Carson Kearns' Highlander Fanfic

Lost in the Loving: Lighting You Home

Chapter 8

by Carson Kearns

carsonkearns@hotmail.com

 

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Saturday 20th September
10.15pm – 11.50pm

"..An evil one will come to vanquish all before him. Only a Highland child, born on the winter solstice, who has seen both darkness and light can stop him."

Duncan’s collapse was obvious only to those few surrounding him.  A closely-knit circle of people who had worked with Duncan over the past few 
months stood protectively around him. The many other guests were still standing in awe of Lynn’s painting – or, rather, of the Celtic Prince who was its subject. Others danced, laughed and drank. The sounds of Mabon conviviality filled the Center.

It could almost have been a typical, fun-filled evening of people at play – people who would have been shocked to know that the fierce, strong and proud warrior chieftain of the painting was distraught, only feet away from them. Those who were aware of Duncan’s collapse no doubt assumed that it was triggered by something in the paintings - perhaps to do with his recent tragedy? And of course, in this they were completely correct – if a few centuries out. Methos sat by Duncan’s side, wiping the back of the Scot’s neck with a wet cloth.

Duncan finally spoke – fortunately, in a whisper that did nothing to lessen his accusatory and betraying tone. He reverted to the language of the clan Chief in Lynn's painting – saying over and over in Gaelic, “You did it Methos. You did it. Only you could have known! You did it! It’s Ahriman!”

Methos looked at the mysterious painting, and then back at Duncan. “What do you mean, Duncan?”

Duncan couldn’t seem to pull his eyes away from the painting. “Don’t you ever stop playing with me? Those eyes – it’s Horton! Horton is Ahriman! Maybe Horton was  always Ahriman!” Slowly, he let his gaze travel over the painting, upwards, past Cassandra’s prophecy, - past the hermit and finally – finally straight into the windows of pure evil that were Horton’s/Ahriman’s eyes. Wave after wave of memory overwhelmed him, leaving him awash with feelings of loss and obligation. He didn’t want to feel these things any more. Another sensation he felt was anger towards Methos. Anger that he could and would hurt him like this. Anger at Methos' knowing him so well that he would know  how to hurt him like this. Anger at himself for leaving himself so exposed. How could he have forgotten that Ahriman was only waiting - that somewhere - he was simply waiting for Duncan MacLeod.

Anger, and despair, overwhelmed him.

He let his head fall onto his knees, his clenched fists blocking his ears. Instinctively he had retreated from the pain when he saw the second painting and its terrifying portrayals and all of their associated memories. Two images assailed him: of Horton, and the malicious intent that had been in the laughing eyes as Duncan had knelt by Richie’s lifeless body;  and the second image of Duncan, as he took his first head and Quickening, in the mad hermit’s cave.

He raised his head and again looked up at the painting - and stared. He started to breath too quickly, as his teeth began to bite at the back of his bottom lip, taking in every aspect of the portrayal before him. He filtered everyone and everything and let the memories from the painting wash over him. He was taken back to the Barge - and the night he had discussed with Richie the mad hermit’s prophecy. Richie had been so loyal, so committed – so naïve. He had been insistent that he stay by Duncan's side. 

//“Would you leave me hangin’? It’s my choice, it’s not yours.”// "

Such a typical Richie expression," he whispered aloud, not realising that he was doing so. “Would you leave me hangin’?” he repeated.

He felt a hard pressure on his upper arm and turned to find Methos sitting by his side, his face showing increasing worry.

“Duncan,” he insisted, “we need to get out of here. Now!”

Duncan ignored him and continued the conversation he had been having in his head. “But I did leave him, didn’t I! We all left him hanging, didn’t we?” It was said quietly, but still loud enough for those around to hear. What made it so heart breaking was that it wasn’t said in anger or even in accusation. It was said with a tone of utter and final defeat.

Methos tried again to get Duncan to rise and leave. “Duncan, - Joe and I left you both alone and we shouldn’t have. It wasn’t your fault that Richie died. You tried to stop him – remember? Remember how you told us to keep him on the phone? You raced after him to try and save him. Remember? Let’s go outside where we can get some fresh air. Come on. Come with me.”

It was the most that either had actually said to each other about Richie and his death. He was never mentioned. Certainly, his death and its cause were not discussed.

Duncan angrily pulled back from Methos. “But I don’t want any fresh air! What’s the matter? Afraid that I’ll say something I shouldn’t?” 

Methos tried another tack. “Duncan, I’m going back to the house. I know what you want and I’ve got it back there.” He rose to go. It was the wrong thing to say and Duncan was quick with an furious retort.

“You’re a liar! You never intended keeping your word!” Duncan’s eyes were now filled with unshed tears. Someone coughed and he was suddenly brought back to the terrible situation in the Center with the clearly protective, but confused and upset mortals still circling him. He looked at their faces – and then back at the painting. “I’m sorry,” he said in a broken voice. "Today was his birthday. I killed him…He would have been twenty three. Just twenty-three - ”

The group were left to guess who 'Richie' was – which wasn't difficult.

An increasingly exasperated Methos made one final attempt. “It was an accident. A terrible, tragic accident,” he assured them all. Things were very quickly getting out of control and the last thing needed was for the surrounding mortals to hear angry gibberish about Immortals, Quickenings, vengeful gods, beheadings and impending suicides. Certainly, if they had had any doubt about Duncan’s emotional fragility before, then those doubts were now being laid aside. Or were about to be laid aside, he feared. Next thing, Methos sighed, Duncan would start to fill the crowd in on what it was like to be twenty three in the year 1615.

Through the cloying air, the microphone in the Center started to crackle into life, as the ceremony that they had been a part of on Dunn I 
continued.

Methos groaned.

There were times, Methos consoled himself, when one just had to ride the roller coaster of high farce. And this looked as if it was going to be one of those times. A woman dressed in the colors of autumn came to the microphone and started to speak. Methos had no doubt that Duncan too must feel as if he had wandered into the middle of a surreal movie. Methos took a deep breath, wondering if he could manage to get Duncan out of the Center while the harvest goddess' (as he duly dubbed her) was doing whatever it was she intended doing. He knew that he was being cruel, and it wasn't as if he usually disparaged such beliefs and ceremonies.  But it was all cutting a little too close to the bone for his liking.  Sarcasm had always served him well.

Incense of pine, sweetgrass, sage and myrrh started to fill the Center, wafting amongst the people and the platters of Mabon food and drink - corn-bread, nuts, apples, berries, cider, fruit wines. The woman at the microphone started to talk, reminding them all that the word Mabon was Welsh for "Son"', and referred to the Welsh God of youth, the Divine Child,  "…who the Druids believed to be within us all." Thus Mabon, she intoned, was a time of reflection, of gathering in completed projects, of sorting the good from the worn and choosing the seeds for next year's planting. It was a time to reflect on one's achievements over the past year.

Methos nearly choked.

"Achievements of the bloody year!" he quietly repeated. He continued to mumble. "I guess it isn't everyone who can say that they got that fabulous foursome back together again!" He decided that 1997 wasn't going to be one of his all time great years for Mabon reflections. Looking at Duncan he imagined the same thoughts going through the Highlander's head – indeed, he doubted that Duncan could think of any particular year of late that would qualify as one filled with wonderful achievements.

The voice of the harvest goddess, insisting that all must count their blessings, was relentless, insinuating itself all around them, “…Now, though, we must also let go, with thanks, of things which have had their time and are slipping away, and cast away anything that we no longer need, or that is holding us back from achieving that which we wish to plant in the coming year. We are reminded that all things have their seasons, and that just as summer was temporary, so too is the coming winter…”

Methos gazed towards the heavens and promised to avoid any pillaging and carnage in the Centre if some bloody deity would kindly get off their butt and launch the speaker into the nearest Otherworld. It didn't help. Once, he consoled himself, he was called Death and one look could result in instant obedience to his will. He had even been worshipped as a god, on numerous occasions. He was sure that he had been more responsive, as a god, than any of the current crop appeared to be. One small woman and a microphone now appeared to be his match. Methos quietly moved to stand next to the Scot.

“If we don’t get out of here within the next minute I’m going to kill someone. And I mean it, Duncan.” Methos looked around, wondering why he hadn’t just used that tactic in the first place – pull on the Highlander's protective instincts.

But Duncan ignored him. He no doubt realised that there was no way they could quietly leave. What disturbed Methos more was that Duncan actually appeared to be listening to it all.

The invocation and lecture continued, “…The Autumn Equinox is a time where day and night are of equal length, after which the dark will become dominant as we descend towards winter…Autumn Equinox is a time for rest after labour…harvest gathered…Sabbat is symbolized by the double spiral, a going-in and a returning…we begin the journey inwards towards the darkest point of the year, …remembering that death is always followed by rebirth, just as winter is always followed by summer…. It is a time to give thanks for the harvest which will sustain us through the dark winter months…time to reflect upon ourselves, and to strive to mirror the balance of dark and light… the Goddess knows that the seed of the new God is already within her.”

Finally it was over and everyone was drinking a toast and laughing. Duncan started to speak once again, to Methos’ increasing consternation.

“Oh the son is inside me all right isn’t he Methos! What do you think – should we tell them all about the challenge of trying to balance darkness and light?” Duncan was relentless, and had grabbed hold of Methos’ coat and was talking, whispering, only inches from his face. “Don’t you think that there’s a cosmic irony to that Methos? That my life should end on the day that celebrates the ‘son who dwells inside us’?” He stopped and turned away. “Where is my son, Methos?” he bitterly asked. “Where is Richie? Where are all of my sons and your sons? All dead…all dead…”

He then turned back and looked at the painting that had triggered this collapse and this outpouring. He angrily brushed away the tears that had overflowed his eyes and now ran down his cheeks. He showed no awareness at all that he had called Adam Pierson by a name none here had ever heard before.  Duncan continued. “But if you think that this painting is going to stop me, then you’re very wrong! It’s another one of your games. I knew you could be cruel but this is over the top even for you. What will it be next – Richie’s head on a platter in the fridge!”

Methos tried to calm things down. “Let’s go outside Duncan where we can talk. There are too many people in here. You need….”

Duncan sharply shook him off. “Don’t fucking tell me what I need! I know what I need, and you won’t give it to me!” He then remembered the people around him – staring at him. Solicitous for him. Worried for him. He groaned in frustration and anger at the fact that Methos was right. He did need to get away from them, if only to spare them any more of all of this. He rose, unsteadily and mumbled something about needing to leave. Apologies were given.

Lynn was suddenly before him, looking devastated. “Duncan – ?” She reached for him and let her hand smooth his cheek. “Oh Duncan. What’s happened? Are you all right? Please tell me that you will be all right?”

Duncan took two full breaths but they didn’t help to fill his lungs. He reached out to her and wiped away the tear tracks that were still evident on her face. “It wasn’t your fault,” he whispered.

“But if I hadn’t insisted that you come to the Center tonight, just to satisfy my ego, then none of this would have happened!” she pleaded. He pulled her into a protective hug. “Something like it would have happened at some stage. Please don’t cry. I’ll be fine."

But Lynn wasn’t having any of it. “Then why don’t I believe you?” 

Methos tried to grab Duncan’s upper arm to steer him away from the awkwardness. “Duncan – we need to leave,” he pleaded, increasing exasperation evident in his voice.  Once again, Duncan firmly pushed his hand away. He turned back to Lynn, to plead that he was tired and must leave.

Feumaidh mi falbh. Tha mi sgìth,” he told her, ignoring Methos. And because he believed that this would probably be the last time he would ever see her he leaned in to kiss Lynn farewell. He paused as he passed the painting she had done of him, and found that he could no longer relate to the proud warrior portrayed. He felt far more affinity with his younger self - the confused and terrified young man portrayed in the second painting, and the scene of his first Quickening.

Amidst her tears she nodded, then clutched both of her upper arms and turned aside as he walked away. Turning back, she watched them both leave - and then walked back to the painting she had done called ‘The Clan Chief’. She leaned forward and let her fingers trace the long hair and the lips, and then left the Center and hurried towards the White Strand of the Monks – the scene of the massacre of the monks by the Vikings so many centuries before.

She didn’t look back.



Sunday 21st September
Midnight - 1am

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Duncan saw Methos making his way towards one of the exits - so he chose another. He was determined to shake Methos off. It was pitch black outside and he was aware that he probably only had a minute on Methos. He headed towards the Abbey and found a wooden bench on an outer wall. It looked towards Fionnphort to his left and the Reilig Odhrain on his right. Exhaustion overwhelmed him and another fight with Methos was simply unendurable. The evening was cold and he pulled his long coat closer to his body, and looked at his surrounds.

He thought about the fight and the arguments and pleadings that would be waiting for him with Methos, and decided then that he would rest awhile and then go back to the top of Dunn I, and meditate, in an attempt to clear his mind of all that had happened in the past hour. Then he would watch his last sunrise over his native land. And then, he smiled, he would take any boat and travel across the Sound, to Mull, from where he would make his way to the Scottish mainland - and the closest Immortal looking for an easy head. No more fights. No more discussions. No more anything! It was all starting to become clear again. If he just made himself focus, and concentrate...it would all be clear again...so clear...Except that the paintings wouldn't leave him alone.   Ahriman wouldn't leave him alone - even here on this holy isle. And he realised that he had been a fool to imagine that he would be able to escape a god so easily.

With a crashing and crushing certainty he knew that nothing at all was clear and that any hopes he harboured for his release had all been futile. He felt himself caught up in a maelstrom of further fear and confusion. All the mysteries and signs and memories swirled in his head, and he had no idea whether they were products of an insane mind, or portents of a very real future, too horrific to contemplate. He had been so close to finding peace - forever. And he knew, now, that that peaceful possibility was irrevocably gone.

No matter where he tried to make himself look, the 'Clan Chief' portrait continued to dominate his vision - confusing him and diluting his intent. His warrior image was everywhere. He saw himself raging out of the mist, sword aloft, as he had done so many times - or carrying stretchers...tending the wounded...smiting the wicked.  Always he was inside the battle somewhere, trying to make a difference. The words that had forged his life were painted onto his eyeballs. He swallowed heavily, realising that they had always been there, just temporarily covered.

//"... You'll not walk away on this! Not while I live. A challenge is made. No MacLeod can turn his back...no matter the cost"//

His father's deep and insistent voice echoed, swirled and finally re-captured him. He closed his eyes and was again a lost child in Donan Woods, just as he had been lost and adrift here on Iona. And once again his father had found him. His father, he now realised, would always find him. 

He felt Ian MacLeod's strong arms holding him tight, brooking no attempted escape, reminding him where his real strength and support lay. The words and the image of the proud warrior his parents had raised beat through every vein and artery in his body.  They were inside the air that he breathed. They were the moisture in the tears that he wept. They were the strength in the clenched fists at his side. They were all that sustained his motivations and his true intent, his living and the way of his dying.

 And that way, he now knew, could not be as he intended. No withdrawal from the battle while it still raged. No going quietly into the night. And certainly, no asking what he had asked of the most important person in his life. And finally - finally, the one thing that he had refused to entertain for these many months was breaking through, as the images of the second painting, and their prophetic words, joined the avowals and the expectations his parents had instilled in their son so long ago...

He looked to the heavens for help, but the eyes of Ahriman were the stars that he saw. He threw his head back and cried out in frustrated rage as he felt his dreamed for release slipping away on the winds above Dunn I. Only then did he accept that his suicidal intent had been punctured many weeks before, without him ever realising it. Methos' weapons of stealth - light and love - had found a way to pierce his darkness and emptiness. Once that had happened he didn't stand a chance, he realised, against the healing magic that was Iona.

He looked again at the stars and felt his blood turn to ice as the heavens appeared to be misted in blood. The hermit's rasping voice pierced him anew:

//And evil isn't black, it's the color of blood...now the responsibility is yours"//

He tried one last time to cover his ears and eyes with his arms, but his destiny was something forged in a much deeper fabric of the universe than mere words. All these months he had refused to think about Ahriman. Not thinking about him had made it easy to leave everyone. He didn't want to think about whether everything the hermit and Cassandra and Landry had told him was true. Because if it was true, then how could he leave all of his friends to Ahriman? Who would protect Mary? Amanda? Joe?

"Methos...", he sighed. And still his father's orders echoed down the years:  //... You'll not walk away on this! A challenge is made. No MacLeod can turn his back...no matter the cost...//

"No matter the fucking fucking fucking -fucking - cost....," he finally acknowledged to the blood red stars. To the people who waited for him in the Otherworld. To the wicked of this world. To those who looked to him for protection. To Methos.  How could he rationalise his death as being necessary to keep his friends out of the dangerous MacLeod orbit, if they were going to be in greater danger if he left them? And not just from another Immortal - but from a god!  A god who he could now feel beginning to close in on him again...something wicked....something wicked was moving towards him - across the Sound...he could feel it.

He sought refuge in some fragments from Rumi- wise counsel from the mystic.  They scattered across his thoughts, reminding him that if you dwell very long in a heart depressed and dark, then whenever your mind flies it can only land in the house of madness. He felt as if he had been dwelling in that house of madness for so long, of late, that it was the only place that offered him any certainty of security and comfort. He wondered what it would be like to be trapped forever in that house of madness, with only Ahriman for company?

And then he felt Methos approaching. He smiled. The gods had at least answered one of his many invocations - and had given him a living target against which to vent his thwarted will.

"By the pricking of my thumbs....Go away Methos! Leave me alone," he threw at the dark shadow standing between himself and the Reilig Odhrain. The Scot rose quickly from the bench and started to walk away. To the north the sky was beginning to explode with great sheets of lightning.

"Duncan! Wait!"

"For what Methos? So you can play some more games?"

Methos simply stared, as if dealing with an imbecile, before replying. "You just don't get it do you? I'll do anything Duncan. To anyone, if it keeps you alive."

"Just like you did to Jacob!"

"Yes - just like I did to Jacob!"

It was Duncan's turn to stare, shocked at the honesty. He turned and walked away. Methos moved quickly in front of him, blocking him.

"Leave me alone Methos. My life isn't your private playground. I was stupid to ever think that you would keep your word. You always lie. Always play games with me! If I hadn't let you manipulate me I wouldn't be here now with it all crowding in on me again!"

"Duncan - I didn't do the painting!"

"But you're the only one who could have painted those images. You had plenty of time and you're the only one who had the knowledge."

Methos shook his head. "Are you very sure that it wasn't you who did it?" he asked gently - reaching out to try and connect. He was speaking again, as if to a very hurt and damaged child. "You know that you haven't been well. You've been doing a lot of painting lately. There are many unfinished canvases in the sunroom. Some of them had bits of Cassandra's prophecy on them. I asked you about a couple of them and you denied knowing what I was talking about. Remember that?"

"I...Yes... - I remember that," he stumbled, desperate to deny what Methos was forcing him to remember.. "I didn't want to talk about them."

Methos ignored the comment. "Duncan - you were the one who was working on that painting. You've been ignoring or denying or burying many things over the past few months."

"I haven't confused this Methos! I know that I started a painting and for some reason Cassandra's prophecy was what I painted. But I didn't finish that painting, so you must have! I didn't do any more to it than that. You must have seen it and copied it! Anyway - it doesn't matter any more. Why am I even talking about it? I don't care who did the fucking painting. It's not my worry any more and I was stupid to let it upset me." Methos stepped in front of him. "Let me pass, Methos."

He tried to push Methos aside. "As if you'd ever tell the truth about it anyway!" he finally threw at Methos. Seemingly forgetting everything he had just said about not caring about the painting he recommenced his questioning and accusations. "How did you know about the hermit and my first Quickening? How could it have been so accurate?"

"Duncan, I didn't do it. But I do know about your first Quickening. Richie told Joe and me about what you had told him, when he came to see us. He was desperate to try and get us to take you more seriously. He was very descriptive." He paused and took a deep breath.

"But why would that image be in that painting? Why?" Duncan kept asking, as if there was a truth lurking, somewhere, if only he could finally find it.

Methos shrugged.  "I knew that Lynn was doing the clan hero stereotype." - . He held up his hand to allay Duncan's obvious question of how he knew. "How do you think I knew? I went and looked at her bloody painting! It's not as if it was in Fort Knox or anything. I've been following its progress with great interest, making sure that books and pictures of what a clan chief might have been wearing were left lying about for her to see. Told one of her friends all about a certain web page that had pictures and detailed descriptions and images of Scottish battles in the 18th century. I doubted that she would be able to resist and from the painting I saw tonight I'd say that I was right. She studied the web page very closely."

Duncan was shaking his head. "Web page? What web page?"

"The one I created just for her. Your Chronicles have pictures of your battle outfits. So I uploaded those pictures. She must have thought she'd struck a gold mine."

Duncan was stunned? "What - my Watcher did drawings?"

"Well there certainly are drawings from various periods - a number of them are your own, gathered up by your various Watchers. But these pictures came from your warehouse in Paris. Think about it! Of course the Watchers know all about your various warehouses. Sorry," he offered in a totally non-apologetic tone. He didn't mention that Watcher security (as well as Duncan's own security company) was also safeguarding Connor MacLeod's destroyed New York loft.

"Why am I not surprised?" was all that Duncan offered. Of course the concept that Watchers would also invade that aspect of his privacy made sense when he thought about it. He'd just never thought about it. Until now. "That explains how Lynn got the details of my outfit in the portrait so accurate." He said nothing for a minute. "But what were you trying to do? It still doesn't make sense."

"Sense? Where in bloody hell is the sense in any of this?" He started to close in on the Scot as if he was going to grab the lapels of his coat, or his arms and shake him until some sense could be found somewhere. "What in heaven's name do you think I was trying to do? I was trying to keep you alive! I wanted you to look at your mirror reflection in that portrait and think about nothing but all of those codes you were raised on - of honor and protectiveness, obligations - "

Duncan took advantage of the eventual pause in the confession. "Then if it wasn't you, who did the second painting in the Center tonight? Who else would know about Ahriman? Or my first Quickening and the hermit?"

Methos put his hands in his pockets and shrugged his shoulders. 'I've no idea." He shrugged again. "Can't help I'm afraid."  

Duncan was angry and frustrated. "Sure. You'll pardon me if I don't believe a word you've said."

Methos had to work not to show his relief. Everything that he had hoped for was coming to pass. If Duncan was still intent on dying, then there was no logic in him pursuing who did the painting or what any of it meant. And at some stage Duncan himself would have to acknowledge that. Methos was certain that the immediate danger was past. It had passed, he was sure, when Duncan left the Center and, instead of finding the nearest boat, had stayed on Iona.

//It was war//  he reminded himself. And in this war, the embattled and bleeding warrior had now chosen to remain on the battlefield. Still he reminded himself, there was never any room for complacency where Duncan was concerned.

Methos wanted to keep him talking - every word seemed to be breaking down the barricades surrounding Duncan's life energy and will to live - barricades already substantially weakened by the days spent here in the light and warmth of this sacred isle. He was still convinced that Duncan, in a state of deep denial, had done the second painting himself and had promptly forgotten that he had ever done so. He had seen at first hand how powerfully Duncan could manipulate his own mind. He had watched it deny immortal healing to Duncan in those early days. Duncan's subconsciously ordering it to forget that Duncan had done a painting would be child's play for him, he surmised.
  He still did not believe in any millennium demon - but he had no doubt that it would do Duncan the world of good to talk about the mythical Ahriman. Perhaps it might even help to rid him of the delusions once and for all?  He set aside the uncomfortable jibes deep in his own sub-consciousness about why he was so adamant himself about the non-existence of the Persian god Ahriman.

His thoughts were disturbed when, with no warning at all, there was a sudden change in the soft, velvety night. The air crackled as with the after-shock of a Quickening. Crackling energy seemed to be gathering to the north and through the darkness an ominous mist seemed to be making its way towards them. Methos stared into its depths, deeply disturbed. Duncan noticed that the island itself seemed to be repelling the cloying layer of evil that kept attempting to layer itself over the Abbey and the buildings that surrounded them. Both were startled when loud claps of thunder reverberated across the north of the island and the sky was streaked with great sheets of lightning.

"That's very unusual for this time of year. In fact," Methos uttered, more to himself than to Duncan "it's unusual at any time here." He turned his coat collar up and walked more purposefully towards their house, anxious to get inside and wondering why there was such an ominous feeling in the air when just a minute before he had begun to feel more hopeful.  Suddenly, he didn't like the silence.

"Duncan - you mentioned Ahriman. What exactly did you learn about him from that Journal of Landry's?"

Duncan was suspicious. "You don't need me to give you a history lesson on Persian gods. You must already know all about him."

"I do - but I want to know what Landry told you."

Duncan looked pained and turned away. It was as if he was afraid of the pain that would be released if he were to allow those images to live again through his words.

Methos tried another tack. "Listen. Let's just get practical here. If you're still determined to die then the least you can do is leave those left behind with as much information as possible to help them survive the coming apocalypse! Is that asking too much?"

"But you don't even believe any of it!"

"Listen Mac - I didn't survive five thousand years by being sensible and logical."

They were soon at the garden gate and Duncan gave him a snide, mistrusting look as they moved towards the front door. Methos stopped, and looked towards the north, every instinct screaming out to him that he should get the hell out of Dodge - or at least get indoors.  Duncan also stopped and stared towards the troubled night sky to the north. "Maybe I should go for a walk and check things out. Something doesn't feel right."

Suddenly, for Methos it was the first time in many months that anything had felt right. Various Duncan phrases echoed down the years - about "...just lookin'....and "..I like to know who's around...".  Methos smiled. "Welcome back, Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod!"  He gave a short, hard laugh, deciding to confront Duncan with his inconsistency: "Duncan, listen to yourself. How can you say you're prepared to let the world go to hell in a hand-basket tomorrow, yet concern yourself with the universe's well being tonight? If this were tomorrow night then the world would have to look after itself without your bloody hand on the wheel! Come inside. Who cares what danger lurks. It isn't your concern any more."

"You're right. It wouldn't make sense if I were still going to demand that the blood covenant be fulfilled." He stopped, as if he had shocked himself more than Methos at what he had just said. After a silence that said more than either of them could possibly have said, he whispered to Methos, "I believe in Ahriman, even if you don't. And I'm going to destroy him. He's evil.  In the meantime something isn't right and I'm going to check it out! I like to know who's around." Duncan turned and started to stride towards the north.

For one of the few times in his life Methos was speechless. All the months of plotting and planning to keep Duncan alive - his desperate hopes, his agonised yearnings, the layers of guilt and the futile frustration, the blood covenants, the screaming nightmares - the horror of having to witness Duncan's madness, self-mutilations, his anger and his studied cruelty, all designed to convince his lover that all was lost. That all was hopeless. Months of Methos refusing to give up had apparently paid off. But if he had expected a melodramatic and theatrical avowal then he was to be sorely disappointed.

He stood and shook his head.

"That'll teach me. We go through hell, for months, and Mr Clan Chief lets drop as an afterthought that he's changed his fucking mind about killing himself - and by the way he intends killing a god!"  As he stomped off after Duncan, he muttered all manner of obscenities to himself - mainly about being careful what he wished for, because he might just bloody well get it - and about being sure that somewhere on the planet (perhaps Bora Bora!) there perhaps lived a dull and boring lover who would be more to his taste. The realisation that he was actually talking to himself, and that Duncan was now some twenty feet ahead of him, served to stem the flow of snarled and gnarled phrases he was ripping out of his mouth through clenched teeth. He reconciled himself to following Duncan (as was ever his wont, he finally consoled himself) to see what Duncan was going to discover in the Dodge saloon.

He hoped that there was a fast horse in the vicinity for those less foolhardy members of Duncan's posse. "Thank the gods for holy ground," he muttered, shielding his eyes from the piercing sheets of brilliant light.


White Strand of the Monks
Sunday 1.15am - 2am
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The beach that was the White Strand of the Monks, on the north of the island, was not a place that Methos willingly chose to visit. When he did he ensured that he left it as quickly as possible. The moon was full and he had no trouble seeing Duncan' dark flowing shape against the horizon. He saw that Duncan had stopped at the edge of a grassy mound and was looking down at the beach. Thunder rumbled across the Sound and moonlight and the sheeted lightening was reflecting off its brilliant white sand. But there was no rain - just wind and amazing distortions of light.

He called out, edging closer tot he Scot. "Duncan - I don't think that it's safe to be here. Let's get back to the house." He reached across to take Duncan's arm but it was obvious that Duncan was engrossed in something happening on the beach. Methos turned and followed his gaze. On the beach, Lynn was kneeling, looking out towards Storm Island to the north - .

Methos tried once again to marshal the posse. "Duncan - I have a really, really bad feeling about this."

"That's okay Methos. I don't mind if you go back to the house," Duncan assured him, shaking his head.

As Methos reminded the Highlander what an arrogant patronising prick he could be, they both moved forward to try and determine what was happening. Duncan froze as a cloaked figure appeared from nowhere, turned and started to speak to him.

"Well, well, well! If it isn't the poor broken-hearted Highlander. Boo hoo. I hear that you didn't even go to poor Richie's funeral? Such a handsome young man, wasn't he? If only you hadn't killed him he would have turned twenty three yesterday wouldn't he?"

Duncan couldn't speak. Couldn't move. His worst nightmare was standing in front of him in the guise of James Horton. As the shock started to ease, he looked down and saw Lynn's immobile figure and wondered what her role in all of the past few months had been. If any? She hadn't stirred since he had first sighted her kneeling on the sand.

He looked back at the shape-changer who stood on the sands - now in the guise of Horton - his blond hair glistened in the moonlight, his clothes blacker than the blackest waste. His eyes were red.

Finally Duncan broke through his shock, "What are you doing here? What do you want? This is holy ground."

"Don't worry Duncan. I can call you that? I'm not going to kill you - yet. As you say, it's holy ground. We can't finish anything on holy ground - can we," he taunted.  "We all know what a stickler you are for the rules. But know this, Duncan. Soon you will look for me and I'll be waiting for you. In Paris. As was our beginning - so shall be our end. In Paris."

Even brighter sheets of lightning and constant rolling thunder continued to shake the heavens. Duncan looked towards the Horton shape and asked the question that had plagued him for months. "Why? Why didn't you just kill me at the racetrack? Why didn't you take my head - or have Methos do it when I asked him?"

Horton laughed. "Where would be the fun in that? I like games. After one thousand years of anticipation I want some decent foreplay at least. And you have been quite amusing to me. I'll continue to play until you're ready to face me." He paused and turned towards the Cave of the Dead. "I hear that you were anxious to set this world's coil aside Duncan? So sad. What a dreary little melodrama it's all been. It might amuse you to know therefore that it's all been a waste of time.  You've been chosen to fight me - and no-one, not even me, can kill you - until our final battle. I thought that, since you're a fan of Rumi, I'd leave you with one of his better insights to remind you of how unsuited you are for what lies ahead:

"If you are a man of this life
then march on this path like a man
or retire and take refuge in your house
since you're not ready for this battle.

real men drank a thousand seas and
still died of thirst

you've travelled no distance
you've left no mark

now humbly turn to dust
under the gallop of real men.."


Horton/Ahriman sneered a final piece of advice. "Come back and play with me when you've grown up, little champion. Right now you're hardly worth my time or trouble."

If there was one thing that Duncan had learned over the past few months it was that there was little that could hurt him more than he had been hurt already. The man who had fled from the racetrack had learned some valuable lessons on Iona. One of them was that for Ahriman to have searched him out here must mean that he was worth searching out. He decided to play on that.

"Then why are you here? Ahriman!  I will come to Paris. And when I do, you'll die for another thousand years."

Ahriman looked at him, indulgently. "Ah, the bravado of a desperate man. For some reason, Duncan, you intrigue me. It's been a long time since I felt this...this...excitement. I'm going to be very generous with you, Duncan. I'll give you the time you clearly think you need to prepare yourself to face me, as useless as that is. I'm a patient soul. In the interim I'll not harm any that you love or care about. Prepare yourself for me and meet me in Paris. Prepare yourself to live inside me for eternity. What was it sweet Sappho advised? Aah - yes...Sappho - so appropriate for such a one as you, Duncan when you are with me forever:

"Alone of the gods, Hades
sanctions no measures
of sweet hope."


He then stared, as if trying to see deep inside Duncan's soul. "I know that you desired release - and thought to find hope beyond this life. Believe me Duncan - there is no hope."

Duncan smiled. It was a cold, predatory grin that covered his face and he felt for the first time, in a long time, the siren call to battle. "I can't wait."

And then Ahriman and the lightning were gone. On the sands, Lynn had not moved.

He looked to his right to find Methos kneeling on his haunches, his face white. "Methos! Methos?" After some minutes and two hard slaps Methos started to come out of whatever place he had travelled to. Duncan shook him and then pulled him to his chest and held him. "What happened? What did Ahriman do?"

Methos shook his head as if to clear it of whatever had had him in its grip. He then looked at Duncan as if he were mad. "Ahriman? What are you talking about? I didn't see Ahriman?  I don't even know what he looks like."

Duncan sat back and closed his eyes, determined to resist the fingers of despair he felt reaching for him. "Methos - what happened?"

Methos turned away, signalling that he didn't want to talk about it, but Duncan refused to let him go. Again he asked him to tell him what had happened. Methos looked over at the woman on the sand and told Duncan that he would tell him what he had experienced later, when he could talk about it. Both went to Lynn, still kneeling on the white sands, looking out over the Sound.

Duncan had no idea whether she had been in league with Ahriman all along or whether she was another victim. Nothing had happened to give him a clue either way. So because he was once again the warrior she had painted, he marched straight to her.

"Lynn?"

"Duncan! When did you get here? I didn't worry you, did I? I'm so sorry. But I was so upset when I saw how distraught you were. I wanted to make your last night a happy one and when I saw you so upset and so angry I was sure that you were going to kill yourself. I'm not stupid Duncan. I know that you've been suicidal. So I left the Center to try and think what to do. This is one of my favorite places - remember how we started our painting here? I came here to try and think about what I could do."

She stopped and looked at Duncan more closely. "Are you all right Duncan?"

"Yes - yes I'm all right Lynn." He turned and looked up at the sky. "Weren't you frightened by the storm?"

She looked at him blankly. "What storm. It's been a beautiful night."

Duncan recovered quickly. "It must have missed this part of the island. Lynn - did you do the second painting?"

She shook her head. "No Duncan. I don't know who did it. If I did know I'd give them a piece of my mind after seeing how much it upset you.  It was just a silly fantasy piece done by someone who had no idea how much it would upset you."

Duncan reassured her that all was well now and gently he helped her up. He asked her if she had seen anyone else on the beach but she told him that she had been quite alone. He walked back to where Ahriman had stood when he had taunted him, but, as he expected, there were no footprints of any kind - nothing to show any disturbance had taken place. And when Methos asked him what he was doing he said only that he thought he had dropped his hair tie, then bent down as if he had found it and pretended to put it in his pocket.

As on the Barge in those terrible May days, he had no idea whether he had fallen again into the pits of delusion, illusion and madness. He put his arm around Lynn's shoulders and helped her back to the house where she was staying. He and Methos didn't speak until she was safely inside with her friends.

Methos reached across and took his arm, pronouncing a suitable Methosian epithet for this Mabon turning.

"I need a beer!"

******************

 

End of Chpt 8

Go to Chapter9


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