many blocked drains and the rats... everywhere there were the rats.
They gnawed at the dead and ran brazenly over the feet of the living. They had no fear, as if they were the immortals who would live forever. Glancing around her at the heap of bodies already piled at the church steps awaiting pickup, Eleanor could well believe the world was ending.
Soon there would be no one left but the few immortals that were themselves immune to this Black Death and the rats. If the Game continued... it would be the rats that would inherit the earth. She shuddered at the thought.
Behind her, Darius slowly approached. They did not age, these immortals, but both of them felt as though they had aged a thousand years in the past few months since the plague had begun. And there was no end in sight. There was only death, disease and despair.
Eleanor shuddered once more... so close to weeping she thought that if she started, she would never stop. Right now, the dying needed her, and there were so many of them. If she lost her composure for even a moment, how many would die in despair, without her there to ease their passing.
"Eleanor... perhaps you should rest." As always, Darius knew what to say. He always knew just what it was she needed to hear. "You will be no good to any of them unless you rest."
"Will it never end?"
"I have seen plague before, although never so deadly. It will end, and the world will go on as if this pestilence never was. In years to come, we alone will remember how truly horrible it was. We will remember through all our long years."
All about them lay the bodies of the dead and the dying. A few people, who were not yet so very sick, helped... but for the most part... it was up to the two of them. And there were no medicines... no magic cure... no old knowledge that would help ease the suffering of the mortals of this world. There were only the two of them... immune to its deadly effects... caught in the moment and doomed to relive it forever.
Eleanor could no longer bear it. She covered her eyes with her hands and wept for all the children, for all the parents, for all the lovers, and for all the brothers and sisters of this world whom she could not help. But most of all, she wept for herself and for Darius who would remain caught as they were for all time.
Her shoulders shook and she was so very, very tired. She thought she would never see the sunshine, or feel a soft spring breeze, or smell new mown hay again. The world had become a dull colorless blob of gray. There was no tomorrow.
"Eleanor," Darius whispered. "Even the darkest night can be defeated by the lighting of a single candle. We who have such long lives must be that candle for all who are lost in despair."
Slowly, Darius put his arm about her shoulders in comfort. She trusted him, probably more than she trusted anyone. He had become the strong moral center of her being. He was her rock... the eye of the storm. She turned toward him and finally let all the despair she was feeling flow into her tears and she sobbed fully and completely.
Darius held her, as he would any grieving child. He kissed her forehead and murmured in her ear, "Rest, and find peace." He led her over to some wooden benches stacked against the wall and the two of them sat down on one. He continued to hold her. She lay within his gentle embrace seeking the peace that had somehow always eluded her. Finally she slept.
When morning came, there were still funeral pyres and the stench of the dead. There was still the tolling of the hand bells calling for the dead to be brought out. There was still the dying who moaned about them on the church floor. And they were still there... sitting on the wooden bench against the wall... their moment of respite was over.
With a deep sigh, both immortals rose and returned to their task at hand... easing the passage of the dying into a world they themselves would most likely never see. Yet the night's rest had given both of them, if not a lighter step, then at least a surer one.
Eventually, the plague would end. The sick would get better. The dead
would vanish from sight. The sun would shine once more on a world filled
with flowers and bright blue skies and the sounds of children's laughter.
Yes, the world would go on and so would they. But they would never forget...
they would always remember.
Behind the Mask
Eleanor threw herself into the dance. All about her the gypsy band clapped and stomped in appreciation of her movements. Perhaps when the Feast of Fools was over, she would leave Paris with them... it was time to see other parts of Europe... she had likely been in Paris too long.
But the cathedral was complete! She had seen it through to the end. Edward had told her it would be a great thing to observe. Well she had done it. Now it was time to move on.
Whatever tune they played... she danced in jubilation... joy without words... and laughed until she could laugh no more. With one last outburst... she stepped the final two steps of the dance as the music rose to its climax. She bowed, tossing her black hair, loose on her shoulders for a change... and bedecked with ribbons. She had adopted the gypsy dress for the Feast of Fools... her face hidden behind the half mask with its feathers. No one would know who she was... she had never danced in public here... but she wanted her dance to be a part of this grand celebration!
Even as she bowed, she felt the presence of another. Careful to betray no sign that she was the immortal the other must also feel, she twirled once more about the bonfire, her smiling green eyes taking in the faces of those on the edges of the fire-lit square. In the shadows off to one side, casually leaning against a wall with his arms crossed was a form she thought she recognized. Her eyes took in his peasant's garb and the mask that covered his face. She couldn't be certain...
"Ah Marie... you dance with such abandon." Rudolpho, the gypsy leader laughed. "You make us all glad..." Laughter erupted from several of the others.
Eleanor turned to Rudolpho and smiled, "Then I will dance the night away... play on good friends... play on." She grabbed the hands of Anna, Rudolpho's wife and swung her into the dance with her. Once more she stepped to the music... trying desperately to teach someone else the steps that came so easily to her. But Anna could not manage it... she slapped her hands over her chest and laughed... so out of breath she began to cough.
"I cannot do this dance!"
Eleanor flung her arms about the woman and leaned into her whispering, "Who is that one over against the wall? I have not seen him here before."
Anna glanced over to where the peasant was standing, her eyes widened. "We are blessed this night. For it is likely Frère Jacques."
"'Tis said he was a worker on the cathedral. No one knows quite who he is. But he works by day and by night it is said he wanders all of Paris, seeking the worthy to whom he can give his day's wages or food or comfort. 'Tis said to see him is to know he considers you worthy."
Eleanor grinned. "Then I will ask him to dance." Coyly, swinging her short gypsy skirt ever so slightly Eleanor walked over to Frère Jacques and smiled.
He did not move... but she thought she could see amusement in the familiar eyes that peered out from the mask.
She held out one hand as the music began again.
He shook his head... but she was not to be denied. She grasped on to his hands and pulled him into the light of the bonfire and began to dance about him.
Around her, the others joined in their urging of the dance. Their clapping rose with the beat. Finally he began to step with her... awkwardly and a bit uncertain... but he knew the steps. She was certain of it. The longer the dance went on... the more at ease in it he became. Finally as the music ended, she was close against him. She smiled at him behind her own mask, fully trusting the next move to him.
He leaned down and kissed her... Eleanor almost gasped at the intensity of that kiss! She felt herself surrender to the passion of the moment. His arms went about her as the intensity heightened. She felt herself lifted up slightly into the air and then set carefully down once more. Then he stepped back, turned and vanished into the crowd.
Rudolpho grabbed her. "You have his love child... you have his heart!" He spun her about and the music began again. All Eleanor wanted to do was follow the retreating figure... but he was already lost to her in the crowd.
"She has had a kiss from Frère Jacques!" someone cried out... La belle Marie has had a kiss!" And the crowd clapped and the music soared, and Eleanor felt that her heart would break if she could not follow him then and there.
At the hospital the following morning, Darius was already moving among the last of the patients. Soon they would close this facility down and he would be spending more time at the recently completed parish on the other side of the Seine.
Eleanor watched him a long time. Her feelings still in turmoil. What exactly had happened last night? If it were him... Why did he leave? Even more... why had he been there? Darius looked up at her and smiled. But there was no sign of any of what she thought she had seen in the crowd last night.
"You are late this morning, " he chided her gently, but she could here some amusement in his voice. He was teasing her.
"The party went on most of the night."
"So I gather."
Eleanor sat watching him scrub down some planks. Finally she ventured, "Did you attend?"
"Why would I attend?"
"I just thought you might have been there... I felt one of us in the crowd."
"Hmmm..." He continued his task without a moment's hesitation.
"I think I am in love... is that a sin?" she finally asked.
"Love is never a sin... it just is." He glanced up at her but again... there was nothing in his face that admitted to her that it had been him the night before. Then he shrugged and smiled that little mysterious smile of his and she knew.
Eleanor sat back on the bench... perhaps there was a reason to remain in Paris after all... perhaps. After all... even if there was the reality of day... there was still the mystery of the night... and there was the Feast of Fools every year. He might not always vanish into the crowd. She smiled at him and then rose to see to some of the patients.
Yes... perhaps she would not leave this place after all as she had planned.
Given time... all things were possible. With almost a skip in her step...
Eleanor turned to the task at hand.
|The Book of Darius
(This page last updated 08/10/2003)