Highlander: Who Wants to Live Forever?
by elle nora'
~What is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul~
Matthew 13:26, KJV
Duncan MacLeod leaned on the railing of the schooner Clara Barstow, and watched as the cliffs of Le Havre came into sight. He was home... or at least... he had returned to Europe... and the continent of his earlier lives. Duncan MacLeod was one of a race of men and women... who were immortal... they could not die... unless someone cut off their heads in what they called... for want of a better term... "the game."
To anyone noticing him, Duncan appeared to be about thirty years of age... which he had been when he'd died in battle in 1622... only to revive and be cast out of his village by his father. He'd wandered unaware of what he was until a mythological kinsman from his grandfather's time had shown up and taught him all about immortals... and the game. Duncan's appearance now was that of a modern businessman. His dark hair was neatly cut, and curled about his forehead. His deep brown eyes took in everything he saw... missing nothing. He was well dressed... evidently wealthy... and a gentleman. In his tall stovetop hat, he appeared to be even taller than his six foot one inch frame. His gentleman's clothing did hide the fact that beneath it... was the iron-hard and well-muscled body of a warrior... a fighter... a man of action. Currently... he carried a walking stick, inside of which was stout rapier. The katana he preferred to use in challenges... was carefully wrapped and with his belongings for the trip across the channel. It would never be far... but in this day and age... it was increasingly more difficult to openly carry a sword.
He'd left Europe in 1817 for the Americas in hope of finding a land where old hatreds and prejudices did not run so deep... where there were not so many immortals. He could still recall the odd look on his friend Darius' face when Duncan had told him that. "I would not rob you of that hope," the immortal priest had said, as if he understood something that Duncan did not... that wherever men were... hatred still existed... and that immortals were found everywhere... even in the jungles of Peru... or in the untamed wilderness of the American west. Darius had once been a general... but had been a priest in Paris for almost fourteen hundred years... he was the oldest immortal Duncan had ever met... and a remarkable man whose calm presence had made an effect on the warrior Duncan had been. Darius had asked him to consider peace... rather than war... and while Duncan was not yet ready to entirely forsake the game... Darius' words had touched him deeply.
Although the new land had been broad and vastly under-populated as compared to Europe... Darius had been right. Wherever he had gone... Duncan MacLeod had found that things were much the same everywhere. He'd found men engaged in acts of pettiness and barbarity. New prejudices and new hatreds replaced old ones... or the old ones were imported into the new land. And... he'd found immortals. He'd faced a few... killed a few... and his life went on. While all around him... the mortals he came to know... aged and died. Nothing was different.
He'd returned to the British Isles in 1833... eager to see once more the lands of his birth. He'd planned on traveling north to Scotland... but he'd never made it. His identity as a businessman had kept him busy in London. Now it was that same business that took him once more to France. And in France was Paris... and in Paris... was... he hoped... Darius.
Behind him on the deck, Duncan could sense the small tingle of the pre-immortal Abigail Martin. He'd met her and her uncle, Joshua Martin in Boston before he'd left the states, seven years ago. Abigail had been nineteen at that time, dark-haired, dark-eyed, with a heart-shaped face and a cupid's bow of a mouth that Duncan doubted had ever touched a man's. Quiet and retiring, Abigail was a shy young woman with a gentle smile and soft voice. When Duncan stood next to her... he felt like a giant.
Abigail and Joshua Martin were Quakers. They'd left Boston on the same ship as MacLeod for London and he'd gotten to know them on the journey over. Abigail would walk between the two of them... one gloved hand lightly on each man's arm... and laugh demurely at their comments. There were no other immortals aboard the ship... so Duncan... out of respect for the Martins' Quaker beliefs... had refrained from carrying his sword about the ship. For most of the journey across the Atlantic... Duncan felt a great deal of peace... as if immortality and the game were only nightmares... which could not intrude here.
And... Duncan found himself drawn to Abigail... He began to wonder if it were at all possible for an immortal to have a life with a pre-immortal woman, which did not end in murder and betrayal. His memories of Kate Devaney and what he'd done to her still haunted him. She had not forgiven him... and he'd made no effort to find her in the intervening years, accepting that he'd likely made the biggest mistake of his life in first marrying her and then taking her life... making her immortal. Now... Duncan was faced with another pre-immortal woman... one for whom he also felt desire and perhaps the beginnings of love. He'd determined to keep his distance... he had not expected to see the Martins once they arrived in England.
Then everything had changed.
During a storm at sea, Joshua Martin died. A frightened and fragile Abigail had clung to Duncan in the aftermath... mourning the loss of her only living relative.
"He took me in when my parents died of the fever," she'd whimpered to Duncan's chest as she sobbed. "He raised me... educated me... cared for me as if I were his own. He wanted so to see Europe and spread the word of our beliefs... What do I do now?"
Duncan had remained silent as they'd stood on the deck and watched Joshua Martin's shrouded body committed to the deep. He had no words for Abigail. What could he tell her... that one day, she might find herself having to fight for her life in the game of the immortals. No... he would tell her nothing. And... he swore to himself that he would protect her. No matter what she wanted or where she went... he would protect her.
So... he'd remained in London... a frequent visitor at the home of some Quaker friends of Joshua Martin... a couple who took Abigail in when she first arrived. Duncan had found the Quaker services to which Abigail took him, strange.
"I was raised a Catholic," he'd explained to Abigail. "I doubt I should ever feel really comfortable."
Abigail had nodded, her cupid's bow mouth parted slightly, "Tis a hard thing, Mr. Duncan MacLeod, to live a plain life."
That had been seven years ago. Now Duncan was headed to France... and as was Abigail. Oh not together... nor as a couple... simply as friends. Abigail seemed as unaware of her of her effect upon him as she was of her own beauty. He was simply "Mr. Duncan MacLeod... my uncle's friend" whenever she introduced him to other Quakers. For his part... Duncan had thought it for the best. Her life might be hard enough as it was... without his fears of being tempted to kill her before her time. She was alone, she was an orphan, and she was blissfully unaware of the dark underbelly of life... or of immortals.
During her years in London, she'd studied French, German and Italian. "My uncle had hoped to journey to the continent and spread the word. I shall do so in his place," she'd announced one evening. "To that end... I am learning languages." Though he feared for her, Duncan had helped her with her studies.
"I am familiar with Paris and will be going there soon on business. You can accompany me there. I shall see that you are properly situated." He feared what might happen to her if she went to Paris alone. There were always too many immortals in Paris. But that being said... there was also Darius. Duncan wanted to introduce her to the immortal priest... if he were still in Paris... and get his assessment of what Duncan needed to do about Abigail Martin. After what had happened with Kate... he feared to talk with Connor about Abigail... he knew what Connor would say... and yet... he did not wish to simply walk away from her either. If she died... she would need him.
Abigail leaned on the rail beside him, her dark eyes, surrounded by long dark, thick lashes, shining as she gazed at the cliffs. "It's beautiful," she murmured. "Is all France so beautiful?" The wind whipped about so that the ribbons on her plain gray bonnet tangled in the wind... and her cheeks were reddened. She clutched her heavy cloak tightly about her and attempted to keep the hooped skirt of her grey gown from rising up in the wind.
"Much of it is," Duncan smiled, "but as with all countries... there are also sad and horrible sights."
"When were you last here?"
"Oh... a few years before we met." Duncan knew better than to say when. Already he felt Abigail might already be noticing that he hadn't really changed in the last seven years. He likely needed to tell her something... but he wished to discuss his options first with Darius. At least the priest didn't know about Kate, or what Duncan had done to her... at least he didn't think so.
"You must have been a very young man."
Duncan chuckled. "Yes... I was." And he had been young... or at least younger. Indeed... the first time he'd come to France in 1634... he'd still been in what he might have called his first life. He'd only recently left Connor's tutelage to strike out on his own. He'd taken his first head... and he was "in the game." Unfortunately... being on his own was not as easy as he'd first thought. But... in just over two hundred years... he'd learned... he'd learned. Smiling at the eager fresh face of Abigail Martin... Duncan could not help but wonder if she would survive to see even one hundred years.
Two days later... they arrived by coach in Paris. After settling Abigail into an inn to rest after their journey...Duncan headed off on foot toward the old city... toward the Rue St. Jacques... toward Darius' church... eager to see if his friend was still there. Less than a block away, Duncan felt the familiar tingle of an immortal and smiled. Slowly he approached the church grounds, smiling as he passed through the gate and onto the property.
Darius was around back in the small cemetery... weeding the plots. He glanced up as Duncan approached and gave him a smile and a wave. The tall, brown-haired, rail-thin monk wiped his muddy hands on his robes and stood to welcome his former student.
"Duncan," he said holding out a hand. When Duncan clasped it, emotion and an overwhelming sense of relief passed through the Highlander. At that moment he realized how worried he'd been that Darius would not have been here... that he would have moved on... or worse... that he would died. Duncan's handshake became a hug. Then he stood back slightly red-faced.
"Sorry... I was just glad you were here," he mumbled.
"Where else would I be?" There was still that amusing tone of teasing in Darius' words... as if he were saying more than was immediately apparent. "How was America?" Darius turned to gather his garden implements to re-stow them and then lead the way into his quarters within the church itself.
"Beautiful and raw and untamed... and... much the same as here," Duncan finally admitted. "How did you know?"
"You are not the only one of my students who travels, you know." Darius winked. "Did you make it into South America? I hear the jungles there are fascinating!"
"I did... and found the remnants of old civilizations and indications that our kind were there... long ago."
Duncan laughed. "Oh Darius... I have missed our conversations. You always make me think you know the answers to everything."
"Do I?" The priest smiled. He washed his hands in a bowl of water and dried them. "Would you like some tea?"
Duncan gave the priest a guarded look. Sometimes he wondered about the odd taste of some of the teas Darius brewed... but he hadn't the nerve to say much. "No... thank you... perhaps later."
"If you don't mind..." Darius set a kettle of water on the small brazier and then settled into a chair, steepling his fingers before him... "Now then, my young friend, what worries you so?"
Duncan paced uneasily about the cell. "What makes you think I'm worried about anything." He picked up a rock... noting the carvings on one side... reminiscent of some he'd seen in Peru... and then set it down.
Darius said nothing... merely waited.
Finally Duncan sighed deeply and turned to face his mentor. "I need your advice. I've met a young woman... she's one of us... or will be... I care for her... I don't know what to do."
A small smile crossed Darius' lips as he nodded his head. "Perhaps you should tell me everything."
Duncan pulled up a chair to explain about Abigail. An hour later, having finished... and having endured at least two cups of some strange tea, Duncan sat back and waited.
"Loving one of us is never easy Duncan. I have friends who try it. What you are essentially asking is if you should take this young woman's life... am I correct?"
Duncan felt his face redden... thoughts of Kate crossed his mind... he hadn't mentioned Kate.
"Ahh... I see..."
Duncan looked up sharply.
Darius smiled. "You have been down this path before and did not find it pleasing." When Duncan nodded, the priest continued. "Even if you had asked me this fifteen hundred years ago... long before I came to this place... I would have told you the same thing. No. I would not bring her into our world if she could have a chance for a normal life."
"But if I love her?" Duncan insisted.
"Then you have to let her go, my friend. Tell me... Do you think she would be the type to be able to handle our lives? Consider that."
"No... and she's a small woman... I fear she'd be an easy mark for any of us."
"And that is the reason you must let her go. Tell her nothing... not even of yourself... nor what might be possible for her. If it should happen on its own... although there is no guarantee of that... then it happens... Only then should you step forward to help her."
"But she'll grow old and die!"
Darius smiled. "And is that a bad thing?" When Duncan gave him an odd look, Darius continued. "Some of us die too young or too old to survive in the game. Some of us... especially some of the modern females... are too gentle to face the lives most of us lead. For these... what course of action should we follow? Where should they go... what should they do to survive? Should they survive?" Darius threw up his hands. "I would not force anyone into this immortal life... and it is not fair for her to even know of its possibilities less she hunger for it. Remember Duncan... in the end it is said there can be only one of us to remain. If that is so... then making her immortal is likely a death sentence twice over."
"But the possibilities... " Duncan began.
"And what happened to the other young woman you so longed to hold forever in a single moment? I ask you that," Darius said sadly. "Did she thank you? Did she remain with you even a single year?"
"Not even the night," Duncan finally admitted. "But what if I explained to Abigail..."
"Again... I say no." Darius leaned forward thoughtfully, clasping his hands before him. "Those who know... sometimes they don't come back. It is best to leave them be."
Duncan stared. "What?"
"When I was a young man... my first teacher told me of a pre-immortal he'd once taught. He'd lavished training and knowledge on him. Teaching the young man to become the most perfect warrior he could be. Getting him ready... and... when my teacher felt the moment was right... when his student was at a stage of physical perfection and his greatest strength... he killed him."
"And the point?"
Darius shrugged, "My teacher told me he simply died. Expecting his re-birth... prepared for his death and the glorious new life which awaited him... his young student did not experience the shock of death... and merely died. His immortality was not triggered. He told me this," Darius pointed at Duncan, "to explain why it was important we watch them... watch over them... befriend them if possible... but leave them be. If they are meant to join us... they will. If not..." Darius smiled, "then they may well be the lucky ones. Who knows what happens to all the untriggered quickenings of those who die and are not reborn?"
Duncan sat thoughtfully back in his chair. Finally he looked up to meet Darius' blue-grey eyes... like chips of granite... twinkling in amusement regarding him. "Duncan chuckled, "Would you meet her?"
Darius nodded as he picked up the teapot, poured fresh tea for himself and offered to a declining Duncan. "Of course... Bring her around someday soon. I am always happy for guests."
With that... their conversation turned to other things... news of immortals they both knew... the politics of the day... and chess.