Archivist's Note: This was a Mid-Week Challenge as set forth on the Holy Ground forum.
"I want to renegotiate my contract. The Health Plan sucks." Duncan frowned slightly at the puffy-eyed, red-nosed creature that used to be Felicia DuChamp. She continued her moaning complaint, "You heard me. If I have to worry about being killed every day for the rest of eternity, then I demand at least Immunity to Disease! I'm dying here."
"You are not dying. It's just a virus."
"It is not just a virus. It's a vicious, feral, Canadian virus! You don't know what these beasties can do." A massive coughing fit cut her off for several minutes. "If I'm not dying, then kill me now so I'll feel better when I come back."
MacLeod looked genuinely shocked; "You know I wouldn't do that!"
"Well then at least help me find my left lung, I think it landed somewhere over there." She waved vaguely behind the couch where she huddled in a nest of blankets. She'd barely been mobile for days and her little apartment was a mess.
She'd begged him to come over and take care of her, and now he was beginning to regret it. "Did you get any sleep at all last night?"
She groaned again, loudly; "I don't think so. Spent most of the night listening to Coast to Coast a.m.— alternative late night talk radio: UFO's, conspiracies, aliens, Remote Viewing, that kind of thing. Honestly, I think I only listen because I'm waiting for some Watcher to spill everything on the air." A slight smile looked very fragile on her pale lips; "Last night they were talking about the Loch Ness Monster."
"Oh, and what were they saying about Nessie?"
A burst of laughter soon degenerated into another hacking, lung-rattling fit. "Don't do that to me," she wheezed, "it hurts!" After a moment, she caught her breath; "I'm not surprised a Scot would be on a first name basis with the beast. You should have called in last night, they were asking for sightings…" Her words ended on a wistful note; even a storyteller likes to hear a good tale sometimes.
"And what makes you think I know anything about the beastie?" he teased. She frowned; "Loch Ness isn't that far from Loch Shiel… I checked once." He kept the joke going a bit further; "As the crow flies maybe, but we only had horses." Deb's frown turned to a pout and he finally relented.
Mac smiled for a moment at his own memories then turned his attention back to the suffering author. She needed something to keep her mind off her ills, and besides, anything would be better than listening to her complaints. "How about I make us some tea and we can have a proper Tell?" Her grin was all the answer he needed. "I'm no Bard, mind you," he added modestly, though he was already thinking of the best way to start as he headed to the kitchen…
§ § §
Flashback: 1625, Loch Ness
Duncan still wasn't sure whether to believe the man was really the Connor MacLeod of legend. Connor had lived and died (and supposedly lived again) before his grandfather's time. That would make him, what, his great grand uncle or some beastly complex version of a cousin? Yet the man looked hardly older than a brother, and asked to be treated like one. Actually, what this kinsman wanted to be was his teacher. A mentor to show him the ways of some horrible life and death Game, between warriors who cannot die except by having head and shoulder part company, for a mythical Prize that may or may not exist. Why, it was a story nearly as hard to believe as the tales of the Beast in the Loch, which supposedly swam in the very same waters through which they rowed.
Connor often spoke of his own teacher, whom he called Ramirez, but who apparently had more names than one man deserved, at least in Duncan's opinion. He didn't refer to the man as "Ramirez" very often though, more likely he talked about "the Peacock" or "that walking Haggis"; those two must have had a very odd companionship. Duncan had asked once if he had known his teacher long, but the clansman only answered, "Nay, less than a year," and refused to say anything else for the rest of the day.
As the boat moved closer to the centre of the lake, Duncan vaguely remembered Connor's story about a trip in a rowboat, but that too had been hard to believe. Walking to shore—underwater? Ridiculous. Thankfully he hadn't been asked to stand up…yet. Suddenly his thoughts were broken by a feeling like his skull was being squeezed. He glanced over at his mentor, frozen like a startled deer, one oar half out of the water.
Duncan spoke in hushed tones that hopefully hid his unease; "This is the feeling you said was a Warning?"
"Aye, it is."
"Then why is it coming off the water?"
"You'll see." The ghost of a smile softened the wariness in his eyes.
Both men scanned the water, and the shore, with caution. There was a sense of the world holding its breath, of waiting for something. Without warning a shape rose out of the water to their right; rose and kept rising, bigger than anything Duncan had ever seen come out of a lake. A long, graceful neck, impossibly long, was topped by a head bigger than a horse's but slightly the wrong shape. The creature was almost close enough to touch and the wake of it rocked the little boat from side to side. It almost seemed as if the beast were watching them. Connor raised one hand in a salute, and the long neck moved in what might have been an answering nod— or a bow.
Duncan's mouth hung open in an expression quite unbecoming a Chieftain's son, he could not believe his own eyes. "But," he stammered, "but the Beast of the Loch is a legend!"
Connor's laugh spread across the lake like the toll of a bell, yet Nessie didn't seem to mind; "Duncan, my lad, until a few months ago, I was a legend. The beast is as real as you or I. Show some respect now; Nessie is older than you are, older than I am. She might even be older than that fool Peacock was!"
The full implication of the Warning and the beast finally dawned on the younger Highlander. The creature was as real as they were, but more than that, it was as they were— Immortal. "Now that," he muttered, hardly aware of his own words, "is a head."
Connor scowled for the first time, "Don't even joke about it, lad. No harm will come to Nessie while a Highlander lives. She lives free, on her own terms; as Scotland will some day be free. No man will ever control her, and no outside force will ever control our people."
Duncan couldn't help but laugh; "You sound like William Wallace!"
"Why shouldn't I? This is the land of William Wallace, and The Bruce as well. Never forget where you came from Duncan, never forget.
Eventually the beast slipped back under the water, and the strange feeling fading away. "What do we do know 'teacher'?"
Connor slapped him on the shoulder, almost tossing both of them into the water; "Now? Now we head for shore, and we find a comfortable inn, a good meal, and a strong drink!"
§ § §
Halfway through the tale, Deb broke into a grin, and by the end of the telling she was laughing out loud. Her misery was long forgotten, the illness no longer a tragedy. "Duncan my friend, that was incredible; and you say you're not a storyteller! It's settled, we're going to the Okanagan this summer!"
"Sure, you think you're the only one with a lake monster, Highlander? If you can tell me you met the Loch Ness Monster one on one, then I gotta see if I can get a Buzz off Ogopogo!"
A devilish gleam twinkled in those dark eyes; "Are you sure you want to be planning a trip? I thought you said you were dying?"
"Ridiculous! I'm Canadian, no cold bug is going to keep me down
A couple of friends of mine, after reading this, commented that most women do not get that pathetic when they are sick, and that it would have been much more amusing to have Deb nursing an ailing Duncan back to health. But, with my own illness still fairly fresh in my memory, I decided it would be more fun to let myself whine a little, even if it is only on paper.