Strathclyde, 864 c.e.:
Methos had not felt her leave. He had been aware of her when she rose. He had heard the rustle of her clothing as she re-dressed, and the sounds of her morning routine. She had checked the horses and talked quietly to them, laughing at their snorts. She had stepped lightly out toward the remains of the fire and he could hear her gathering the wood and building it up again. He had drifted off into a light sleep. Now... there was no sense of Aella anywhere.
He leapt up and strode to the rim of the ledge and gazed out into the surrounding valley. There was nothing. Still, she might have gone south. That was most likely. Methos turned to gather his things and ride after her.
He stopped. Perhaps this was for the best. In some ways, he had known last night when she had come to him. He had seen it in her eyes. He tossed his things back on the ground to wander out toward the ledge once more.
His eye was caught by a stick stuck perpendicular into the ground in the ashes of last night's fire. Curious, Methos walked toward it.
In the ashes Aella had written the final two symbols. He shook his head, still wondering how it was she knew these without seeming to. He had labored long and hard as a child to learn and understand them. Even during all these years that he had forgotten Aja and his early days, Methos had remembered those symbols. He would find himself drawing them, as Aella had always done. They had always been a part of him. Now he could remember them all; and, more importantly, he had begun to remember their meanings.
He stared out into the horizon. What were they? What was their magic? Methos still had no answers. Perhaps, Aella did, without knowing it. What was the elusive magic of Aja he had always seemed to sense in her? Was Aja herself, still out there somewhere? Was she still finding and placing pre-immortal children where they could grow up in safety... loved and protected? Would he ever find her again?
"And someday, Scholar, you may find me in the face of a child."she had told him. What more had she known? What other questions about their origins had she kept to herself?
"I will answer three questions,"she had often said.
But Aja was not here to answer the questions he now wished to ask. Methos would have to puzzle the answers out for himself.
He had become a survivor, although not quite in the way he thought Aja might have approved. But he had forgotten her, and much of what she had taught him. And, he had to walk the road that lay before him. He had made his own destiny. Now, Methos remembered it all. He glanced once more at the symbols. Perhaps the answers lay in Aja's final words. Ahh... perhaps that was it.
"Now, and for all time, we each walk a long and lonely road... but we can remember the past with joy, and seek the promise of a brighter future. One day we shall be one once more."
Methos shook his head. "That can not be it!" Yet, remembering Aja's departure and now Aella's what else could it be? Still... he gazed out onto the horizon. Aella had had to go. He knew that, in many ways he had always known it. He had tried to make it easy for her... but he had failed. Perhaps it was for the best. Now at least she had some survival skills. Methos would have to trust to that... that somehow, it had been enough.
And, if what they had been would never be again, he also had to accept that. Yet, perhaps, someday, their roads might cross again. Perhaps, for even a single moment, they could be one... once more.
Thoughtfully, Methos rubbed out the symbols from the ashes of the fire, so that nothing of them remained. Now which direction should he take? Not south, he did not want Aella to think he was following her, checking up on her. Not north, there were too many memories of their time together in the north, and he was not ready for that. East? Well, east, in the Viking lands, he knew traveled an old one-eyed immortal still searching for his long denied death... a death Methos had once before refused to grant him. West? He had been to Ireland only a century ago and was not really eager to return.
Returning to his belongings, Methos dug into his leather pouch and removed a small rune stone. On one side was the rune for "friend." The other side was blank. Heads, he would go east... tails it would be west.
Methos tossed the stone into the air. Caught it in one fist on the way down, and slapped it onto the back of his other hand. Gingerly he lifted his top hand to peer at the answer. "So be it!" he said, and smiled.
Suddenly I knew that you'd have to go
My world was not yours, your eyes told me so
Yet it was there I felt the crossroads of time
And I wondered why.
from The Old Ways, music and lyrics by Loreena McKennitt
Note: I found this verse after having written this story and while I was in the process of editing it. The words of the verse fit so perfectly, that I couldn't resist adding it on as a postscript. And the story, which was originally, called merely "Crossroads" got a new title.
The historical Kenneth mac Alpin (Cinaed mac Ailpin) is often considered the first of the kings of a united Scots nation as he was the first king to unite the Scoti kingdom of Dalriada and the Picti kingdom called Pictland. This joined kingdom was known as Alba, or Albania, and later Scotia. Alba was a name also once used for all of the British Isles. Kenneth claimed the crown of Dalriada by virtue of his father's line, and the Pictish one through his mother. The Picts were said to have recognized succession through the maternal line. Born circa 800 c.e., he ruled from about 843 c.e. until his death in either 858 c.e. or 860 c.e. He was buried on the Island of Iona, off the western coast of Scotland.
At the time of Kenneth's ascendancy, the area we know today as Scotland, was divided into four areas and peoples. Besides Dalriada, settled by the Scoti from Ireland in the sixth century, Pictland with its Picti, and Strathclyde settled by Britons, there were also the areas of Northumbria and Lothian where Angles had settled. Kenneth made war on the Angles throughout most of his reign, but was never able to rule them. I have omitted the Angles from this story. The Scoti, Picti, and Britons were all Celtic tribes. The Angles were Germanic.
About 848 c.e., Kenneth moved his court from Dunadd in Dalriada into Pictland at Scone. He is said to have felt the first court was too vulnerable to attacks from the Vikings. Earlier, he had also moved Christian religious artifacts from the Island of Iona to a monastery at Dunkeld near Scone for the same reason. His fortress near Scone, called Forteviot, was most likely a timber hall, according to some historians. He also moved the fabled Stone of Destiny upon which Scottish kings were crowned from Dunadd to Scone. Highlander fans will recall the "Stone of Scone" episode from Season Five.
In the interests of not detailing and describing two courts, I have chosen to locate him at Forteviot, his second fortress, near Scone for the duration of the story. I just needed more time, and the thought of including a move and a change of location for this in mid-story seemed just too much and too confusing. More recent histories have revised his death to as early as 858 c.e. This gave me some problems in allowing enough time to pass for Aella to mature from child to woman. Although girls as young as thirteen were frequently wed at that time, I felt too uncomfortable with that idea for either Methos or fandom to accept.
Kenneth's brother Donald succeeded him as king and was in turn succeeded by Kenneth's son who ruled as Constantine I. The Scots kingdom did outlive Kenneth by several centuries. All Scots kings are numbered from Kenneth I.
The Picti, a Celtic tribe from the continent who had ruled Pictland for a thousand years, vanished from history shortly after Kenneth's rule. It is not known whether it was due to genocide on his part, or a gradual assimilation of the two cultures into one "race." As they were a related people, I like to think the latter is probably correct. Later Scots were known to have painted themselves blue when going into battle, as the ancient Picts were reported to have done.
Strathclyde was a Briton kingdom just to the south of Dalriada, but north of Hadrian's Wall. While it never formally allied with King Kenneth, it remained independent throughout his reign; they seemed to have been on "friendly" terms. Perhaps this was due to their on-going border disputes with the Angles, disputes, which helped Kenneth in his attempts to subdue Northumbria and Lothian. Lord Strathclyde, as portrayed in this story, is my own invention.
The use of McDonough for the name of the hostage children's guardian in Chapter One is incorrect; but, again, I felt it simplified the story, especially as she was a minor character. "Mac" means "son of" but I could not recall what the term for daughter was. Eventually, it just seemed simpler to leave the name as McDonough. I do not know if Kenneth used the old custom of taking hostage children; but it was one found throughout history and in many cultures. Somehow, it seemed appropriate here. Its purpose, as stated in the story, was to keep retainers and minor kings and chieftains, loyal to a new ruler.
The custom of charivari or shivaree as it came to be known in our own country, was mainly "a noisy mock serenade" for the newlywed couple, usually from outside the bridal chamber. Today, it remains mainly in the often raucous decoration of the honeymoon car by friends of the groom (and sometimes also by friends of the bride). The examination of sheets was part of the legal process of a marriage in medieval times; a way to prove that both the guardian of the bride (whether it had been her father or another) and the new husband had each honored their side of a legal arrangement. Marriage, especially for nobility, was a legal contract, and not a romantic one, although sometimes, it became one.
As for the scenes set 3800 years earlier, circa 3000 b.c.e., they are entirely my own invention. Nut (noot) was a sky goddess of Egyptian mythology. I just liked the sound of her name. Aja (ah dja), of course, utilizes in many times and in many places before her death the ambient religion of an area as cover for her Immortal activities. Thus, she becomes the wandering wise woman/witch or mid-wife of many cultures, the oracle of the gods in others, and the Faerie Queen of British legend. Having her called Queen Mab, at one point in this story, may not be correct, but the line sounded appropriate. In another Highlander story I have been working on, Aja puts in an appearance as the Lady of the Lake. On her long journey, Aja was many people.
I visualize the symbols Aja taught Methos, as similar to very complex Mayan glyphs; something far more complex than the early writings of Middle Eastern or Egyptian culture. That is not to say they are Mayan, nor that the Mayan civilization plays any part in this ... but who is to say. I just liked the look of some of them.
Aella, in some ways, is Aja's successor, albeit a much diminished one. She has no great power, except, perhaps, an ability to read people; nor any clear-cut answers concerning the origins of Immortals. I leave that to the "Powers that Be" (aka Davis-Panzer et al). Whatever knowledge Aja may have had, she took it with her to her grave, except for the clues she left behind. Where those lead, I am still not entirely certain, although I do have an idea; at least as far as my original characters are concerned. As for Aja's death, or Aella's transformation into the modern Ellie, well that... as they say, is another story. Like Scheherazade, of the Arabian Nights, I have learned that it is important to know just when to end the story.
For those more knowledgeable of Scots history, or of that of the ancient cultures of the Middle East, or of ancient religions, please forgive my errors. This is, after all, fan fiction, and meant to be fun! The important thing, as Aella/Ellie would tell you, is for you to "join in the dance of Life with joy!"