"I was Death! Death on a horse...!" Methos, Highlander.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: That's where it started. 'So Methos' horse in the Flashbacks has to be called Binky,' I added to myself. Put that together with the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (both the Highlander and Pratchett/Gaiman versions) and Things began to cook in the subconscious. Throw in lots of laughter from the good folk on alt.tv.highlander and on alt.fan.pratchett plus reports of Adrian Paul's own ...expanded... sense of humour, add a riot of a Highlander convention in Glasgow and the mixture was made. This is what eventually came out of the cake tin.
'Highlander' originally came out of the mind of Gregory Widen and now belongs to Davis Panzer/Gaumont Television/Film International Highlander Inc. 'Discworld' belongs to the genius of Terry Pratchett. I'm just borrowing both concepts and I'll put them back nicely when I've finished.
Many thanks to Roger Parsons who teaches Latin and classified various fauna and flora in an appropriate manner for me!
"Veni, vermini, vomui." Lord Vetinari, 'Jingo'
via Terry Pratchett.
(I came, I got ratted, I threw up.)
|Footnotes (denoted by black, bracketed numbers) can be read by clicking on the footnote number. To return to the main text, click on <Back> at the end of the footnote.|
SEACOUVER: JUNE 21st, 1999
It's crazy, I know, but I miss him," Methos swirled the dregs of beer
around for the umpteenth time in the bottle he was holding, "Where did Mac
the eternal Boy Scout say he was going this time?" Joe Dawson,
Duncan's sometime mortal Watcher and now friend, enigmatically polished a whisky
tumbler and put it on the counter of his otherwise empty bar in Paris. He was
open for two special customers, after hours. Methos was one of them.
"His island, for a start. He helped Amanda move to Toruffulo, then..." Joe clicked his fingers, "vanished. Couldn't track him. Got Watchers on the look-out for him from all over. Mac has a knack for disappearing these days. He assured me there wouldn't be anything worth Watching." Methos finally downed the last mouthful of beer.
"Hmmm. Then why are you polishing up his lead crystal tumbler?" Methos' head went up as he felt another Immortal approaching. He put his hand inside his jacket and rested it on the pommel of his sword, just to be safe. The door to Joe's bar swung open and shut. A familiar tanned hand closed round the tumbler which had miraculously gained a double measure of single malt just in time. Duncan MacLeod took a swallow, ignoring the surprise written on Methos' face. Joe smiled and spoke to Duncan.
"So, how's it been?" Methos fidgeted, desperate for news. Joe and
Duncan ignored him. One of their favourite games these days was 'Bait the Really
"Here and there, Joe. Nothing spectacular to report - no sudden lightning storms or anything." Duncan's face was an impenetrable, polite mask. He hadn't shaved in a day or two, was dressed for a journey, complete with walking boots, but otherwise looked perfectly normal.
Methos was almost beside himself with impatience. For all the enigma he encouraged and fostered around himself, there was nothing he liked better than a good old-fashioned gossip.
"Yes? And?" Duncan's right eyebrow rose a millimetre at Joe. This meant 'Spin it out as long as possible'. Joe nodded, business-like.
"Another beer, Methos?" The 5,000-year old Immortal looked at the empty bottle almost with surprise, then realised that a fresh supply might lead to Important Revelations, and nodded. Joe fetched out the bottle, made a great show of popping the cap and handing it to Methos. Duncan turned his head. Methos looked up, right on cue, like an expectant puppy. Dark brown eyes met guarded golden hazel. Methos looked hurt, then Duncan smiled and the relaxation was visible.
"Cheers!" Duncan tapped his glass against the bottle and took another mouthful. Joe's mouth twitched. Methos traced a lone ring-mark on the bar and sighed.
"Look, I know it's something important, but if it's
private....." Duncan let his rucksack slide off his shoulders. He fetched
out a fairly large heavy rectangular object wrapped in several layers of blue
"I found it, Joe. The book." Layers were carefully peeled back to reveal a very old, leather-clad volume. Joe's hand visibly trembled as he made to touch it. His eyes flicked up to meet Duncan's gaze and he spoke.
"The Watcher legend is true, then?" Methos looked from Joe to Duncan, then the book and back to Joe. He was almost jumping up and down on the stool.
"By Astarte, Krsna and all the old gods....." Methos exclaimed, "The Book from Another World....?" Duncan nodded.
"That's what Joe had understood. The Watchers had heard rumours about it. In a way it has the same air of mystery and potential power as the Methuselah stone. I found it hiding in a library in some medieval alms-houses in Glastonbury. The charming lady librarian let me buy it from her for a donation to charity. Maybe Merlin hid it in Glastonbury in the first place!" Methos' lips twitched.
"That name again," he murmured to himself, "That was a long time ago. Haven't seen the old town in so many years..."
Joe replied to Duncan. "Yes. But it's not written in any human language I've seen." Methos looked at Duncan and Joe.
"Maybe I have...." He reverently leaned over and looked at the cover and the first page, then grinned, "Well, it wasn't written by a human, that's for starters! Look at that!" There was a hand-print on the title page. The fingers were longer and narrower than a human hand. Joe leaned over the counter.
"So what I've heard on the Watcher grape-vine about the FBI and that nasty business with agents Scully and Mulder is right? There are - or were aliens among us?" Methos' grin grew wider and he shook his head. He was in charge now and it felt wonderful.
"Not exactly among us and not aliens, either. This is the hand-print of an orang-utan," There were splutters from his right and from behind the bar. Methos looked at the table of contents and found the seventh chapter, "Ah, yes... This will do. It's been a while since I last did this, but I'll give it a try....." Methos flexed his fingers and a stream of unintelligible words issued from his lips. A swirling vortex sprung up and surrounded the three men. The wind whipped at their clothes and they couldn't see anything but each others' faces. As suddenly as it had started, it stopped.
Duncan drew his Katana automatically, adopting a defensive posture. He
scanned his surroundings. An old shop, covered in dust and uninhabited. He put
his Katana back and looked at Methos.
"What have you done?" The words were simply spoken, but held a certain promise of speedy retribution. Methos had the grace to look sheepish.
"Brought you to the place this book was written. Call it a free holiday if you like." Joe blinked the dust out of his eyes.
"What about the bar?" Methos smiled.
"The usual cross-dimensional rules apply - the time we spend here doesn't count in our world. We arrive back a split second after we left."
"Oh. What now?" Methos threw open the door.
"Welcome to Ankh Morpork, city of wonders.....!" An immense, stony-faced individual picked all three men up into its arms with ease.(1)
"Hello," it said, in rather deafening tones, "You must be the three new volunteers they promised me to help search for the monster. Come with me....."
The three companions didn't have much choice. Using a sword against a huge
creature made of solid rock is not a good idea. Duncan looked up from the
blue-grey arm which was clamping him to a minor cliff-face. Parts of his
Scottish blood were running cold in fright, whilst other parts were thrumming
with adrenaline. It is one thing to be excited as a child with stories of
terrible beasties and monsters lurking in the woods, but when they are clearly a
reality and apparently living and breathing, it is a different matter. He lapsed
into his native brogue without thinking.
"Are ye truly a boggart?" Two coal-black eyes turned his way. A cavernous mouth opened.
"I'm a Troll. You can call me Blue Lias." Duncan managed to snatch another breath.
"Ah'm Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod and these are my friends Methos and Joe Dawson." Blue Lias regarded Methos first.
"Well, you can be our lucky charm. You'll come in handy in our hunt for de legendary Bignose." Duncan chuckled helplessly at Methos' discomfiture and Joe smiled as they moved through the city. Methos had been known to display some discomfort over his distinctively long, patrician nose.
Duncan looked around him. The cobble stones and the architecture of Ankh
Morpork reminded him somewhat of countless towns and villages in Europe of the
Seventeenth Century. His thoughts whirled. 'Except they didn't have Trolls,
gargoyles like that - oh God, it's alive - and he's(2) a real dwarf, straight out of
the Brothers Grimm....'
Methos smiled eagerly. 'It worked; it really worked. 4,000 years since my initiation and I've still got the Power. I only wish that I could go back and tell Melchizadek that he was right all along.....'
Joe was soaking up the sights, trying not to rubberneck, and failing.' Gee. Oh, man. I wish I'd brought my guitar... The songs I could write about this place....'
Blue Lias stopped after a little while and looked carefully at Joe. Huge
fingers felt incredibly delicately down Joe's body, encountering his false legs.
"Army? War?" Joe nodded.
"Something like that. Don't dent them, please." Blue Lias' eyes were kind.
"I never hurt a human yet. Not on purpose, anyway. We Trolls know the damage one of our kind can do to one of yours," The vast chest swelled proudly, "Dey asked me along because I come in handy in the mountains." Blue Lias brought them to a halt outside an old, half-timbered building, "But first; you humans need someting to drink, yes? Duncan looked up. It was a pub; very like many he'd been in about 400 years before. The cracked sign swung creakily in the soft sunlight.
"The White Heather?!!? Oh, no. Oh, please, no. Accordians
and wall to wall tartan was bad enough the first time." Joe turned
to Duncan as Blue Lias put them all down and ushered them through the door.
"I thought you were proud of your Scottish heritage." Duncan pulled himself up to his full height and braced his shoulders.
"I am - through and through. But too much of the supposedly quaint 'braw bricht moonlicht nicht' and tourist fodder can warp the mind! You know the sort of thing.....shortbread, Harry Lauder and the modern invented tartans. It's not authentic. I should know - I was there!" He looked around the inside of the public house.
It was dark. Shadows clung lovingly to every corner and there were plenty
of both. There wasn't even a hint of tartan or anything twee and pretending to
be Scottish in the room, apart from Duncan MacLeod himself. He relaxed visibly.
The four of them sat around a rough wooden table. Blue Lias sat on the outside
with Joe, as both would have had differing difficulties fitting into the
settle-like seating that lined the walls. The ceiling was low and had beams,
much in the manner of many old British pubs. The table to the right was
occupied by dwarfs, who looked up once, then returned to talking amongst
themselves in native lingo. A figure approached them from the bar. It was
tall, thin, very pale and rather...lifeless, despite clearly being capable of
movement. Methos saw it first and his mouth fell wide open. He muttered in a
"A...golem? It looks like a re-animated mummy." Duncan blanched slightly too.
"Does Clive Barker live around here?" Late nights after Quickenings had introduced Duncan to the modern horror genre. For some strange reason, reading and seeing film horror helped him forget the very real beheadings. Consequently he was developing a rather black edge to his sense of humour. Methos snorted. He had often been with Duncan of late, scrounging a beer and disecting the special effects with consummate ease. Joe turned around, managing to control whatever reaction he had to the strange, pale figure.
"Four beers, please?" The head nodded, fell off, then was smartly
replaced before the person walked back to the bar. Joe turned to Blue
Lias, "At least, is beer okay with you?"
Blue Lias nodded, "Yes. S'okay. Dat's Fred. Died last month. He is doing alright, dey say." Methos snorted again.
"Died last month? I know how that feels. So...um...Fred is one of the undead?"
"Yup. I took him to the Fresh Start Club. Dey help him lots." Duncan's lips twitched.
"I'm glad the really dead nasty Immortals don't have that option. Goodness knows how we'd deal with them!" Joe chuckled softly and sympathetically, "I can't see many Watchers taking on the duties if they were revivable either. I'm glad our world runs on different lines," his eyes twinkled with humour, "Although a thesis to the effect that revived Immortals are the undead might be interesting." Duncan shot Joe a hard stare.
"Don't even think about it." Methos shrugged.
"I was treated as one of the undead long ago. Shortly after that I was worshipped as a God. That was fun. I could have as many women as I wanted - men too, for that matter if I felt so inclined. I became very selective. Some of those women were so hot, so eager. Ahh, halcyon days...." He felt Duncan's reproving gaze on him,
"Oh, come on, MacLeod! Surely even you must have fantasised about having hundreds of women at your beck and call and being able to enjoy the favours of any of them if you so chose," Duncan turned away, "Hmmm, thought as much. I bet you had fun and cut loose a couple of hundred years ago."
Fred brought back the beers. Duncan and Methos buried themselves in their
tankards fairly quickly. Joe sipped his and looked around.
"Well, it could do with a lick of paint and a good clean, but otherwise it's a fairly good bar. Has Ankh Morpork discovered the blues?"
Methos chuckled, "No, not really. Music, yes. I don't know how the locals would take to the blues - most of them are fairly contented," he turned towards Blue Lias, "You're happy, aren't you?" The Troll nodded enthusiastically. The settle creaked underneath him.
"Yes. Dey all make me very happy. Dere is Trolls in City Watch and many other places. I live, I eat, I meet lady Trolls now and den. It is different to my home in der mountains." The four beers were slowly consumed, then Blue Lias stood up (3), "We must go find caravan now. Dey wait for us outside city." They duly left the bar.
Blue Lias turned left suddenly and carried them with him through the gate of
the city and out into the countryside. Duncan coughed, then sneezed.
"What on Earth is that smell?" Duncan's eyes watered. Methos was wearing a smug smile (4).
"You're not on the Earth any more, MacLeod," he affected an annoying sing-song voice. Duncan's eyes narrowed.
"Cabbages! Miles and miles of cabbages." Two Immortal heads swivelled towards Joe. The Watcher shrugged.
"They grow them around the river plains where I grew up. St Louis." Blue Lias suddenly deposited them on a narrow wooden surface. Duncan smiled.
"It's like a pioneer's wagon!" Methos looked at him, "Well, that's how I got across America the first time. Found Little Deer as well." His face took on a wistful look. Methos and Joe understood.
There were two other wagons in front of them, but the occupants were hidden
Blue Lias gently patted the two horses in front of their wagon.
"Can one of you drive a wagon?" Three voices spoke together.
"Yes!" Duncan looked at Joe with an unspoken question on his face.
"American civil war society. I used to help out, before......" Joe glanced down. Duncan nodded.
"Ah, yes," Duncan turned to Methos, "What do you mean, 'We're not on the Earth any more', hmmm?" He mimicked Methos as he took the reins. The small caravan began to move.
"We're not on the Earth any more," If looks could kill, Methos received a prize fatal specimen. He issued a mock sigh, "This world is flat, MacLeod." There was a loud thud and a substantial cloud of dust. Methos halted the wagon and looked backwards. He grinned widely.
"I thought you could drive this thing." Duncan glowered and said a number of unrepeatable things in Gaelic. Methos waited until Duncan climbed back and set the horses moving a little faster so as to catch up.
"Well?" Joe's complexion was paler and he spoke at the same time as Duncan.
"If you check the horizon carefully towards the sea and look at the sky above us, you will see for yourselves that this world is flat." Duncan and Joe looked.
"So where in tarnation are we?" Joe was beginning to look a little lost. Methos spread his left arm widely.
"These are the Sto Lat plains, given over to the cultivation of cabbages and this world is known as Discworld." Duncan gave Methos a pointed look.
"But you canna have a flat world! It's impossible!" Methos raised an eyebrow.
"And you believed in a round world, even in the wilds of Scotland in the Sixteenth century?" Duncan hunched his shoulders.
"That was different," he muttered defensively, then louder, "What about you, 5,000 years ago in Mesopotamia, or wherever-it-is you came from? I bet you didn't believe in a round world either."
"I did when I got to Egypt. That was where I found out about parallel worlds like this one." Joe leaned over.
"Go on, let's have some light on 'Methos, the early years'. I'll write it in your Chronicles later."
"Over my dead body!"
Duncan grinned evilly, "That can be arranged." Methos put up one hand defensively.
"Look, chaps - I know I brought you here somewhat against your will, but hear me out." Duncan took over the reins as he and Joe let Methos explain himself.
"I was...and in fact I've just found out, still am, a wizard. Initiated
into mysteries deeper than you can probably imagine by a priestess who became
wife number three....or maybe she was number four. Never mind. In any case she
and the male priest taught me everything they knew. That's where I learned about
this book, which came backwards in time and across the multiverse barrier to
Earth. From time to time the book seems to have slipped to and fro between
worlds...but I never actually saw it until you brought it into Joe's bar. It was
written, or at least owned, by an orang-utan, who used to be a wizard. Parts of
the book are said to refer to a special link between our world and here. I just
pronounced the spell that opened the gateway and brought us through."
Duncan looked at Methos, "I never thought I'd find out so much about your past in one go!" Methos shrugged disarmingly.
"Needs must..." He smiled disarmingly. Joe shook his head slowly from side to side.
"I've come across psychic, religious and mad Immortals - even Cassandra, who was called a witch once upon a time, but a real life wizard.... And to think I used to stand you the odd free beer when you were short! You could have magicked up your own!" Methos demurred.
"Magic doesn't work like that - at least not the sort I know. I brought you here for a holiday and this somewhat enforced little extra was as much a surprise to me as it was to you."
"So, where do you think we're going?" Methos considered Joe's request.
"Well, Blue Lias mentioned mountains and a ...something... known as Bignose. There's a long mountain range from Hub to Rim known as the Ramtops. If we assume snow, then we'll go nearer the Hub," at that moment the caravan turned towards a formidable range of jagged snow-capped peaks, "See, I told you." (5)
Duncan exchanged a pointed, exasperated glance with Joe.
The caravan increased its speed and Duncan made an encouraging clicking
noise and slapped the reins. The two bay horses responded with reasonably good
grace. Joe reached around behind inside the wagon after a while and found bread,
cheese and a flagon of ale. Duncan took a mouthful, grimaced and spat it out.
"That's terrible!" Methos, being something of a beer man, reached over and sampled the ale for himself.
"Ahh. I can see why you would find the taste....unusual. It's had locally grown cabbages added to improve the flavour." Joe's eyebrows shot upwards and he shook his head in disbelief.
"It'd never catch on in Seacouver." Duncan shuddered.
"Tis worse than Darius' tea!" Methos nursed the ale protectively.
"I'll drink it! I liked Darius' moss tea, and this nectar is clearly only appreciated by the connoisseur." Duncan looked at Methos.
"You knew my friend Darius?" Methos nodded.
"Yes. Nice fellow." His lips snapped shut and Duncan realised there was a deep secret buried under those words that he would probably never get to know.
'Close one there. Nearly revealed my own trip to the holy springs, wife number forty-two and everything else. I don't know if that box should ever be opened. I owe Darius and sweet Blanchfleur more than I can ever say. I know Mac would understand, but I can't go blowing my cover now, not after all this time.' Methos looked out over the seemingly endless plains of cabbages.
The day wended on towards dusk. Three small campfires decorated the verdant
cabbage plains. Methos, Joe and Duncan sat cooking supper, attended by Blue
Lias, who was eating from the road.
"So, who have we got in the other wagons?" Duncan had just made a surreptitious foray to find out, but he wanted to check that Blue Lias was reasonably trustworthy.
"Four dwarves and a wizard in number one and a family in number two moving to one of the small villages in the Ramtops. The wizard's with us just in case Bignose is magic - you can't be too careful these days."
"So, have you seen Bignose?" Duncan nodded surreptitiously at the others to confirm the report, then looked at Blue Lias.
"I hope, for his safety, he doesn't make any personal comments." Methos muttered.
Blue Lias looked surprised, then laughed. A Troll's laughter is not easy to describe. Some have likened it to an avalanche, a rock fall or pebbles hitting the beach from a considerable height.
"No! Bignose has never been seen - not completely anyway."
"So how do you know it has a big nose?" The words were out of Methos' mouth before he had time to think.
Blue Lias shook his head slowly and sighed. He spoke much slower than normal (7), as to a child.
"The imprint of its nose and nostrils has been found up in the snow. It forages for lichen and the nose is apparently useful for sniffing and rooting plants out." Duncan gave Methos a certain look.
"Don't push your luck, MacLeod." Duncan turned away, but his lips twitched slightly as his head turned.
The caravan set off again the next morning. Days of steady climbing
followed. The pioneer family left for their new village. The wagons and horses
were left at an obliging inn for a charge in excess of the going rate, but
Methos and Blue Lias both knew the inn-keeper was in a seller's market. There
wasn't another inn for tens of miles. Eight figures took up rucksacks and headed
out into the snow. Joe had a stick, but Duncan and Methos helped him as much as
he permitted. After several hours, new snow came out of the sky. Duncan, Methos
and Joe walked together, all of them battling against the thick, blinding
flakes. Blue Lias suddenly appeared to them out of the whiteness.
"I've found a cave. This way." The four of them stumbled into the shelter and sank to the dry cave floor. Methos looked around.
"Where are the others?" The Troll scratched his head.
"I dunno. Left them here a minute ago. Hang on...." Blue Lias went towards the back of the cave. Some minutes later he returned, "There seems to be a place unaffected by snow out of the other end of the cave." The four of them retraced Blue Lias' path. As they came under the open arch of the cave mouth, both Methos and Duncan started slightly. Duncan felt all the hairs on his body tremble and his head throbbed. He turned to Methos and pulled his arm, speaking in a hushed whisper.
"That was very like a Buzz, but surely there's only you here with
me....?" Methos nodded, his eyes alight.
"Magic, Duncan. At an educated guess, a magic doorway. The Discworld wizard felt it too, look." Sure enough, the wizard Grimwald had turned back and was examining the cave mouth very closely.
Duncan couldn't take all of this in straight away and settled for checking out what lay ahead. The rock walls curved high on either side, but were open to bright blue sky. He strode purposefully to the end of the short defile. He gasped incoherently. The mountains encircled a small, deep. lush green valley. Odours of pine, wild flowers and woodsmoke drifted up to his nose. At the far side of the valley, maybe a mile away, a waterfall plunged down into a crystal clear blue lake. Duncan's rare smile crept slowly from ear to ear.
Joe whistled appreciatively next to him, "Yes, I guess Glenfinnan would have looked kinda like this 400 years ago."
Methos joined them. He said one unintelligible word, but the longing and pleasure on his face was similar to Duncan's. Joe and Duncan turned in surprise. Joe articulated what was in both of their minds.
"Mountain boy as well, hmmm?" Methos' face became shuttered immediately.
Duncan and Joe exchanged a quick secret glance, but said nothing. A paved stone pathway led down into the valley. Before they fully realised what they were doing, three pairs of feet had started down to the tiny houses nestled together on the valley floor.
"Hey! You three! Wait for me!" Blue Lias stomped up behind them. Methos, Joe and Duncan stopped. Joe looked up at Blue Lias.
"Is there a problem? It sure doesn't look dangerous." Blue Lias scratched his head. Duncan wondered how what was essentially a living rock could do things that were so human (8).
"Well," the Troll considered, "The rest of our party apart from Grimwald have gone this way. I can see it in the stones there. I'll just let Grimwald know - this place is unknown to me, but all the rocks and pebbles are speaking to me." He shook his head as if trying to clear it and trudged back up the path.
Duncan frowned intently, "Is he going.....?" He tapped the side of his head. Methos shook his head emphatically.
"No, this whole valley is somehow more magic than the rest of the Disc. I can feel it, being an initiate; I expect you will too, given a bit more practice. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the rocks and things here are semi-sentient. Just don't eat anything unless I say you can. Goodness knows what fully magic mushrooms (9) might do to you - albeit briefly in our case." Duncan huffed briefly and glanced at Joe, who gave him a look that meant, 'Search me pal, he's the boss at the moment.' Blue Lias came back with a rather distracted Grimwald who was muttering darkly into his long, straggly grey beard. The five male persons of mixed race and constituents walked down the hill to the village.
A young, dark-haired lady came out of one of the buildings. Methos stiffened.
"Ankhenmut..." She did have something of the look of an Egyptian about her, it was true. A head smaller than Methos, dark skinned and very beautiful.
Methos shook himself.
"Sorry, chaps. That beautiful woman looks just like my sixth wife. One of my favourites." His voice was filled with regret and longing. Then two limpid black eyes looked in his direction.
"Methos? Darling?" Methos reeled.
"Oh. God. It is her." She came over, very tentatively. Her mouth curved into a charming smile of wonder.
"I've missed you so much." Methos swallowed and introduced her to the others. Neither Duncan nor Joe were very surprised when he let her lead him away to her small house. He looked back, smiled apologetically, shrugged once and was gone. Duncan and Joe moved on. They went right through the village and stood by the lake on the other side.
"Donncaiddh?" Duncan whirled, not believing it could be that
voice, here, now. Joe watched him reel even harder than Methos,
almost stumble. Joe saw a beautiful young woman with masses of fiery red hair
standing nervously a few feet behind them. Joe looked at the arisaig she wore
and took a guess. He'd stood in Glenfinnan himself once. He looked across at
the uncharacteristically pale Immortal he called friend.
"It's Deborah, isn't it?" Duncan didn't take his eyes off her once, but shook his head very slightly. He managed to find his voice, but it came out laden with Scottish accent and yearning.
"It canna be. I saw her die," Deborah smiled sadly and vanished. Duncan began to walk back to Joe, when another lady took her place. Native American, softly beautiful, with a young boy by her side, "Her too. I burned the body myself, dammit." Whatever-it-was tried again. Joe got angry.
"Now that is really unfair. Bringing Tessa back to haunt him." Duncan shook his head and clenched his teeth.
"I cannot accept these...gifts. It would be too painful for me to give them back at the end. I don't suppose You - whatever you are - were going to let me take them home to Earth, were you?" A shimmer, rather like an intense heat-haze, hovered close.
"Forgive me. I meant to bring pleasure, not pain. You are guests here and I was trying to make your stay a happy one. Let me try again." The shimmer disappeared. Duncan and Joe looked at each other. Nothing seemed to have happened.
"What was that thing?" Duncan shrugged.
"I'd have called it a faery back in Scotland, or something similar. The spirit of this place. A Power. Something like that. My mind's still trying to grasp everything in this adventure." The two men sat down on a rock.
"Well, whatever else, it's a beautiful day." Duncan nodded. He trailed his fingers through the long grass.
"Hey, what's this? A guinea-pig?" Duncan's fingers were being explored by a small, brown, very hairy animal of about the size of that particular Peruvian rodent, but legless. It licked his hand and climbed on in a strange rolling maneouvre, snuffling gently and making a tiny purring noise, "Well, you're a friendly little fella." Duncan lifted the animal onto his lap. Joe leaned over and tickled it. Duncan found himself stroking it reflexively.
"Maybe it's a lady guinea-pig? You seem to be irresistible to most of the female sex." Duncan chuckled.
"Not always, Joe. Hey, hello, he had company." There was a bright red one now, closely followed by a yellow one and a startlingly blue one, all congregating at Duncan's feet. Joe recalled a certain science fiction programme.
"Good God. Real Tribbles!!" Duncan laughed. The 'Tribble' on his lap yawned, displaying a huge mouth disproportionatly large compared to to its size and hundreds of razor sharp teeth. Duncan jumped slightly.
"I don't remember Tribbles having those. I hope it doesn't bite." The animal curled up and went back to sleep, purring loudly on Duncan's lap. Duncan's fingers resumed stroking.
"Well, it likes you." Joe's eyes narrowed as a thought came to him, "The shimmer being is trying to appease you, making your stay here more pleasurable. Is there anything like that in your subconscious which it could have made real?" Duncan looked blank for several seconds. His feet and lap were by now covered with a small multi-coloured army of purring, adoring creatures. He looked down at them, then at Joe. Duncan's mouth opened soundlessly. Suddenly he threw back his head and roared with laughter. The animals crowded closer, obviously enjoying the sound. Tears of mirth ran down Duncan's face.
"Oh, yes!" he managed at last, "Standing Scottish - even British - joke. Joe, these, are real live haggis! (10)"
Joe chuckled along with Duncan. A haggis had taken up residence in his jacket pocket and seemed to be following the nesting urge.
"I wonder what my gift is going to be?" Joe looked up suddenly. A very attractive red-haired woman stood there.
"Joseph?" Joe stood up and turned to Duncan.
"I'm sorry, MacLeod, I'm accepting this gift, even if it's only for a short time. I met Shirley last year at a blues festival and always meant to keep in touch....." Joe shrugged like Methos and walked up to the woman, who gently drew him to a nearby cottage. Duncan picked up one or two of the haggises and began to walk back to the village. The others followed him like a sentient, moving carpet. Duncan noticed his band of little followers.
"Now I'm the Pied Piper. Oh, well." He shrugged and moved on.
Suddenly there was a commotion from the hut that Methos had entered with his
lady. Duncan ran, still pursued by his little army. Methos ran out, blood
pouring from a cut in his arm. He was looking backwards and yelling.
"I'm sorry - I didn't know she was your sister; I thought she was my wife!" Two big, muscly men came out after him. Duncan drew his sword. The Immortal rule of one on one fighting was ingrained in his bones. He and Methos set to defending their lives. The two protagonists were faster and quicker. Duncan blinked in shock. He'd always considered himself fast, but this; this was almost inhuman. Duncan and Methos fell to the ground at the same moment, swords piercing their bellies. The two brothers stomped back to the cottage, honour satisfied. Duncan and Methos looked at one another. Methos spoke.
"I'm sorry," Then he winced, "Dying again? This is tedious."
He suddenly stood with Duncan, suspended somehow just over their currently
lifeless bodies. A tall, very thin, dark-cloaked figure with a scythe
approached. Duncan shivered slightly. The figure went to Methos first.
"I THINK YOU AND I NEED A LITTLE TALK."
Duncan giggled slightly nervously, "Oh, boy. Death, meet...erm....Death." Methos managed to throw him a dirty look. If Death could have smiled privately to himself, then he would have done so now. He was going to enjoy teasing Methos just a little bit.
"HE CANNOT BE ME. I WAS AROUND BEFORE HE WAS BORN. SO, UPSTART; EXPLAIN WHY YOU TOOK MY NAME." Methos managed a shrug.
"Um.....it seemed like a good idea at the time?" Both Immortals were frozen in place by the implacable gaze and presence of the real Death. They wanted to look away, but couldn't. Death brought his scythe closer to Methos' face.
"I COULD TAKE AWAY YOUR LIFE PERMANENTLY, YOU KNOW. ONE HAS AN IMAGE TO MAINTAIN." Methos tried to flinch away.
"I...um...I haven't actually called myself Death for nearly 1,500 years." Death's eye sockets grew, if possible, even darker than the jet black pools they normally were.
"YOU DID. YOU WERE LOOKING AT HIM AND YOU CLAIMED MY NAME. I CAN HEAR ACROSS THE DIMENSIONS AND MULTIVERSES VERY WELL."
"Ah....well...then. We were having a little trouble with the other three Horsemen of the Apocalypse and I needed Duncan to help me. Kronos was even more psychopathic than he'd been before. I wanted to rid the world of them once and for all. We'd done enough damage in the past."
"SO, YOU HAVE STOPPED BEING DEATH?"
"I only kill if I have to now - it goes with the job, you might say. It's part of being Immortal."
"I SEE. AS LONG AS YOU REMEMBER. I WILL BE LISTENING TO YOU VERY CAREFULLY FROM NOW ON. IT IS TIME FOR YOU TO GO BACK TO YOUR BODIES NOW. EVEN HERE, THE SAME RULES WORK. YOUR IMMORTALITY IS SAFE; BUT I AM ALSO TIMELESS. REMEMBER THAT. I MAY WELL HAVE TO COME TO YOU AGAIN ONE DAY," Death looked at Duncan, "HELP HIM REMEMBER. WHEN THE WINNER GETS THE PRIZE, YOU CAN BE SURE I WILL BE THERE."
Duncan gasped as the air came rushing back into his lungs. The wound in
his stomach cavity was healed and he could smell the sweet, warm air. He smiled
slowly. A mass of small, furry bodies suddenly crawled all over him, purring
and mewling with delight. Duncan sat up slowly, trying to be careful of his
new fan club.
"At least somebody loves me." Methos looked at Duncan.
"What are these things?" One stray haggis nuzzled his fingers hopefully and Methos indulged it, stroking gently, "No fear of man at all. I hope they aren't edible." Duncan snorted, trying to keep his mirth in check, "What have I said now, Mac?" Duncan held a blue and white candy-striped one towards Methos.
"Methos, haggis. Haggis, Methos." He fell on his back, giggling freely at Methos' discomfiture.
Methos gave in and the two Immortals lay on the ground, covered in haggises and chuckling until the tears ran down their faces. They sat up after a while and just enjoyed the surroundings. That was where Joe found them some time later, playing gentle 'catch' with the haggis, which the little creatures evidently enjoyed. Joe chuckled.
"Oh, Lord. What on Earth do I write in your chronicles about this, Mac? The Watchers will never believe me!" A haggis came flying his way and he managed to catch it safely, "It's been too many years since I last played baseball." He yawned slightly, petted the purple haggis that was in his hands and gently tossed it down onto the ground. The haggis scurried back to Duncan's feet. Duncan smiled at Joe.
"So the reunion with Shirley was productive?" Joe's lips curved into a slow grin of reminiscence.
"Oh, yeah. Haven't had loving that good in a lonnnng time."
Duncan turned to Methos, "Can you explain the shimmer thing, which
seems to be intelligent and keen on providing pleasurable diversions?"
"Well, mine wasn't very pleasurable; a few hot kisses, some caresses, then those two goons turned up."
"You enjoyed the fight, though. The encounter with Death was at his request. I merely provide what is likely to please or educate."
"But what is this place? It seems more...more timeless, somehow." Duncan approached the shimmer being.
"You are correct, Duncan MacLeod of the clan MacLeod. This valley is largely outside Discworld time. The Gateway only opens at special times to let in those who need rest and refreshment. The other members of your party have enjoyed their stay and have already left. When you pass through the cave again, you will be in your own place and time." Methos frowned, thinking.
"Of course! Like Shangri-La!"
Duncan nodded, "Or 'Brigadoon'. Didn't do much for Scotland; but part of me liked the romanticism of the story."
Joe added his contribution, "Or kinda like that computer on 'Star Trek' which could send you to any place or time in the planet's history." The shimmer being glowed.
"Yes. A little of all of these." Methos remembered why Blue Lias had carried them off on the journey in the first place, "What about Bignose?"
"Ah. It is pleasant to go out in the snow sometimes." The shimmer being swirled slower and slower, grew taller, more solid. Suddenly facing all three was an eight foot white-furred being with a wrinkled ape-man face, with wisdom older than time shining from its blue eyes. It had a very long nose, rather like a proboscis monkey.
"Good grief!" Methos spoke for all three of them. Bignose smiled.
"Cousin; remember how you enjoyed fighting. It is part of who
you are. Be humble as well. 5,000 years alive is something to be celebrated
and a gift you can share. Duncan; it is well. Forgive yourself. Be part of
life again. Let other people look after themselves sometimes. You were the
champion, but you cannot save the whole world. It is a task too immense, even
the one who wins the Prize. Every soul plays its part in the plan. Love is
waiting for you out there; the one you've dreamed of for so long. Joe; mortal
lover. Sing me more songs. Look after your daughter. Watch carefully, as I
know you do. Walk gently, all of you."
Bignose vanished. Methos, Joe and Duncan found themselves in a completely empty valley - no houses or any sign that anyone had ever been there. Even the haggises had disappeared. They all walked slowly up out of the valley. As they entered the cave-mouth, the magic field expanded and rippled around them. For a split second they were nowhere, then the dark interior of Joe's bar coalesced around them. Joe fell slightly against the bar, then steadied himself. The second hand on the clock on the wall jumped two spaces, then carried on ticking as normal. Duncan blinked, then lifted his empty tumbler meaningfully.
"It's good to be back home. Even though the holiday was welcome, Methos." The old Immortal nodded and leant over the bar for a bottle of his favourite ale. Joe filled Duncan's glass with several generous measures, then popped another beer for Methos before fetching out some Tennessee whiskey for himself. Joe raised an eloquent eyebrow.
"And I was the only one who got laid. That must be a record."
There was a large space on the bar where the Discworld book had been.
"Damn," Methos said, "I wanted to read it properly,"
he sighed deeply, "I suppose Bignose took it home. Now how will I prove
to my own satisfaction that the Disc really exists?" There was a
muffled squeak from Joe's jacket pocket. Joe fetched out a small, hairy friend
which had somehow managed to grow MacLeod tartan fur. While the three of them
gawped, almost disbelieving, a matching haggis with a tiny pink ribbon in its
fur jumped out of a pocket in Duncan's trousers. The two scurried away so fast
that even Duncan couldn't stop them. Duncan's brows furrowed.
"Uh-oh. That looked like a mating pair. I hope they won't do any damage to the local environment or ecology." Methos chuckled.
"Well, at least you know where to come when you next need a kilt!" Duncan glowered for a moment, but the humour was irresistible. Joe began to laugh with Methos. Duncan got his own back.
"Okay, Bignose." Methos squirmed.
Duncan's lips twisted in trying to keep a straight face, then he gave in. The three men laughed together until their sides ached.
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