by Laura Mason
This story is based on a legend told to me by my 'net friend, Kai.
He couldn't sleep. He didn't know why.
MacLeod was safe and alive, on his barge and no doubt happily asleep in Amanda's arms. They'd managed to release her and Joe, and then MacLeod had fought O'Rourke and defeated him. Once again he hadn't listened to Methos' advice, but everything still worked out. MacLeod ended the evening claiming he'd learned something from Methos. Methos didn't believe that, but still...
The vision' MacLeod had recounted briefly, that was unbelievable. Amanda had laughed, Joe had been flustered, but Methos found he could visualize what MacLeod described. Even when Mac stopped short and could no longer meet Methos' eyes, simply saying they'd fought.
There was no reason for Methos to feel uneasy; no reason at all for restlessness. He told himself that as he knocked back shots of vodka until he finally relaxed enough to sleep.
"Methos! Come in, my friend, warm up. Tessa, more ale." Duncan MacLeod's cottage glowed with candlelight and the immense hearth fire, and savory scents pervaded the room. His wife, Tessa, poured another glass of ale and laughed at some sally from Joseph, the bard. Methos couldn't quite relax as his friend's arm came around him and led him in, but he smiled and did, indeed, feel warmed.
Richard Ryan was there, that was the other buzz he'd felt. Joseph was playing his lyre now, singing softly to the ladies in the room -- Anne, the midwife; Ryan's intended, Sally; and Tessa, lovely Tess. She was the natural queen of the room; MacLeod's love for her and their happiness could light the room without any candles. Joseph called them the most perfect couple in Locri. Everyone they knew felt this glow and basked in their happiness.
Everyone except Methos.
He wanted to, he really did. But his long and lonely life didn't allow him to believe in happiness; he felt like he was constantly waiting for death and despair to come riding over the horizon and despoil their lives. Tessa was a mortal woman, it was foolish to believe in happy-ever-after as Duncan apparently did. But it was wonderful to see him so happy at last. They fit, and Methos knew how few people ever found their soulmate.
"Now we can have an expert opinion on Tessa's latest brew." MacLeod was cheerfully talking, seemingly unaware of Methos' silence. "Here, try this and tell me if it isn't the best you've ever tasted."
Methos took a sip from the tankard. "It's wonderful." But he set the remainder down rather than finish it. "I bring news, my friend. I'm afraid we can't relax and enjoy your fire or Tessa's ale. The King awaits us."
"It's war, then?"
"Perhaps. But I believe we're being sent on a final diplomatic mission, the last chance to avert a conflict." Methos smiled at his friend. "If you cannot charm the Catinans, no one can."
Tessa's face was serene as she helped gather his gear. "Duncan, my love. Return to me soon." Surrounded by her friends, she seemed to feel no fear. But her eyes were shadowed as they kissed farewell.
Methos cursed as he limped along the muddy road. Their ruler, Drusid, sent MacLeod to the Catinans with no one to guard his back. Methos, who'd intended to accompany him, had instead been ordered to lead the military escort for the king's daughter, Serilla, who was being married to the son of Arden, ruler of Veii. King Drusid had spoken hopefully of peace, but allying the kingdom of Veii through Serilla's marriage was the act of someone anticipating a war.
The Veiians were fierce in battle, Methos could attest to that. His leg still hadn't healed correctly from the blows they'd struck even after he was down. He'd needed assistance in setting it, but there was none to be had. The troop he led had safely delivered Serilla and her maids, dowry, and companions. Then, as they set off for home, they were attacked by Veii raiders. No matter how many they killed, more appeared. The Locrians were defeated and left for dead. When he revived, Methos noted that their purses had been left intact. These weren't common robbers, then.
The one living horse he'd found had been too seriously wounded to ride, so Methos was now making his way home on foot. He'd heard no news for a week and was fearful for his friend. MacLeod shouldn't have been sent alone, peace mission or not. Treachery was everywhere.
When he finally reached an inn, he was glad he had taken his men's purses. He had enough coin to pay for a private room and request a bath. The innkeeper shook his head and muttered about odd customs, but he had water heated for his guest.
Once he was presentable, Methos made his way to the common room and, after the initial curiosity about the stranger died down, he was able to blend in unobtrusively and listen to the conversations around him. Preparations for warfare were taking place all around the countryside. Food and weapons were being gathered, men were being trained, and fortifications were evidently underway around the castle, since their strongest men had been taken there for stone-moving work under master masons.
The mortals around him were enthused about the war and no one seemed to have any hope for peace. Yet Duncan had been sent to discuss a peaceful treaty with the rulers of Catina. But why had the king sent a warrior like MacLeod on such an errand? Why risk the life of one of his bravest, most loyal subjects?
Methos began to suspect plots and treachery everywhere. A score of good men had died, and their only apparent crime was knowledge of the alliance with the Veii. Had they been sacrificed deliberately?
But MacLeod? Surely King Drusid would not sacrifice him. Methos couldn't believe it, but saw no other explanation. Drusid didn't want peace, he'd sent MacLeod into enemy territory mouthing peaceful intentions to lull the Catinans into delaying their preparations. And the Catinans would blame MacLeod for the king's duplicity.
Methos needed to return to the king and his duties. It was the only way to gather news, to learn whether he could still save MacLeod. He spoke to the innkeeper again, arranging for post horses to speed him to the castle. He was sure there was little time to waste.
"MacLeod?" Methos' voice was a whisper, but Duncan recognized it immediately.
"Methos, I'm here." A rattle of chains.
"Silence. There are still guards." Methos had killed several men, but this was the heart of the Catinans' domain. They were badly outnumbered, and only guile would win the day. He moved toward the voice, the keys he'd taken off the body of the jail warden in one hand and his sword in the other.
"I'm glad to see you, my friend." Duncan's smile was beautiful, though his body was thin and worn with pain. "Have you any news of Tessa?"
"Before I left I spoke to Joseph. She is staying with Richard and Sally now. Your house was burned in the first attacks."
"But she is well?"
"Fine." Methos hesitated over the rest of the news. "She is with child."
"Good." MacLeod's face was serene. "We decided that even though I cannot have children, we wish to have a family. If I never return, at least she will have that comfort now." He almost fell when Methos finally released his arms from the shackles.
"You will see her soon, don't worry. Here, move about for a moment and get some blood in your limbs again." Methos pulled off his own over-tunic and cape. "Put these on, you're chilled." MacLeod did, and they began to move cautiously through the maze of cells. When he saw the body of a guard, MacLeod stopped to search for weapons. Finding a knife and a bow, he gathered them, as well as the dead man's purse and boots.
"There. More presentable by the minute. Soon I'll look good enough to face the Catinan Council again." MacLeod's voice was angry, though he tried to smile at his friend.
"We're not fighting Catinans." Methos pulled MacLeod along. "We're getting out of here and leaving. You're not going back to Locri, either, it's not safe."
"What do you mean? Of course I'm going home."
"I'll explain everything, I promise. But not here and now. Just believe that the Catinans are not your enemies."
MacLeod allowed Methos to lead him, to avoid battles rather than seek them out. They were well away from the castle before he began to ask questions again. When Methos finally agreed to stop and rest, he related the full story of King Drusid's treachery to MacLeod. "I barely escaped to come find you; he was still trying to have me killed."
"I don't believe it. My king would not --"
"MacLeod, he did. He attacked before you ever reached the Council, knowing that you'd be killed or imprisoned. You were a sacrifice, sent to prevent the Catinans' being ready for the war. Just as I was sent on an errand where success earned us death."
"Drusid is King. We cannot question his decisions. He rightfully has the power of life and death over his subjects."
Methos rose and walked away, then looked back at MacLeod. "My friend, Drusid is just a man. These mortal battles are not ours. I've known that for many years, but I became involved again..."
"Tessa is worth fighting for. Locri is my homeland, I would die to preserve it." MacLeod looked affronted by Methos' words.
"Yes, what you and Tess have is very special. And I will help you find a way to get her out of Locri, to make sure you can enjoy your life with her for many years to come. And anyone else you want, Ryan, Joseph -- we'll make our own settlement, far from Drusid's realm. Be free of his intrigues and ambitions. Live for ourselves, fight our own battles -- not those battles an evil king claims are important."
"You are speaking treason."
"MacLeod, the king betrayed us both, betrayed all his people into this unnecessary war. His own behavior released us from his service."
"No. I vowed to serve Drusid and protect his interests." MacLeod's face was stern. "So did you. If you persist in these lies, you will face me."
Methos almost fell over. "What? I don't want to fight you, you're my friend." He'd fought beside this man, drank and ate in his home. Trusted him, despite their immortality.
"Drusid is my sovereign. His people are my people, and I will die to do his bidding." MacLeod raised his knife. "You are not my friend, traitor. I could never join you in this betrayal of our king."
"Duncan," he tried to speak, but had no words.
"I don't know who or what you are, Methos, but I'm going back to my life, to Tessa."
Methos felt the blade enter his chest, felt blood and strength leaving his body as he dropped to his knees. He even felt MacLeod grab his sword and wrest it from his clutch, but he still couldn't believe what was happening. He couldn't speak, couldn't breathe and he felt the rush of air as the sword met his neck.
By dawn, Methos' apartment was empty.
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