Highlander: A Loaf of Bread, a Jug of Wine...
The Black Forest, Rhineland, 1164 c.e.
Phillip tossed the rabbits on the ground near the fire and looked about him in the dense darkness of the old growth forest. Evergreens reached high into the sky... evergreens with thick trunks and a wide canopy of dense branches. Yet even these giants had been young and small when he had already been old.
He stretched his arms wide and released the tensions in his back. "How old am I?" he thought as he swung his arms back and forth before him several times and stretched his neck to from side to side. It was part of an old exercise, meant to keep him ever ready and ever vigilant if need be. He counted back to the first battle of the first war he had been in and then tried to remember what year the modern historians had put on it. It was too much for him to quite wrap his mind around. Every time someone else came to power somewhere, the years were numbered differently. Not that it mattered. He looked very much as he had the day he had died, and that he knew was just over one thousand six hundred years ago... give or take a decade or so.
His brown hair he kept closely cropped but he still kept his neatly trimmed beard, although it was shorter now than in the days he had ridden at the side of the young Alexander on his whirlwind campaign through the known world. Ahh... those had been great days! Sometimes he missed the old days... sometimes. But mostly, Phillip was happy just to find the joys and pleasures of everyday life. And soon, very soon, his friend Antoninus should be arriving.
"Antoninus, you old rascal," he thought, looking around, "where are you? You should have been here by now!" They had run into each other a few months ago in Wittenberg and had decided it was time for another wake. They had set the time and the place quietly among themselves, so that anyone watching would not hear of it. Then they had quietly parted to set things to rights so that they could exit the lives they were living at that time and gather here for their centennial party.
Thoughts of the first time he had met the other immortal surfaced. Phillip had been in Rome, serving with the legions about 1000 years ago when he had sensed another, and found the tall Antoninus fighting in a side street with another one. When the other had sensed Phillip's approach and glanced around, Antoninus had taken the moment to take the other one's head. It had been a glorious quickening!
Afterwards, once Antoninus had recovered, he had cautiously observed Phillip who had been lounging against a wall in the darkness, arms folded and grinning. "You fight quick and dirty!" Phillip had offered.
"I fight to survive!" Antoninus had told him that day.
Phillip had nodded gravely, "As do we all, my friend!"
"I am not your friend."
Phillip had smirked, "Matters not. Besides, even if you are not my friend, I may be yours." Then Phillip decided he was thirsty. ''Join me in a drink!"
"I think not!"
"To celebrate your great victory, which you won by the very fact of my happening upon you here." Phillip had grinned in amusement and slowly raised one eyebrow.
Antoninus had simply looked at him.
"You know my friend," Phillip had chuckled, "life does not have to be so serious all the time!"
"What would you know about it?"
Phillip had laughed heartily. "I have a number of years under my belt, perhaps I have seen more than you."
Antoninus had hidden his sword beneath his garments and walked over to Phillip. "Perhaps... but I am a slave attached to the house of a wealthy merchant and I must be about my duties."
"Why a slave?" Phillip had asked as the other had brushed curtly past him.
Antoninus had turned back to him. "I am a scholar... a teacher of my master's children. I teach Greek, poetry, and music. I have a great deal of freedom and many rights. And..." he had leaned into Phillip's face, "I am safely out of most of our kind's way."
"Where's the glory in that?" Phillip had asked. "Still... one little drink..."
And so they had drunk, not just one, but several before they were turned out of the tavern when it closed. In the process, they had given each other a name to call the other by. Since then, whenever about a century had passed, they somehow found one another and lifted a cup to old friends and enemies now dead, cultures and treasures lost forever, the world as it had changed about them. In short... they had a wake. They feasted and partied and drank, usually for about three days. They told stories... well Phillip told stories... his friend Antoninus was a little more reserved... a little more mysterious. In fact, he usually said very little.
Ahh... but still, it was good to have an old friend with whom to share a drink of wine... or whatever spirits they could find. There were not many of the older ones left. And there were even fewer with whom Phillip felt inclined to have a drink.
Not that Phillip entirely trusted Antoninus; nor, he was certain, did Antoninus entirely trust him. But that was the way of it.
Behind him, Phillip heard his student approach. He'd found her almost three hundred years before in Normandy. He had come upon her standing in a creek trying to catch a fish with her bare hands. As soon as she had one in her hands, Phillip had stepped close enough for her to sense him, and both she and the fish had tumbled unceremoniously into the stream. He had laughed uproariously at the sight. It had been days since he had seen another living soul... and her ineptness at catching and trying to maintain a grasp on the wriggling fish had been a rare treat.
He had taken a shine to the young woman, and had offered to train her, as he had been trained. Once he had allayed her fears about his being on the level, and only interested in teaching her, they had gotten along famously. She did not trust him... not quite; but she was a willing and eager pupil.
They would train... go their separate ways sometimes for years at a time... and then re-meet at an appointed time and place, and he would train her some more. He knew a lot... and she had a lot to learn. And... she was the first student he had ever really trained. Oh he had taught many another immortal a move or two... but she was something special.
He had known it from the first moment. Something about the way she had been standing in that creek with the shaft of sunlight shining on her like a shower of golden rain in the midst of the dense forest had reminded him of Danae, the immortal who had trained him. And once he had seen the girl fight... he was certain of it. There was just something about her...
"Well," he thought, "it is high time she met Antoninus. Perhaps we shall have a third for our gatherings once more!" Over the centuries, they had lost so many others... so many companions... not all of them to death. She had not been with him previously when he and Antoninus would arrange to meet. Nor had he ever mentioned her to his friend. Nor had he mentioned his friend to her. There had never been a reason to. Phillip grinned... it should be an interesting party if Antoninus ever got here!
"Little Sister!" he called out to her jovially. "Have you the wood, yet? I have the rabbits and they need cooking."
"Cook them yourself, old man!" she laughed and dumped the wood at the woodpile, and then began stacking it according to size. "If I cook them we shall have blackened coney, extra crisp and you know it well!"
Phillip chuckled, "Aye, that is true." He expertly skinned and gutted the rabbits, swiftly trying to get them ready for roasting before she could get the fire ready. They tied! Ahhh! Life was good!
Before long the tantalizing smell of roast rabbit with herbs and wild onions filled the air. Phillip kept turning the rabbits so that they were soon a golden brown and done to perfection. With them and some windfall apples they still had, and what was left of that old loaf of bread and, of course, the wine, they would have a feast... well, not a feast... but they would eat.
They were nearly finished when Phillip stood and looked off in the gathering gloom of evening. "Someone is coming!" Then as his eyes made out the shape of the rider making his way through the trees, he yelled, "Antoninus, my friend, you were almost too late. I was ready to eat your portion!"
As his friend cautiously dismounted and slowly approached, Phillip ran to clasp him tightly in a great bear hug and lift him off the ground. Then he turned to introduce his student to his friend.
Both of them, he noticed, had surprised looks on their faces, but more than that... Ahh... that was it. "You two already know each other, I see."
They each looked at him and shifted uncomfortably. Yet neither of them betrayed nor said anything. Phillip nodded in understanding and continued. "So, my friend, you were Little Sister's mysterious first teacher... the one she would never tell me about. I should have known. I knew she got that reticence from someone."
Antoninus shot Phillip a sharp glance. Then looking at the girl nodded slightly in greeting.
"Antoninus, huh... nice name," she responded. "Not really your name though, is it?" Little Sister asked with a knowing smile.
His friend made a non-committal grunt and handed her the reins of the horse. She laughed and led the horse over to be unsaddled, hobbled and fed for the night.
"So... she is your student, now," Antoninus said as he crouched down by the fire to pull at what was left of the rabbits. "Is she any good, yet?"
"Mediocre... but she shows promise."
His student returned to the fire and while Antoninus ate... they drank... and Phillip told stories. The others just exchanged slight smiles, knowing looks and an uncomfortable silence across the fire until Phillip could stand it no longer.
"I think I shall make my bed tonight on that hilltop over there... the small one that is free of trees. I have a desire to look at stars tonight!" he said suddenly.
He got up and sauntered off, taking the wineskin with him. If they were to have their wake for the last century... it was obvious those two had to clear some air and they would never do it with him nearby.
"And don't keep me awake all night with your activities!" he offered jokingly over his shoulder as he left the circle of firelight. With any luck... things would be much better come morning. Gods... he hoped so! He wanted to party and this one was not off to a great start.
Methos stared across the fire at Aella. Finally the silence between them became unbearable. They both started to speak at the same instant...
"How have you..." he started.
"You are looking..." she said at the same time.
They both stopped. "You first." They both said at almost the same time. Then both laughed.
"I have missed you," Methos finally said. It was the truth.
Aella smiled at him coyly. "Have you Edward?"
Ahh... perhaps she had forgiven him. Methos stared into the fire, watching it burn and crackle. "Yes... I have." He had moved on after their parting, but he had missed her.
She said nothing. He threw another branch onto the fire and poked at it as the flames brightened and sparks rose into the darkness. The silence between them became a wall.
"How long have you been training with Phillip?" he finally asked.
She shrugged, "A while." Then she chuckled and shook her head.
Her dark hair, shorter than he remembered was a wild tangle about her head. It had obviously been some time since it had last seen a comb. Aella was still dressed like a boy, her peasant garments were rough, shapeless, and in deep forest and earth colors. There was little of the polished young woman he had once known about her. Instead, she seemed to have retreated back to the elfin child of her childhood.
No... that was not quite right. That one had been shy and enchanting... this one, as he well remembered, could be quite dangerous. She seemed more a wild child of nature than anything else. Methos wondered if she had spent any time in cities... had she seen other cultures? She now spoke Greek... but that was likely Phillip's influence. Now that they were alone... she had reverted to the Gaelic of her youth.
"Betray nothing... I am glad you remember your lessons," he said at long last.
"And I do not trust you."
"No reason why you should."
"Nor Phillip for all his geniality."
"Nor do I." The silence returned. The wall between them was even higher.
Methos finally stood to stretch his legs. On the far side of the fire Aella also stood. She stretched ever so slightly... loosening all her muscles. Yes... he could see Phillip's training. Slowly she crossed to his side of the campfire. She stood a few feet from him, twisting slightly, her hands clasped behind her.
"Then that is settled," she said evenly.
"You know," Methos suddenly offered teasingly, "Perhaps you could trust me a little, just for tonight."
"Perhaps, I could at that, " Aella chuckled.
"Just one thing, why does he call you Little Sister, have you not given him your name?
"Of course not, nor has he given me his, I am certain," Aella laughed. "But I told him to pick a name and I would use it."
"Why does he call you Little Sister?"
" Ohh... he treats me like I am his sister. There is nothing more between us."
"So what should I call you in this life?" Methos finally asked.
"Mmmm... whatever you wish, my Lord," she teased and leaned toward him. Her green eyes twinkled in amusement.
He leaned down to kiss her. They could discuss names another time. After all, it had been three hundred years.
About dawn they were rudely awakened by Phillip, who kicked at them all the while chuckling, "The game has begun!"
"What? ..." Aella said, clearly confused. Phillip had said nothing to her about meeting a friend while they were here, nor had he mentioned a game.
"Not yet, you old fool!" said Methos at almost the same time. Phillip had always taken great pleasure in believing he was the older of the two, and since it helped Methos in his own survival plans, he had always gone along with that. He usually let Phillip determine the agenda of their wakes.
"Look what I have. A keg of the finest beer made in these woods... two plump chickens... and a loaf of freshly baked bread, still warm. I have brought the best to the feast!"
"Where did you get..." Aella began.
Phillip set his treasures down and then crossed his arms. "From a woodcutter three hills over to the southwest." He looked knowingly at Methos. "I have won the prize."
By this time both Methos and Aella had finished dressing.
Methos laughed enthusiastically, "You are on my friend!" Then he took off on foot to the northeast.
Aella shook her head. "From a woodcutter... in the middle of the night?"
Phillip shrugged, "I came, I saw, I lifted."
"Perhaps." Phillip slapped his student on the back. "Every time Antoninus and I get together, we try to outdo one another at something. Whoever plays the game the best wins the prize."
"Like 'The Game'?" Aella was still confused.
"Only no swords allowed... and we don't take heads. Well... there was that one time... but that was long ago... and we were very drunk." He shrugged sheepishly.
"How long have you two been doing this?" Aella put her hands on her hips and tapped her foot as if she were scolding a child.
"Oh... a while," Phillip demurred. She knew he was old... just not how old. Somehow once he had passed a thousand he had thought it best not to let anyone know. And now... well now he must be one of the oldest still remaining so he thought it best to keep silent.
Probably Antoninus, who was at least as old as he was, had a fair idea. But, he also knew something about Antoninus that he did not think his friend knew he knew. He had long ago decided that Antoninus was somewhat older than Phillip himself was. His reticent friend had let something slip once... some off-hand comment about the Trojan War. From that comment, Phillip thought his friend just might have actually been there. That war occurred about three hundred years before Phillip had been born. It was legend even then. But his friend seemed to know the events as they happened, not as the legends said they had.
"So... what happens now?" Aella asked.
"Well... we wait. And while we are waiting..." Phillip picked up two sticks and tossed one to her..."en garde'." And they began their morning training session. Life was good!
By late afternoon, Methos returned and triumphantly showed what he had brought to the feast. From a small farm he had gathered a bag of root vegetables, a half dozen eggs, salted pork and a large skin of wine. "Now I have brought the best to the feast!" He crossed his arms and looked smugly at Phillip. "I have won the prize!"
The two immortals regarded one another soberly and then looked at Aella. "Your turn!" they whooped.
"My turn... this 'game' is your foolishness!"
"Learn to relax and have fun Little Sister! Does not the last century deserve a wake to honor it!"
"Go..." encouraged Methos, "Go and see what you can bring to the feast. It cannot be anything already brought. Pick a direction we have not gone in and stop at the first dwelling you find.
"You cannot purchase what you want..." Phillip interjected, "you must take it without permission... nor should you be seen taking it!"
Aella looked around, threw up her hands in acceptance and then chose... west. "It was as good a direction as any was," she thought. She took off at a dead run to see what she could find. "Why do I think I will live to regret this!" She called back to the men as they waved her on her way.
"Interesting way to get her out of here so we could talk," Methos said as they settled themselves around the fire to wait. He pulled out the pouch of tobacco and the carefully wrapped clay pipes from his bags. Grinning he tossed one pipe and the pouch to Phillip.
"Oh... is that what I was doing?" Phillip chuckled. "I see you have been back to visit our friends on the far side of the globe again. Ahh... you know what I like, my friend. I will be glad when this is a little easier to come by over here." He filled the long pipe and lit it.
"You are most welcome, " Methos grinned at him, also filling and lighting his pipe. "And as for the girl... you know damn well you wanted her out of here so we could talk about her."
"Then perhaps I am guilty of that. So... what is her story, she has never said." Phillip puffed on his pipe, blowing smoke rings.
"Why should I tell you?"
"Because I am your friend, whether or not you trust me. More importantly... I am her friend." Phillip regarded his friend evenly. "I do have her best interests at heart."
Phillip shrugged, "Did I ever tell you about my Lady Danae?"
"Only every time!" Methos rolled his eyes at hearing another tale about the Greek's teacher who had taught him all the ways of the sword.
"Did I ever tell you about how she was the Oracle of Poseidon on Niebos when I first met her?"
Methos looked up and suddenly seemed very interested. "What did she look like?" he asked casually.
"Dark hair... tall... athletic... oh and she had green eyes. Anyway... the Oracle of Niebos was not as famous as the Oracle at Delphi... but she was spectacular. She walked on water at certain times of the day and in the spray of the crashing ocean waves and the rainbows that formed... she could read the gods' answers to a petitioner's question. Of course she did not really walk on water... that was a trick of the tide and some rocks under the water line... but I swear she spoke to the gods!"
Methos smiled to himself. Aja must have been up to her old tricks. Oracle of Poseidon indeed! "So what has this to do with Little Sister?" he said aloud. As if I could not guess! he thought.
"When I first saw her... I thought she was walking on water... later, when I saw her moves in our sparring matches... she instinctively knew some of the ones Danae once taught me. My Lady once said I should never take a student until I found one worthy of all my knowledge. I think Little Sister is that student. In all my long years, I have never seen anyone move quite like her. For one so small and one so young, she has an innate sense of timing that is a joy to behold. Now if I could just get her actual fighting abilities up to par, she could be formidable."
Methos puffed on his pipe and stared thoughtfully into the fire. "Has she taken a quickening yet?" he finally asked.
"I suppose... we are not always together. I have other lives... other things I wish to do... you know... that would be somewhat inappropriate for her to be around. She has not spoken of one, but could one of us live three hundred years without being in the game? It is after all what keeps us coming back."
"Perhaps," answered Methos. "Perhaps." Then he puffed on his pipe, took a long drink out of the wineskin and they both settled down to await Aella's return. Phillip seemed satisfied. His talk turned to other things. He did not seem to realize that his friend had never answered his question about what Aella's story was. His attention had been diverted, and it was he who had ended up giving information to his friend.
It was almost dark by the time Aella found a small forest homestead in the direction she had taken. As the inhabitants settled in for the evening, she observed the small thatched and timber cottage, the hen house, the open workshop and the dogs running in the yard.
The dogs could be a problem. From the items in the shed, this must be a woodcarver's home. She could see a few pieces of furniture and carvings in the workshop.
She watched as his wife called the woodcarver into dinner. Two small children who had been playing about in the yard also went in. An hour later, the last candles were extinguished. They had gone to bed and Aella hoped that they would soon be asleep. Now... for the dogs.
Using that innate sense she had around animals, she slowly approached the yard... the two dogs came running up to her, but they did not bark or yelp. They licked her hands and she petted them and scratched behind their ears and whispered small sounds at them. It worked! The two lost interest in her and crossed over to the hen house to sleep. Now... for the house.
She listened for sounds at the door, once satisfied that no one was stirring, she quietly lifted the latch and entered. She stood for a moment after closing the door behind her to let her eyes grow accustomed to the greater darkness. Aella thought that the beating of her heart was so loud, that the sleeping inhabitants had to have heard it. But no one stirred. Once she could see in the darkness again, she noted that this was a clean, well-ordered home. It really was a shame to steal from them.
She slipped about the main room, silent as a ghost and slowly began to gather items for the feast. She found a small crock of honey, one of her favorites, and in a cold press found butter and cheese and a small covered jug of cream. With the bread Phillip had brought, all of that would go well. Next she found a store of fresh apples and added several to her loot. She placed everything in an empty flour sack she had also found. Better and better!
As she passed the still glowing embers of the fire, she saw two small golden heads wrapped in blankets and sleeping on the floor... the children! She stood over them for the longest time, wishing for what could never be. Then she snuffled and wiped her face with her sleeve.
On the mantel before her was a beautifully carved wooden flute. Gently she picked it up. She held it and began slowly to sway, hearing in her head, music from another time.
She stopped suddenly and thrust the flute into the sack. Aella dug into her tunic and carefully removed and opened her small money pouch. She took out three golden coins and placed them on the mantel. Well, they had said she had to steal, they had not said she could not leave a gift in return! She was not paying for anything... not really. Three gold sovereigns were worth far more than the items she had taken... They were a gift!
Aella hoisted the sack over her shoulder and slipped back out the door. The dogs hardly gave her a second look as she headed back to the campsite and her immortal friends.
Phillip clasped his hands in pleasure as Aella unloaded her sack. Ahh... she had the sense of it. He glanced at his friend to see he was chuckling at her choices as if they meant something more. When Aella pulled out the flute, that seemed to decide it for both of them.
"You have won the prize!" Phillip dug in his pouch for the runestone they passed back and forth each time to the winner and tossed it to Aella. "Here it is, Little Sister, for you to hold until next we three are together!"
Aella caught the stone between her hands and turned it over curiously. "What does that mean?" She pointed to the small carving.
"That is a rune for 'friend'," offered Methos. "It was a gift from another of our companions who no longer meets with us."
Aella's eyes widened. "Dead then?"
"No," Methos said, "He was still living the last time I saw him." He and Phillip exchanged knowing looks. But neither said anything further on their lost friend's identity.
"Enough!" shouted Phillip. "I have a feast to prepare! You two, out of my way... find something to do!"
And it was a feast. He used all his culinary skills to whip things together while Little Sister, exhausted from her cross-country night journey, slept. Meanwhile Antoninus silently fingered the flute, nodding his head in remembered tunes. He was practicing for later. The combined amount of food was enough to feed them well... very well. By late afternoon, all was in readiness.
The chickens, stuffed with onions and herbs and some of the bread, were plump and golden brown. The root vegetables were nicely baked. He had stewed the apples sweetened with some of the honey so that they gave off a tantalizing aroma. Then he had finally scrambled the eggs with some of the cream and cheese as a side dish. With the wine, beer, fresh bread and honey it was a meal fit for an immortal!
"Now we feast!" Phillip had cried, kicking gently at the young woman's still dozing form and nodding at his old friend. He clapped his hands together in eagerness. "Gods..." he thought, "I love it when things work out!"
His student rose, washed her face to clear the sleep from her eyes and the three of them sat around the campfire, too engrossed in the food to do much talking.
Little Sister laughingly wiped her chin at one point. "This is so-o good!"
"Mmm..." nodded Antoninus in agreement. He reached for another helping.
Phillip grinned in obvious delight. "Haa... haa... haa... haa... haa!" he chuckled. Life was good!
All too soon they had polished the food off. Each of them lay back and groaned.
"I am so full!" Little Sister said, "I could not eat another bite even if there were more."
Phillip held out a chicken leg and grinned at her. "Now for the entertainment!" He threw one of the legs at her and picked up another one. He crouched in an opening stance and laughed in anticipation. She deftly shifted the bone back and forth in her hands and the two of them began one of their mock matches.
Methos watched them with a discerning eye. For every move Phillip made, Aella made an opposite, almost mirroring move. It was as though they were reading each other's minds... no he realized... not each other's minds... but their intentions... their next move. He sat up suddenly and watched their feet. The patterns of Aja's symbols were in those movements. They moved as though in the dance. Not the wild inside out moves Aella had once used on him during that last match... but carefully stepped... in infinite patterns.
Suddenly Phillip made a move Aella did not expect and she was on the ground.
"Noooo! ..." She screamed in protest and beat the ground with her hands.
"I win!" shouted Phillip triumphantly, and placed one foot over her chest and raised his chicken bone in salute. Then he stepped back and helped her up, laughing heartily.
"Will I ever beat you?" Aella laughed and tried to regain her breath.
"The day you beat me Little Sister is the day you can have my head." Phillip was suddenly solemn.
"Then I will never beat you!" Aella leaned over and gave him a quick kiss on his cheek. "I don't want your head, old man, I much prefer it where it is, thank you very much!" She laughed warmly.
It was good to hear her laugh, thought Methos. Phillip was likely exactly what she had needed when they had parted company three centuries before. She needed some levity to balance the horror of her early immortality. While he had once taught her to survive, Phillip was teaching her to enjoy her immortal life.
But she could not stay on the fringes of life forever... she needed to be on her own... and interacting with others. There was still so very much she had to learn. Methos thoughtfully reached over for the flute and began to play. A lilting dance tune from a few centuries before soon filled the air.
Phillip sat down again and began to clap his hands enthusiastically in the beat. The girl began to twirl... soon stepping into that dance of hers. Faster and faster she moved to the music. Her eyes were closed as she stepped, hopped, slid, patted beats and whirled in an ever-increasing pattern. Soon her arms were outstretched and she opened her eyes and beckoned to Antoninus to join in.
His friend tossed the flute to Phillip, who fumbled a moment and then began to play a much older tune, one he had once played on multiple pipes. Little Sister barely missed a step. Antoninus took her hands and into the dance they went. In... out... cross... turn... they danced them all. The music continued and they began again... this time a new combination.
Phillip watched his friends dance with amazement. He recognized some of the steps, but had never thought of them in terms of dance before. It was a revelation! The dance and the techniques Danae had taught were one. They were both part and parcel of the same basic pattern. The dance changed to accommodate the music, just as the warrior had to change to accommodate his opponents... the weapons at hand... the land.
Finally the music rose to its conclusion. The pair stepped two final steps and then laughed trying to catch their breath. They looked at one another and a great sadness came over both of them.
From his vantage point, Phillip watched them carefully. "Ahh," he thought, "so that is the way of it. She had not yet died when they met." He wondered just what it was that neither of them wanted to tell him. What hurt had come between them? What had changed? There was more here than he could fathom.
His friends dropped their hands and each returned quietly to sit across from one another around the fire. Once again, the silence of the night before seemed interminable.
After a long silence Phillip took a long swig of wine and said, "You know this is pretty good wine you brought to the feast, my friend. It reminds me of my days serving Bacchus. Ahh... the wines we made then... and the parties!" He laughed enthusiastically at the memory. Yes, my friends... wine... and song!"
"Is that not wine, women and song?" smirked Antoninus sarcastically.
Phillip shuddered a moment and then shot his friend a sharp glance, "You remember it your way and I will remember it mine! Besides... it was the wine that was important!"
"You were a priest of Bacchus, old man?" asked Little Sister.
Phillip nodded soberly, "Aye... once. Not like these modern ones, I was a pagan!" He laughed and tossed the wineskin to her.
After she had taken a drink she tossed it over to Antoninus with a laugh, "Then I will be one too!" She stood and twirled with her arms outstretched. "I will worship all nature..." she chuckled a bit drunkenly. "All the world is holy!" Suddenly as the enormity of the thought crossed her mind she stopped and looked about fearfully. Her small hands balled into fists as if the thought of holy ground terrified her. She closed and her eyes and her shoulders shook with her trembling.
Phillip nodded, "Now that's a thought."
His friend nodded in agreement, "That would certainly put a new spin on everything."
"No... no... No!" responded Phillip realizing things were getting entirely too serious. "You know the rules. No talk of the Game or the Gathering!" He looked up at his student and changed the subject. "Did Antoninus ever tell you he was a priest a few hundred years ago?"
"I wasn't a priest I was a monk!" his friend responded.
Little Sister crossed her arms and regarded Antoninus evenly. The shadow of whatever memory had been in her mind was suddenly replaced by a knowing amusement. She slowly raised one eyebrow and smirked, "Really."
"Well... I wasn't a very good monk," he smiled at her and winked. "I was there mainly because of the library. They had fascinating volumes there and I spent years copying and illustrating them. As with all lives... it ended and I moved on."
"As do we all." She nodded in understanding, then shook her head and rubbed her eyes. "Can you really see stars from that hillside?" she asked Phillip. When he nodded, she picked up her cloak and headed for the hill saying as she walked off, "Tonight I have a desire to sleep under the stars for a change. You two can party on without me... I am too tired and too drunk to care." She vanished into the darkness of the surrounding woods.
Methos decided it was time to tap the beer keg. The foamy brown liquid had a most delicious odor. "Ahh..." he said after a draft. "Now that is what I call spirits!" He handed some to Phillip.
"You and your beer!" the Greek laughed. "at this rate we will be very drunk long before morning."
"And then we shall part company."
Phillip nodded somberly. "And what about the girl?"
"I have an idea that it is time she saw Paris." Methos raised an eyebrow and looked knowingly at his friend.
"Ahh... time for her to meet Brother Darius, you think? Do you think she is the one that can finally coax our old friend out of there."
"He is far too visible in Paris. The Watchers follow him about like carrion. He is a danger to us... to all of us... the longer he stays. The problem is, those Watchers watch all of us who visit him. I'd prefer they not notice her. Any ideas?"
"Possibly." Phillip lit his pipe and leaned back. "Now how should we go about this. She can be stubborn."
"I know," Methos said thoughtfully, taking another deep drink of the beer. "We shall have to approach the subject very carefully."
The two immortals settled back to discuss just how to convince their student to go to Paris without either one of them going along. The discussion took several hours and they had time to polish off the beer before they slept.
The sun had reached midday by the time Methos finally awoke. He had earlier been vaguely aware of Aella's movements about the camp, tending to the wood, the fire, and the animals. He could still hear Phillip snoring away. "Some things never change," he thought, and drifted off to sleep once more. By midday, though, he had sobered up completely.
Aella sat watching both of the men. When Phillip sat up and rubbed his head with a moan... she laughed. "So, what do we do today?"
Phillip glanced over at Methos and shook his head. "I think we have created a monster."
"You have no idea!" Methos laughed and then said to Aella, "Today we part company. We each go a different direction alone. And we hope to meet somewhere in the future where we can once more toast the century just past."
Aella held up the runestone. "What do I do with this?"
"Oh... that..." Phillip interjected, "... that you hold onto 'til next we three are together."
"What if I..." she paused. "What if I do not make it to the next century?" she asked soberly. "How will you find it? How will you get it back?"
"It is not the stone that is important, it is the promise to meet if at all possible," Methos finally said.
Aella smiled shyly, shrugged and nodded. "So... where are you off to?"
Phillip stood up, "I am off south to Greece. All this talk of Bacchus last night has made me want to see once more the lands of my youth."
"And I am off east," Methos said. "China, I think..."
Aella stood looking north and west. She shook her head. She had come from the north recently and saw no need to return there. "Then you two have already taken the best. There is not much in the north I care to see now, and as for west... there are too many towns and cities... too many people... the great ocean."
"In Paris..." Methos carefully began, "they are building a great cathedral... one that may well rival the pyramids of Egypt someday."
"Why would I care about a cathedral... as if the god of all creation would choose to dwell in a building made by men when He has all of the world!"
"It is not the cathedral itself that is important..." Methos continued, keeping his voice light, "it is watching a culture come together and build a monument to the greater glory of the god they believe in. They each donate what they have, their money, their skills, and their craft to build it. They work together in harmony and peace for the most part. It is a sight to behold. One should not miss it."
"Anyway..." Phillip added suddenly, "choose your own path Little Sister, and may you find peace at the end of it." He thought he had picked up another clue about his friend Antoninus. He had spoken of the building of pyramids as if he knew something about that. But they were ancient things... could any immortal live so long?
Aella nodded thoughtfully and then looked down at her attire. She sighed, "I suppose I shall have to change my clothes before reaching Paris. I rather think I shall be a lady once again, at least for a while... Paris..." her voice drifted off and she turned to look west. She cocked her head to one side, as though she were hearing some unseen voice.
Methos' eyes narrowed as he saw the once familiar movement once again. "Does she still hear the voice of her mysterious Lady?" He hoped so. If she did, then Aja's lingering magic might yet protect her.
Aella turned back at them and laughed. "You two have something in mind, I know it!" When both of the men demurred and denied it, she laughed, her laughter like that of tinkling bells, "Oh, I am going... I just want you two to know that I do know you have something planned... well whatever it is... do not worry... I will see you again in about a hundred years, if not before." And then she tossed the runestone into the air, caught it on its way down and put it in her coin pouch. All was as it should be.
And Methos smiled. Life was very good!
This story began as a flashback to a scene in "Stolen Child" but quickly became far too complicated and long to work within the framework of that story. I then thought of it as a prologue to the story of the relationship between Aella and Darius... but even then it wanted its own format.
So here it is, with sections told from all three characters' points of view. It introduces readers to Phillip, my "carpe diem" immortal who wants only to "seize the day" and enjoy life. It also gave me a chance to bridge the relationship between Methos and Aella from what it had been to what it might one day become. And it gave me the centennial wakes. They are all in my head from the first century when Phillip met Methos to 2003. They occur in different lands and are not ever precisely one hundred years apart. Rather, they are an opportunity for immortals, who are basically solitary and distrustful creatures, to let down their guard and be with old friends.