Do You Want to Know a Secret?
Do You Want to Know a Secret?
by Sandra McDonald
Do you want to know a secret?
Do you promise not to tell?
- The Beatles

September 20, 1993
Chartres, France

Rebecca Horne turned over in bed and squinted at the gray light of dawn. She couldn't remember a more miserable night of sleeplessness. For seven hours she'd tossed and turned in the mammoth four-poster bed, twisting and untwisting the sheets, pummeling and fluffing the pillows. Herbal tea hadn't worked, nor reading, nor meditation. Staring at the ceiling had failed miserably. Staring at the back of her own eyelids hadn't been any better. Rebecca remembered periods of half-dozing and anxious dreams, but she didn't think she'd gotten any real sleep at all.

Copernicus startled her by jumping up on the bed. The tabby cat nuzzled against Rebecca's hand and meowed piteously.

"Good morning to you, too," Rebecca said, although the morning felt anything but good. She pushed the silk sheets aside and reluctantly sat up. "You don't fool me. You only want your father and your breakfast."

The phone rang. Rebecca glanced at the clock over the fireplace and picked up the receiver. "Good morning, John."

"My love," he said warmly. "Vienna is awful without you."

"Really?" Rebecca swung her feet to the braided rug and crossed to the open balcony doors. The hot, muggy air made her feel sweaty. The western skies looked leaden with rain. Down below, amidst the fountains and almond trees, Copernicus's sister Herschel made her way toward the kitchen. "Tell me all about it."

"The Danube stopped running, the Inner City has become the Outer City and the Rathaus is overrun by rats."

"Sounds terrible," Rebecca agreed, and couldn't help the yawn that followed.

"Didn't you sleep well?" John asked. He knew her habit - in bed before midnight and up at dawn, ready to take on the day.

"Just a few restless dreams." She didn't tell him they had been about Richie Ryan, the pre-Immortal protege of her friend Duncan MacLeod.

"I dreamt of you," he said. "In that beige peignoir you bought last week."

Rebecca smiled. "When you come home, I'll meet you at the door wearing it. If you're especially nice, I'll let you wear it, too."

John laughed. Rebecca adored his laugh, the way it started deep in his chest and rumbled up his throat. He was a bear of a man, strong and fiercely intelligent. Protective of her, perhaps too much at times. He could not compete with the breadth and width of her experiences over three millennia, but instead took delight in seeing history through her eyes. He brooded at times about growing old, and worried about her one day losing a challenge, but mostly concentrated on their day-to-day life together. He had one lingering heartache, the inability to have children with her. She had yet to tell him of her discovery that she could, in fact, bear the children of Immortal men, that she had given birth to Richie and perhaps hundreds of more sons and daughters -

"Sorry?" Rebecca asked, hearing only the tail end of John's question.

"I asked if you wanted anything from Demel's. The schokoladentorte? Some gugelhupf?"

Demel's was her favorite chocolate shop in all of Vienna, but not even John's suggestions could turn Rebecca's thoughts from Richie or how she'd discovered she was his mother. Just three months earlier, a friend who'd been acting strangely gave birth to a daughter beneath the streets of Paris. Rebecca brought the child to Darius, who confirmed that despite everything Rebecca believed true, Immortal women bore children. Richie, in Duncan's company, had shown up in France wearing a crystal Rebecca had lost under mysterious circumstances in New York eighteen years earlier. A private investigation firm, acting on Rebecca's instructions, had unearthed the circumstances of newborn Richie's abandonment on the New Jersey turnpike on September 20, 1974, several hours after Rebecca had made love to Duncan.

Today was September 20th. Richie's nineteenth birthday. The baby son she didn't remember had grown up without her help or love. A strange twisting of fate had brought him to Duncan's side, but neither father nor son knew about their true relationship. Darius's shocking murder had sent Duncan, Richie and Duncan's lover Tessa back to the States before she could tell them.

"So what will it be?" John asked.

"Just a box of bonbonkisterl," Rebecca said. "That would be lovely."

When she went downstairs a few minutes later to fix a cup of tea, she tried to put thoughts of Richie out of her mind. Herschel had made her way through the cat flap and sat patiently by the refrigerator, poised like a Sphinx. Copernicus twined himself between Rebecca's legs and pawed the cool tile floor. The kitchen, a low expansive room where a dozen people could sit comfortably around the wooden table, was empty but for the three of them.

"Yes, it's breakfast time," Rebecca said to Copernicus. "I haven't forgotten."

With John away and the servants on vacation, Rebecca had nothing planned for the day save a lunch in town and a few errands to run. While the kettle heated and the cats feasted on canned tuna, she flipped through the collection of fabric samples she'd ordered in anticipation of redecorating the library. She loved her chateau, all fourteen rooms of it, the high ceilings and stone floors and medieval fixtures, but was beginning to loathe the upkeep. Maybe a simple cottage in the woods would be easier. But then where would she put guests when they came to visit? Where would she put Richie, if he ever came to know her as his mother and wanted to spend time with her?

Her attention wandered across the sea and over the continent of North America. Nineteen years old. What did teenage boys in the U.S. do on their nineteenth birthdays? She had only the example of sophomoric Hollywood movies to guide her. Beer kegs, rock bands, scantily clad girls, motorcycles roaring through living rooms, sexual rites of passage - Rebecca rubbed her eyes. If it were up to her - which it wasn't, she knew that, but a mother could dream - she'd save Richie from the frivolity of youth and take him out to a civilized dinner, perhaps a night at the opera, something quiet and refined and befitting of a young gentleman.

He would hate it. She knew that much about him. He would fidget and complain, and pull at the tie around his neck, and roll his eyes at the affectations of snooty waiters. Richie Ryan was too energetic and restless to be pinned in by the dictates of high society. Too young and free at heart. Let him have his teenage bacchanalias and joyful flings. She'd celebrated more than one of her own birthdays in forest glades filled with wine, music and revelry. Besides, sooner or later, fate would send Richie across the demarcation line of death and bring him back to a world far more dangerous and somber than the one he'd left behind. Better to enjoy mortality while he could.

Thunder rumbled outside just as the kettle began to whistle. Copernicus finished his breakfast and began fastidiously cleaning his paws. Herschel headed back to the garden to chase mice or other unfortunate animals. Rebecca poured boiling water into a cup and added a bag of cinnamon-apple tea. She ached to pick up the phone and dial Duncan's home in Seacouver. Maybe Richie would answer. She could hang up without revealing herself. Rude, but not harmful to anyone. Or, conversely, after he picked up the phone and said, "Hello?" she would say, "Hello, Richie, it's your mother. Happy birthday."

Madness. Pure madness. Just because she had unearthed the most devastating secret of Immortality didn't mean she had to go around inflicting the truth on others. Richie might not want a mother dropping into his life at such a late stage. He might not want to know Duncan was his father. Surely he would deduce that having two Immortal parents meant he too would one day carry a sword and kill strangers. Three huge revelations like that could destroy a young man's foundations, tear apart his perspective on himself and the world around him. Rebecca had no right to do that to Richie.

Even if he was her son.

An intense yearning to hear his voice made her reach for the phone. Rebecca closed her hand on the cool receiver and lifted it from the cradle. Her heart began to thud painfully as she dialed the memorized numbers. Her breath caught as the connection went through and began to ring in Seacouver. A quick calculation told her it was just a few hours before midnight there, and still only September 19th.

"Hello?" Tessa Noel answered, her voice clear and strong. She sounded as if she'd been laughing. Rebecca heard Richie and Duncan arguing good-naturedly in the background, but she couldn't tell about what.

"Hello?" Tessa asked again. "Is anyone there?"

Rebecca hung up.

***

Children plagued Rebecca for the rest of the day. In Chartres, at lunch with the ladies of the literacy league, the conversation turned time and time again to daughters, sons, grandchildren, nieces and nephews. Pictures passed from hand to hand as praises were sung and accomplishments broadcast. Rebecca nodded and smiled as best she could. After lunch she found herself in line at the bank behind a woman with a toddler on her hip. The little boy couldn't have been more than two years old, and had deep dimples beneath bright blue eyes and brown hair. His giggles and smiles made her turn around and head for the marketplace. The familiar stalls of fresh fish, meats, breads and vegetables comforted her, but the narrow lanes were jammed full of harried mothers and babies in strollers. Rebecca retraced her steps and headed for the library. Two blocks later, she had to stop and wait as a nun led twenty solemn-faced schoolboys across the street.

The universe is trying to tell me something, she thought to herself.

Just before three o'clock, Rebecca climbed up the steep hill to the Cathedral, a pilgrimage she made two or three times a month. With tourist season waning and the skies continuing to threaten rain, she found herself nearly alone on the well-kept grounds. The mismatched towers - one Gothic, the other Romanesque - looked dark and foreboding against the clouds. Monsignor Maguin stood beneath a frieze of the Massacre of the Innocents, looking upward with a frown on his wide, weathered face. His robes flapped around his legs.

"I'd hoped to work in the gardens after dinner," he said. "I fear they'll be underwater by then."

"The storm might pass right by," Rebecca offered, even as she felt the first warm drops of rain.

"Dr. Horne, you at least bring the sun with you wherever you go," Maguin said, clasping her hand. "Have you come to walk the labyrinth?"

"I have," Rebecca said. "Is it accessible?"

"No folding chairs," Maguin promised, with a rueful smile.

Rebecca nodded. On some days she played the part of patroness, using her extensive resources to bring attention and prestige to the Cathedral. At other times she lectured the staff on inaccuracies in the brochures, misstatements by the docents or poor management of important assets such as the labyrinth, which was sometimes covered by folding chairs. Maguin knew her as a renowned religious expert with first-rate knowledge of the Cathedral's origins and history, but had no idea she'd first visited the site back when Druids worshipped the sacred forest that predated it. He believed her father Catholic but her mother Jewish, which explained her knowledge of the faith but reluctance to attend mass. She didn't tell him she'd sooner cut off her right hand than worship Jesus and the institution that had tortured her and murdered thousands of women in the name of witchcraft. Every time she entered the sanctuary she walked a delicate line - if not literally through the labyrinth, then figuratively between the Catholic empire that controlled the site and the pagan heritage of Chartres that formed the bedrock of her own personal faith.

Her feelings about the Church ran so strongly that she and Darius had nearly become estranged. In that small way alone, Rebecca regretted allowing bitter experience to guide her. Darius had found something in the Catholic faith to inspire and guide his soul, and he was no fool. Whether his embrace of Rome had been the last-ditch effort of a dying spirit - any port in a storm, after all - or a genuine conversion based on an overwhelming Quickening, she couldn't say. She knew they had never been able to agree on the past or continuing sins of his hierarchy, and her anathema had kept her from attending his funeral mass in Paris.

Rebecca left the bishop at the west portal and walked into the cool dimness of the Cathedral. The vaulted ceiling, soaring so high despite its mammoth weight, impressed her as always. The magnificent stained glass windows looked dark and almost colorless, though, and the muffling effects of stone made the building almost preternaturally quiet in the gloom. Rebecca stood still, closed her eyes and asked the spirit of the place to move into her. Beneath the friezes, statues, saints, pews and marble lay an ancient source of power and mystery. It had inhabited the Druids' forest, running joyfully through springs and streams, reaching for the moon and sun through the solid trunks of trees. Centuries of deforestation, digging, dragging, hammering, chiseling, grinding and constructing had hemmed it in but not diminished it.

Usually, when her mind was at rest and open to possibilities, Rebecca could feel the unnamed spirit settle against her heart. On this day, with so many thoughts and regrets about Richie bothering her, she felt only a hollow emptiness.

The thirteenth-century labyrinth was, as promised, free of folding chairs or other obstacles. Rebecca made her pilgrimage on her feet and not her knees, unlike many before her. She listened to the faint clicks of her shoes against the stone. Around and around, turn after turn, the maze of lines matching the dimensions of the rose window set high in the wall behind it, the constant twisting of directions a tool for releasing thoughts and fears. Tell Richie. Don't tell Richie. Tell Duncan. Don't tell Duncan. Darius had believed the secret of Immortal children would hinder the Game and make it even harder to face a stranger in battle. Rebecca pondered the dilemma as she looped around and around. Her breathing evened out, her hands loosened at her sides and her mind fell into the soothing pattern. At the end of her journey, ninety minutes later, she felt weary but not especially enlightened.

Rebecca went to the Black Madonna and lit a candle. As she knelt, she remembered Richie's surprise at seeing it during their visit to the Cathedral.

"Why's she black?" he had asked. "And the baby, too?"

"Candle smoke and age," Duncan had answered. Typical of the Highlander. He had no inkling of the true history of black mother statues in Catholic churches, no desire to reach past the condescending propaganda of Roman princes. Out of laziness or courtesy she had not corrected him. She realized now what a mistake that had been. She wanted Richie to know who his mother was, and appreciate the sacred role of mothers, priestesses and goddesses throughout history.

She wanted him to know the truth.

Truth. She had sought it all her life and been hiding it all summer. Duncan deserved to know he had a son, a direct heir who carried the Highlander's blood in his veins. Richie deserved to know who his parents were and what they stood for. Immortality was an illusion; she or Duncan could die any day at the stroke of a sword, losing the chance to forge a true parent-child relationship. And if knowing his pre-Immortal status inspired Richie to take additional risks, than she and Duncan would have to do their best to guide him.

Rebecca sighed in relief. She had her answer. All she had to do was decide on the timing. She and John already had plane tickets to fly to Seacouver at Christmas. Four months seemed impossibly far away, but jumping on the next available plane was ludicrous. Perhaps some compromise could be made. John didn't know about Immortal babies yet, and he deserved to know. First things first, then. When he returned from Vienna on Friday she would tell him the impossible things she'd learned in Paris, and they would discuss together how best to break the news to Duncan and Richie.

"Dr. Horne," Monsignor Maguin said as she left. "You look as if a great load has lifted from your heart."

"It has," Rebecca said, favoring him with a sunny smile. "It truly has."

***

Rebecca reached home just as the clock in the foyer struck five o'clock. Rain had slowed her drive, giving her time to concoct a reasonable excuse for calling Seacouver. With a little luck, she'd get to speak to Richie. She intended only to share a few words with her son, nothing too revealing, just pleasantries. Inside the house, Copernicus and Herschel met her with plaintive cries and twitching tails. Rebecca petted them and led a feline parade to the kitchen, where she served the cats dinner from a tin can and fixed a bowl of vegetarian soup for herself.

At six o'clock she went to her library, settled into her favorite chair by the window and dialed Seacouver again. It would be nine a.m. there, not early enough that everyone would be sleeping, but early enough that she hoped to catch them before they went off somewhere.

Duncan picked up on the third ring. "Hello?"

"Duncan, it's Rebecca Horne. How are you?"

"Rebecca!" He sounded pleased to hear from her, and not groggy from sleep. "I'm fine, how are you? How's France?"

"France is the same, and I'm doing wonderfully. How are Tessa and Richie?"

"One of them is working hard, and one of them is hardly working - it's Richie's birthday. He thinks that means he's off the hook today."

"His birthday?" Rebecca managed to put just the right note of surprise in her voice. She couldn't help the silly grin she saw reflected in the window pane. "How old is he?"

"Nine."

Richie shouted something in the background.

"Nineteen," Duncan corrected, laughing. "He just acts like he's nine."

Rebecca clutched the phone harder. "Put him on," she urged. "I'll wish him a happy birthday."

The receiver fumbled. "Hey, Rebecca," Richie said, sounding breezy and happy. "I've been trying to get Mac to put in a swimming pool like yours, but he keeps saying the alley isn't big enough."

Against all expectations, she found her eyes welling up.

"You'll just have to come back and use mine, then," she said.

"The minute I scrape enough airfare together, I'm there," Richie promised. "Here, Tessa wants to say hi."

Rebecca didn't want to talk to Tessa. She wanted to hear more of her son's voice. She wanted to know what kind of place Duncan had them living in, if there was an alley attached to it. She wanted to know how Richie planned to celebrate and what gifts he'd received. Instead, to her immense frustration, she got Duncan's girlfriend speaking cheerfully in French.

"You're lucky you only had to put up with us for a few days," Tessa said. "Together, the two of them are incorrigible."

Rebecca wiped at her eyes. It took her a moment to find a suitable response. "I bet they are. How are things going now that you're back in America?"

"Crazy as usual. We're almost ready to re-open the store," Tessa said. "Oh, here, speak to Duncan. Richie and I are off to go pick up his birthday cake. Bye!"

Duncan's voice came back on the line. "So what's new in your part of the world?"

For a moment, Rebecca couldn't remember her pretense for calling. "I'm looking for some American antiques for a friend of mine. She's getting married, and they're moving into a new house. I thought you might be able to help."

"Did you have anything particular in mind?" Duncan asked. In the background, Richie and Tessa laughed and then faded from range.

"I'm not sure. Maybe American Chippendale? A desk or table?" Rebecca imagined Richie and Tessa heading out together in the sunny morning, Tessa acting like the mother Rebecca wanted to be. Jealousy washed through her, replaced by shame. At least Richie was surrounded by people who loved him.

"I'll see what I can do," Duncan replied. "When do you need it?"

"By the end of October," she lied.

"I'll call you when I find something," he said.

Rebecca feared he was about to hang up. She grasped for some additional topic of conversation. "Tessa said you're just about ready to re-open?"

"Finally," Duncan said. "We've had a lot to do."

"Well, you sound fabulous," Rebecca said. "Life in the States always did improve your disposition."

He laughed. "That and other things."

"What other things?" Rebecca asked curiously. After hundreds of years of friendship, she knew that tone of voice when Duncan used it. He was pleased about something, the cat ready to eat the canary.

"I guess I can tell you. I've been thinking long and hard . . . and I've decided to ask Tessa to marry me."

"Marry you!" Rebecca felt her jaw drop open. Duncan had never married anyone. Mortal and Immortal women alike, all of considerable resources and motivation, had chased after him in every way conceivable. The handsome, dashing Highlander had escaped them all. Amanda had once said his reluctance had something to do with a gypsy woman's prophecy or curse, but Rebecca couldn't remember the details.

"I haven't figured out when or where to ask her," Duncan said. "You're the only one who knows. No telling."

Before she could stop herself, she blurted out, "Maybe now's not the best time."

Duncan asked, with a smile in his voice, "Why not? Do you know something I don't?"

"Yes," she said bluntly. "I do."

Silence stretched along the phone line. Duncan's voice lost its humor and became edged with both concern and annoyance. "What is it?"

Rebecca's stomach twisted. No, no, not like this, not with half a world between them. But how could she let him propose and marry Tessa when he had more important concerns to attend to? The presence of a son might change the dynamics of their relationship immensely. Tessa, at least, deserved to know she would become a stepmother. Rebecca took a deep breath.

"Duncan, there's something very important I must tell you. But I want to do it in person. Will you wait for me? I can be in Seacouver tomorrow."

"Rebecca . . . " he started, and she heard the petulant tone of a man with little patience for games. He had always been that way. Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod had always been a man of action, and once he'd set his mind to something, very little would dissuade him.

"It's very important. I would never ask, otherwise. Please, Duncan, don't do anything before I get there."

"What could be so important?" Duncan demanded. "Is it about Tessa?"

"No, it's not about her," Rebecca said. She resorted to a desperate measure. "It's about Darius, and a secret he told me before he died."

Utter silence now. Invoking Darius's name had been a risk. His death was still a raw wound. They hadn't even discussed it yet, or shared the pain that came from losing someone who'd been so important to both of them. Rebecca squeezed the receiver and held her breath, ready to stun him with the truth if she had to, desperate to avoid that recourse.

"All right," he said finally. "I'll wait for you, Rebecca. But I swear to God you'd better have something important."

"It's possibly the most important thing in both of our lives." Rebecca looked out the window at the gentle rain, the wet garden, the skies dimming with dusk. Resolve filled her heart. "I'm calling the airline now. I'll be there tomorrow. Thank you, Duncan."

Rebecca hung up the phone, dialed Air France and arranged to fly from Paris to New York on a flight departing at eleven o'clock. They had one seat left in first class, at an astronomical price. She charged it without a second thought and then arranged a second flight on to Seacouver. She had only a few hours to dig up her passport, find a catsitter for Copernicus and Herschel, pack some clothes, drive up to Paris and get on the plane. No time to tell John where she was going or why. Explanations would have to wait until she could call him from Duncan's.

"I'm coming," Rebecca said to the image of Richie she held in her mind. "I'll be there tomorrow."

But she never made it.

The End
Author's notes: Thanks to Cindy Hudson, Sue Factor and Terry Odell for their very helpful comments and corrections! Any remaining mistakes are my own fault.

There really is a labyrinth in the Cathedral at Chartres, and sometimes it's covered up by folding chairs. If anyone's ever been there, I'd love to hear if my descriptions are anywhere near accurate.

Rebecca's cats are named after the famed astronomers Nicolas Copernicus (1472-1543) and Caroline Herschel (1750-1848).

The Rathaus in Vienna is the town hall. I don't think the name is intended to slur politicians, but I can't be sure . . .

Coming sooner or later: "You Are So Beautiful To Me." Why doesn't Rebecca make it to Seacouver? What does Methos have to do with anything? Where in the world is Newfoundland? Stay tuned for the answers!


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