The character of Connor MacLeod belongs to Panzer/Davis with a big thanks for Christopher Lambert for bringing the character to life. No copyright infringment is intended or inferred. copyright 1998
("The Ballad of Glencoe" is a traditional Scottish tune.)
It had been a very bad, long day. He slammed the door downstairs behind him as he rifled his pocket for the key to the elevator which led to his private living quarters.
He scowled as he felt around, then shoved his other gloved hand into his other pocket of his pants, only to find that the glove impeded his progress.
"Damn!" he swore loudly to the empty room. One by one, he bit the leather fingertips and removed the glove, flinging it across the room when finished. He then proceeded to shove his hand back into his pocket, fumbled around a moment, then pulled out the key and pushed it into place and waited for the elevator to come down.
Hearing a sick grind, then a screech which made him wince, he glanced at the door, pausing for just a moment more, before putting his ear to it, listening for the elevator but heard only silence. He slammed the door with an open palm in frustration, then turned on his heel and jogged up the stairs to the upper living quarters.
With a purposeful stride, he went into the bathroom and began to run the shower, checking to make the temperature wasn't too hot--in this old place, the pipes sometimes had a tendency to be a liitle cranky about the water's temperature.
He glanced over at himself in the mirror as he pulled out some clean towels from the linen closet as well as his bathrobe. The reflection showed a man who looked to be in his early twenties or so, with a mop of light brown hair, cut short, a piercing, deep-set gaze and a late night stubble of beard which needed to be shaved off.
He slowly and gingerly began to peel off his clothes, piece by piece, and dropped them in a pile, after his close inspection revealed numerous gashes in them as well as being thoroughly blood soaked.
Wincing as he removed his belt, he turned for a moment to look in the mirror at a wide gash in his side, about six inches long and which wrapped itself from front to back on him. "You are getting slow, pendajo!" he said softly, then laughed in a short staccato burst. "Rameriz would have knocked you down on your ass, if he had seen what had happened tonight with that fight!"
A warmth spread along both of the open sides of the gaping woundas well as a itchy, tingling sensation. As he watched, the wound closed itself up like a invisble zipper, leaving behind no trace of any kind that the area had been injured.
Shaking his head in disbelief at it, it made him smile just a small bit even though he had seen it occur hundreds of times before. It still never ceased to amaze him. Chuckling in mirth, he stuck his hand under the water once more; the temperature was just right, and he stepped in under the water.
The water at his feet turned a dull crimson as he plowed a soap-filled sponge over his body, slowly loosening the bloodstains which splattered it. He leaned back against the coolness of the porcelein, closing his eyes as he remembered the fight tonight which had almost cost him his life.
It had been a dance of death; each one dancing about the huge crates which had been stacked about on the pier as they played hide and go seek with each other, depending on their every sense to detect one another.
Here and there, spills of oil seeped from rusty drums which had been abandoned long before and forgotten about. The drums lay helter skelter about the docks and piers; above them, only one lonely street lamp wearily burned it's bulb, flickering in spasmatic rhythm on occasion as it tried to compensate for it's loneliness.
The shadows ran long and deeply inky, providing an excellent spot to hide if one wanted to just watch another or wait then pounce on an unsuspecting assailant. From the depths of those shadows a dark voice rang out. "MacLeod! You can't hide forever!"
Connor whipped his head around at the sound of the voice; he slowly crept in that direction. "I have waited this long, Dumiere. Forever would be a easy thing to do, but why hide?"
Dumiere's eyes flicked over the area as he heard Connor's voice. He slowly crept out from his hiding space into the open. The little light provided by the streetlamp, glinted wildly off the blade of his sword as he swung it upwards to rest on his shoulder. "I'm waiting!" he called out as it echoed in the night.
Connor leaned tightly against a large shipping crate, holding his breath as he listened intently to his challenger, imagining his placement out in the open. He flexed his gloved hands about his katana's grip, then he too, stepped out into the open.
He cackled a laugh as he looked at his opponent. "You haven't changed a bit, Dumiere. Still as stupid and bloated as you ever were."
"And you still are as much hot air as ever, yourself." Dumiere raised his sword in salute.
Connor smirked at him then came at Dumiere, swinging a vicious arc as he encircled him. "Whatever you say."
With a crash of metal against metal, sparks flew as the swords connected with first blood being drawn by Connor who stared unwavering at Dumiere.
The very piercing nature of his look made Dumiere gulp. He swung at Connor, who stepped away from the blow and immediately fell to the ground as he stepped into a pool of oil and slipped.
Connor's katana skittered from his grasp and slid close to the water's edge.
Dumiere took advantage of the situation, swinging and chopping as Connor rolled from side to side as he tried to get away from him. One blow connected and sliced through the trenchcoat Connor was wearing as well as the bomber jacket underneath, before biting through his flesh.
Connor howled in agony, and pulled it out from his side, while kicking Dumiere off-balance, sending him staggering to one side. He held a hand to his side to staunch the bleeding until the healing could take place, as he staggered and weaved towards the water. Reaching down for his katana,he looked back over his shoulder when he heard the sounds of someone rapidly approaching from behind.
Dumiere raised his sword overhead and swung once more at Connor, narrowly missing his neck but Connor ducked at the last moment, diving into the river in order to get away.
"Damn lucky, home's close," he muttered as he teeth chattered together in the icy, murkiness of the river he was swimming in. His eyes scanned for a good place to come ashore at; upon spotting it, he glanced about to see if anyone saw him and made his way back to the antique store.
"It's not over yet, Dumiere!" he said to the walls as he opened the door to his place. "It hasn't even begun to start!"
Connor padded downstairs in his robe after his shower to check all the locks and set the security system. He glanced about the showroom and shook his head. It was hard to believe that he had owned the place for over two hundred fifty years, let alone lived here on and off for that long but yet he had.
Once he was satisfied that all was well, he went back upstairs to grab a bite to eat. As he walked by the grand piano which sat off to one side of the room, he grabbed the remote for the big screen television, and flipped it on so that the room wouldn't be so quiet.
He opened the refrigerator door and peered in, looking for something, anything to eat, but nothing looked appealing. He reached into his vegetable bin and noticed that it was on the sparse side. "Looks like a trip to the grocers is in order." he said to himself as he half listened to the eleven o'clock news.
The TV droned on, as he quickly drew up a list of the items he wanted or needed. He normally didn't keep a lot on hand; he never knew from one day to the next if he would be around to eat it.
Occasionally, there were rare visitors invited to share a meal with him. When that occurred, he would order his groceries to be delivered to the store below and Rachel would handle things for him as she had always had. Or at least, she used to, until she married a few years before and moved away. Nowadays, though, he was on his own as far as the day to day business was concerned.
That is, when he was there, which wasn't often.
He tore the list off the pad and went to check on the liquor cabinet to see if it needed stocking so that items could be picked up for it while he was out. Moving a few bottles around, he spotted a piece of paper lying upside down under one of the bottles.
Upon pulling it out, he turned it over pausing as he saw the face of his second wife, Brenda, staring at him. In the background, he recognized the rolling, craggy peaks of his homeland, Scotland. Sprigs of heather made a violet splash across the ground in front of her as she sat perched on a rock, eyes closed, face to the sun soakng up the warmth of the late spring sun.
He looked at the picture a good, long while, lost in his thoughts, knowing that shortly after the picture was taken, Brenda had been killed along with their adopted son in an automobile accident.
So had he.
He looked out towards the New York skyline he could see from the wall of windows which faced the river, blinking back tears. Sighing, he put it over in a well worn book which he closed with a slap on the cover. The author's name was Brenda J. Wyatt.
Brenda J. Wyatt-MacLeod.
He tapped the book, softly whispering, "Never again."
He jogged back upstairs, changed into a grey henley tee shirt and jeans which bagged at the bottom on top of his Nikes and grabbed the keys to his Porsche and went back downstairs. He grabbed a lightly padded denim jacket and slid it on as he walked out the door, automatically resetting the security system on the way out.
Across the river, inside a cramped apartment which was lit by a lone lamp on at the desk, a young woman stared at a mound of bills which had been accumulating for a couple of months. She was out of work, and out of time on many of the bills.
Soon, she was going to lose everything in the world if something didn't happpen in her favor in the time she had left to get them paid. And that was just a matter of days. There was no work to be had, her money had run out two weeks before, and she had resorted to searching for lost coins in the drab, shabby furniture to feed her and her small family.
Everything of value she had had been pawned for as much as she could get out of it and the money had been spent on sitters so she could try to find work but she could no longer afford sitters. Now, they were a luxury...and a dream of better times.
She stood and walked over to peek in at her sons, who shared the same bed. A single tear rolled down her cheek; angrily she wiped it away. "I will not cry!," she told herself outloud as she turned away and looked over the three room apartment she could barely afford.
She rubbed her face, wanting to scream at how things had turned out for her, at the injustice which had befallen her, but she knew that it was a waste of enegy to do so.
Sighing in resignation, she went over to take a look to see if there was anything for the children to eat in the morning. A few pieces of bread and some grapes, were all the refrigerator held.
Silently, she shook her head. Tomorrow, she wouldn't eat again in order to let her children have the food which she had. They needed it more, she rationalized, than what she did because they were growing still and needed all they could get.
She went back to the couch to perform a ritual cleaning between the cushions of the couch, to make sure there wasn't money hidden between them. Slowly, she inched her way up one side and back then paused, as she felt a piece of paper she hadn't felt before on the first pass.
Withdrawing the paper, she kept her eyes closed, afraid to be disappointed if it was only a piece of scrap paper. She opened them as she held the paper before her; her eyes widened in delight as she saw a five dollar bill, neatly folded in her hand.
She began to dance around in her excitement, kissing the greenback, then pressing it to her chest. "We can eat! We can eat" she repeated, in her excitement then quieted as her oldest boy came out of the bedroom, rubbing his eyes.
"Momma, I had a bad dream!" he said, in a fearful tone of voice.
She scooped him into her arms and held him tightly as she calmed his fears. Before she knew it, her son was fast asleep on her shoulder. Lying him on the bed once more, she gently stroked her other son, who was sleeping angelically on the bed beside his brother.
She bent down, kissing them both tenderly. "Momma's going out for a little while, but I'll be back soon. I promise." She bit her lip, knowing that she shouldn't leave them alone, then frowned. She had no choice, her family came first as did their stomachs.
With that, she turned and went out the door, locking it behind her and praying that all would be safe until she returned from the store located just a few short blocks away.
Connor pulled into the parking lot of the grocery store just as the last lights were flipped off and the remaining employees streamed out the doors. His eyes flicked over the store then back at his watch.
Irritated, he said outloud, "What is this? You're supposed to be open twenty-four hours!" He lifted his hands up then droppped then in resignation. "Why don't you notify people that you're changing your hours?"
He shoved the Porsche into gear and began to search for an open store as his stomach growled a protest. "Shut up, I know about it!" he said in response to it.
He glanced about him as he tried to remember where the nearest place might be; he wasn't around enough recently to have kept up on things of that nature. He tooled the car across the Hudson, and drove into another world.
Glaring neon signs flashed off and on adveritising bars or an occasional girlie parlor. Connor looked grimly about as he continued to search for a place open.
He watched the prostitutes openly displaying themselves in the hopes of enticing a john into a quick act of furtive sex. Cars slowly cruised the streets as men ogled the women and occasionlly would stop as a deal was struck.
Shaking his head, he turned down a street away from all the nocturnal activity. Up ahead, at the end of the block, he spotted a sign for a grocers and he sped up then entered the parking lot, gearing down as he turned into it.
The young mother glanced quickly behind her when she heard a noise. Her eyes darted about in fear and she held herself tighter, as she picked up her pace. She was almost to the store and was glad that she was as it was dangerous after dark here.
She broke into a run when she saw the store's lights, grateful that she could enter some place which was relatively safe finally. She entered and grabbed a small handbasket by the door and began her shopping. She shopped with great care, mulling over her decisions with great care as to what to buy and what not too.
Connor, meanwhile, wheeled his basket through the aisles, in quick time, checking his list as he went, and stocking up on items needed first, then slowed down the pace as he picked up a can of squid and read the can, translating it from its' native Japanese which was written on it.
He laughed to himself as his eyebrows raised and lowered in a flash of amusement. He went down the aisle softly laughing at the ethnic diversity that was represented on the shelves and occasionally he picked up cans or bottles and read them off in the native language.
His stomach rumbled again; he nodded in agreement that now it was time to go home to prepare a meal. He pushed his cart up to the checkout and began to unload his things onto the belt.
He glanced at the young woman in front of him, admiring the beauty of her long, thick, coal black hair and the golden tinge to her skin. He looked at her groceries, noting the small quantity she bought.
She turned back towards him and looked at him momentarily, then away as she turned to pay. As the cashier rang up her purchases, she seemed to get more agitated and started to go thorough her meager items.
"That'll be $6.11, please." The clerk flatly intoned and held out her hand for the money.
The woman shook her head. "Are you sure? Is that amount right? I added it up and it didn't come to that!"
The clerk rolled her eyes after shooting a glance at Connor. "The machine doesn't lie. You must've forgotten the tax."
Connor watched the exchange with interest; there was more to this than what met the eye he thought to himself.
The younger woman glanced back at him. "I'm sorry to have this happen!" she said apologetically. She noted a kind of unquiet yet silent power that seemed to come from him; he smiled back at her and chuckled.
"Been there, done that." he said and she noted the soft accent his voice held. "And they do make mistakes! Don't let her tell you otherwise."
She turned back to the clerk and fished out her five dollar bill. "Look, this is all I have now. Can't I take this with me and come back tomorrow to pay you for the rest of it?"
"Either pay the amount or put some things back. We don't give credit here." The clerk put her hand to her hip, as she began to tap her foot impatiently.
Connor swiftly pulled a fifty dollar bill from his wallet. "Ring her up and myself too. And do it quickly before I report your insolence to your manager." He stared at the clerk for a moment then began shoving all of the groceries together in one pile.
The clerk stared at him for only an instant then began ringing all of the groceries up together.
She turned to look gratefully at him. "Thank you, but you don't need to do that."
"I insist. It's the least I can do for the both of us." He smiled at her softly. His stomach rumbled again and he placed his hand over it. "And it seems, for my stomach."
She laughed at that as she bagged her things up while he got his change. "Thanks again."
"My stomach thanks you." he said in jest, half smiling at her. He held out his hand. "Connor MacLeod."
"Mariel Hernandez." They shook hands.
They left together; he aimed his remote at his '59 Porsche, unlocking the doors.
She left, walking down the street back to her apartment, hearing the sounds of both ambulance and fire engines approaching her area.
Connor watched her go, then slowly followed her in the car, as he too heard the wailing of sirens approaching, staying a half block away so that she wouldn't see him.
A short time later, she arrived home and stood in shocked horror as she saw the apartments she called home ablaze. Fire engines were everywhere, as were their personnel, and paramedics scurried about tending the injured.
She slowly fell to her knees, hysterically sobbing and screaming at the same time, "My babies! My babies are in there!"
A large pump truck careened around the Porsche on the way to a fire, and Connor stuck his head out the window to sniff at the air. It was heavy with the scent of wood burning as well as other things and one could see floating up higher in the air above the buildings, embers from what looked to be a massive fire.
He parked a half block away from the fire itself then made his way up towards the barricades near the buildings themselves. His eyes rested on the building as he watched an array of fire, medical, and police personnel scurried about on their duties. As he watched, flames licked beyond the tops of the buildings and it appeared as if the entire block of the older row housing had been set ablaze.
He shook his head at the sight as he pushed his way up to the front of the crowd which had assembled there to watch the activity. A policeman stood watch to make sure that no one crossed the barricade; he turned and walked away for just a moment to talk to another cop when his name was called.
Connor watched for only a moment before hopping over the barricade and wove himself through the heavy pieces of equipment, hoses which littered the ground, as well as the injured who covered the ground in a layer of humanity. He was searching for the woman in the grocery store; he wanted to make sure that she was all right.
Men and women both stood about the area in shock; many cried as they watched their homes and all they posessed go up in flames before them. Connor spotted body bags put off to one side of the area near one of the many ambulances. It looked as if there had been at least a few causulties tonight.
He continued on, listening to the wails and screams around him then stopped dead in his tracks as a massive cracking noise was heard and watched as the inner walls of one of the main buildings collapsed in on itself.
A hysterical scream was heard nearby; he snapped his head in that direction, before turning to run in the same direction as the scream. He spotted the young woman he had been searching for collapsed on the ground, sobbing and pointing at the building; gently he bent down to eye level to her and lifted her to a stand by her elbows. "Shhh, shhh...it's all right."
She tried to speak but couldn't speak intelligently through her sobs and Connor pulled her to him, as he tried to comfort her. Finally, she got her sobbing under control enough to squeak out, "MY BABIES ARE INSIDE!!"
Connor pulled her away from him then looked at the building. If anything still was alive inside there it would be a miracle indeed. "Your children are inside? Inside the building?" He frowned in near disgust at her and shook her hard. "Where? What apartment, which building? How many are there?"
She began to wail again as more tears flowed down her cheeks.
He shook her again as his hands tightened about her upper arms. He looked about for someone for help but no one paid them any heed. Calming down enough to think it through, he asked her again what apartment.
"Three-oh-six, oh please, they're all I have! Save them, if you can!"
Connor stared at her for an instant, then let her go. "If you value your life, and your children's lives, stay here, don't move from this spot."
She rubbed her arms where he had gripped her in a vise-lock hold. "I-I think you bruised me!" She looked up at him, brushing away her tears and gulping down the lump in her throat. "I-I understand..." she added in a very small voice as she nodded.
He turned to go then waked off a few paces before turning around to look at her. "Don't follow me, don't get any ideas about what happens next if I can get in. Understand?"
Silently, she nodded and watched him jog off towards the building as if he were on a guerilla mission, dodging between the eqipment and evading the personnel who were there to prevent anyone from being hurt or crossing the lines.
He paused at the last tanker engine, and covertly sprayed water over himself, causing an involutary shiver to run through him and also sprayed his jacket. Eyes darting in all directions, he could tell that the firemen had decided that it was all over--a lost cause. The best they could do now was contain the blaze to keep it from spreading.
Taking a deep breath, he sprinted quickly into the building. Instantly, a blast of hot air hit him as a thick choking smoke surrounded him, making breathing difficult at best. He covered his mouth and nose up as best as he could and headed for the stairs dodging the falling plaster, flaming insulation as well as the walls of fire which greeted him every step of the way.
Parts of the stairs, as he made a laborious climb upwards to the third floor, were aflame and he would have to leap over the gaping holes. His skin began to blister from the intensity of the heat which surrounded him as sweat poured in rivers off him.
Reaching the apartment, he kicked the door in, only to be knocked backwards against the opposite wall as a ball of flames erupted outwards towards him. The impact knocked him flat; flames caught at his clothes and he felt himself begin to sizzle which gave him a good cause to jump back to his feet. "Mother of God! Shit!
He raised an arm to shield himeself and ran throught the flames in the doorway. He began searching for the children, as he hacked and coughed from the smoke, his lungs becoming singed as was his throat.
One by one, he went through the cramped apartment's rooms then, in the last room, he came across the children. Looking about him, he saw a torn and tattered blanket which he quickly wrapped about the two boys, hefted them up over each shoulder, and ran back the way he came in.
Beams were beginning to fall as more and more things crumbled, or dissolved in the heat and flames. Down the stairs he went with nary a reaction from the children as far as being tossed about, making Connor's soot covered face become more grim with each passing moment.
Finally he reached outside, and laid his bundle out onto the ground near one of the ambulances and paramedic stations. He flipped back the blanket to take a closer inspection of his cargo. He looked at them, then looked away once he noticed the blue tint to their lips and skin. His hand reached out to gingerly touch the skin of one of the boys; the coolness of the skin confirmed his nagging suspicion that had been eating at him as he made his way down from the apartment just moments ago.
He slowly stood up, stuffed his hands in his pockets and glanced over in the direction of the children's mother. "It's something you never get over.," he whispered softly. "Go with God, children."
He walked off in the direction of his car once more as he heard paramedics rush to the children's side. He unlocked the doors, got in, then sat there in deep thought about the children's deaths and all those he had loved and lost.
Forever was hell...
He started the car up, turned back the way he came from, and went home.
In silence, he drove home and, in silence, he moved about his home, putting away his groceries, before going in to get cleaned up for the second time that night.
Almost soundlessly, his footsteps padded in the vastness of the building as he went over to a wet bar secreted in one side of the room, grabbed a glass and poured up a couple of fingers worth of his favorite malt whiskey.
He held the glass up to the light, peering through the dark amber colored liquid, then brought it back down and filled it to the brim. The deaths of the children tonight bothered him tremendously as had all of the deaths, through the centuries, of the innocent.
He walked over to the wall of windows which overlooked the street below and the river, as well as provided him a brilliant view at night of the skyline of New York City. Glancing down to the street below, he quickly checked to see if there was anyone out tonight. When he saw no one, he turned back, went over to the stereo, and began to thumb through his CD's.
The microwave's bell beeped at him from the kitchen, breaking the silence, and he went over to get out his late night repast, glancing at his watch. Three a.m. and another night was half gone already. "Just another typical night in New York!" he cracked to himself.
Gingerly, he got out his meal and set it down on the counter to cool for a few minutes, took a long drink of scotch, and stopped dead as he heard the plaintive, yet haunting cry of bagpipes, flowing through the air and a woman's beautiful voice singing:
"Oh cruel is the snow that sweeps Glencoe,
and covers the ground o'Donald.
Oh cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe,
And murdered the house of MacDonald."
He closed his eyes in pain, but made no move to go and turn it off as the song continued,
"They came in a blizzard, we offered them heat,
a roof o'er their heads, dry shoes for their feet,
we wined them and dined them, they ate of our meat,
and they slept in the house of MacDonald."
He shifted about uncomfortably where he stood, already knowing the rest of the story that the song was about.
"Oh cruel is the snow that sweeps Glencoe,
and covers the ground o'Donald.
Oh cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe,
And murdered the house of MacDonald."
He walked over to sit on his couch with a lump in his throat, both hands tightly gripping the glass, as the saga spilled out in song of a time long ago and never forgotten.
"They came from Fort William with murder in mind,
the Campbells had orders, King William had signed,
put all to the sword, these words underlined,
leave no one alive called MacDonald."
He took another long drink while his eyes narrowed, his food now forgotten about.
"Oh cruel is the snow that sweeps Glencoe,
and covers the ground o'Donald.
Oh cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe,
And murdered the house of MacDonald."
He frowned and looked down as he listened intently to the next verse.
"They came in the night while our men were asleep,
this band of Argyles, through snow soft and deep,
Like murdering fox among helpless sheep,
They butchered the house of MacDonald."
Softly, he whispered, "Aye, they did."
"Oh cruel is the snow that sweeps Glencoe,
and covers the ground o'Donald.
Oh cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe,
And murdered the house of MacDonald."
He turned his face away as the present slowly began to merge with the past in his memories.
"Some died in their beds at the hands of a foe,
Some fled in the night and were lost in the snow,
Some lived to accuse him, who struck the first blow,
But gone was the house of MacDonald."
He slowly was beginning to feel the effects of so much alcohol, as his home and furnishings began to swim before his eyes.
"Oh cruel is the snow that sweeps Glencoe,
and covers the ground o'Donald.
Oh cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe,
And murdered the house of MacDonald."
He gulped down the rest of his drink, burning his throat as it went down. He staggered over and poured himself another as the pipes wailed on in mourning. Again, he downed it swiftly and again another was poured...
Scotland, February 12, 1692
The two Highlanders trod on horseback in snow which laid deeply on the moors and in the glens. The wind bit through them yet they didn't feel it, as they headed back towards Glencoe. They had been out hunting a stag for an evening meal and were now arguing politics heatedly.
"I'm telling ye, Connor MacLeod, tha' nae good will come of the Oath of Allegience tha' King William is forcing down our throats!"
Connor gazed at the two different mountain ranges surrounding them as they entered into the glen itself. On the left,stood the mountain range of Aonach Eagach, with it's towering peaks and craggy face, and on the right stood Bidean nam Bian and its' deeply wooded sides. It was good to be home after all these years; if not in Glenfinnan or around Loch Shiel, then at least back in the Highlands.
He had missed it as he traveled the then known world in search of answers, and after taking on a student now and then to teach what he had been taught by his teacher. Passing down the traditions and the knowledge of Immortals was something he took seriously; he still was learning about it so that he could survive and stay in the Game. There was always something new to learn every day; it made an Immortal's chances of survival better, the more he knew.
He turned to look at his friend. "Aye, King William doesn't know a good Scotsman, and he's only going to make trouble wi' it. But he will no feel safe until the amnesty is signed. There are those clans who will never gi' up th' fight for Scotland."
"Aye, I know that. Many of the other clans have decided to sign rather than lose their lands and all of their other property. But Father is a wee bit stubborn about it all. He hasna decided if he will sign or no." John MacDonald looked seriously at his friend. "He is th' last or one of th' last to sign if he does. Others are watching to see what he does befo' they go and do what it is they will do."
Connor nodded, as he listened. The oath itself was intended to be a warning to all of the clans to swear fealty to the King of England or face, as the oath put it, "letters of fire and swords" if they did not comply. It's threatening tone had it's desired effect, and slowly, one by one, the clan chieftains had come in to swear an oath of fealty to the crown of England.
MacDonald of Glencoe was indeed, the last one to swear it, and Connor had come at the request of his eldest son John, to see if he could swing the old man into swearing the oath, thus protecting their lands and property. It wasn't going to be easy to do, and Connor knew it.
They arrived at the large house which had been their destination, and dismounted. "'Tis as cold as a woman scorned, Connor!" John said, smiling to him as he pulled and tugged at the large stag's carcass. It fell to the ground; both men reached down to pick it up.
Eye to eye, Connor replied with good Scottish humor, "Aye, and ye should know about tha', since so many women scorn th' likes of ye!" He chuckled, then went on. "On th' count of three, we pick it up. One, two, three!" They heaved it upwards into a cart near them; both grabbed a side of it and moved it around to the back of the house for butchering.
They could hear from inside the house, boisterous chaos. They went inside once the bloody task of cleaning and butchering had been done. John went in search of his father, as Connor looked around.
Children ran about the place squealing in delight as one chased another, occasionally bumping into him, then apologizing profusely. "Shah, 'tis no harm done. Go on, ye little divils!" He could tell that this was a house where love abided.
"Excuse me, are ye th' MacLeod?" An older woman's voice caused him to turn about; he came face to face with the woman who had spoken.
"Sometimes." He smiled at her; a smile played about her lips for a moment in response to his reply.
"I'm the MacDonald's wife, Moira. Ye are welcome here. I ha' made a room upstairs for ye for th' night." She smiled at him broadly. "I ha' heard about ye."
"If it was good, then I am Connor MacLeod." He reached down, picked up her hand and brushed his lips over the back of it. "My pleasure on making your acquaintance."
She let her hand linger for a moment more as she laughed."I see ye been around."
He shrugged. "A few places, here and there. But Scotland is home, my heart is here always."
They walked about as she showed him around. "Th' Campbells are the worst of the clans, you know. They ha' no qualms about being in th' Sassenach's King's pocket an' if they could, they probably would be in his breeches too! They call us thieves and brigands, an' heap dirt upon th' MacDonalds."
"Aye, the MacLeods ha' no love for them as well. But the Oath the Sassenach have made us swear to--what of the MacDonanld, and why does he no sign it?"
She stopped, putting a hand to his arm. "Och, I'm but a woman! No one listens to me. The MacDonald did go to sign it, did you not know? It was to ha' been signed by January 1 of this year, and he left earler to go to Fort William to sign it."
"But it's still not signed."
"He arrived on December 31st, demanding tha' th' bloody thing be given to him, but th' mon there wouldna do it. Said tha' only a magistraite could gi' it to him, so he left wi' it unsigned. He was in a terrible temper when he returned."
They walked outside, towards the barn. Connor was thinking rapidly.If he had gone to sign it, and had been refused that might be used in the MacDonald's favor. But execution had been one of the things that was an option of the magistrate and King if it remained unsigned.
"Does the magistrate know now of why the oath is unsigned?" They had stopped in front of the hens; both began to gather eggs.
"Och, no. Th' weather was so bad, tha it was well nigh impossible to find him. He even passed by his home wi'out stopping to see his family, and the mountain passes were almost impassable. He went to th' magistraite in Invernay and implored him to gi' him th' oath. But by th' time MacDonald had arrived in Invernay, th' deadline had passed, and he had to wait for Sir Colin to return.
"When he did, Sir Colin was reluctant to gi' it to him but the MacDonald implored him to gi' it to him so that if th' sherriff came for him, he would at least ha' cause to protest, and a paper to show tha' he had sworn th' Oath. Sir Colin relented and ga' him th' Oath on January 6th, a little over a month ago now."
Connor nodded as he now understood the events which led up to his coming here. John evidently had been away somewhere when all of this had taken place, so when he had talked Connor into coming to speak with his father, it was without the knowledge of all the events which had transpired in the last couple of months.
They returned to the house with a large basket of eggs, and were greeted by the MacDonald himself.
"Get going to your chores, Moira, we have company coming tonight." The MacDonald held out his hand. "You must be Connor MacLeod."
Connor shook his hand firmly as they walked into a small room off to one side of the main chamber. "Aye, I'm that."
John followed them quietly inside and shut the door behind him. "Father, Connor was going to offer his help if need be, to us, about th' Oath..."
The MacDonald, a big burly man of about fifty or so, Connor guessed, scowled at the mention of it. "It's worse tha' a dog's bite if ye ask me. Th' Campbells ha' a hand in it, of tha' I'm sure. We Highlanders dinna take kindly to it, but what choice do we ha'? Either we swear on it and live, or we don't an' we die. The Sassenach ha' already taken away our right to ha' weapons an' more; they're trying to kill our way of life here. Wha' comes next?"
Both Connor and John said nothing as the question hung in mid-air.
John cleared his voice uncomfortably. "Father, what about the Oath? Ye must sign it or they will come after ye."
MacDonald waved him off, and got up to retrieve a piece of paper, which he handed to his eldest. "'Tis done, my boy. Read and you will see that I did, so tha' nothing will bring harm to th' clan. You were away when I did it."
Connor watched the exchange silently but with great interest. The father was teaching the son without the son knowing of it. He imperceptibly nodded. Very subtle, but well worth keeping in mind. Connor then decided to change the subject. "Who else will be joining us for dinner?"
"A man named Glenlyon, who lives in Glencoe. He's a military mon." A shout of "Dinner" interrupted the conversation and single file, they went out to sit at the dinner table.
Connor leaned his head back on the cushions of the couch, so that the world would stop spinning. The memories still flowed about him as well as the innocent, sleeping faces of the dead children he had pulled out from the building tonight.
He remembered the horror of the attack upon the House of MacDonald, which started at five o'clock in the morning the next morning, while everyone was still sleeping, the screams of the victims, the pleas for mercy.
He had come bursting out of his room only to be met with the butt of rifle smashing into his face, breaking his nose in the process and slamming him into the wall. He could hear gunfire, the wails of women who were getting raped and beaten, the children getting thrown outside in the cold morning air from their warm beds.
Staggering to his feet, he saw John come rushing out of his room with sword in hand, only to be stabbed; he fell to the floor, bleeding profusely.
Regaining his strength, Connor grappled with the English soldiers who seemed to be everywhere all at once. The last thing he remembered of the attack, was someone running him through and laughing all the while as the blood frenzy was upon him.
Later that morning, he walked through the now quiet house staring at all of the congealed puddles of blood and bodies, as he took a quick count of the dead. His eyes misted over as he saw that not even the children had been spared. Over in one corner lay a thirteen year old boy who had been repeatedly stabbed as he had begged for mercy, while his arms had been wrapped about the legs of his attacker and whose now still form lay his own blood.
He walked outside and looked towards the mountains as he saw a trail though the snow that led in that direction. He went over to the barn to saddle up his horse; as he walked, he followed blood flecked snow that led him in the same direction he was going. Stopping dead, he stared at the butchered body which hung from the rafters, gutted, as if it were an animal.
He turned away and retched up everything he had eaten the night before. Once finished, he wiped his mouth with the back of his sleeve, and steeled himself to finish this out. Grabbing his horse, he flung a saddle on it and rode out past the house towards the mountains, following the trail in the snow.
He stood up. As he wove his way over to the stereo and shut it off, he brooded about the trail of bodies he had found in the snow 300 years earlier, then thought about the children and their mother from earlier tonight.
Three hundred years ago, he had found young mothers with babies, still clinging to their breasts, dead from the cold and exposure, in the snow, as were other women who had managed to escape and other younger children. Very few still lived, and most had been half unclothed and barefoot.
Tonight, he had found a young mother who had lost her children and with it, all that she had in the world. The parallels haunted him.
Two things tied the centuries together between past and present.
And, he suspected but was unable to prove, perhaps the man who had nearly killed him earlier in the night.
Morning came and Connor awoke to the sound of the television, which was preset to come on as a wake up call to him. Groaning, he swung his legs to the bedside and sat up. He wandered into the rotundra he stored his keepsakes and momentos from centuries of collecting, and stared at his clan's tartan, now tattered, faded and very fragile.
So many memories, so much pain. If he could face going back there one more time, go back to visit his old haunts. If he could go back and talk to Heather once again. She would have understood his loneliness at least, and given everything of herself to make him feel better. Even Brenda, in her own way, would have understood at least some of it.
He sighed, turned around and went back to catch the local news on the television. He was only half paying attention when the reporter started on a new story, but came in to view it when he heard the tag.
"In New York, a fire swept through a large apartment complex, killing five people including two children. Firefighters battled for hours to put out the blaze which the fire department is saying was deliberatly set. The mother of the children who died, Mariel Hernandez, is being held in custody for child abandoment and endangering a child, for leaving them alone while she went to the store. Arraignment is set for today and we will keep you informed on the story."
"In other news, Saddam Hussein said today.."
Connor grabbed the remote and flipped off the set, slightly surprised at the news report. Today will be her arraignment. He mused on an idea for a moment, then grabbed the phone, dialed up the courthouse, then found out which court the arraignment was to be had. "Thank you for the information. Uh-huh. Yes, thank you. Bye-bye."
He replaced the phone and ran into the shower, shaved and got ready for a date in court, dressing in a navy blue silk suit with all the accessories. He took a look around as he grabbed his keys and sprinted down the winding staircase and out the door.
"Everyone has a story," he softly said outloud. "Some are just never heard."
Inside the courthouse, case after case droned on through the justice system. Connor flicked his eyes to the door where the prisoners were being kept. He waited somewhat impatiently until finally, her name was called.
"Mariel Hernandez," the baliff flatly called out, as the other baliffs brought her out in handcuffs, to stand before the judge. She was a bit disheveled and had a blackened eye; she kept her head lowered, never once raising it to speak to the judge.
"How do you plead?" the judge asked her in a matter of fact voice.
"Guilty," she replied with a choked sob only half concealed.
The judge looked at her. "Can you afford an attorney?", to which she shook her head "no."
Connor jumped up. "Your Honor, may I address the court?"
The judge peered over the top of his glasses at him. "It's a bit unusual, Mr. --"
"MacLeod. Connor MacLeod." He glanced over at the woman as she pushed her hair back from her face to look at him.
"Go ahead, Mr. MacLeod."
"Thank you, Your Honor. Last night, I was the one who pulled Ms. Hernandez' children from the burning building."
A stir was heard among the courtroom visitors and people craned their heads around to stare at him, causing him to become a bit uncomfortable. He took a deep breath after running his eyes over the crowd and continued. "The children--"
Again his eyes flicked over to her as she hung on every word he uttered. "The children weren't abandoned or left alone. They were with me. I'm begging the court's indulgence to setting Ms. Hernandez free under my supervision and care. I'll pay whatever recognizance is decided upon, provided she be remanded to my custody."
The judge scribbled down some notes, then looked over at the woman. "First time offense, no priors." He flipped pages in her file as he read the police reports, then looked at Connor. "Can you prove that you were with the children?"
"We went to the Garden to skate and then out for ice cream. I can get the ticket stubs to you if you'd like." Connor half smiled. "And afterwards, I took them home. I'm their-was their Big Brother. Their father's been gone for some time. I'm kind of subbing for him."
The judge curtly nodded, believing him. "Very well. Bond is set at $10,000 and Ms. Hernandez, you're to go with him. He is responsible for you. If you flee, he loses the bond money he's willing to put up and faces a day in court himself. Trial will be set at a later date. Release her."
She looked at him quizzically as the cuffs were unlocked and removed. Why would he lie for her? What was the purpose of this?
He ignored her as he went off to one side of the court room to pay the bail. Once finished, he came up to her, cocking a smile. "Hey, looks like we meet again. Do you need to get anything from them?"
She shook her head. "No. Why would you-"
He curtly cut her off. "Not here, we'll discuss things in my car." Placing a hand to her elbow, he swiftly guided her out the door and soon after, outside to his car.
She paused by his car and looked it over, then at him. "Nice wheels. What kind is it? Nissan?"
Connor grinned and laughed, his staccato laugh making her softly smile. "It's a Porsche. Get in."
Her eyes widened at his reply, and she gingerly got in, running her hands over the soft as butter leather interior. "A Porsche? Just what do you do?"
He shrugged noncommittedly. "You could say I'm in the antiques business." He turned about to face her. "Here is the deal. You probably don't have a place to stay now do you?"
Silently she shook her head "no" as she noticed that there was something different about him, but she couldn't place her finger on what it could be. But she was now out of the hellhole that was the jail, she was ready to listen to any offers he provided.
"All right, since you've been placed into my custody, you can stay with me for a while until the legal issues have been settled or until you can get your own place." He paused as he intently read her face. "Are you the kind of woman who asks a lot of questions?"
She swallowed, not sure of what kind of answer he wanted. But if he was being straight with her, then she should be also with him. "It depends on what it is I'm questioning and why."
Connor scowled slightly at the answer. "Let me give you some advice. Don't ask. You do take advice, don't you?"
"If it's good." She wondered why she shouldn't ask him questions as she said that. There was something maybe he was hiding perhaps or was there? She couldn't decide.
"I have an extra bedroom you can sleep in. Do you need clothes? Do you have anything at all from the fire?"
She hesitated for a moment. "I don't know. They picked me up--I guess a neighbor told the--oh God! My babies!" She burst into tears, her sobs wracking her body.
Connor looked on sypathetically, then away. Once more, he could see the connection between the past and present, as he remembered whe wails of those still were left alive, upon finding the other bodies.
In total, 38 people had been killed at Glencoe; men, women, and children, both young and old. Anyone from birth to seventy years of age had been fair game; all the dead had ranged within those ages.
Softly, he reached over, picked up her hand and began to pat it in some type of comfort. "What about the funeral? Do you know about the arrangements?"
She wiped her tears away as best she could, pushing back her hair before replying, "I don't know anything. I don't even know where they are!" She began crying loudly once more.
Connor took a deep breath, then started the car. It roared to life and he deftly manuevered it through the New York back to his storefront home remaining silent, as he became lost in the memories of 1692.
Glencoe, near the mountains, Feb. 14, 1692
The snow was knee high in the area which surrounded him and he grimly placed the last stone on a cairn, covering more of the massacre's victims. The ground had been too frozen to bury them adequately but at least now the bodies were protected from wolves.
Narrowing his eyes, he looked around him as a light snow began to fall. Those who had been buried this day had been both MacDonalds and members of his own clan. Both clans had been allies in many things and their lands were located near one another, with the MacDonalds located further north. He angrily shook his head. "I'm going to get justice for the MacDonalds and find out who did this to them. Then I'll let the law take care of it." He paused and as an after thought said, "If it even can."
He brushed the snow off himself, vaulted upon his horse,then headed towards Invernay. He would find out more there more likely than not than if he stayed here. It was a good ride to get there, and as he rode, the temperature dropped like a rock.
When he finally arrived into the town he was shivering wildly, his teeth chattering like mad. He headed to the pub where he knew he would find lodging. He paid, had an uisgebeatha (whisky) poured up for him and went to stand in front of the roaring fire to warm himself.
He listened as he slowly warmed to the locals and some as they talked about the goings on around the area, and turned to face them when no one had broached the subject of the killings. "The MacDonalds at Glencoe have all been killed, do ye know this?" he said causing all eyes to become riveted to him.
"When? When did this happen?" A large red-headed man stepped forward, gripping his dagger in his belt. "We ha' no heard this."
Connor sipped at his drink, glancing all around the room."Two days ago, very few ha' lived. I was there, an' I survived but the MacDonald and his family are dead. We were attacked while we were still sleeping by about twenty or so soldiers. They wore Sassenach uniforms, but some wore Campbell plaids too."
A loud murmuring was heard which beacame a loud buzz as more of the men voiced loudly their anger at what had happened as well as thier dissent and grievianaces with the British lords and king.
The red-haired man spoke up. "Campbell plaids, you say? A band of Campbells left here for Fort William last week, with orders for going to do some of the Sassenach's dirty work."
Connor's ears perked up at the mention of this. "Do you know who was in charge of the unit?"
Another man, more elderly than the first spoke up. "A man who is nae more but a braggert, a fat bullying mon who is full up of himself an' nae a Scot at tha'!"
Connor frowned. "No a Scot, an' he's got a Scottish troop? If he's no a Scot, then wha' is he, an' wha' is his name?"
"He's a Frenchman, by God, an' his name be, Claude Dumiere. I no like the mon. He's no guid. He enjoys hurting things, so I've been told an' has no qualms about it."
Musing, Connor grew silent at the information.
He'd heard of him, and knew that he was one of his own kind. But he had a black heart, that much was true. If Dumiere had led an attack on the MacDonalds and was in the pocket of the Campbells... His face tightened at the thought of what he would like to do to him.
He decided to head out to Fort William the next day. He was going to confront Dumiere, and deal with him. But first, relax, food, and sleep. He nodded at the older man before heading upstairs to bed. "Thank ye, grandfather."
They arrived at his house and they got out as she looked around at the nondescript neighborhood, then entered after he unlocked the door. "There's one more thing to this deal then you can tell me if you agree to it." Connor said as they wound up the staircase to the second floor.
She looked at him, her eyes bloodshot and swollen. She had stopped crying before they had arrived and had sat quietly in the car once the tears had stopped, lost in her thoughts.
"You work for me. I'll pay you a good salary but there will be many times I won't be here or things might not be easily understood or explained. You work for me and never ask me about my comings and goings. Is that a deal?"
Thinking upon it, she slowly nodded. "Deal."
He opened up the spare bedroom and showed her quickly around then left, jogging back down the stairs to his hidden gym where he began a kata to clear his mind and to prepare for the next encounter with Dumiere.
Oh yes, there would be a next encounter with Dumiere, and he would be better prepared for it.
He'd make sure of it.
He paused in his kata, sword poised overhead, and glanced towards the ceiling. How much did one invest in another's life without risking your own, he wondered as he thought about Mariel. How much was he risking to have her stay with him and possibly having her find out about the secret of his immortality?
Swinging the sword in an arc, he started the kata over from the beginning as he answered himself outloud, "Quite a lot."
Once his his mind was clear, Connor went upstairs to his bedroom and made a few discrete telephone calls to some local funeral parlors as well as the county coroners to find out the exact cause of death of the children as well as when and where the funeral would be held.
The children had died of smoke asphyxiation, he had found out, but there had been traces of other chemical gases in their bloodstream which hadn't been identified as of yet. The coroner was expecting the lab reports back in a matter of hours, he had told Connor, before he asked him as to who he was and why he needed the information.
"Just call me a friend of the bereaved family." he replied, then hung up. He shook his head. The more he heard, the more it smacked of Dumiere. Leave it to Dumiere to sneak in on the unsuspecting victims, then skulk back into his hiding hole to wait until his next opportunity then reappear once more to cause more destruction, and pain, leaving a path of death in his wake.
He knew, because it was exactly a repeat of Glencoe and of the sudden, unprovoked attack upon the sleeping MacDonalds, who dreamt mindlessly, unsuspecting the treachery which lay within their doors.
Dumiere, then, in 1692, had led one of the three small platoons which had divided itself up outside of Fort Willaim. Each platoon had attacked three different locations in the valley of Glencoe; each had been a surprise raid early in the morning before dawn had had a chance to pinken the sky.
By the time the raids were through, the landscape had changed to a early morning of crimson colored snow and a path of death and destruction with almost nary a clansman named MacDonald left alive.
His face grew grim as he glanced at his closed door. The funeral was to be held tomorrow, and would probably prove to be a media circus, with reporters jostling each other, trying to get the best sound byte and snippet of film they could of the accused.
She would have to go, would want to go, would need to go to say goodbye to her children. Did she have any family?, he wondered mentally. Or was she alone? How did he broach the subject without hurting her? There were so many unanswered questions about her; he began to re-think his quick decision to have her stay in his home without knowing anything about her.
And yet, anything was better than to have stayed in the county jail especially on the charges she had been brought up on. She would have been beaten to a pulp by the other inmates or killed had she stayed there, for killing her children or contributing to their deaths.
He drummed his hands on the phone a quick beat, then got up off the bed and put away the phone, nodding silently to himself as he thought about going by her apartment building to see if there was anything left to salvage from her things.
That is, providing that there was anything left of the place.
She would need clothes for tomorrow as well as everyday he realized, and went out in search of her, prepared to take her on a small shopping run to get whatever necessities she would need.
He had always chided Brenda for her trips to the shops and markets but he had never once complained too loudly at what she had brought home. Perhaps her being here might turn out to be something good for both of them, he mused. He needed someone to help in the shop in the day to day operations when he wasn't around and to fill the shoes that Rachel had vacated when she married.
And she needed a place to stay and a refuge for a little while until--until when? He frowned as he thought about it. Her staying in the same house might prove to be a sticky situation in the times he came in at all hours of the night, his clothes torn and bloodstained when others came looking for him, which was often.
His reputation preceded him and he rarely would back down from a fight unless circumstances weren't right, as in the case where he was either on Holy Ground or others could see what would be a public fight between himself and the other Immortal.
He also seriously took the rule of, "There can be only one" to heart. To that end, he fought with all his heart, soul and steel could be mustered as Rameriz had admonished him to. But, in the process, he had learned and had chosen through the centuries to isolate his heart as well himself from others, unwilling to take a chance to losing a mortal lover to death, having to face the pain and dealing with the ensuing loneliness by himself.
There had been chances taken, won and loved in dizzying fashion, deeply, with no regrets, until death or others came to take them away from him. For him, it was better to stay away from others so that the pain wouldn't happen again. It hurt far too much when he lost someone he loved; it was easier to wear a callaus over his heart than to reveal it.
He walked over to her room and knocked gently but got no answer. He opened it just a crack, keeping his eyes averted. "Ms. Hernandez?"
There wasn't an answer so he opened it up the rest of the way only to discover that the room was empty. He glanced around momentarily then went out to peer over the railing to the floor below. "Ms Hernandez?" he called out.
A clang of metal and the drone of the television answered him this time and he jogged down the stairs, following the sounds into the living room and paused as he saw her staring at the local news as they ran the story on her and her arraignment. "Maybe it's best not to watch that," he softly said.
At the sound of his voice, she turned to face him, tears spilling out of her eyes. "They make me sound as if I'm some kind of monster!" Pushing back her long hair away from her face, she stared in defiance at him. "I'm not what they are making me out to be! I'm a good mother and I always wanted the best for my children! Don't they see that? Don't they see what is beyond their noses?"
Connor silently watched her, then slowly replied, "No, they don't see that. They don't see beyond the story in many cases and they don't look deeper than just the surface most of the time for the story behind the story." He walked over and shut the televison off, before turning to face her again. "I found your children."
She caught her breath, and bit her lip to keep from crying anymore tears. Balling and unballing her fists, she slowly regained her self-control, slowly nodding at the news. She walked over to slowly lower herself onto the couch, hoarsely whispering one word. "Where?"
"Not too far from here in one of the better funeral--" He stopped dead at the word. "I'm sorry." In just a few swift strides, he came and sat beside her on the couch, picking up her hand and holding it tightly. "It's not a pretty thought, is it?
Steadily looking at him all then while, she shook her head "no". "But there were circumstances that you don't understand I need to explain to you --"
He placed an index finger to her lips, "Shhh! You owe me no explanations so don't feel obligated to give me any. Now isn't the time anyway." He looked away, gazing at the skyline, then back at her. "They're to be buried tomorrow morning. All of the press is expected to turn out for it and to take a shot at you."
He stood back up as he shoved his hands deep into his pockets, walking away from her, waiting patiently for a reaction of some sort from her but turned when he heard nothing of the sort. He looked at at the almost stoic face she wore, but couldn't quite pull off as the constant gulping gave away her true emotions. "I'll come if you want and sit beside you if that will make it any easier."
She wiped the back of her hand against her eyes, then under her nose before looking at him again. "Why are you doing this for me? Why did you lie to the court about my children? You don't know me or about my life. Why would you risk jail time for a stranger as well as your money?"
He shrugged as he pursed his lips for an instant before replying once more to her. "Maybe it reminds me of something in my past that I want to see ended and put to rest."
"That being?" she inquired with raised eyebrows.
"Remember our deal. No questions." He cleared his throat, then changed the subject. "Look, you're going to need clothes for the funeral and for everyday. I'm willing to pay for them; afterwards, we can go back to your place and see what's left of it. Maybe you can salvage something."
She shivered and rubbed at her arms at the thought of returning back to the place of her nightmares where a part of her heart had been forever lost. She turned her head away from his incessant gaze, stood and walked away. "If you think that's alright, Mr. MacLeod. I don't care what you do or we do for that matter. I just feel so, so numb!"
He nodded, fully understanding what she meant. "I know. Let's go get some clothes for you, ok?"
She nodded as he grabbed the keys off his keyrack, turned the security system back on, and they left.
Dumiere sat in the library in downtown New York, scanning copies of the "New York Times" and "New York Daily News" as he read about the apartment fire which he had deliberatly set for a exorbitant fee which had been prepaid by the landlord of the buildings.
He chuckled as he read of the deaths it had caused, feeling no remorse whatsoever over the deaths of the children, just as he had felt no remorse when he had ordered the deaths of everyone of the clan MacDonald in Glencoe three hundred years and a couple of years before in 1692.
Then, he had relished the pre-dawn attack and the great surprise of his victims. He had enjoyed the scurrying about of the victims as they scrambled to defend themselves only to be killed, beaten, raped, stabbed and destroyed in as many ways as was possible within the short timespan they were there before he had withdrawn his platoon.
Then, he was a mercenary attached to the Earl of Campbell, who had been bent on destroying his neighbors and his enemies like the MacDonalds. The Campbells and the MacDonalds had had a blood feud between them for a few centuries, despite the intermarriages which had been arranged to put an end to the feuding. The marriages though, hadn't accomplished any true stoppage of the feud.
Now, he would kill for the highest bidder, still the mercenary, willing to do anything providing the price was right. He was very good at what he did and was in high demand worldwide with all those differing factions who needed something done right the first time.
Originally, he had been attached to the court of France as it supported Scotland in its' fight to maintain its' sovereignty from England. He had grown close to the house of Campbell while on a secret trip to Scotland, to deliver a set of plans to upset the throne of England into the hands of the Scottish ruler. The Scottish court at that time was awash with intrigue and double dealings; he was an expert at both.
The Earl of Campbell held his hands in both the pockets of England as well as Scotland, with lands and titles held in both places. He instantly recognized in Dumiere, a kindred spirit as Dumiere did, in looking upon the character of Campbell. They worked well together against Campbell's enemies; Dumiere gave up his position at the French court and moved to Scotland, eventually marrying one of Campbell's nieces and settling into one of Campbell's manor houses with his new bride.
Years passed, as did the bloody revolts in Scotland for its' freedom, and the massive bouts of repression of the Scottish rebels by the throne of England took hold during which both Campbell and Dumiere's beloved wife died. He grew bitter and angry at what was happening in the country as the internal strife between the clans threatened to tear apart any semblance there might be of peace.
He began offering his services to the highest bidder, including the throne of England, against his adopted countrymen, and was handsomely rewarded for it. He decided that this was what he was meant to do and did through the centuries, faking his death every so often then starting fresh with a new identity.
Each time, he grew more wealthy as his rewards for his services were enhanced two or thricefold, growing fat upon the misery of others and, when offered a chance to go after the hated MacDonalds in Glencoe, he had jumped on the chance.
It was there, in the valley of Glencoe, he had first chanced upon the other Immortal called the Highlander.
He had first felt his presence as they made their escape to rendezvous with the other two platoons through the snow as the horses floundered about in the deep whiteness of it back towards Fort William. Ordering his troops to stand down, he glanced about the white landscape, though the stark fingers of bare trees until he spotted a lone figure on horseback positioned on a hillock near their encampment.
The figure neither moved or spoke a word, only sat and watched as Dumiere flung an order over his shoulder to break camp and scatter the troops into the hills and landscape. When the sargeant seemed reluctant to obey, Dumiere swiftly turned on him, screaming obscenities, until spittle ran down his chin.
The sargeant blinked at the onslaught of venomous words and increased his pace to obey, as he himself hurried the troops away into the landscape, leaving Dumiere and the unexpected visitor alone in the bitter coldness.
The stranger on horseback shifted position, slowly withdrawing a thinner, silver blade unlike anything Dumiere had ever seen in his long life, from a scabbard which hung low on his hip. He sat it, pommel downwards, on his leg, then said loudly, "What do ye know of the MacDonald?"
Dumiere withdrew his own rapier, so that it could be seen readily as he shrugged. "I don't know what you mean!"
The stranger looked away then back at him as he raised his eyebrows. "Ye don't?" with evident disbelief in his voice.
Dumiere narrowed his eyes as he tried to assess his challenger. He shook his head "no", then said, "I'm just an innocent traveler, who happened upon the troops."
Connor scowled, growing impatient with the cat and mouse game of words. "You're a liar. Some traveler--all covered in the blood of the MacDonalds and MacLeods that ye ha' killed in the last two days." His horse stamped his foot, jingling the bridle's metal, as Connor reached down to stroke its' neck. "How many did ye kill?"
Dumiere knew that there wasn't any further use in denying what had happened, so he began to brag. "More than my share, I assure you, and tasted the sweet young flesh of young girls as well as old!"
Connor glared at him but said nothing as he tried to remain calm. "Who are ye?" He already knew who he was confronting, just from the description the locals had given him in Invernay, but there were rules to follow preceding a challenge, this being one of them.
"Claude Dumiere, if you must know. Now, if you would be so kind, your name, please."
Connor paused before saying anything, as he drew his woolen coat about him tighter against the chill. "I am Connor MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod."
Dumiere drew himself up to his full height as the name struck an instant chord of recognition. "Ahhhhh, I've heard of you! The Highlander!"
Connor looked at him with a bemused expression on his face. "I'm tha', am I?" He mused a quick instant, never removing his piercing stare off Dumiere. "Aye, ye might call me tha'." He threw a leg over the horse, dismounted, then took a wide spaced stance, holding his katana two handed. "I think I need to teach a lesson in Scottish hospitality to you."
"Do you think so?" Dumiere sneered, as he struck the first blow, which Connor parried, throwing a thrust of his own which Dumiere turned away from.
Connor wrapped his katana about the rapier as the sparks flew in the crisp air as each grunted, groaned and gasped, both trying to gain the upper hand against the other. Neither gave ground to the other and the clash of metal rang out in the air.
It seemed that both were evenly matched until in a moment's lull between strokes, Dumiere swiftly dropped to one knee, picked up a fallen limb, and smashed it into Connor's head.
Connor fell backwards, reeling from the blow. He brought his hand up to his temple, pulled it away and looked at the blood, then glanced back at Dumiere.
"Ye son of a bitch!" he snarled, as he grabbed his katana and renewed his attack, reigning blows about Dumiere's body but was unable to land a blow upon him, before he misstepped, slipped and fell in the snow.
Dumiere took the opportunity to raise his sword overhead for the killing; Connor raised his sword in defense ramming it into Dumiere's abdomen, spilling a fountain of bood over himself and onto the snow.
Clutching at his stomach, Dumiere staggered away towards his horse, grabbed the reins, mounted, then rode away as Connor got to his feet, following close behind.
Raising his katana over his head in frustration, he yelled after him."Dumiere!"
Mariel looked at herself somberly in the mirror, feeling detached from the whole situation she was about to face. Taking a deep breath, she adjusted the veil which covered her face, then closed her eyes, as her children's voices came back to haunt her once more.
"Mommy! Look what I can do!", the oldest would say, as he ran about her place with a towel wrapped about his neck as a cape. She would always laugh and clap her hands at him, delighting in his antics. He was such a clown, and she loved him so much!
She would glance about the apartment in search of her other one, who for some reason was way too quiet. That he was quiet was a good indication that he was probably into something he shouldn't be.
She dried her hands and went in search of him; sure enough, he was painting with her best lipstick on the walls. "What do you think you're doing, Mister?", she would sternly say to him, only to see his eyes tear up and his lower lip quiver.
What could she do with him? She shook her head and couldn't quite hide the grin which played at her mouth.
Clucking her tongue, she scooped him into her arms and carried him back out to the living room to keep an eye on him better. She admonished him softly and he agreed to stay out of mommy's things--for now, at least.
She took a deep breath and went over to the window to look out at the sea of broadcast media that were camped outside waiting to pounce on her. She couldn't even grieve privately, they weren't going to let her. "Vultures!" she spit at them venomously. "Pendajos!"
A teneative knock came at her door."Miss Hernandez?"
She turned answering, "Yes, come in." She had agreed that her benefactor could come along; she would need someone to help her get through this.
Connor entered, glancing at the window, then back at her. "You saw what's outside waiting, didn't you?"
Silently, she nodded her head. "It's time, isn't it?" She rubbed her arms briskly, as a coldness seem to settle on the room between them.
"Yes. I have another way out that they don't know about, come with me." He held out his arm as an invitation for her to follow, which she did.
They walked through the showroom downstairs, and then Connor led her towards a door she hadn't noticed before, as it had been half hidden in the shadows at the back of the room.
They entered and she glanced around at the different paraphenalia in the small, but well equipped gym. "You exercise a lot or what?" she said as he opened another door further back on a side wall.
He glanced at her, then fished about for his remote on his key ring. "I keep in shape as much as possible. I never know what might happen." He aimed the remote; the locks clicked open, and he walked around to her side and opened the door. He caught a whiff of perfume as she went past him; it had smelled like something Brenda had worn perhaps.
He glanced at her as pulled up a garage door on the opposite end of the garage, away from the media's entourage outside his front door. "It used to be such a quiet neighborhood too," he cracked to himself, half grinning.
Shaking his head, he mentally noted how beautiful she looked, despite the strain which showed on her features. She held herself with a nobility and grace. She was a very strong woman to be doing as well as she was under the circumstances, he noted also.
They pulled out, and headed for the funeral. The media mobbed her as she tried to exit the car once they had arrived. Connor pushed and shoved his way over to her, unmindful and uncaring of whether or not he threw a few punches, in the process of getting to her.
She clutched at his arm in fear, as microphones kept being shoved into her face and his, with pleas to "Just say a few words for the camera." She kept her head lowered as the crowd, which had gathered to see the procession, jeered and taunted her.
Connor served both as her bodyguard and escort, and slowly they made it through the media gauntlet into the church. He guided her into a small room off to one side of the chapel, and both stopped as they looked upon the two small caskets, which lay before them.
She let go of his arm, and, as if in slow motion, she made her way to the caskets and reached in to stroke her children's faces a final time, then gave each a kiss goodbye. She stared at them as tears spilled from her eyes, and she played with their hair, one by one.
Connor felt ill at ease in watching so personal a moment, and it brought up the memories of Brenda's and his son's funerals here in the same chapel two years prior. He silently slipped out the door, back into the chapel, knelt, crossed himself and said a prayer for the dead.
Once the prayer was finished, he headed up to the alter to light a candle, but stiffened as he felt the all too familar presence of another of his kind.
Turning about, he saw Dumiere, standing in the aisle blocking his path to Mariel. "Dumiere, we meet again!' he said with a voice barely concealing the soft, menacing tone which ran through it.
Dumiere spread his arms wide. "We are on Holy Ground. You can't touch me." He swaggered a few steps towards Connor and paused. "You do want me, don't you?"
Connor grinned, and laughed. "What do you think, after all these years, Dumiere? That I would forget what happened, that I would forget what you did to innocent people three centuries ago, and more innocents all the way to the present? That you are a murdering, cold-hearted bastard, who doesn't deserve to walk this earth? Tell me, what do you think?"
Dumiere stuffed his hands in his pants pockets, as he began to pace about the church, his lips pursed. "You flatter me with your words, Highlander."
"When?" Connor stated flatly. "Name it, I'll be there."
"You are impatient to die, aren't you?" Dumiere shook his head at Connor. "Unfortunately, I'm tied up in something right now, and can't be bothered with you. I suppose that means you'll have to wait a little longer."
Connor came at Dumiere swiftly, and grabbed him by the lapels, throwing him back roughly against the pews, where Dumeire stumbled and nearly fell, but quickly regained his balance. "I can wait, but you won't have to wait on me! I'll find you." he threatened, knowing full well he meant every word, as Dumiere did.
Mariel had come out from the small room where her boys lay, and had hidden behind on of the church's columns. She had heard most, but not all, of the exchange between the two men, sending her mind racing with questions about her benefactor and who or what he might be as well as the other heavier man. What was it, that they would go after one another so?
What was she watching before her?
She meekly stepped out around the column; both sets of eyes flew open at the sight of her, then back at one another. "It's time, Mr. MacLeod." Above them, the church bells began to toll mournfully.
Connor nodded at her, then raised a hand to point at Dumiere. "Another time. You had better be looking over your shoulder, because as I have said before, it's not over."
Dumiere burst out laughing then turned and left, leaving them alone. Slowly, other mourners filled the pews as both Connor and Mariel stared mutely at one another on opposite sides of the chapel.
Connor came over and escorted her off to the curtained off room reserved for the family of the deceased. The funeral droned on and on, as the mass was said for the children.
Mariel broke down several times, wailing loudly.
He held her hand tightly, and then held her tightly against his shoulder as she continued to cry. She was so soft and so vulnerable; he closed his eyes at the feel of her against him.
He kept looking back through the crack in the curtains to see the mass of people out in the church, most of whom, he was sure, didn't even know her. He absently stroked her hair not really knowing he did so, as he thought about Dumiere and the fire.
Dumiere hadn't admitted to setting it, but it was his style these days. Now he had to prove that it was him who set the fire and knew that that might prove to be quite a task.
He pulled his hand away from her hair, after realizing finally that he had been stroking it. "Sorry." He listened to the last of the prayers, as he thought about what she might have overheard. Perhaps it was time to take a small trip to make her forget her problems for now. But where?
Instantly, his heart told him.
Home to Glenfinnan, on the shores of Loch Shiel.
Home to Heather and to ask Rameriz's advice and counsel at his grave.
He nodded, planning the trip in his head, as a small smile played on his mouth and in his eyes. He could arrange for her to be able to leave the country with him or if he could convince the judge, have all charges dropped before the day was out.
He was going home.
The plane jolted Connor awake as it landed, and he pulled himself upright, peering anxiously out the window to see the city. It had been a few years since he had been here last; both he and Brenda when they had visited, had always stayed in the Highlands, occasionally going to the cities of Aberdeen and Glasgow for a change in scenery.
At heart, he was always a Highlander and had remained so all of his life; part warrior, part poet, part mystic. But he had learned much in the years following Heather's death and his leaving his homeland, as well as the ensuing centuries, so now he fit into most societies with ease. It was a good cover for an Immortal, epecially if one had the reputation he did.
Mariel gripped the seat to keep from bouncing anymore, as the plane slowly taxied to a stop. "Are we there yet?" she croaked out at Connor. This was one of the few plane rides she had taken, and it had been a bumpy flight. It was also the first time to fly internationally for her; it had been a bewildering experience.
Connor glanced at her pale, drawn face, and cocked a grin at her, barely suppressing his laughter. "Yes. All done."
She slowly let out a held breath, then frowned at him. "What's so funny?"
Connor looked away from her and out the window at the typical Scottish weather: partly cloudy, with a breeze. "You."
"I beg your pardon, Mr. MacLeod?"
The seatbelt warning turned off and Connor turned to her. "Look, since we are here together and you're my guest, the least you can do is call me by my first name. Connor. C-O-N-N-O-R." He unfastened his seat belt and waited for her to stand, which she promptly did.
"Not "-er"? Rather unusual way of spelling it, isn't it?" She pulled out her luggage down from the overhead and Connor followed suit. Pausing as she waited for the other passengers to pass, she glanced at him. He was a deep mystery to her, brooding, yet kinder to her than most others had been in some time. The mystery which seemed to surround him was alluring; she found herself drawn to him despite her own feeble attempts to suppress any feeling she had.
"No, it's "-or" And for someone of my heritage, it's perfectly normal."
They made their way in through the airport past customs to a righthand drive Land Rover that Connor had rented. He threw the bags in the trunk, then went over to open her door. Home. He was home.
She turned to him, and looked him in the eye. "You're Irish, I'm guessing from the name. Hmmm...MacLeod. Yes, sounds Irish." She bent down, revealing a flash of golden thigh as she got in the car.
Connor hadn't missed the sight of it either, and slammed the door as he muttered in Scots Gaelic, "Irish?" Walking around the front of the car, he looked at her with a slightly disgusted look to his face. He opened up the door, got in, started the car up and soon they were off.
Slipping a quick glance at her as she took in all of the ever changing sights and landscape, he felt a ache in his gut from being near her. He shook it off, warning himself silently once more that she was a mortal, that he himself was different and that he didn't need anyone close to him. They only wound up dying and causing a person so much pain when they did die.
Both were quiet, lost in their own thoughts, until Connor could stand the silence no longer. "Welcome to Scotland, Miss Hernandez!" He passed a car as they were heading towards the Highlands, sliding a glance at her, as he remarked, "I'm not Irish."
She turned to him, her train of thought broken. "Hmm--what? I'm sorry, I didn't hear you. What did you say?"
"You said I must be Irish at the airport. I'm not." Frowning, he went on. "What makes you say that?"
She shrugged, "I guess I did say that, didn't I? I don't know, you just talk with a kind of accent and I thought with your last name being MacLeod and all that you would be Irish. I mean, your family's Irish..." She let the thought trail off. Sitting in embarressed silence, she mentally hit herself for making such a fool out of herself.
His machine gun laughter filled the car. "No, my family originally came from here in the Highlands. This is like a homecoming for me to come back to it." He looked at the craggy peaks which signaled their close proximity to the Highlands. "More than you'll ever know", he silently said to himself.
She turned to look at his profile and wondered what kind of man he was. He was full of inconsistancies which didn't add up sometimes. And he was so mysterious; she got the feeling that he was also oh so dangerous when he wanted to be.
He shifted in his seat as he lay an arm about the window. "So now you know a little about me. Tell me your story. I won't say anything to the court, don't worry."
Her eyes widened and she gulped. "My-my story?" She looked around in hopes of distracting him and from her having to answer it. But there wasn't anything to really talk about to distract him, so with a sigh, she looked at him.
"There's not a lot to say. I was the oldest of eight children and helped raise my younger brothers and sisters. I had to drop out a couple of times from school to help out at home after Mama had the others. But I always tried to keep up with everyone else who got to stay in school."
Connor listened, fascinated about what she was saying. "Eight children?" He shook his head. "I was an orphan, a foundling. My uncle took me in at my birth and raised me as his own."
"What happened to your parents?" She turned and pulled a leg up underneath her on the seat, causing her skirt to hike up higher.
Connor stole a quick glance at her, shrugging. "I don't know. It wasn't talked about." He turned at an intersection and headed north. "Go on, tell me more about yourself." Things were getting a little too personal for his liking; he wanted to have the attention on her life and not his.
"Well--I mean, I've led such a boring life! What do you want to know?" She raised and dropped her hands into her lap, as she stared at the starkly beautiful landscape surrounding them. "It's beautiful here!"
Unconciously, he replied, "Aye, tis that." He was home at last and his heart felt at peace for the first time in a couple of years or more.
She caught the change in accent and inflection and frowned in fascination. "You're Scottish?"
Connor came to himself, silently cursing as he realized what he had done by accident. He had been away for centuries and time had worn away most of the original soft burr he had had as a child. But there were occasions though still, when it would come back, catching others unawares as well as himself.
He was caught. He flushed for just a moment, and wished that he was alone on this trip. She asked too many questions to put him at ease. He took a deep breath and let it out slowly before replying. "Yes."
"You were born here and all? Grew up here?" She realized that she was violating their agreement, but she couldn't help herself. She was even more fascinated by him now.
"Yes." He slowed the car and pulled off to the side of the road. "No more questions about me, all right? The less you know about me, the better. We made an agreement and I want you to stick to it."
Her temper flared. "Why is it ok for you to know about me, and for me to know next to nothing about you? It this some kind of power trip you're on? I mean, what, you kill someone at one time or another and someone's looking for you? What is with you anyways? Tell me!"
His eyes pierced though her, as they flashed fire. "I don't need to explain myself to you. I'm under no obligation to you as to what I reveal to you about myself. But, need I remind you, that you are under an obligation to me? Woman, you will do as I say and what you agreed to!"
She unlocked the door and got out, slamming the door behind her. She began walking along the road as Connor watched from the car. Muttering curses at him as she walked, she thought about what he had said. She almost stopped as she heard the car pulling up behind her and crept with her, but decided against it.
Connor swore at her inside the car. He glanced up at the clouds which he knew were going to bring rain soon. "This is ridiculous!" He thought of Rameriz. She was very much like him, Connor suspected, very much like Rameriz had been when he had first arrived to Connor's home to teach him. "Well haggis, are you laughing now?" He rolled his eyes and then honked at her.
She turned, stopped, looked at him, then stuck up her middle finger at him. She glanced up at the sky as thunder boomed overhead. "Oh, shit!"
Connor sat and waited, not paying attention to her actions. Rain began to splatter on the windshield and he knew that she would have to get back in the Rover eventually.
She held out a hand as the thunder rolled again and rain began to fall. "Damn!" She ran back over to the car and got in, glaring at Connor, who checked for any traffic behind him, then resumed their trip.
They drove on in silence as the rain pelted the area hard. Neither would apologize or saw a reason to do so. Soon enough, they pulled up to a small bed and breakfast to spend the night and dine.
After everyone had retired for the evening, Connor got up, walked downstairs and looked outside. The moon shone bright on the moors, the rain having cleared fairly quickly once they had reached their destination midway. He looked with old eyes upon the landscape of his homeland, then jumped into the Rover for a small trip he needed to make alone without any interruptions or questions.
Mariel pulled back the curtain at her window and watched him leave. "I wonder where he's going?" she said outloud to herself. She grabbed a robe, then padded downstairs to look after him but didn't see any sight of him anymore. Sighing, she turned back around, went back upstairs and back to bed.
The Land Rover pulled to a stop and Connor emerged and looked around. He swiftly walked over the rocky landscape, toward a lone tumble of mortered stone, and the ruin of what had been at one time, a tower.
He closed his eyes, and for just a moment, he was here coming home after being away for a long journey as he was 450 years ago. He could hear Heather's voice calling in excitement to him, welcoming him back and feel her in his arms once more.
He opened his eyes and knew that all of it had been gone for centuries. The longing for it once again ached in his heart. He sighed quietly, as he picked his way through the rock to a slightly depressed area in the ground near the tower.
He lowered his head in a silent prayer before kneeling near it. "Hello, haggis. I need some advice..."
Dumiere pulled up near his home that he had had for centuries in the Highlands. He got out, pulling his coat behind him and looked around. It was good to be home again. He had checked on his Swiss accounts before he had left New York and was quite pleased to hear that the final deposit from setting the fire had been made on time to his bank.
He took a deep breath and released it, smelling the sweet cleanliness of the air after the rain. Walking out to his post box, he glanced about, grabbed his mail, then walked inside, throwing his coat to one side. Entered his study, walking around to the back of the desk he sat down. He quickly flipped through the mail, then dropped it into a box. He had other things to think about now.
Connor MacLeod, for example.
He was still alive after all this time. He wasn't surprised at all at the fact, but what had surprised him was the fact that he had threatened him in public in front of the woman on Holy Ground. Highly improper of him to do that. He shook his head disapprovingly. Improper indeed; the Highlander had no manners whatsoever. He stood, and began to pace about as he sunk his hands into his pockets.
MacLeod. He had been a thorn in Dumiere's side ever since Glencoe and had actively pursued him for three years after the attack upon the MacDonalds either in the legal system or by tracking him down every time he had managed to slip away from the authorities. Such a pesky little fly, that one.
His brows knitted together, as he remembered the constant hounding by MacLeod, the confrontations that they had had, blow by blow. But they had always been equally matched in skill so there had never been a clear cut winner or loser. In the end, he had managed to slip away into another life and lose MacLeod for a couple of centuries.
That had been such a relief...it had been such a trial to have him follow him, find him, confront him, then nothing came of it over and over.
And now, he had found him again quite by accident. "Fate must be bringing us together so that we can finish what was started long ago perhaps," he thought to himself. He glanced up at the oil portrait of his wife, the niece of Campbell. "Looks like there might be a bit of trouble, my dear. But don't worry your pretty little head about it. I'm not ready for any "mistakes" to be made by me."
She mutely looked down on him from the portrait.
He began to laugh at the irony of it all. Both MacLeod and himself had lost thier mortal wives; both had grieved deeply. Both had chosen different paths in which to go on past the sorrow, but at heart, both still grieved for times past.
And this time, when they met again, both wouldn't survive. Only one would have that honor. Dumiere felt certain that he was going to be the one to survive. After all, he'd nearly taken the head of the Highlander in New York and would have, if MacLeod hadn't have taken a dive into the Hudson. He scowled at the thought, quite irrritated that he had gotten away.
But his next assignment was waiting for him and it was right here in Scotland. He brightened as he thought of the convienence.
Ah yes, it was good to be home.
Morning came and Mariel woke, got dressed, then went over to Connor's door and softly knocked but got no response. It surprised her, and she opened the door to an empty room whose bed hadn't been even slept in.
"Where is Mr. Mystery Man this morning, I wonder?" She turned about, pulling the door behind her, and followed her nose to a hearty breakfast downstairs.
"If he doesn't come soon, I'm going to go and look around the moors." she muttered under her breath before taking another mouthful. Whatever it was she was eating tasted delicious and she couldn't get enough of it.
The woman who had brought it out, softly laughed behind her hand at Mariel's appetite and wondered if she should tell her what she was eating. She decided to remain quiet instead.
The door opened and shut in the other room, and Mariel looked up to see who it could be, but when Connor stepped around the corner into the room and sat down, she instantly acted disinterested.
"Morning to you too, Mariel." He glanced over to peer into her bowl, then back into her face. "You must like that a lot." He glanced up as a plate was sat before him. "Thank you."
She looked at him, noticing the exhausted look on his face as if he hadn't slept all night. "It's great! What is it called? I've been too embaressed to ask."
With more than a bemused expression in his face and in his eyes, he replied straightfaced, "Haggis." He looked over at the landlady and shook his head at the joke which she had played upon an unsuspecting tourist.
"It's delicious! What is it? I mean how do you cook it, what's in it?"
Connor piled his plate up with a little of everything on the table, then looked over at his companion. "Haggis? It's sheep's stomach packed with meat and barley, and boiled."
Mariel turned green, spitting out the mouthful she had and pushed away the bowl. "I just lost my appetite. I don't feel so good."
She did indeed look ill, and Connor chuckled despite himself. He made a show of eating everything on his plate as she watched. "Haggis is good for you! I grew up on it."
She looked at him in misery as her stomach tossed about. "Where did you go last night?"
Connor's eyes seemed to pierce through her, then softened, as he looked away, speaking in a pain-laced voice. "I had some business to attend to." He looked back at her and whispered to her, "No questions, remember?"
She scooted her chair back away from the table roughly and stood glaring at him before turning to walk off.
Connor instantly jumped up, caught up to her and grabbed her arm in order to stop her. He swung her around so she could look into his eyes. "Look, it's better if you don't know about certain things. You wouldn't understand." His body began to betray him and he ran his hands up her arms, wondering what it would be like to kiss her. But he refrained, as he saw the hurt and anger there in her eyes.
She didn't answer him at first, then said, as he guided them outside by the Land Rover, "I have lost everything I have ever loved, Connor. Everything. That's what I don't understand...anything else would be a piece of cake compared to the unanswered whys and the guilt I have to live with for the rest of my days about so many things."
Connor took a finger and tilted her head up, bending down to gaze deeply into her eyes. "Hey,I know what you're going through." She looked so forlorn and in need of comfort, it made his heart ache.
Her eyes hardened for a moment then misted over in tears. "You don't know jack shit!"
Connor pulled her to him and held her tightly and she didn't resist. "I've had many people I've loved die; one, while in my arms. I've had my children die while I lived on." He paused as he thought about how many deaths he had seen and he was left to endure the pain. "It's not easy to go through. Don't tell me that I don't know anything, Mariel, unless you know for certain that I don't."
She listened to him, thinking that perhaps she had misjudged him after all. Maybe he did have something to hide but did she really need to know what it was? She ached and felt so hollow inside of herself.
Pushing herself away from him she searched his eyes, and saw the ragged pain there. "You're telling me the truth, aren't you?"
Connor disengaged himself from her and walked away, gazing at the mountains surrounding them and remained silent. He turned back towards her after a few moments. "Go get your stuff and get in the car. It's time to go."
She looked at him a moment in confusion. One moment he had her in his arms and the next he pushed her away from him. He was an enigma--a very frustrating one at that! She turned and walked inside, got their things and returned.
They started down the road. As they got deeper into the Highlands, the mountains rose up their craggy faces at them on either side and she began to feel a little claustrophobic. "It's like this all over? I mean all over the Highlands?"
"No, There's a lot of open spaces too, then the lochs, and the coasts." He turned into a side road and pulled over. Turning to Mariel, he said,"Get out, I want to show yo something."
She got out and looked around, instantly feeling like she was choking in the confined area of the large valley which they had turned into. Mountains rose on either side of her and the deeply forested glen made her shiver. "What is this place?"
Connor held out his hand; she came up and took it, while grabbing his arm too. They began to hike deeper into the glens and valley before he answered her."Some call it the Valley of Weeping. It's translated as that from the Scots Gaelic. But that's not a true translation. There's another name for it."
Her head darted all around as she took in the landscape, almost able to see the ghosts of the past haunting everything now in the present. "It's creepy here, like you could imagine assasins, rogues, murderers lurking everywhere."
Connor paused and looked at her, surprised by her words. "Interesting that you should say that." He looked around as memories of the past came back once more to haunt him as he started the hike up again.
She didn't hear him. "What else is this place called?"
He replied in one word. "Glencoe."
Shivering once again, she looked around. The place gave off a aura of oppression and sadness. She frowned as she tried to recall where she had heard the name of it before, but couldn't recall where.
Connor became quiet and he slowed down the pace as they drew near to the destination he had in mind. Scanning the landscape with his eyes, he tried to remember the landscape as it had been three hundred years ago to compare it with what lay before him now. He knew that he was close to where he was heading, but things had changed in the passage of time. Now where had the house been?
His thoughts were interuppted by a question.
"What's so special about this place that you wanted to show me?" She spotted a boulder jutting out of the earth then went to sit on it. Scanning the sky overhead, she was a little dismayed to see more clouds rolling in from the mountains to sweep themselves down onto the lower altitudes. "Looks like more rain."
Connor didn't answer her but crouched down on the ground, as he too scanned the sky. "It's normal. Nothing to worry about." He went back to searching for identifiable landmarks.
His eyes slid back to her as he listened to her words. Something told him he wasn't going to get any rest from her incessant questions about himself, if he didn't at least tell her something. She made him uncomfortable and very ill at ease about everything.
"You said that you had other people you love die, even your children. What happened to them? How did they die?"
Connor wasn't prepared for the question put to him in so soft and gentle a voice. He sat the rest of the way down on the ground, pulling at the heather at his feet, in order to stall her answer, if he was going to answer her at all.
The silence between them turned heavy. Off in the distance, echoing off the peaks of the encroaching mountains, thunder was heard. His eyebrows lifted and sank, as he composed himself before speaking. His emotions churned at his stomach, leaving him with a vile taste in his mouth.
"My children...I was never able to have children." He plucked at a stalk of heather once more, bringing it to his nose to smell it then slowly tore it to pieces, never looking at her all the while. "I adopted two; never knew their mothers."
She leaned forward to hear better as the thunder seemed to be getting nearer."Girls or boys?"
Connor finally turned his full attention to her, making her feel unsettled while his eyes were upon her. "One of each."
"What happened to them?"
"One--" How did he explain about Rachel? He knew he couldn't tell her that she had grown up and moved away. He didn't look old enough to be believed that he had a daughter in her fifties. "One moved away."
He grew more uncomfortable the more she asked, even though he knew that it was meant with no harm. But he felt compelled to tell her at least something if it would stop any other questions about himself that he was sure she wasn't prepared to be answered honestly. "My daughter."
"And your son?" She glanced at the sky again very worried about being in the open. It had grown preceptively darker, and she was sure that the thunder which boomed all around them was definitely closer. Pulling at her sweater, she drew it closer about her, waiting on his answer.
Connor looked off into the dark distance. "My son is dead. John was killed along with his mother in an automobile accident two years ago here in Scotland."
She sat back up, sucking in her breath in horror as he continued in a voice edged with pain.
"I was with them too. Someone hit us head-on. The car must have flipped over three times-maybe more, I lost count. Brenda had been driving and John-" Connor paused as he remembered the screams coming from both of them as it flipped then the blackness and the unearthly silence when he revived.
He rubbed at his face with both hands. "Brenda was my wife, John's adopted mother. We had found him in North African orphangage and fell in love with him."
He kicked at a pebble, then picked it up and skipped it over the top of the grass. "When I came to, we were all hanging upside down in the car. We...I tried to get out, to get them out, but I was badly injured myself. The steering wheel had impaled Brenda...and John had been tossed about like a rag doll."
"I tried time and again to open the doors to get to them, but they were jammed. Nothing would open them. I was desperate to save my family even though I knew I was too late." He stopped speaking, lost in the horror of the day. To him, all his memories could be recalled in the tiniest detail and this memory was no different.
"You survived though." She reached out and placed a hand on his arm. "I'm so sorry for what I've said. I was wrong. I didn't know."
He shrugged. "So will you." Swallowing hard, he looked overhead. "You asked what was so special about this place."
"Yes?" Thunder boomed almost directly over them and a bolt of lightning flashed brightly, blinding both for a moment. Startled, she jumped up in search of a place to get out of the weather.
Connor followed suit, but not before it began to rain in sheets over them, plastering their clothes and hair to their bodies. He grabbed her hand as she tried to flee, and drew her tightly to him. Bending down, he lightly brushed his mouth over hers, as one hand stroked her hair away from her face, then whispered softly in her ear, "Afraid of a little storm?"
She closed her eyes in surprise but answered his kiss with one of her own. She ran her hands up his spine, feeling how muscled he actually was under the baggy clothes he seemed to favor. Her body ached to have him within it, as she felt his response to her become more obvious.
He opened his eyes to look at her in wonder, then began to kiss her harder as he slipped his hands over her, molding their bodies together as one, and feeling both their responses to one another escalate.
The rain pelted them both but they paid it no heed until lightning struck a tree near them, bursting the limb into flames and making an ear-splitting cracking sound as it struck. They jumped, then looked at one another, before both burst out laughing. Connor swept an arm down and lifted her up off the ground, hoping to find shelter from the storm nearby.
She giggled at the whole situation, making Connor smile.
She had a lovely laugh, he decided. He ignored his normal warning lights of her mortality knowing only that tonight she wouldn't be sleeping alone if he had anything to say about it. They reached the treeline before Connor remembered his jacket. He gently placed her back on the ground, planting a gentle kiss on her nose. "Wait here. I left my jacket in the rain."
She petulantly stuck out her lower lip. "Leave it."
Connor eyed her--she was tempting, very much so, but he didn't dare leave it--especially when it concealed his sword. He shook his head and turned, running back in the rain, leaping over the outcrops of rocks and through the heather until he reached his jacket. More thunder burst over him in a loud clap, causing him to drop in a crouch momentarily. He looked up at the sky then began to run back after snatching up his jacket in one hand.
A flash of lightening lit up the entire sky as it sent a bolt to the ground near where Connor ran. He turned his head, his eyes wide with surprise, and began to zig zag across the open field at full speed.
Mariel's hands flew to her mouth, as her heart leapt to her throat while watching him running like a gazelle towards her. She began to scream at him to hurry as more lightning occurred, and heavier rain fell.
He ran harder, but noticed that the hairs on the back of his hands and head standing on end. He saw a giant flash surround him then felt a searing pain, burning through every nerve in his body as his heart fluttered erratically and heard as if from a distance, Mariel scream out his name. He fell to the ground as if in slow motion.
Mariel looked at him as he lay face down, convulsing on the ground. A large charred hole smouldered on his back, the smoke curling upwards. An acrid, sulphuric smell permeated the air and, as Mariel watched helplessly, he stopped moving altogether, with no indication that he was even breathing.
The storm continued as he lay in the open, the lightening constantly flashing making her duck for cover. She shook from the chill, and the realization that she just saw Connor's death possibly. She peered over the edge of a boulder she was hiding behind and looked at his body. She began to weep for all the things she had lost in her life, all her friends, her family, her children, and now Connor.
She sat huddled for a few minutes, listening to the storm abate and move on as quickly as it had arrived. She wiped her eyes, and turned back around to look towards his body, which still was unmoving. "Oh God!"
She looked towards heaven, and said a half remembered prayer from her childhood for him. The sun had broken through the clouds. She slowly stood, hesitating before deciding to risk going out into the open.
Upon reaching him she crouched down, reaching out a hand to check his pulse in his neck; she didn't find any. She lowered her head to her chest, then lifted it in time to see a rainbow form over the mountaintops.
Taking a deep breath, she rolled him onto his back, avoiding his face with her eyes, as he stared lifelessly into nothing. She shook her head, and removed her sweater to cover his face up after closing his eyes. She started to stand when she heard an unearthly gasping and wheezing, followed by the unmistakable sound of sharp coughing.
Horrified, she watched as a leather gloved hand spasmed back to life, flexing itself in mid-air, followed by the other, which grabbed her sweater off it's face.
One knee bent upwards as Connor's body propped itself up on it's elbows while Connor continued to cough and wheeze, blinking at the sunlight, before noticing her. "Oh, Christ"
She began to scream.
He grimaced at the sound, as he slowly rolled over to all fours, shaking his head to clear it. He looked up at her and snarled, "Be quiet!"
She leapt to her feet, eyes wide with fear, and backed away from him as he staggered to his feet, and stood swaying, warily watching her. "You were--" She quickly crossed herself.
Holding his temples as he looked at her, he waited, then began to approach her. "Mariel, you wouldn't under-"
She turned and fled as he spoke, towards the forest, her screams echoing in the glen. She didn't care as to which way she fled from him as long as she got away. Her mind was reeling at the impossiblity that she knew she had seen just a little while ago.
He had been dead, had no pulse whatsoever, yet he was up on his feet once more, breathing, talking and oh so unmistakably alive!
It couldn't be!
And yet it had happened before her eyes.
Sweeping the undergrowth of the old forest before her, she slipped on the rain slicked grass and leaves. Gasping for breath, she paused turning to listen to see if she was being followed.
His voice carried through the woods. "Mariel!" His footsteps trod heavily after her, and he swore under his breath. "Sweet Jesus, what timing!" He stopped and checked about the sodden earth for her tracks. His breath came in ragged bursts but quickly subsided into a normal breathing pattern, as if he hadn't been running a good distance at all. Once he picked up on her trail, he began to run once more, closing the gap between her and himself. "Mariel! Stop!"
Up ahead, she paused as she spotted a clearing with what seemed to be a house. Warily, she stepped out of the woods and into another century or so it appeared, as she looked about the grounds of the house. It was old, very old, more than three hundred years old, she guessed.
She threw a glance over her shoulder. He was getting closer by the minute. She tried to catch her breath, as she began to look about the homestead. "Hello? Is anyone here?" Walking around the back, she noticed the barn and out buildings. "Hello?" There was no answer but the lowing of the cattle in the barn. She stepped inside of it, and stood still, drinking in the atmosphere of centuries past.
It was dark, dirty and foul smelling inside and the cattle resembled nothing she had ever seen before: large, long horned and had coats of long, reddish hair which was matted in places on their hides. "What kind of beasts are you?" she whispered to them.
Connor burst out of the woods and skidded to a stop. Glancing quickly about, he slowly approached the home, and peered in the leaded windows. Instantly, he was transported back in time in his memory to February 12, 1692.
This had been the home of the MacDonald, who had been the last of the chieftains to sign the hated Oath. This had been the home of his friend John and his family, who had asked him to come to speak with his father about signing the Oath. This was the place he had been searching for.
It was also the place where the spirits of the MacDonalds still cried out for justice through the centuries, as the blood spilt in 1692 had never been forgotten by any true Scot.
He quietly slipped around the back of the house and walked towards the barn. It was the only sensible place to go for warmth since it was obvious that no one was home. "Mariel?"
Startled by the sound of his voice, she panicked. Her eyes flew to the various crude farm implements in search for something to protect herself from him. She turned as she heard the snap of a twig underfoot and caught her breath as she stared at him.
Connor had seen the look before and knew exactly what she was thinking. "Don't scream." He paused for a moment before continuing. "Look, what you saw was not something that you were supposed to see." At a loss for words, he looked at her as he raised, then dropped his hands.
She took a few steps towards him, before replying. "Just who are you?"
He turned and walked away from the entrance, allowing her enough room to exit the barn and feel safe about it. As she exited, he looked at her, trying to think of how much to say and what.
Once they were out in the open again, she turned on him and repeated the question. "Who are you?"
Without flinching, he said, "Just a man." He tried to gauge her reaction and remained quiet.
She rubbed at her arms and shivered as a wind blew upon them. Looking around, she said after a moment's pause, "What is this place?"
He looked about, spreading wide his arms. "This is the home of the MacDonald. Or it used to be. Now it looks like a memorial or a museum."
Another few steps were taken towards him. "You know this place?"
He slowly nodded. "You're cold. Want my jacket?"
She held out her hand as if to ward him off, shaking her head "no" violently. She approached the house and peered inside;
Connor gave her a wide berth.
"What kind of memorial?" She glanced inside, then threw a look over at him.
"One for the dead--for those who were murdered here by the English king's edict." He looked around and also shivered. Walking away from her for a moment, he went and tried the door.
Much to his surprise, it swung open; he slowly entered while she stayed behind. After a few moments, he came back out. "You afraid to come in out of the cold?" he inquired nonchalently. "No one's about, it's safe."
She eyed him for a moment, then followed him back inside. A million questions burned through her brain; she didn't know where to start as far as asking him how he had managed a miracle. In looking around, she really felt as if she had been transported to another time. The restoration had been painstakingly done, and was perfect down to the nth degree.
Connor walked through from room to room, running his hands over the furnishings, picking up the ancient books, carefully thumbing throught the pages as the differing memories flooded through him of the night before the murders and the following days in putsuit of one platoon, headed by one man.
His mood got darker the more he looked around. He spotted a headset and small walkman type tape player sitting on one table. He turned it on once he got it set up.
"Welcome to Glencoe." it began. "You are in the home of the laird of the MacDonald clan as it was in 1692, the year that the then English king, William I, delivered an edict upon all Scots..."
He removed the headset and put it back exactly as he had found it. "I doubt that everything they say is right," he muttered under his breath. Hearing Mariel sneeze loudly in the other room, he went out to check on her. "You ok?"
She sneezed again. "I could sure use some dry clothes." She rubbed at her nose.
He glanced at the ceiling, then back at her. "Wait here. I'll see if there's anything." Bounding up the stairs worn smooth by generations of feet, he paused as he came to the top and looked around.
He could almost hear the screams and cries of the MacDonalds as they had when he had been here last and had been a victim of an Englishman's sword. Spying the open doorway to the MacDonald's master bedroom, he entered. He began to rummage about and found some women's clothing stored in a trunk as well as men's. They had to belong to the people who portrayed the MacDonald and his family.
"This will do." He swiftly changed his clothes; he now wore an open necked shirt which flowed over his wrists and arms like water and tight trousers that cut off at the knee level. He looked every inch the part of a Highland lord in the clothes. Pulling on the long woolen stockings, he padded about as he laid his things out to dry by the thick glass of the window.
From downstairs, he heard a sneeze once more, and he followed the noise once he came back down. He handed her the clothes. "Try these."
She took them as she eyed him up and down. The clothes looked as if he belonged in them and appeared so natural looking. They accentuated his body's natural lines which he hid under ill fitting clothes most times. As he walked over to sit, she had to think what she was waiting for. She couldn't help but notice the lion's grace to his walk and the distint look in his eyes. Grabbing the clothes, she looked about for a place to change.
Connor pointed upstairs silently; she turned and left. Sighing, once she had gone, he fingered the fabric on his long cuffs thinking upon what to say to her when she was prepared enough to ask about what she had seen happen. After a few moments, he shook his head in consternation, knowing that once more the words would have to do when it came to explaining his revival.
After a few moments she returned, clutching the two back pieces together with one hand while clasping the low cut bodice with the other. Her face reflected a consternation that made Connor hide a grin behind a hand.
"Where's the zipper on this and the snaps?"
"There aren't any. They weren't invented until the nineteeth century." He looked up and became caught up in the beauty of her in her baby blue woolen and linen dress. Her breasts were only partially covered and as she moved around, his eyes followed her.
"Well, how am I supposed to wear it then?" she said irritably. Another sneeze.
His eyebrows raised a moment as he appraised her situation. "You have two choices. One: You don't have to wear it. Or, two you could let me help you fasten it or continue to wear your wet clothes. Which choice do you want?"
"Do you know how to fix this?" she asked angrily.
"I think I've had some experience in doing that in in my lifetime," he remarked drily, then laughed.
He stood and waited on her to say anything. After a few minutes of silence, he asked, "Was that an invitation for help?"
"Damn you, whoever you are, yes!"
In two swift strides, he was at her back, lacing her up as any woman would have been three hundred years ago. "Take a deep breath and hold it." He tied it off tightly and tucked the ends inside her dress, noticing the satin feel of her skin as well as the warmth.
He paused for a moment, then lightly traced a finger down her back at which she whirled about to face him. "Don't!"
They looked at one another with eyes searching one another's. "Don't? Are you sure that's what you mean?" he remarked softly to which she didn't reply.
Picking up the each end of the laces to hold the bodice together, he slowly laced it up, pausing a moment before tying it off, to lift her chin up and intensely look at her. "Is it?"
Her mind was reeling in confusion as she looked at him. On one hand, she wanted him to touch her again as he had in the meadow before the storm had hit, to feel him tight against her once more. And yet, at the same time, she was repulsed by him because for practical reasons, he should be dead.
She blurted out, "You were dead back in the meadow. I saw you take a direct bolt of lightning and fall. I saw--why are you alive?"
Connor looked at her, giving her a slow smile. "Maybe it's a form of magic, if you believe in that sort of thing."
"Yeah, right, and I believe my children are alive too." She turned away from him after the remark and walked over by the fireplace, silent.
Night was rapidly approaching, and the shadows were getting longer. Connor didn't say anything, but got up to search for candles to light the house. Once he located some, he quickly lit them; they threw their shadows high on the walls as they flickered from the drafts around the windows and doors.
"What do you want to know, Mariel?" he asked, as he squatted by her, loading up the fireplace with logs and tinder, then setting them ablaze. His eyes glittered in the firelight as he looked at her, then turned to move away from the fire.
She wrung her hands, as her thoughts tried to form words in her mouth but failed in its' attempt. Finally, she came to sit on the floor in front of him and just looked at him.
Connor waited patiently; it was all he could do.
She finally found her voice. "Why did you want to come back to Scotland?"
"I wanted to come home. Why do you go back to whereever you come from?" He eyed her.
That had been easy enough.
"I don't go home." She sat her chin on her drawn up knees, peering up at him, thinking. "It has too many bad memories."
"I see." He let it slide. If she wanted to tell him, she would.
"I felt your pulse--you were dead--then I saw you resuscitate by yourself. How can that be possible?"
Connor gazed at her levelly, as he thought about what to say. "I can't answer that question, Mariel."
"Why not?" she asked indignantly.
"Maybe because I don't know." He stood up and walked over to the fire and gazed deeply into it. "A friend told me once long ago, that some things one should never question but just accept."
She got to her feet and came by his side. Raising a hand to touch his face, she paused, her fingertips lingering on his skin. "How do you accept things that you don't understand? How or why should you?"
Connor gently covered her hand with his before pulling it away to hold. "Because, there are some things that can't be explained to anyone's satisfaction. Sometimes, all one has is a belief in something."
He tugged at her and she followed. "I want to show you something."
They went upstairs and stopped once he was in the middle of the hallway, then turned to look at her. "This is Glencoe, the ancestral home of the MacDonald clan. There are very few descendants of this branch of the family left alive in the present day and age."
Frowning, she looked about."So?" She paused then nodded. "OK, I'll bite. Why are there so few of the MacDonalds left in today's world?"
Connor looked over into the master bedroom. "Because of a mass murder that took place here, in the very spot you're standing on."
"Murder?" Her eyes widened. "Who was murdered?"
Connor pulled her back to the rear of the hallway. "In here, three hundred years ago, in 1692, slept the laird's eldest son." He opened a door, revealing a bedroom. "His name was John. John was awakened twice during a cold night in mid-February, by noises of soldiers getting ready to march. The first time, he rode into the English soldiers encampment, and complained of the noise to the commander, but was assured that nothing out of the ordinary was taking place so there was no reason for him to be there."
She stepped inside the dark bedroom, and looked back at him. "And the second time?"
Connor became silent for a few moments before answering. "The second time, he was awakened to the sounds of many horse bridles jangling in the early morning air as were many others, but many in the house still slept."
"The house was full; there were men and their wives; children in ages from newborns to eighteen here, the elderly, and many others. It was five a.m.; the sun hadn't quite risen yet. Twenty English soldiers came rushing into the house, killing or injuring anyone they came in contact with. They had no more qualms about butchering babies or slicing open an old man's throat. Anyone from the age of newborn to seventy years of age were to be killed by order of the English king."
Her blood ran cold at the thought that anyone would do that to a baby or anyone else. "That's horible! Why, for God's sake?"
Connor looked off in the distance, then back at her. "Because of a piece of paper that was supposed to call off the hostilites between England and Scotland. It was used to threaten the Highland clans into submission. The MacDonald was the last one to sign it; he signed it late, six days past the deadline to have it signed and an oath sworn to the English king."
He moved on into the master bedroom. Glancing down at her, he went on. "This was where the laird slept with his wife. The soldiers burst in on them as they slept. As the laird was struggling to get up to protect his wife, the soldiers shot him. He landed in the arms of his wife where he died."
She could see it all so clearly the way he was telling it. It horrified her even more to think that he made it sound as if he had known the people involved and had been here when it had occurred. "Then what happened?"
"They took the wife, stripped her, beat her, and raped her so brutally that she died the next day. For trophies, the soldiers bit the rings off her fingers. The rampage continued throughout the house; John came out of his room, with sword in hand, only to have a sword driven in him. There was blood everywhere you looked." He paused and took a deep breath once more before saying, "Pools of it!"
"Children were thrown out into the snow and cold, which lay deep that year. Those who were lucky to escape the violence were half unclothed and unshod; against the snow and bitter cold, they didn't have a chance of surviving, yet they tried. Come back downstairs." He guided her by the elbow to the stairs, leaving the horror of the murders behind them at least, for a moment.
She held his hand tightly as he led her down the stairs and to the back door where she could see the barn outside. She looked at it then up at him expectantly. "And, what happened? Did anyone survive the raid?"
"A few did. The raids took place in three different locations in this valley by three different platoons. In total, thirty-eight people died, and only three hundred survived out of an entire clan. The MacDonalds had been one of the largest clans at the time too. Many were driven from their homes and were too frightened to return to this valley. They wandered, seeking homes elsewhere."
"My God! Who did it? And what happened afterwards?"
"The Earl of Campbell had a hand in it; he was a nobleman, so he couldn't be prosecuted for helping carry out the king's orders and there were everyday English soldiers. But there were a few who had been mercenaries under no flag of any country, who also participated in the slaughter of the innocent."
"Was anyone prosecuted for this?" She shifted her weight and leaned into Connor's body for just a moment, then turned and went back into the living room, near the fireplace to sit and stay warm.
Connor followed, sat in a leather chair but stood back up after only a moment and restlessly began to pace. "Three years it took for those deemed to be responsible to be tried and convicted. Many escaped to other countries, many of the Scots who helped went to England to live out their lives. For those who were convicted, the punishment was death by hanging." His eyes hardened as did his face at the memory.
She sat in deep thought after he stopped talking. "You make it sound as if you were here when all this happened."
He knelt down, then sat beside her, picking up her hands to hold. Gazing deeply into her eyes, he replied, "I was."
The man was dressed all in black from head to toe, with blackface covering his face completely. His sharp blue eyes darted about as he looked out over the street searching for the police. It was late and they were due to come on their rounds soon.
When he saw no one about, he silently took to the shadows, and slipped up to the door of the Scottish Parliment building and inserted his lockpicks into the lock. In only moments, after a few good twists and turns, he heard the tumblers of the lock fall into place. He smiled in satisfaction as the door swung open.
He bent down to pick up a large metal briefcase and entered, on the alert for any security guards. Checking his watch, he glanced about again. The nightwatch would be changing shifts soon, so he had only a limited time to set in place his plans.
He proceeded to go near the hallway and paused as he saw the security cameras high up on the wall. Swiftly, he bent down, opened his briefcase and pulled out a can of spray paint, which he used on the lens. "They won't notice that for a few minutes.," he remarked to himself, knowing full well the guards were going about the vast building checking to make sure everything was locked up for the night and that everyone had cleared out. He had done a surveillance of the place and had done his homework well. He knew exactly when rounds were made, how often, and where all of the security devices were: cameras, metal detectors, infra-red sensors. He was good; he was one of the best to be had for the money.
Making his way to the stairs which led to the subasement, he swiftly clambered downwards, floor after floor, until he had reached his destination. Carefully opening up the door, he peered around to see if someone was in sight. He crept outwards, pausing to get his bearings.
He headed off to his right, pausing long enough again to once more spray a camera's lens with paint before continuing on to the janitor's room.
He entered, sitting his briefcase up on one of the shelves, opened it and withdrew out multi-colored wires with alligator clip ends. He pulled open the telephone box and painstakingly began to connect the wires to the circuitry to switch the incoming and outgoing lines to a test tone number the phone company used to test to make sure the phones were wotking properly when they were connected up.
Once that task was completed, he began withdrawing ballons from his case and filling them up with mothballs and gasoline. Together, they formed a deadly gas which exploded quite nicely whenever heat came into contact with them.
As each was filled, he would tie them to the older gas lines which ran overhead and sat small candles underneath each of them. Soon, everywhere you looked the the balloons hung like small globules filled with the deadly mixture. He checked his watch again. Almost time.
Lighting the candles one by one, he thought about his patrons this time out. A small group of Scottish nationalists, who wanted to get attention to the plight of Scotland, still under England's thumb after more than six hundred years of control and rule had hired him. They longed to make Scotland free as Wallace did, but they were determined to do it in a modern way and if that meant violence, so be it.
He did not care, as long as he got his money. He had learned centuries ago that politics didn't matter, the only thing that mattered was whoever paid the best price for his services.
He stepped back to admire his handiwork and nodded in satifaction. "Good work, Claude." He pulled his sword out and swung at both the gas main and the electrical wiring trunk which carried the electricity to the whole building. Sparks flew, and caught the papers and wood from the pallets ablaze.
He reached over, pulled his briefcase to him and shut it down. He turned and walked away, whistling jauntily, as the first of the explosions rocked the building.
Mariel's eyes grew wide as she desperately tried to pull herself away from his grip, succeeding in doing so. "No way!" Putting a hand to her temple, she stood, walking away from him, then turned back to look at him. "You're joking, right? I mean, no one can live for that long. No one." She began to pace to and fro rapidly.
Connor's old eyes followed her as she paced. "I was here when it happened, Mariel. I was killed along with many of the others. I was one hundred and seventy-four years old when it happened."
Shaking her head "no," violently, she paused. "Impossible. But--" Coming at him, she roughly pulled his shirt upwards at his back. "Why aren't you in pain? Why aren't you acting injured? Why--Oh my God!" She ran her hand over Connor's unblemished skin on his back.
Connor closed his eyes and hung his head as she touched him. It was a delicious sensation, one he would have enjoyed under any other circumstances.
She withdrew her hand and turned him about to face her as she knelt before him. "What are you?" she hoarsely whispered.
Connor lowered his eyes as his picked up her hand, remaining silent to her question. Placing her hand to his chest over his heart and under his shirt, he slowly but softly replied, "Do you feel my heart beating? Do you feel the warmth of my skin on yours, Mariel?" He searched her dark eyes with his blue ones before continuing.
He raised her fingertips to his lips and kissed them one by one, then blew ever so gently on them. "Do you feel my breath upon you?"
Numbly, she nodded, her mind and body whirling from the sesations he made her feel at his touch. It had been so long since anyone had touched her in this manner. Her breath came quicker as she watched him.
He stroked a finger lightly down her neck, and over her breasts, to which she shuddered involuntarily in pleasure, closing her eyes, completely lost in it all. He wrapped his arms around her and drew her close, before whispering in her ear, "What am I? I'm immortal." He bent her backwards and kissed her deeply before she had a chance to reply.
She broke free, pulling back to look at him, her eyes searched his. Biting her lower lip doubtfully, she tried to catch her breath. "You're telling me the truth, aren't you?" Her fingers touched her lips in wonder.
He didn't reply but only smiled, somewhat sadly, as he watched her then shrugged.
Leaning forward towards him on all fours, she asked, "Just how old are you?" The firelight played up the golden tones on her skin and dipped about in waves of light and dark upon her.
He eyed her as he considered how much more should he tell her. "It doesn't matter. Leave it be."
She persisted. "How old?"
"How old are you?" he countered.
"Old enought to not be taken for a fool!" she said, with a flash of fire in her voice.
Reaching over,he picked up a slim iron bar and stirred the flames as he peered at her. "So, what, you don't want to talk about it? You don't want to talk about yourself but are more than willing to know everything about me you can. Why is that?"
She sat back down, sticking her feet towards the fire to warm them. "Maybe because..." She paused and gulped down the lump in her throat. "Because it's too painful to talk about."
Connor replied gently, "Sometimes, if you let it, the pain heals. Sometimes, it doesn't."
She lowered her chin to her now drawn-up knees, then turned her head over to look at him. "Maybe." She got a distant look in her eyes, then went on. "I completed high school a year late, you know. Mama had too many mouths to take care of and my pappa wouldn't help out with any of the younger children. He said it was woman's work."
Sighing deeply, she continued."My pappa was always the one who had to be right about everything. When I applied for a scholarship to many different colleges, I held my dreams of making more out of my life in my hand, but Pappa dashed them all to the ground, saying that I was too stupid to get accepted to a good college. See, he didn't believe in my dreams...didn't think I should even try." A tear trickled out of the corner of her eye, and she brushed it away.
Connor stood up and went over to get more wood for the fire, which he carefully placed onto the flames. "What happened?"
She straightened. "I won a full scholarship to Sarah Lawrence University. Pappa laughed when he heard it. He couldn't see the point to it."
"It must have been hard for you to hear that. Sarah Lawrence is Ivy League, one of the best colleges in the country for women," he replied, as once again he sat down on the floor near her.
"It was. Orientation was to begin in two weeks time for the underclasswomen so I had to hurry and get ready to leave home for the first time. I wanted to get away from all the hustle and bustle of my brothers and sisters as well as the demands of being a mother figure to them when Mama wasn't able to be there. I was looking forward to it.
"Pappa was very displeased with me over it. The night before I left to go, he visited me in my room." She hid her face and became very still.
"Hey," Connor whispered, as he pulled her hair away from her neck."It goes no further than me."
"You don't understand, Connor. He visited me in my room...as he did with all of my sisters, while I had to do nothing and listen to their stifled sobs and pleas of "No more, Pappa". He beat me black and blue then raped me in revenge for my wanting something better."
Connor sat back stunned, after hearing what she said. "He raped his own daughter?"
Her tears flowed heavier but she was unmindful of them this time. "Yes and he did it to all my sisters too. I left home as planned, but nothing was ever going to make me go back there again and face him. Nothing!"
He came over and wrapped her in a massive hug, laying her head down on his shoulder and began to stroke her hair. "Shhhhh... it's done. Let it go..."
"I want to die, Connor, I want to die!" she sobbed as she beat on him with a fist. "Isn't there one place where a person can get peace? Isn't there?"
He took the blows from her with a stony face, his jaw muscles clenching and unclenching as he thought about her. "If there is, I haven't found it. But you can make a peace with yourself and accept what has happened. Once you do this, then you can move on with your life. But it takes time for the hurts to heal, and it's harder to learn to forgive yourself than to forgive others, I've learned over the years. If you can do this, then it's a first step towards peace."
She pulled her head back away from his shoulder and looked at him frowning. After a moment, she leaned her forehead upon his chest. "It doesn't matter if you're immortal or whatever, Connor. Just heal me. Help me heal...I'm so tired of it all."
He bent down, bringing an arm around the back of her knees and lifted her up into both arms. He hesitated as he tried to pierce through her pain with his eyes; he saw within her eyes' dark pools, a reflection of his own hurt and pain through the centuries as well as his own loneliness.
He slowly climbed the stairs, as each left all their troubles in each other's eyes and hearts for this one night....
A massive manhunt was lauched by Scotland Yard for those who were responsible for the blast at the Parliment building in Edinburgh. Interpol sent over some of it's best detectives to help, once the evidence matched the modus operendi of other bombings in Europe; even the New York police force sent over a man familiar with the apartment blast.
As the various enforcement agencies huddled around a long table scattered with sheaves of paper, a phone rang. It was immediatly answered; the policeman stuck a finger in his ear to hear what was being said.
"I have a name for you..." the voice said conspiritorically. "He is who you are looking for."
The cop turned and waved at his fellow oficers, who quickly silenced. Tape recorders started to record the conversation; a trace was made on the call. Everyone hung onto every word uttered by the man on the ohter end of the phone. Those who couldn't understand English very well, were helped by those who could, by translating what was being said in a low tone of voice.
"Hey, who are you and how do you know this?"
"It doesn't matter who I am, really. All that matters to all of you listening in, is the name."
The cop's face reflected his chagrin. "All right, wise ass, you had better be right on this. Give me the name."
"Connor MacLeod." The line went dead.
Looking over to the men performing the trace, he saw them shake their heads "no" in frustration. "It was too short a period to get one in." the French Interpol agent said in disgust. "What is wrong with you stupid Americans anyway? Can't you do a simple task and get it done?"
The American cop who had been on the phone talking to the anonymous caller, started to lunge at the Frenchman, but a burly British bobby intervened. "Hey there, guv'ner, that's no way to act. Calm down."
The lead invertigator threw up his hands. "That's enough!" He pointed a finger at a map where each pin sticking out of a location indicated where a bomb had gone off. "We need to concentrate and try to follow up on this lead, gentlemen. We need to find this Connor MacLeod chap and question him before another bombing! Now," he said as his eyes swept over each and every man in the room, "-you all know your duties, let's see what we can find."
One of Edinburgh's police detectives cleared his throat. "This is Scotland, lads. We dinna like others sticking their noses where they don't belong. The Highlanders will no like a lot of questions, frae th' likes of you. We are a proud bunch. Besides, do ye know how many MacLeods there are in Scotland? Quite a number. It's going to take some time to get any information."
"Time is not something we have to spare, MacLendon. We must find whoever did this swiftly before more are harmed."
MacLendon shifted in his chair as he peered at the British detective. "Remember one thing: Scotland longs to be free. That group that claimed responsibility for the blast is serious in their intent to free Scotland as Wallace did centuries ago. We Scots no forget tha', but you seem to easily forget it. I'll send my men out on it, other Scots would be more willing to talk to a fellow countrymen than a Sassenach."
The British detective's face went beet red as he tried to control his temper at what MacLendon had said. Finally after a struggle, he said in a tight voice, "Very well, but do it now!"
MacLendon slowly got up and went over to the phone, dialed and issued the order, slowly smiling at the fact that he had gotten under the Sassenach's skin.
Dumiere hung up the phone and chortled in glee. "That should set things in motion so I can finish what I started." He glanced back up at his wife. "You see, dear? There is nothing to fear. All has been taken care of." Even the demise of Connor MacLeod had been plotted and was now in effect.
Mariel slept with her head on his chest, a slight smile curving at her mouth. Connor had stayed awake as he listened to the memories this house spoke to him. They had made love in the master bedroom and it had been glorious as both reveled in it. For a moment in time, all pain stopped, peace settled upon them and time had stood still.
Absently, he stroked her ink colored hair, as he thought about what to do with her. She would get in the way when it came down to finding Dumiere and she wouldn't understand the why of it. She wouldn't understand the need to kill him in order to protect others who were Dumiere's potential victims. Sighing, he carefully dislodged himself from her grasp and got dressed back in his now dry clothes.
It was time to go.
He walked over to the thick leaded window and peered out. A full moon shone brightly between the trees and over the mountains. A more beautiful landscape he never had seen; he always carried the memory of it in his heart, no matter where his life had lead him.
Turning away from the window, he walked back over to Mariel, leaning down to plant a tender kiss on her bare shoulder. "Hey, sleepyhead, time to go before we're found. Wake up!"
She waved him off; he grinned and pushed her hair from her face. Sitting on the edge of the bed beside her, he shook her, "C'mon, we've got to be leaving."
Her eyelids fluttered and she slowly looked at him. "Hi." She softly smiled and reached up to stroke his face.
"Time to go, Mariel. I have some unfinished business to attend to. Get dressed." He turned and left the room.
She frowned as she sat up to watch him go. Such a frustrating man! "Oh!" she cried out in aggravation.
She quickly got dressed in her own clothes once again, laying the dress back on the bed. She ran a hand over it a final time as if to say goodbye to it, then went out to find Connor. She finally found him downstairs.
"Ready?" He looked at her in expectation of what was to come.
She nodded and soon the door to the past closed behind them as they made their way back to the car.
Phone calls were made throughout the Highlands as a mysterious letter began appearing to each and every laird calling for an ancient gathering of the clans. As was usual among the clans, dissention reared it's head as to whether the lairds would heed the call or if indeed it was necessary in this day and age.
Arguments ensued but in the end, a small group of lairds decided to honor the call for a gathering to discuss what had happened in Edinburgh at the Parliment building and the current manhunt searching for one Connor MacLeod.
Campbell looked at the MacLeod of MacLeod. "What do you know of this man, MacLeod?"
"Nothing, absolutly nothing. The name isn't at all familiar. The MacLeods don't normally use it in naming their sons."
"It all goes back to a ancient MacLeod myth about a man who died then revived the next day completely whole. The name was banned from being used for centuries."
Campbell laughed and stood up to face MacLeod."Quite a good story, I must say. We Campbells have our own stories. Whoever he is, I hope they catch him and do it soon," he then said seriously.
"Do tell. But I can understand the point of the bombing although I don't agree with how the faction is going about it to achieve the goal of Scotland's freedom."
Both turned as the meeting came to order and listened attentively to each laird in turn as each spoke their mind on all kinds of subjects. On the subject of Scotland's freedom, when the opposition and pro-freedom factions began going for one another's throats the lairds began to try to out shout each other as in olden times.
MacLeod of MacLeod shook his head at the sight of it; he decided then and there that he would stop on the way back home in Glenfinnan and check up on things there if only to break the tedium of going home as well as an escape from all of this. He had a resposiblity to the clan members there too; it'd been a while since he had visited.
Now if they would only stop shouting! He stood. "Ladies, gentlemen, Scots. Let us try to remain calm..."
They drove further south as Mariel slept in the seat, leaving Connor alone with his thoughts. She couldn't stay with him, he had decided. He'd have to send her away to somewhere safe because she was a liability. He would need his complete concentration in order to defeat Dumiere. Having her near him wouldn't allow him to concentrate. She would have to go back to the States where she would be safe.
She awoke and rubbed her eyes, sitting upright. She looked around at the moonlit landscape, then over to him. "Where to now?"
He threw a glance at her then back to the road as he replied, "Glenfinnan, on the shores of Loch Shiel."
Dawn broke golden and pink over the moors and glens, glinting on the mists which lay close to the ground. Mariel was awestruck at the beauty of it, remaining quiet until Connor slowed down and pulled off to the side of the road.
He got out and faced the dawn's rays, squinting as he did so, as he tried to get his bearings. The closer to Glenfinnan he got, the stronger he felt. It had been at least two centuries since he had last visited his birthplace. Far too long away from home, he thought to himself.
Raising his face up into the light wind, he breathed in the clean air, fragrant with the scent of the moors and of the heather as well as the other wildflowers which were abundant this time of year. Whispering to the hills he had learned and wandered in his childhood, he said, "I'm home."
Puzzled, she got out of the car, placing her arms on the roof and watched him silently. He seemed so relaxed here, so much more at home. There was no explanation as to the why of it, she just knew somehow. He had also left her wondering as to if there were others like him.
He also hadn't answered her when asked after the lovemaking, about the man in the church before her sons' funeral, telling her rather abruptly that it wasn't her concern, that it was business. She had seen a warning look in his eyes and fell still. Before she knew it, she had fallen asleep in his arms.
Just being with him helped to ease the pain she had been dealing with over the years. He made her see, feel and have a glimmer of hope again. For that, she was very grateful. If only she could stay with him for the rest of her life, not as a lover necessarily, but as a friend. If only... "Connor?"
He turned at the sound of his name, and smiled widely at her, stretching his arms expansively as if to encompass all of the surrounding landscape. "I used to travel the trails here as a child. I knew where to catch the best salmon, the best places to hide when my uncle was after me when I got into trouble as a lad, the spookiest places to avoid, as well as the enchanted places."
Frowning, she replied, "Enchanted?"
He pointed to the large remains of a forest on the outer edge of the glen they were traveling through. "That's the Donan Woods. Some said it was enchanted, that a witch lived there, waiting for a chosen one to arrive."
She started to laugh at the thought of it. "A witch? And a chosen one? Get serious!"
He dropped his arms then returned to the car more somber than moments before. Opening the door, he entered then started up the Rover once more. He turned to look at her. "I was serious. People believed it. They thought that I was a demon or a witch. They were going to burn me alive but my uncle intervened by banishing me instead."
She shook her head in disbelief. "How old are you, Connor? I won't tell your secret, I swear! Tell me, please."
He pulled out onto the highway once more, remaining silent. He wasn't going to repeat what had happened between Brenda and himself when he had told her that he was immortal. There was no need for her to know anymore than what she did. For all she knew he could be lying about everything, even though every word he had spoken was true.
After fifteen minutes passed with no response from him, she angrily crossed her arms and sat in cold, stony silence, seething from the fact that he wasn't going to say anymore on the subject.
Connor pulled into Glenfinnan's main road. As they entered the small town, he paused as he took in the tourist traps and the memorial marking the spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie of the Stuarts had come ashore to raise an army of loyal Highlanders to wrest the throne of Scotland from England's grasp.
His eyes flicked over to the highly sylized sign marking the town's name, then over in the distance beyond all of the shops, to Loch Shiel. He shook his head over the changes to his hometown. Everyone has to live, he conceded to himself, but he found it ironic that the one thing that put Glenfinnan on the map was also the cause of the demise of the Highlander's way of life. It was the cause of his countrymen and women either losing their lives or their freedom, when the British began a systematic destruction after the battle of Culloden of everything the Highlanders held dear from the language, to the playing of the pipes, to the kidnapping of small children to raise as proper Englishmen and women.
"What's wrong, Connor? You look as if you have seen a ghost!" Mariel said concerned, as she watched the darkening and grim mood his face reflected as he looked about.
"I have. Thousands of them, and they all started here."
She looked around the small town; it could even be called a village if you had some imagination as it certainly didn't qualify for a city. "What are you talking about?"
Connor pulled up to a small pub and shut off the car, before turning to look at her. "Centuries ago, the Highlanders were a warrior race, proud, strong and brave. We had our own culture, our own standards, even our own language. We even had own own monarchy before the English came and took everything we held dear away and violated our laws as well as our women. They were ruthless in their endeavors to eradicate our lives."
She nodded. "I remember reading something about this in college in my European history class. As I recall, when Mary, Queen of Scots was beheaded by Elizabeth the first, she left the only heir to the throne of Scotland and England. His name, oh, what was his name??"
"James. James was a small boy; already a king here in Scotland but a puppet one, who was raised in Elizabeth's court and was taught to renounce his religion, renounce anything Scottish and to be ashamed for being Scottish.
"When Elizabeth died childless, he became the king of England and Scotland and united the two kingdoms into one." He opened the door and got out, pulling the luggage out of the back seat.
He glanced around and listened to the oh so familar and distinct brogue of the region from the men entering the pub after a hard day's work.
Entering the pub, they paused as a curtain of silence greeted them as the locals took stock of the strangers in their midst.
"Connor, I don't think we're welcome here," Mariel hissed at him quietly.
"Don't be ridiculous, it's natural for them to be curious about us. Besides, they honor the laws of hospitality here, or should especially to those of their own clan." He looked at her watching the men anxiously. "Did you hear what I just said? It's all right."
She glanced back at him and slowly nodding as she gulped. "What do you mean 'one of their own clan?' "
Connor walked up to the bar and softly inquired about rooms for a few nights. He was handed a registration book which he quickly penned in his name as well as hers for separate bedrooms. It was better to begin to distance himself now than to wait and try to extricate himself later. He had begun to care a trace too much for her; it could prove to be her death as well as his. His eyes met hers and he indicated upstairs with a curt nod of his head.
She followed close behind him; she noticed that the volume in the bar increased after they left. She looked about as he stopped in front of a bedroom.
"This is your room. Mine's down the hall a wee bit." Connor turned away but paused when he felt her hand upon his arm. Turning back to look at her he said, "It's better this way. I'm not going to have them talk about us, and you need to be alone whether you realize it or not. Get inside and get some rest. I have some things I must attend to while here."
Frowning, she shook her head. "I don't understand. I thought that we- I mean, you and I would--"
"No, Mariel. I won't be resposible for your death and if you are seen with me or are around me, it could and perhaps would happen. I don't want to be the one left behind, knowing that it might have been prevented." With a swift turn he left and went into his room, leaving Mariel dumbfounded in the hall.
Mariel angrily turned and threw open the door to her room, flinging her luggage to one corner and sat on the small bed. "Damn you, Connor MacLeod!" she snarled to the open doorway. She then slammed the door closed so hard that it shook the window overlooking the loch.
What exactly was he? He constantly raised more questions than he provided answers for. Was he some sort of criminal or kingpin? He was so soft spoken most of the time, but the image of the confrontation between him and the other more heavy-set man haunted her. He had been so icy then and so dangerous sounding. She was sure that what he had said to the man wasn't an idle threat either.
What had she gotten herself mixed up in?
Downstairs, the man behind the bar put the last vestiges of paperwork together on his new guests who had just checked in and had gone up to their rooms. He peered closer at the elegant handwriting, to make out the name signed for both rooms. "Connor MacLeod..." he whispered under his breath as he read it. He raised his head as the door opened up to the pub as another man straggled into the place for his wee dram for the night.
"Connor MacLeod," he repeated. Why was the name so familar sounding?
Then it struck him. It was the name of the man that the police were searching for in the bombing of the Parliment building in Edinburgh. Glancing at the ceiling, he unhesitatingly picked up the phone and began to dial up information when the man came striding back downstairs alone. Swiftly, he hung back up the phone.
"Where can I get a horse here in town?" Connor looked around at the pub. Nothing had really changed here except the faces through the centuries and the causes he noticed.
"Are ye daft? Wha'do ye need a horse for?" the man behind the counter said.
Connor looked at him, eye to eye. "Do ye always behave so rudely here to a member of th' clan?" He stared the man down until the man blinked and shifted his eyes away from him.
"Ye are no member of th' clan tha' I know of."
"Then ye don't know much, do ye? Maybe I'm just a legend tha' was told of on cold winter nights around the auld fires, long before ye were born. Now," He wrapped a fist around the man's shirt front. "Where do I find a horse?"
The man pried Connor's fingers off his shirt, then smoothed it out before answering. "At the end of the road, near th' kirk you'll find a place."
Connor reached out and patted the man's cheek. "I knew ye could be a reasoned wi'. Thank ye." He turned on his heel and left.
"Bastard!" The man behind the counter got himself a drink and down it as he dialed up the Edinburgh constabulary. "Hello, Constanble? I think you need to hear about someone..."
Outside, Connor brushed into a greying, broad-shouldered man as he headed to the stable near the kirk he had been directed to. The two men collided; Connor paused as his arm was grabbed to steady him. He glanced at the hand, then at it's owner. "Sorry, I was in a wee bit of a hurry."
The man broke into a wide grin. "Apology accepted, laddie." He looked Connor over carefully. "Do I know you? I don't believe we've met before." Suddenly, he realized that he still held onto Connor's arm and dropped it. "Forgive me. I'm John MacLeod, the laird of these parts. Or as some still call me, the MacLeod." He stuck out his hand to shake.
Connor looked him over. This man, then, was the head of the clan. He shook his hand firmly. "It's doubtful tha' we know one another, MacLeod. I'm Connor MacLeod."
At the name, the MacLeod's eyes widened, a fact that wasn't missed by Connor.
"Excuse me, I hav' some business to take care of tha' is a wee bit urgent," he said then turned and walked away.
Something was wrong around here. Something just wasn't "right". And whatever it was, it seemed to provoke a shocked response whenever his name was heard.
The MacLeod watched him as he marched away, in turmoil, over having just met someone who was quite possibly a killer and a terrorist. And he had brought it all back to the sleepy town of Glenfinnan, thus making it the MacLeod's responsibilty as to what happens next.
Should he call the constables and turn over a clansman or learn more about him before making a rash decision which could tear Scotland apart?
He thought for a moment as Connor disappeared around a corner, then shook his head. Dugal would know more perhaps about him. After all, it was his place the man had come out of and Dugal knew what was going on here. First speak to Dugal, then decide. He slowly entered the building as cheers erupted when he was spotted.
Connor looked about him as the horse cantered across the wide open moors, then dug his heels into the beast's ribs. "HAH!"
Leaping forward, the animal ran for all it was worth as Connor reveled in the sheer freedom of the moors as the wind whistled past his face and tore at his clothes. He leaned closer to the horse's neck, shouting his encouragement, then straightened up as the war chant from centuries past ripped in joyous rapture from his mouth.
"MacLeod!" he shouted in jubilation.
Here, alone on the moors, he was as as timeless as much as he was immortal; time stopped for him for these few moments alone away from prying eyes and questioning minds. Here, he could drop his vigilance and just be the Highlander he had been born as, raised as, died as, where he then was reborn as an Immortal.
He dropped the reins and stretched his hands in triumph to either side of himself and rode, using only his knees to guide the horse to his destination. His blood rose in the thrill and exhileration of the swiftness of the horse; he closed his eyes and felt each pounding pulse of the horse's heart, each muscle as it strained to push itself just a little harder than ever before.
This too, was a part of the Quickening that Rameriz had taught him.
MacLeod!" Opening his eyes, he saw that he was approaching his destination and he grabbed at the reins, slowly regaining control of his horse. He slowed it to a walk, then pulled back and dismounted as he looked over at the rocky landscape of hillocks and the sunken valley.
Once again it was 1536, and he was eighteen again, waiting over by that hill there for his first battle agains the Frasiers with his cousin Dugal and his uncle, Angus, as well as the other clan members.
He carefully made his way down the slopes, leaping over the boulders that jutted from the earth and made his way to the very spot that he first had spotted another of his own kind, although he hadn't known it at the time.
His eyes narrowed as he thought of what had happened next; his gut ached as he remembered the impact of the Kurgan's sword as his flesh swallowed it, then wrenched at the memory of how the Kurgan had twisted it about for good measure. "Mother of God!" he whispered to himself. "I had no idea of what was to come. I was so naive, and so young!" He shook his head, his face reflecting a sadness that was mirrored in his soul with all the pain that accompanied it.
Above him, an eagle screamed as it dove down for a morning snack in the field ahead of him. Connor watched it as it flew away with its' prey still struggling in the eagle's talons. "Dumiere!" he said in a stony voice as he watched it. "Not this time. Oh no, not this time."
Reaching inside of his jacket, he withdrew his katana, watching it as the sunlight caught its' metal and flashed white hot. He twisted it one way then another watching the sun's reflection until he finally embbedded it into the ground before slippping off his jacket. He needed all the freedom of movement he could manage; he then retrieved the blade.
Arcing the katana over his head, in the time-old kata that both Rameriz then Nakano had taught him and refined, he began to clear his mind preparing for the confrontation that he would push for and would put an end to all of the cat and mouse games both Dumiere and he had played over the centuries.
Piece by piece, his thoughts came into sharper clarity as the sword sang through the air without a thought given to how it was done, as it blurred past his eyes, in an elegant figure eight pattern designed to distract opponents from where his blade would be coming from next.
Mariel would have to go back tomorrow to the States. But later today though, he planned to take her out on the loch for a final outing to say goodbye to her. She was in danger and posed a danger to himself as long as she was around. He nooded to himself in agreement.
Tomorrow it will be.
Connor had made inquiries prior to leaving on the plane in Newark as to the whereabouts of one Claude Dumiere and had researched him thoroughly in both his library and in both the public and private law enforcement records that he had accessed.
What he had found out had been both illuminating as well as frustrating. He had traced him as he had changed names as well as lifetimes through the centuries, but the records grew cold in some areas and he had to rely on hypothesis as to where he had been and what he had done.
The number of deaths that were attributed to him varied too, depending on if you were talking to a European or American law enforcement agency, and providing that they would even talk to you at all. He had added them up as he could, knowing what no one else did--that he had struck before in prior centuries, and until he was stopped, he would continue to do so for the next few or more centuries.
Even if he just estimated at the number, it ran into the hundreds or perhaps thousands--if you counted those who had died after the initial attack, such as the women and children who had died escaping the valley of Glencoe in the bitter cold and snow.
DEspite that, he had been able to find out the one glimmer of hope as to where Dumiere called home. Connor smiled grimly at the thought.
He had, like Connor, resided in one spot constantly for centuries; and it was here, in the Highlands of Scotland, he lived. Here, he would always come back to once a job was over, and here he was going to die, if Connor could defeat him; a feat that Connor knew from past encounters, was going to be very difficult.
Under differing circumstances and times, perhaps they could have been friends. As Connor learned more about him, he realized that he shared many of Dumiere's interests as well as his tragedies, such as the loss of a beloved mortal wife. He shivered at the thought, thanking God that he knew at least, what was the right and just thing to do and to value all life--unlike Dumiere who only took life and left destruction in his wake.
He swung the blade in a swift downwards stroke as if to decapitate an unseen enemy. He blinked as he came back to an awareness of the outside, glancing about swiftly before resheathing the blade and swung back up into the saddle, kicking the horse in the ribs once more into a canter away from all the memories and straight into the devil's lair.
The rest would have to wait for later...
The Royal estate of Balmoral Castle, near Edinburgh
Dumiere looked every bit the tourist with a camera slung around his neck, taking pictures of the convoy of limosenes which entered the main gates of the castle. But as he took pictures, he made sure that he also got pictures of all the security in effect to protect the royal family from people like himself or the IRA from initiating a terrorist attack on them. The convoy didn't interest him in the least, but what was inside the limos did.
Inside the first automobile, were the Queen Mother, the Queen herself, Elizabeth II, and her husband, Prince Phillip. The second car held both the Prince and Princess of Wales as well as their firstborn, the future king of the United Kingdom. All had come to Balmoral for holiday and for the excellent grouse and phesant hunting season.
Both Prince Phillip and his son, Charles, the Prince of Wales, loved Balmoral castle and the land which surrounded the castle and would affect the Scottish ways when here, with both wearing kilts and long stockings when hunting for comfort as well as for a good public relation ploy with the Scots.
Dumiere watched with keen interest as the Prince of Wales got out of the car before it cleared the last gates of the castle.
He was not at Balmoral to kill the Prince; he was here to do what the Scottish freedom fighters that were paying him perceived as an injustice which happened four centuries ago, and just returning an old favor back to the English crown.
He was, instead, here to kidnap the future king of the United Kingdom, and raise him as a true Scot, making him renounce anything English and raise him as Elizabeth I had her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots' son raised four centuries ago.
An eye for an eye, and blood for blood.
He whistled at the thought. If he could pull it off toally undetected, then it would be something akin to a miracle, even if he didn't relish the idea of having to deal with a noisy little brat of a child.
This job, he figured, would have to be perfect to the last degree in it's planning and in it's implementation. The camera clicked noisily and Dumiere frowned. He looked at it then discovered that it had run out of film and swiftly replaced it with a fresh roll. There was any room for anything to be left to chance on this job.
He turned away after the final car entered the last of the gates and made his way through the throng, stopping at a small newsstand and purchasing Edinburgh's local newspaper. Scanning the headlines, he searched for any news of the arrest of Connor MacLeod, but found no mention of it. "Bloody hell, what does it take to have something done here anyway?" he swore out loud angrily. "Incompetant fools!"
He swiftly made his way back to his car and got in, then headed it back to his home in the Highlands. "Stupid little men!" he raged. He had known MacLeod's travel itenerary before he had even left for Scotland--money did indeed make things easier such as confidential information on other individuals. He knew exactly what MacLeod was worth, where all of his businesses were, where his wife and son were buried--he knew it all.
Dumiere guided the car onto the main highway into the Highlands and thought. Slowly, things were coming unraveled as far as MacLeod was concerned. He had lost track of him once he had left Edinburgh, but he guessed as to where he might be going--perhaps he was going to visit old friends--old friends who had laid in their graves, rotting for centuries. He could only hope that someone would turn him in before his plans could be interferred with as far as his current job was concerned. And he hoped that it would be soon that it happened.
He was worried now and began to get a little anxious the more he thought on it. Where in Scotland was he?
Where was Connor MacLeod? And what was he doing? Waiting?
His unease increased with every passing kilometer.
Where was he?
Was he watching him?
"You are going to die when I find you, MacLeod. I promise, because this time will be the final time we meet!" he snarled to himself and to the empty air. "Just wait!"
Mariel strolled through the town stopping to do a little shopping here and there at some of the quaint little shops, buying herself trinkets of her visit as well as film for her camera that Connor had bought her.
Her mind wandered back time and again to what her companion had said earlier in the day: "...I won't be resposible for your death and if you are seen with me or are around me, it could and perhaps would happen. I don't want to be the one left behind, knowing that it might have been prevented."
Mulling it over as she turned the statement first one way, then another, she tried to interpret it as best she could into something that would have some semblance of reason for him to be making such a statement.
But it didn't makes sense--he didn't make sense, none of what had happened had made sense since she had gotten to Scotland. He had left things only partially said, never completing a subject or not giving any explanations of what was happening.
Things had happened so fast, that she was dizzy with confusion as well as dazed with the concept that there were such beings as Immortals and that one would never know if they were or not unless you saw them die then revive as she had seen Connor do.
Heading down to the beach, she sighed in appreciation at the beauty and granduer of the place. The waters of the loch were steel grey, and ,bursting with forests on them, surrounded her on all sides. She looked skywards as she heard the lonely calls of a flock of geese go past as they headed in for a night's rest before traveling on.
"Take me with you," she whispered to them. "Let me fly for once without fear of the unknown." She watched as the flock spiraled downwards until they were all settled in on the loch, bobbing and floating on the water without answering her plea.
Sighing, she sat down on some of the large rocks that jutted from the earth and just listened to the solitude. Connor had been right, she thought, she had needed to be alone and think things through. Resting her chin on her knees, she wrapped her arms around her legs and thought of what had happened to her life. It all had seemed like it had been spiraling out of control before the chance encounter in that grocery store with him.
A tear slipped out of her eye and she absently brushed it away. "My babies!" she said to the quiet, as her mind slipped back to her old life in New York. "What did I do to you? I'm so sorry, I should have stayed with you. Maybe you'd still be with me if I had."
She swallowed at a lump of guilt in her throat, which felt as if it was choking her. "I'm so sorry, sweethearts. I tried, I really did." She turned her head at the sound of approaching footsteps which had paused behind her.
Two men, in suits that seemed so out of place here, stood looking at her. "Evenin', miss," one said in a friendly tone. "Do ye mind if we ask ye a few questions?"
Eying them, she raised her hand to shield her eyes from the sun's rays as the other swiftly wiped away any traces of tears from her face. "Depends. Who are you?" She ran a hand under her nose to wipe it then brushed at her hair in a haphazard manner.
"Ian MacLendon, Edinburgh constable's office and Stewart Blake, Scotland Yard, miss." The man called Blake tilted his head in a form of hello.
Frowning, she stood up to fully face them. "Scotland Yard? What are you doing here and what do you need to ask me any questions about? I'm just a plain old tourist from New York City."
"So you're American then?"
The pair looked at each other and MacLendon held out his hand. "May I see your passport if ye please?"
She patted herself down as they watched. "Damn, I don't have it on me." She threw each of them a perplexed look. "Just what is this about?"
"You know someone by the name of Connor MacLeod?" Blake asked.
"So, about a week ago, someone blew a large hole in the Parliment building in Edinburgh killing a couple of people in the process. Someone anonymously called in the name." MacLenden watched her carefully waiting to see if she would have any reaction to the news. "We got a call in today from here, in Glenfinnan, about someone wi' tha' name who just arrived this morning.
Her eyes slid from one man to the other. Once again, her mind had been sent reeling. Just what did she know about MacLeod? "A week?"
She wrinkled her brow as she thought. "I suppose you want me to tell you where he was a week ago and what he was doing. I mean, c'mon, surely there's been a mistake--I would think that the name would be common here. He said it was."
"Could we go over to your room and get the passport, please? And remember, that this is not America, our laws are different here and we don't take kindly to terrorists or murderers." Blake said sternly, as he indicated the way back to the pub.
She nodded uneasily at them as she led the way back.
Who, Connor? Not the Connor she had grown to know or imagined she knew.
Once they arrived, they went upstairs ands she went through her things and pulled out the passport to show them that she was who she said she was.
MacLenden nodded curtly as he double-checked with the American embassy in Edinburgh to see what her status was listed as, tourist, business or whatever. She had checked out throughly as a tourist but there had been one piece of information that had intrigued him about her.
He hung up the phone and looked up at her where she stood, twisting a ring on her finger anxiously. "You were indited for "child abandonment" and "endangering a child" before you left the United States, weren't you?"
Her eyes grew round as saucers and she gulped hard. "I want to see a lawyer, or what do you call them here??? A--a barrister, yes, barrister!" She felt frozen in place as the horror of that night flashed before her eyes.
Blake frowned, then leaned down to begin a whispered consultation with his partner, which quickly turned more heated from what Mariel could tell. Blake straightened, scowling before proceeding. "You won't need one, Miss Hernandez. The charges were dropped hours before you took off for our country here."
She stumbled backwards into the doorframe at the news and fell into a crumpled heap of askew legs and arms. "Dropped? Dropped as in I'm free?"
"I believe you Americans say it like this: "free as a bird." Is that right?"
She drew in her breath sharply, held it, then released it slowly as she felt a sudden weight lift off her shoulders. She nodded. "Yes, that's right."
MacLenden held out his hand and pulled her upright again. "Now, what can you tell us about this man, Connor MacLeod?
Dumiere whistled happily as he examined each blown up photo of the castle with a magnifying glass, looking for a way in as well as a way out. "Looking for chinks in the armor, " he said, then laughed mirthlessly. He threw the pictures onto his desk then rubbed at his weary eyes.
An antique clock chimed the hour; he straightened up from his task then stretched like a cat. He double checked the time against his watch then went over to begin the tedious process of winding it. He glanced about his house as he wound it, then up at the portrait of his wife.
"We are going to do the impossible, milady. You would be so very proud of me!" He smiled broadly at the painting, but it quickly faded as he thought of her as she had been when she had died of cholera, during the epidemic which had swept through their area and had left almost no one family untouched.
"Enough!!" he roared to no one as he grasped at his head, trying with all his might to forget the image. Nearly running out the door, he grabbed his coat, pulling it on and left after clumsily locking the door. He never heard the lock's tumblers not fall into place correctly, thus leaving his home essentially unlocked and easy prey for anyone who would wanted to walk on in.
His car tires protested as he peeled out of his drive and onto the backroads of what used to be the Campbell estate. "Enough!"
Connor dismounted, patting the horse on its' rump as he made his way to the rear of the copse of trees he had stopped in. His senses were tingling as if they were on fire and each nerve he had was sending small, sharp pulses of pain thoughout his body. He grimaced momentarily at it but quickly shoved the sensation to one side, as he watched the house with a keen interest.
He could see Dumiere through the big window that was situated in what was probably either an office or perhaps a study, judging from what little he could see into the room from where he stood. "Nice to see you again, Dumiere," he quietly said as he rubbed at his forehead, trying to stop the dull, throbbing ache which had settled itself there due to his close proximity to Dumiere. He also felt, as he always did, the mild nausea caused by another Immortal's presence.
His horse softly neighed at him; he turned back to check on it, but his attention was drawn back to Dumiere's house when he heard the car roar to life. As the car sped out of the drive, Connor's eyes followed it down the road until it was no longer in sight.
He checked on the reins and glanced up at the sky then at his watch. Night would be fast approaching and at this time of year, he knew that darkness fell swiftly. "Damn!" he softly swore. He looked about for signs of life but when he saw none, he came out of the trees and approached the house.
Walking around the perimeter of the house, it struck him that it was a perfect setting for someone such as Dumiere: isolated yet at the same time not, nestled in a place traditionally where he had always had protection from the Campbell clan as well as favor. He peered in the same window that he had seen Dumiere in minutes before, taking in the walls of bookcases, and the antiques that were elegantly displayed here and there in the room.
He then walked around to the front door of the house and paused before trying the knob. It twisted, albeit with a grudging turn of the knob, before quietly swinging open. Connor was on full alert now, and withdrew his blade before he entered. "Too easy. Much too easy. You're slipping, Dumiere," he muttered softly, as he made his way from room to room downstairs.
There wasn't a soul, mortal or Immortal, about that he could tell.
He slipped upstairs and again did a thorough survey of it going from room to room. He lived alone, judging from all the clues which indicated that he did from the single pillow on the master bed to the clothes in the closet.
Once he was downstairs again, he wandered into the study and started looking over at the papers which were strewn haphazardly all over the desk. He paused as an eerie feeling that he was being watched came over him. Eyes darting all around him in search of who or what it was, they finally settled on a oil portrait of a woman which sat over the mantleplace.
He stared at it, as he realized that this was an opening in Dumiere that might give him an edge over him-if he decided to use it. "Where did your husband run off to, hmm?" Connor smiled as he spoke to the portrait. It had to have been Dumiere's wife. It was too old to be much of anything else as well as too well preserved. It had to be his wife.
He studied it a few minutes more before turning back to his task. Thoughts of the mortal women he had loved and lost in his lifetime flashed through his mind and just as quickly, he banished them to the hidden recesses of his heart. He needed to concentrate on the task at hand.
Pulling out a newspaper, that was dated a week earlier, he scanned over the front page which spoke of the bomb blast in Edinburgh and the manhunt that was in progress. He read the aricle twice before looking around. "Christ Almighty!" Again, he read the name of the man wanted for questioning in the blast. "They want me!"
He laughed saracastically. "They can only wish."
He swiftly put it back after glancing at the slowly darkening sky outside. A small stack of pictures stuck out of a pile of papers and he pulled one out to look over. It was a grainy picture of one of Scotland's many castles--Connor tried to remember which one. He pulled it nearer for a closer inspection.
On a sign in the picture it read in grainy but still decipherable letters, "Balmoral Castle".
"Holy shit! The Royal family?" Connor whistled long and low at the thought. He nodded to himself, understanding in that moment, who had given out his name to the law enforcement agencies. "So you want me to take the blame?" His face became grim. "No chance in hell!"
Once more the slight nausea began to affect him and he swiftly put things as they were, before running out of the room and through a side entrance into the kitchen.
Dumiere stopped the car suddenly and searched the woods which surrounded his home with his eyes as he felt the presence of another Immortal. He swiftly opened the door to his car, withdrawing his blade in one smooth motion as he exited.
Sprinting up to his house, he carefully perused the surroundings once more, then entered his home to see who was around.
Connor pressed himself tightly against the large tree truck as he watched Dumiere searching for him. He cocked a wry grin at Dumiere, before losing it. When Dumiere went inside, he sprinted back over to where his horse was, mounted up and rode away back towards Glenfinnan.
Inside the house, Dumiere found that nothing was out of the ordinary or missing; all looked as it did when he was there earler. He wearily walked downstairs into his study and sagged into the chair behind the desk.
His eyes roamed over the room, checking and rechecking every little detail until at last they lit on his desktop and saw the one picture out of place and away from the others. "Damn it!" He knocked everything off his desk and other furniture as he raged around the room. "MacLeod!"
Mariel paced in nervous anticipation in her room back at the pub. The police had given her quite a fright and she wasn't sure she was any help, but then again she didn't want to be. She walked over to the window and looked out at the night, scowling. Where was the mystery man?
Where was Connor?
"Mariel? Still angry?" Connor leaned up against the doorframe, arms crossed, as he smiled cockily at her.
She whirled at the sound of his voice, clearly startled. "Where have you been?" She looked to either side of her and behind him. "You had me worried sick!"
He looked down guiltily for an instant then back at her as he shrugged. "I needed to be alone so I went for a ride."
"There was someone looking for you earlier--"
"I know. Listen, we need tae talk privately. Ye up for a quiet boat ride on th' loch?" His deep eyes glittered with both anticipation and seriousness.
She noticed how his accent had changed and had become more Scottish in its' inflection and tone but said nothing. She was fascinated once again by it and him as she stared at him in silence.
"Well, will ye or no?" He pushed himself upright, walked over and grabbed her hand, causing her to jump. He laughed at her reaction, then looked away. "'Tis verra important. I wilna take no fo' an answer."
Mariel looked at him closely, wondering if what she was seeing before her was indeed a terrorist. Or just a big time crook?
Or was he, as he had described himself, "just a man?" She followed him out of the room as he tugged on her hand to follow him, grabbing a jacket on the way out against the chill of the night air. "What's this all about?"
"Ye will see. Be patient."
Putting his back into the rowing of the small craft, Connor's mucles strained with the oars against the waves, making him grimace as he did so. The waves rocked the boat as they slowly made their way across the loch lapped and occasionally spilled over the side of the craft causing Mariel's face to become creased with worry.
He watched her carefully, trying to capture a memory for himself of her by moonlight as he rowed. The night held a bittersweet edge to it and he thought over just what he would say to her to make her understand that what he was about to do was best for both of them.
She looked all about her as the moonlight glistened off the water, and heard the lonely howl of a wolf crying out at it's fate. A cold wind blew off the loch causing her to shudder; she silently slipped on her jacket and nodded. Here, tonight, out here on the loch, she started to believe in enchantment. She understood why Connor got a faraway look in his eye when he looked around this place, a look that spoke of a wistful longing, great tragedy, as well as pain that had seeped into his soul.
She watched him as he pulled the craft closer to a finger of land that jutted into the loch. His concentration was absolute on the task at hand, and he paid no heed to her, so she thought. His steel blue eyes seeemed to bore into her as well as through her without really seeing her sitting there.
She jumped though, when he suddenly pulled the oars into the craft and let the boat begin to drift lazily on the water. "What's wrong, why'd you stop rowing?" she said loudly to him at which he placed a finger to her lips.
"The fairies will hear you and will be angry at you for disturbing their slumber. Quiet down, close your eyes, and just listen tae it here." He smiled softly at her, then looked from side to side all around him. "It's been a very long time since I've done this."
Knitting her brows together, she removed his finger from her lips and started to make a remark about his so called fairies but paused. She looked about as he did and could almost see the fairies he spoke of here. "It's beautiful!" she whispered.
Her dark eyes caught his lighter ones and held them steadily as she asked, "What is so special about this place, Connor? What is this place to you?"
He crossed his arms on his knees. It was a time to be blunt as well as truthful about everything. She had asked; he would tell her what she wanted and needed to know. "I was born here a long time ago. It was frae here I was thrown out of the clan when I fully recovered frae a fatal wound overnight."
She looked at him carefully, looked at how the moonbeams played across his features, and how the wind tousled his hair about. Her eyes traveled down his body as she remembered their one night of lovemaking at Glencoe and the haunted look he seemed to have afterwards. "Connor?"
He was looking inwards to his secret place where he kept his most special memories, when she spoke his name. He drew himself out of it to look her squarely in the eye. "Aye?"
"What's it like to live forever?"
His gaze seem to pierce her; he noticed that she pulled her jacket tighter around herself the longer he stared at her. Perhaps he should try another tactic in terms of answering that question. He shrugged. "I dinna know; ask me when forever arrives."
Irritated with his answer, she slapped at his arm. "Connor!"
He looked at her with as much innocence as he could muster on his face and replied, "Wha'? Did I say somethin' wrong?" If looks could kill, he would be dead at this very moment, he realized, after she shot him an ugly glance, and whispered something which made him chuckle.
"Pendejo!" Her eyes blazed at him.
"I've been called tha' one before by a dear friend an' by other names much worse!" he calmly replied as he grinned. He glanced about and noticed that they had drifted further than what he would have liked to.
Shoving the oars back out into the water, he began correcting their position in the loch. "Gae on, ask me again. I'll try tae be more serious this time," he said through gritted teeth as he leaned back into the pull of the oarstroke.
She scowled at him then tried again. "It must be glorious to live forever! The opportunies you have, the history the--"
Connor rudely interrupted her. "Th' pestilence ye see, th' unnecessary slaughter which goes on century after century, the innocent blood spilled in th' name of politics, th' pain. I've seen it all; I've been through so much of it." The weariness in his voice as well as the ancient look in his eyes betrayed him.
"It's not wha' ye think. There's nothing as ye say, "glorious" in immortality. It's a curse at times and sometimes it's a blessing. Ye see th' people ye most care about gae grey, wrinkled, feeble. Ye see them as they wobble about forgetful about everything! Ye see others carrying and caring fo' children tha' they know they fathered or gave birth tae.: Pausing, he peered at her steadily. "I will never know wha it is like to hav' a child o' my loins in my arms. I will never know wha' it is like to hav' a pregnant wife that I have to go to the grocers at three in the bloody morning for because she has a craving fo' watermelon and pickles."
Stung by the vehemenence in his voice, she sat and stared at him, her mouth agape.
His voice softened. "And yet, there are those moments of peace that stay with you forever as long as you live. The ones of those you first fall in love with, make love to, the echo of a quiet night together listening to the soft sounds of your lover or wife's breathing as they have their head upon your chest..."
He paused, thinking of her doing the same at Glencoe in the MacDonald's bed. Turning his head away, he fell silent for several minutes. Finally he said, "Those moments make you gae on wanting to live and make th' best o' wha' ye were given."
Reaching over, she placed her hand upon his but he quickly jerked it away. "Nothing lasts forever, Mariel. Not even me." The boat scraped up on gravel. He jumped out and pulled the craft ashore, then offered her a hand to get out.
"Over here. I'm going to get some wood; You look cold." He indicated a place on the beach.
She stood watching him for a few moments then looked upwards at the glittering tiara of the inky night sky and stars. Soon, she softly began to hum then sing an older tune that she remembered from her childhood.
"Here I stand with head in hand
Turn my face to the wall
If she's gone I can't go on
Feeling two foot small
Ev'rywhere people stare
Each and every day
I can see them laugh at me
And I hear them say
Hey, you've got to hide your love away
Hey, you've got to hide your love away
How could I even try
I can never win
Hearing them, seeing them
In the state I'm in
How could she say to me
Love will find a way
Gather round all you clowns
Let me hear you say
Hey, you've got to hide your love away
Hey, you've got to hide your love away."
Connor paused from collecting the firewood as he heard her voice singing that particular tune then resumed his task. It could describe me, he thought as he recognized the tune. It could very well be me.
Bringing back the firewood, he began to build a small bonfire and set it. He soon stood back and admired his handiwork, brushing off his hands and clothes then turned to face her. "You never finished college, did you?" It was a statement, not a question.
She stood, coming closer to the fire and extended her hands. Her eyes didn't meet his as she shook her head "no."
"Why no'?" Connor stepped around the flames to come closer to her. Watch it, his conscience told him. Go no further. Don't touch her.
Shut the hell up, he silently raged back at it.
She grabbed a spindly branch and poked and prodded the embers of the fire. She shrugged. "I did a stupid thing. I fell in love."
Connor said nothing but looked at her sympathetically, catching her eye when she glanced up at him and smiled. "It's no' something that's ever planned, is it? Gae on, tell me more."
"Once I started classes, what happened with my father came back to haunt me in my dreams. I became deeply depressed but no one ever suspected I was. On the outside, I was a happy go lucky girl who was broke all the time, cause my parents couldn't help out. But at night, I dreaded going to sleep because what happened played out in my dreams and I would wake with the sheets drenched from my sweat." She looked off in the distance far down the loch, lost in thought.
Connor sat down on the ground and pulled up his legs to his chest, then crossed his arms on them. "If ye don't want to talk about it, ye dinna hav' to."
Her head turned back in his direction and she wanly smiled at him. "No, you were right about it. I can either talk about it and begin to heal or hide away in fear, never talking about it and never heal." Sighing, she threw in the branch then adjusted herself on the ground too.
"I met him at a dance. He was what I thought was handsome, friendly, good conversationalist, easy-going. We got involved quickly and by the time spring finals came about we were engaged. By mid-terms of the next year, we eloped. I thought it was all very romantic and exciting!"
"And what then?"
She got a pained look in her eyes and face. "On our wedding night he broke my cheekbone and cracked some teeth when he threw a chair at me. He said my reluctance to make love to him proved that I didn't love him--I--"
Connor looked down at the ground as he fought to control his reaction to what she was revealing to him. He wanted to hold her, to kiss her, to tell her that what happened in the past wouldn't happen again but his self-taught training at masking his thoughts and feelings over the centuries kept him in his place. "Shhh..it's over. So ye married a bastard, had th' kids and wha'?"
"Then he dropped me back to the barrio like hot potatoes after the second one arrived. Life was hard and it kept getting worse."
Connor nodded. "And then, I came."
She nodded. "And then you came, and I lost everything. My home, my children..." She looked at him then away. "My heart."
Connor's head snapped up. "Excuse me? Wha' did ye say?"
"Nothing." She refused to look at him in the eye.
He took a deep breath, knowing exactly what she had said. "I can't be tha' for ye, Mariel," he gently said. "I can't, because I would put ye in danger--ye might be placed in a position where ye could be used as a pawn again' me or might lose your life."
"Are you some kind of criminal or are you a killer or what? I mean, how could I be used against you?"
Connor laughed briefly, then his face turned grim. "There are those who are looking tae kill me. Ye can be, simply put, a weapon, one tha' I dinna want around or need around. Tomorrow ye leave for th' States--alone. I've made arrangements fo' ye to get ye back into Sarah Lawrence."
He looked at her, seeing the incredulous look in her face. "I've set up an account in your name tae help pay th' bills while ye finish your degree, an' there is an apartment waiting fo' ye in your name near the campus."
"What?? I mean how? why? for what reason?" she asked, stumbling over her own words, in shock over what he was offering.
Connor got up and stretched, then slowly and deliberatly walked over to her. Bending down in front of her, he picked up both her hands into his and looked in her eyes. "I canna say I love ye." He tilted her chin up with his index finger. "But, I can say this--I believe in ye. There are things that ye would never understand about me or about my life, things which I can never tell ye because ye wouldna have a clue as tae how tae handle it."
"I am no' a criminal, if that is what ye are thinking. I'm one of the good guys, so they tell me." He smiled crookedly. "Besides, I ha' learned a few things over the centuries, like--"
She gulped as she searched his eyes. "Centuries?"
He nodded, allowing it to sink in. "Almost five o' them."
"Five?" Her eyes grew round at the thought.
"Almost," he quietly repeated.
She pulled away from him and he let her go, watching her carefully as she began to pace to and fro. Suddenly she stopped and turned upon him. "You are immortal, right? Then how can you die, if you are immortal?"
He replied steadily as if by rote, "If I lose my head, it's over. I will die. End o' my story."
"It must be lonely though, your life. I mean,you have no family left--" She wanted to hold him, to scream at him to break the iron self-control he had, to make love to him again.
"Did I say that I had no family left? I have a cousin who's still alive and well the last time I saw him." Connor noticed the curtain draw across her eyes. The information was too much for her--she wasn't ready, would never be ready to know the whole of it. "He's immortal too, and about seventy-five years younger than me, born here too."
"You must learn to hide your gift," his teacher's voice strummed through his memory as if he were alive and speaking to him.
In answer, he told him silently, "I know."
Trying to make light of it, he continued. "Must be something in the water around here."
Mariel swiftly came back to stand in front of him then slapped him hard enough to spin his head to one side. "You didn't even tell me that the charges were dropped before we even left the country! I don't want your money or your gifts or anything about you!" she snarled at him, raising her arm again to strike, knowing full well that not all of her statements were true. She wanted him and had grown dependant upon the fact that he was around when she needed him.
He grabbed her wrists and squeezed them tight. "I didn't know about the charges!" he retorted then went on in an icy, commanding, very contolled voice, "Don't ever hit me again, understand?" He shook her roughly once, constantly holding her wrists as he did so.
After he took a deep breath, he said, "I brought ye here to Scotland because I wanted to show ye Glencoe. It is because o' Glencoe tha' I am trying to help ye live a good life again, allowin' ye to pick up wher' ye left off."
His eyes probed hers for a minute. "The same mon who helped slaughter all the MacDonalds three centuries ago is also th' mon who caused th' fire at your home and killed your bairns. Th' parallels are there if ye would just look.
"Th' best way to live, to survive through life, I've found, is to learn all you can, even if it's just one thing a day." He tapped her forehead. "Use it, dinna waste you capabilities; ye dinna ha' the time to waste." He searched her eyes, trying to will his strength as well as the discipline he had for himself into her. "Live, Mariel. Make something guid out of everything bad tha' happened to ye. Only ye can make tha' choice and tha' decision."
Fear, resignation, acceptance and anger flashed over her face; slowly she nodded. "Better go back then, I've got packing to do. Will I ever see you again, then, after tomorrow?"
"Probably not. Tomorrow, I'll die." he said, matter-of-factly. He cupped her face in his hands as he pulled her down to his level, then kissed her forehead tenderly; inside of him, he could feel the ashes begin to build about his heart once again. The kiss lingered, as both were unwilling to break the connection between them.
He finally broke away,leaned his forehead to hers, ignoring the emotions wrenching at his gut. He closed his eyes as he took in the fresh scent of her, the softness of her skin, the silky strands of her hair which fell about his hands and forearms.
"You must leave her, brother," Rameriz gently reminded him once more from his past.
Connor opened his eyes and nodded in acceptance of it. He pulled at her hand as he led her to the boat but paused when he heard the droning whine of a lone piper playing a lament on the pipes. Glancing at her, he saw that she also heard it.
"What is it?" she asked as she heard the slow, mournful lament. As she looked over at his profile, she silently screamed, What do you mean, you'll die?"
"It's a lament for someone takin' a long journey an' will never return." Connor listened intently to the piper. "A way o'expressing sorrow at th' leave-taking." He waited a few more moments, then said quietly, "Maybe they are playing fo' ye."
"Maybe they are playing it for you too, Connor," she quietly said in return.
His eyes looked about him a final time as the song went on, knowing that he wouldn't be able to come back for another generation or more after tomorrow. "Maybe they are. Maybe they are."
Once they arrived at the pub, each went to the seperate rooms and shut the door, locking out the outside world. Mariel threw herself on the bed and began to sob her heart out as the realization of her leaving Scotland fully sank in. She would be leaving a place that was beginning to be magical in all of its' aspects; she would be leaving behind the man she cared about despite his sometime coolness to her.
Inside Connor's room, the man called the "Highlander" sat on the bed, as he shook out his whetstone and oiled cloth from a small bag. His katana lay on the bed, unsheathed, waiting to go through the ritual sharpening and cleaning that Connor so lovingly gave it. It was the one thing that kept order in his life, the one thing that he could depend on outside of his fighting and surviving skills.
Using long, well practiced strokes, he began to hone the blade, wiping it down every now and then, and holding up the blade to peer down the edge to check for imperfections as well as nicks.
He was at war with himself over her. The aloofness and lonliness he wore about his person like an invisible cloak made him restless tonight. He sighed as he looked in the direction of her room, estimating the distance between his room and hers.
One last night with her, one last kiss exchanged, one last whispered word as she shuddered to a climax.
He put down his sword, stood and restlessly began to pace, growing melancholy over the reality of the situation.
Immortal against mortal. If he had been given the chance to choose, he would have chosen mortality. To have grown old with Heather, and see their children born, live and have families of their own.
But it wasn't meant to be like that for him.
He walked over to the window, and looked out as he leaned his head upon his arm. The stillness of the night was broken only by the sounds of the pub below them.
Dropping his head, he pondered about what was in store for him, but found he couldn't concentrate. His mind kept drifting to her. What was she doing? Had she really comprehended what sacrifice he made for her earlier?
"I can't risk it again. I won't. Not even for her," he softly whispered to the wall, closing his eyes against the sharp ache in his heart which threatened to overcome him. She'd only grow old and die, or death would steal her away as it had Brenda. Running his splayed fingers through his hair which stuck up wildly in all directions, he spun on his heel and went out the door.
As he went past her door, he paused for an instant, raising a hand to knock. He violently shook his head, "no" then continued downstairs for a drink. He never heard her crying through the thick door and by the time he reached the pub area, he had shoved all emotions back down inside of himeself.
He walked up to the bar, looked around, and listened to the sounds of a home he had had centuries before as the men and women gathered together to laugh, smile, flirt and dance. "Uisquebeath," he ordered and gulped it down after paying.
A hand clapped him on the back and he whirled about, fists balled up ready for a fight, only to come face to face with the MacLeod. "Wha' do ye want?" Connor inquired surily.
"May I buy a fellow clansman a drink?" John MacLeod asked of Connor, ignoring the tone of voice that Connor had spoken to him. "Ye speak th' auld tongue, I see.'
Connor didn't say anything but accepted the refill on his drink. He wasn't about to let his guard down even if the man standing beside him was the clan laird. He eyed him carefully as he assessed the man who was trying to probe him without being obvious. "Aye."
"Ye speak it verra well fo' one so young." The MacLeod stared at the incongruity before him. The man spoke Gaelic all right, he noted, but it was an archaic form with the archaic pronounceations.
"Do I? I'm a quick study. Do ye speak it?" Connor decided that he would probe a bit on his own so that he could judge him better.
"Och, no. 'Tis English I only speak, but I am learning th' auld tongue bit by bit. Tis guid fo' th' tourists tae hear it." The MacLeod took a sip of his dark draft and waited, watching his counterpart in this conversation. The other man's eyes, the MacLeod noticed, missed nothing and he betrayed nothing about himself.
Connor waited, and didn't miss the fidgeting the laird did as he was speaking to him. "Past and present meet, news at 9:00," Connor muttered under his breath. "Did ye need something frae me or is there a reason tae be disturbing me?"
The MacLeod came right to the point as he looked straight into Connor's eyes. "Wha' are ye here for, Connor MacLeod? Tae find a refuge again' Scotland Yard?" He didn't waver as Connor's eyes grew distant and cold.
"Is tha' wha' ye think? Is tha' why ye sent them tae find me? If I am th' mon, they are lookin' fo', wha' then? Wha' will ye do?" Connor's face reflected a controlled, cold fury. "Ye be th' MacLeod, I'll grant ye. But one o' th' things ye are supposed tae do is protect th' clan, if ye can." He leaned into the MacLeod's face. "Do ye intend to do tha' fo' me?"
The MacLeod backed up away from Connor. "If I ha' tae, I will. Are ye who they want?"
Connor turned back to the bar and downed his drink again then sat the glass down hard on bar causing its' sound to ring out like a shot. "No. And I can take care o' myself. We wouldna want tae hurt th' tourist business, would we, by havin' me around." His eyes cracked a warning to the MacLeod to remain quiet, then he went upstairs.
He paused once more outside of Mariel's room, leaning his head on the door to see if he could hear any sound; all was quiet. He stroked the door and turned back to go to his room. "It is as it should be.", he said unconvincingly to himself once he got inside its' walls. "It's better this way."
Mariel's eyes flew open and she sat bolt upright in bed, grabbing at the small clock on the nightstand to check the time. "Two a.m.!" she moaned out loud. She flopped down on her bed and closed her eyes willing sleep to come but it refused no matter how she turned or what she did.
Behind her closed eyelids, images of Connor moved as in slow motion and she kept hearing him, his voice, his laughter, the coldness of his eyes at times, his hot skin pressed tightly against hers. She threw a pillow over her face trying to block it all out but it did no good. "Oh!" she cried out in frustration, and leapt to her feet, threw open the door and picked her way down the hall to just outside Connor's room.
Connor slept soundly, his katana partially unsheathed beside him on the floor. He dreamt of the women he had known, the women he had loved and lost, the women whom he had pushed away from him. He stirred and rolled onto his back, a frown crossing his features before settling back down into a fitful sleep.
Mariel carefully opened the door, stepped inside, then cautiously turned around and closed it behind her.
A long line of cold metal seemed to appear from nowhere, pressing itself to her throat as a hand wrapped itself about her mouth, stifling any cries she might try.
"Wha' do ye want?" Connor's icy voice snarled in her ear. He pulled her roughly into the light of the moon which streamed into the window. His face changed once he saw it was her. "Mariel?"
Turning, he threw his sword onto the neatly piled up clothes, then grasped her face between his hands, wiping away the tears of fear that oozed from her eyes. Both of them searched each other's eyes, then came together into a bruising, crushing kiss. Connor's tongue slipped between her teeth as hers did also into his mouth, each hungrily devouring the other.
They broke apart as Connor's fingers ensnarled themselves in her hair, causing her to arch her neck backwards and exposing it to Connor's ravenous caressses and light kisses, making her shiver in delight.
He traveled downwards, exploring with both his tongue and lips, the valleys and plains of her body as she gasped for breath while he constantly flicked his tongue over the tender areas of her nipples, and nibbled at the tender shells of her ears and his hands roamed over her lower body as her gown fell to the floor.
He pushed her away from him suddenly as he stood back upright. "Go back to your room. You shouldn't be here." He turned his back to her, as he struggled to gain a modicum of control over his ragged breathing. Hanging his head, he hoarsely whispered, "Go awa', Mariel."
She stared in disbelief at him and at what he was saying as she shrugged her gown back on over her shoulders. "Go away? Connor-" she cried in pained voice, "I want you. I need you. Please, Connor..."
He looked at her over his shoulder, his face a haggard mask. "I can't do this, can't ye see? Go awa', an' leave me in peace." He walked over and picked up his katana and resheathed it, knowing full well that she was watching his every move.
"Wha' do ye want frae me? Wha' more o' me do ye want?" he said, as he turned upon her. "Canna ye understand that this is fo' th' best? There is no "we" or no "us". His face dropped into a stoic expression as he pushed aside everything he knew she wanted to hear and that he wanted to say to her but couldn't bring himself to say.
He headed over to the window and looked out. "Guid night Mariel. I'm tired and I need my sleep as do ye." He paused, allowing himself some time to make what he had to say next sound like he meant it. "I think ye know th' way out an' back tae your room. Guid night."
The door slammed shut behind him; he turned back around to an empty room. Walking around the room, he put things back in place like they had been before he had slipped noiselessly out of bed to capture the unseen intruder.
His temper flared at what he knew he had just done as his hand flew into a wall and through the sheetrock. "Dammit! Goddammit!" he cried out, as he withdrew the crushed hand from the wall and cradled it gingerly. "Isn't there an end to this life I lead?" he said, half in angry prayer and half in a plea. "Isn't there?"
Connor rose early the next morning after spending a restless night tossing and turning in his bed after Mariel had left. He looked in the bathroom mirror at himself, trying to convince himself that what he had done had been the right thing to do, but he didn't quite believe it.
His mind told him that it was for her own good, while his lonely heart told him that what he had done was wrong and that he should allow her close enough to give himself a moment of happiness. Sprinkled over his thoughts, was a large topping of guilt. He had been undeniably harsh with her, deliberately so, after nearly giving in to her--no, correction, his mind reminded him--their--passion.
Raising the hand up that had gone through the wall, he looked at it. Good as new, as if nothing had happened to it but as he slid his eyes over to the hole in the wall, he couldn't say the same for it.
He ran a quick splash of water on his face, grabbed a towel to dry off, and went into his duffel bag for clean clothes laying out a spare set off to one side. Quickly he donned a pair of jeans and navy blue shetland wool sweater, grabbed his jacket, placing the katana in its' specially made pocket, took a last look around and left.
Glancing at his watch, he calculated the distance between Glenfinnan and Glasgow's airport. It would be at least a five hour drive. Five long, silent hours. Five hours to prepare to die. He knocked on her door; it was immediately answered.
She was disheveled, her hair awry, her face and eyes puffy from crying and lack of sleep. "What do you want?" She turned away from the door, leaving it open and went back to putting away last minute items in her suitcase.
He entered and stood silently watching her, then checked his watch. "Time to go; you ready?"
"Does it look like it?" she snapped angrily at him as she took a last look around before she walked over to peer at the town and loch one last time.
Connor pursed his lips for a moment, then he went over, grabbed her suitcase and closed it up. "Mariel, about last night--"
"Don't you even dare talk to me, Connor MacLeod! I have nothing to say to you, so let's just blow this place." She angrily shoved past him and out the door, leaving a chilly wake behind her.
His eyebrows shot up then down as he watched her flounce off. Oh yes, it was going to be five long, lonely hours to Glasgow. He followed her out and shut the door behind him.
The Scotland Yard Inspector, Blake, jabbed his counterpart, MacLendon, in the ribs. "They're leaving."
MacLendon looked up from his paper and spotted the Land Rover pulling out. He looked about then pulled his car out after them, staying far enough behind their suspect so that he wouldn't catch on he was being tailed.
"Ye hav' th' papers tae detain him, do ye?" MacLendon asked of his partner without losing site of his prey up ahead of them.
"Of course I do, what do you take me for, a fool?" Blake replied, mildly irritated at his partner for even saying such a thing.
"I take ye for an Englishmon, Blake. A Sassenach." MacLendon took a turn as the car ahead turned off onto one of the major highways."
"Sasse-what? Just what do you mean by that?"
MacLendon grinned. "Sassenach, Blake, and ye dinna want tae know wha' it means."
"Bloody Scots..." Blake muttered angrily under his breath.
"Sorry, wha' did ye say?" MacLendon turned to face him for a moment, his face a frown.
"Nothing. Nothing at all." Blake turned to grab a map and checked out where the suspect was heading. "They're going to Glasgow, looks like."
"Aye, seems like it."
Blake looked ahead. "I wonder what he's up too?"
Connor eyed the car that tried to stay discretely out of view in his rear view mirror, watching them carefully as they copied his every move. When he switched lanes, the car following them did the same, when he turned on a turn signal, they did the same.
Neither Mariel or Connor had spoken to the other since they had left Glenfinnan. Mariel had kept her head turned away, preferring to look out the window for a final time at the landscape, rather than have to speak of the night before to him. She was very embarrassed about it and didn't know exactly what to say to him. Her pride was wounded also, and that made matters worse.
Connor made a swift lane change, which threw Mariel towards him; he threw out an arm to steady her. "We've got company." He watched in the mirror a few moments, then back at the road in front of him. His face was grim. Damn, this was all he needed!
Mariel pushed herself upright and looked behind the car, then at him. "What did you do that for? Are you crazy?"
He looked at her. "Are ye all right?" When she nodded, "yes", he half smiled. "Behind us, th' car tha' is tryin' tae no be there, do ye recognize it?" He looked back at the car once more. "It's following us an' has been fo' a wee bit."
She turned back around and scrutinized the car. "I might have seen it somewhere, but I can't remember where right now. Why would it be following us?"
"Just wha' did ye tell th' inspectors, when they came to call on ye?" His voice betrayed no emotion while his mind raced. That they were being followed meant that Dumiere had gotten to them once again and that they thought that he was needed for questioning or arrest. Minutely shaking his head he thought about his share of previous run-ins with the law; they had never been able to hold him on anything--so far. He certainly didn't have a lot of respect for some of those who's duty was to "preserve and protect" others.
Mariel looked at Connor blankly. "Nothing. I told them nothing about you. Or any of it. I never would!"
Connor turned the corner, steering the vehicle sharply around the corner. "Hold on." He floored it, racing up and over the next set of hills and out of sight of the police. Looking back in the mirror he began to chuckle. "How's tha'?" he said softly to the police he had left behind him.
Inside the police car, Blake started pointing at the swiftly disappearing car ahead of him. "Bloody bugger! Faster, go faster, MacLendon, we're going to lose him!"
"No' likely." MacLendon careened around the corner as the car screamed in protest. "I know where he's goin', I think.," he yelled over the howl of the engine. "He's sending her back tae th' United States; he's goin' tae th' airport in Glasgow."
"Do you really think so?" Blake replied as he held on tightly as the car bounced over the hills, in pursuit of one Connor MacLeod.
"Aye, I do. An' we'll be there waiting for him."
Connor slowed down and pulled off to one side of the road, then turned about to face Mariel so he could watch her as he spoke to her. Glancing at his watch, he figured that they still had at least, a little time left before they had to be in Glasgow for the plane. "Ye all right?" He frowned, then repeated what he had just said, in the same voice she had first heard him speak in. "Are you all right?"
She nodded, even though she was shaking from the ride and the subsequent escape from their pursuers. Closing her eyes, she leaned her head back, gulping in deep lungfuls of air as her nerves slowly begun to return to normal from their current anxious state. She looked over at him. "I'm fine. Why are we stopped?"
Connor looked about him, silent, then back at her. "I have a few things to say before you go back home."
She leaned forward and listened to him intently. "What things?"
Shrugging, he looked at her and spoke softly but with steel in his voice too. "You must never reveal what you know about Immortals. To do so would risk lives, risk families, risk a chance of a "normal life" as much of one that we could possibly hope for. Promise me." His eyes searched hers with a ferocious intensity.
"Promise, Connor. I'll never say a word." She looked at him, knowing that there was nothing else to be done but make and keep her promise.
"And whatever happens in Glasgow, you'll still get on the plane and go back to school, get your degree, and make yourself into whatever you like. You have that choice; use it." Connor reached over and held her hand in his.
Concerned, she asked, "Is something going to happen in Glasgow?"
"Maybe," he hedged.
"Connor? What about the job at the antiques store? I haven't done anything for you as far as that!"
"It'll be there for you if you want and need it. But, I--won't be there." He looked down, patting her hand as he frowned. "And you have done something for me. More than you realize." His eyes traveled up her until they met her own. "If I scared you, I apologize. I never meant to."
She smiled sadly as tears glittered in her eyes. "It's ok, Connor. It's ok."
He turned back around and started up the car again. "Let's move, you'll miss the flight!"
Dumiere watched silently as HRH, the Prince of Wales and his father, Prince Phillip, strolled out of the castle, in deep conversation. He notated it on a small pad he had with him. It held all the vital information he needed to pull off the abduction of the heir to the throne of the United Kingdom, after his father's reign.
He absently tapped a pen against the pad as he looked for anything he night have missed in terms of security. Double checking and triple checking his list again, he slowly smiled to himself, quite pleased that everything seemed to be in order and that included MacLeod.
He had called anonymously again to the special division that was handling the investigation into the blast that he had set. "Look for MacLeod perhaps, in Glenfinnan." he had said. "He has ties there.," he stated, then hung up.
He snuck back over to his rented vehicle, climbed in, and soon was heading back to his home. "This calls for a celebration, my dear! Yes, indeed, a celebration."
Connor surveyed the short distance between the parking lot and the terminal, noting the traffic flow as well as the two men approaching them. He pulled the luggage out of the trunk, placed it on the luggage rack, and then pulled it over to where Mariel stood. "We have someone here to see you off, it looks like."
Mariel looked over his shoulder at the men and instantly recognized them as the ones who had spoken to her in Glenfinnan. She shifted her attention back to Connor. "What are you going to do? You'll have to answer their questions, you know."
Connor reached up to cradle her face in his hands, then glanced back over his shoulder as he heard a disel truck start up. "Maybe I will and maybe I won't." He looked deeply in her eyes again, then pressed his forehead to hers. "Remember your promise to me. Whatever happens, you will not turn back but will continue on back to the States. Finish your education--this is another life for yourself; make the most of it."
Mariel grew alarmed as he spoke. "What are you planning to do, Connor? Not run from them?"
Connor looked upwards at the sky and laughed, then back at her. "Hardly that. I've never run from a fight unless I knew that the time wasn't right. Besides, why would an innocent man try to flee? Don't worry now, it's time to go." He pressed his lips to her forehead as if in benediction, then once more tenderly to her lips. He grabbed the rack and her arm, making his way to the street.
MacLendon and Blake watched them head towards to the street and quickened their pace. "MacLeod? Connor MacLeod? We'd like to have a word with you, if we may.," Blake said loudly so as to be heard over the roar of the jets as well as the truck which was starting down the narrow street.
Connor ignored the men and stepped out into the street with Mariel, half pushing her ahead of him as well as the luggage rack. He pushed Mariel ahead of him as he heard the truck pick up speed. "GO, Mariel!"
Mariel stumbled towards the opposite curb, fell, then uprighted the cart. She turned about in time to see the truck send Connor flying and bounce along the street, until finally his mangled body skidded to a stop fifty feet from where he had been. Horrified, she cried out, "CONNOR!!"
The truck squealed to a stop and the driver launced himself out of the cab to check on the man he had hit as the two policemen swiftly sprinted over to the victim's body.
Bending down to check Connor's pulse, MacLendon shook his head as he looked at his partner. "Aye, he's dead." He looked up to see Mariel no longer where she had been moments before. "She's gone, Blake!"
Blake looked up and around, then back at MacLendon. "Let her go, she wasn't anything to us. What we wanted was--" he pointed to the broken, bloody body."-him. I'll call the coroners. Stay here and do the paperwork, chap."
"It's nae my fault, lad! Nae my fault!," the driver blurted out. "He acted as if he nae heard me. My dear God, it's nae my fault!"
MacLendon nodded, "Aye, I ken tha' but I wi' still need to get some information. Your name?"
It's dark, where am I? Why is it so damn cold?
Connor felt as if his body was a massive agony of white-hot searing pain, and it hurt to even breathe. He thought for a moment, then remembered the impact, the sensation of his inner organs bursting, the cracking and splintering of his bones as he bounced along the street. He gingerly tried to move, but it caused more pain, so he laid still for a few minutes as slowly he healed.
Reaching down, he pulled and reset bones, grimacing as he did so, hoping that there wasn't anyone about to see the movements in what he had concluded was the bodybag they had placed him in. Each bone when it snapped back into place, sounded sharply in the quiet of the place, and each time he did it, he would pause to see if anyone would investigate the sounds. When nothing happened, he reached up and slowly fumbled about until he found the sides of the freezer they had placed him in and unzipped the bodybag.
How much time had elapsed since the time of his death? Had Mariel stayed or had she left as she had promised? He frowned as he felt the last of the pain disappear entirely, then shoved all thoughts of her away as he concentrated on what needed to be done. He took a deep breath, then put his entire force behind the double footed kick which burst open the freezer crypt. He rolled the slab out, and he jumped out instantly wary of anyone's presence.
He glanced out the window. It was night. Several hours had passed since his death. He made his way about the laboratory and the sheeted corpes awaiting autopsies, assessed his state of ruined clothes, still on him.
Walking over to a mirror above a small disinfection sink, he swiftly washed off all traces of blood, then searched around for his personal effects in the adjoining lockers. He finally found his things, checked for his katana first thing, then breathed a relief of as he wrapped his hand over the familar handle and withdrew it. "Make it a part of yourself..." one of his teachers had told him and he had in honor of Rameriz and as a connection to his past.
He grabbed the extra set of clothes, threw them on, then left with one thing on his mind.
A couple of hours later, under a moonless sky, he sat outside of Dumiere's place, knowing that no one was home. There wasn't a tell-tale buzz that emanated from the premises and the car was missing from the driveway. He laid his head on the headrest, closed his eyes and saw things as they had been three hundred years before. His face grew hard and grim as he got out and ran over to the house.
He broke in, and made his way to the study/library. Pulling up his sleeve, he reached behind to his hidden dagger, the made a precise and deep incision along his forearm. Instantly, the crimsom blood welled and spilled. He took a finger, dipped it in his own blood, and began to write a word upon the desktop in unmistakably large letters. Time and time again, he lay open his arm since it healed so quickly until at last, he stood, took a last look around with a cold, malicious smile on his lips, then left leaving behind his bloody message and challenge to Dumiere.
It read, "MEET ME AT GLENCOE. MACLEOD"
Returning home later that night, Dumiere let himself in, flipped on the lights and headed towards the study. All was in place for the abduction of the young heir to the British throne, and there were only a few minor things to be worked out before implementation of the act, providing that nothing interfered with his plans.
He absently paused in the now lit study, his eyes scanning about the room then sucked and held his breath as he spotted minute traces of blood splattered on the floor leading away from his desk. Once more his eyes scanned the room as he swiftly traveled the short distance between doorway and desk, vainly searching for signs of the intruder to no avail.
Scowling as he looked at the confusion on his desktop, he began cursing loudly as he read the bloody challenge written upon his papers as well as his pictures in the large script. He swept his arm across the desktop pushing everything on the floor, as he swore, "God damn you MacLeod to hell! You've come between me and my work for the final time!" Turning around, he went back out, grabbed a fine Spanish made rapier, then stalked back out to his car, slamming the house door behind him.
Connor pulled slowly into the entrance of the valley, glancing at his watch as he did so. How long before Dumiere would show? He knew only too well that Dumiere would not turn down the challenge and would be ready to fight him. And he would be ready too, anxious to settle an old score for a multitude of reasons, most of which were 300 years old.
Driving further into the dark, thick forest, where the trees loomed high above him on either side, he let his mind to finally wander where it would. It meandered back to Mariel and the time spent here with her. He ran a hand along his jaw, sighed and then almost imperceptibly shook his head. She should have arrived back in the States now and was well on her way to Dartmouth and her new life. What was she doing now, what was she thinking? What did she think of him now?
Had she loved him, had it only been a knee-jerk reaction from the shock and the grief of losing her children then being charged by the district attorney? Narrowing his eyes, he pulled up and stopped the car in a small, thick copse of trees, remaining hidden from view. "Love is for poets, as I've said before.", he tried to tell himself. "It was gratitude, that's all it was on her part, not love. I provided the means to start new, I did what I could--dammit!" He closed his eyes, leaned back his head, and mentally tried to convince himself as he had just unsuccessfully done verbally that it had meant anything to him.
But he knew that he was only lying to himself. He grabbed his whetstone and katana, and began sharpening it once more to pass the time until Dumiere arrived, pushing aside all thoughts of Mariel once again.
Dumiere pulled into the side road which led to Glencoe and the house of the MacDonald as the memories of the attack upon the sleeping Scots danced through his head. The first time he had encountered the Highlander and his relentless pursuit of him for three years afterwards also ran across his thoughts and memories; he grew even grimmer as he traveled further into the woods.
Centuries had passed and both had surely acquired more skill in fighting over the years. Before, they had been evenly matched just about in their skills, but now? It had been some time since Dumiere had taken a head or received a quickening. But what of MacLeod? Of him in that regard he could not be certain, and that fact alone worried him. Just what kind of person was he facing now? The fight along the docks and piers of New York had neither proved nor showed nothing special of MacLeod's skill. The more he thought about it, the more agitated he became. But he knew him to be a true warrior when needed and one whose will to survive ran strong.
As he rounded the last bend, he stiffened and drew himself upright as he felt the unmistakable presence of another as his eyes immediately began to scan the area.
Connor felt it too and searched around the area until he saw the headlights of Dumiere's car stop dead and Dumiere emerge. He slowly got out, tossing the whetstone back into its' bag, and onto the seat.
"MacLeod! It ends tonight!" Dumiere turned swiftly upon his heels as he heard the short, eerie burst of laughter reverberated around him in the woods that surrounded them both.
"You're getting slow, Dumiere. You should've been here hours ago but, then again, you're here now. And, I think you know the procedure." Connor stepped out, swinging his katana into an arc, which sliced through the cold night air as the moonlight glinted off the blade.
Dumiere pulled his blade out into an upright position and smiled mockingly. "But of course!" He thrust boldly at Connor, a blow easily deflected. Lashing out, he tried to land a blow either high or low on his opponent, but was unable to accomplish it.
Connor parried and attacked Dumiere as he began to realize that of the two of them, Dumiere was beginning to tire already, so he began to push his advantage. Blows rained down on Dumiere; MacLeod finally drew first blood. Reposte, parry, lunge?. the fight continued until Dumiere, sides heaving from the effort of defending himself, turned and ran.
Pursuing him through the forest as he followed Dumiere's trail, Connor mocked him. "You've gotten soft in the centuries, you murdering bastard!" He pushed at the branches as they whipped back into his face and body, threatening to knock him over on occasion, listening to the ragged breath of his opponent up ahead of him. He skidded to a stop as he entered a small clearing and saw Dumiere ready and waiting for him.
Dumiere's eyes glinted like cold iron in the moonlight. "Have I? I think not, MacLeod. Just what do you want my head for, anyway? Because by eliminating me, you are one step closer to the Prize? Or is it vengeance for a family of traitors to the British crown who died 300 years ago?" He began to circle about in search of an opening as Connor matched his every move, smiling mirthlessly.
"The MacDonalds weren't traitors, Dumiere. They were victims of you and the rest of the Sassenach garrison's botched raid so that we here in the Highlands supposedly could be taught a lesson. It taught us nothing but more hatred; fifty years later, we were in full rebellion against an unjust government and king who wasn't our own." He swiftly brought a blinding blow in and landed it upon Dumiere's chest and sliced downwards, causing Dumiere to howl and back away from him, looking at the blood on him.
"Botched raid?" Dumiere's face turned red in anger. "We followed the King's orders MacLeod, and we killed who we had too. It wasn't botched! How dare you imply that it was that? My men were some of the best of the garrison!" He calmed down then looked at Connor before smiling in a paternalistic way at him. "Ah yes, Culloden and your beloved Bonnie Prince Charlie. A lost cause if ever there was one. I might have lived here then but I took no sides in it--neither side offered an agreeable sum for my services. Perhaps that was an unwise decision on the Scots' part considering what happened."
Connor's demeanor grew icy and his face became a mask of menace. "Aye, an' truer traitors to th' Scots there ne'er were, your men. 'Tis sad tha' they were Scots, an' Highlanders at tha'! They at least knew wha' they were violatin' as ye didnae."
Both swords clashed together; Connor reached out and drew Dumiere in close to him until they were eye to eye. "What of the innocents who you left to freeze to death in the snow, of the innocents whose trail of bodies you have left behind you through the centuries?" He roughly threw him away from him so that Dumiere fell heavily to the ground, his sword skittering away.
Dumiere swallowed hard, afraid of the man who stood in icy wrath before him, but his face and countenance reflected none of it. He waited for the katana to be lifted but it didn't much to his surprise. Shakily, he got to his feet, on constant watch of his opponent. "Casualties of war. The MacDonalds of Glencoe were killed by royal command--although, unfortunately, there were some that got away."
Another blow flashed and struck him, leaving a well of blood in its' path as he grasped the new wound to staunch the blood flow and his eyes flashed fire. "The others just were in the wrong place?" He raised his hands, leaving the rest of the sentence and thought unsaid.
"They had nothing to do with it and you know it! If you were so good then, then why did you and yours leave so many alive? Why did you only manage to kill 38 while 300 escaped alive through the snows and bitter cold towards the mountains and elsewhere?" MacLeod sneered, then went on. "So many more tried but died of exposure after you violated them, degraded them, made them suffer. Casualties of war my ass! They were people who had loved, laughed, who had opened their homes to you in hospitality, fed you, gave you warm beds and clothing to sleep in! And you violated that time-honored tradition by butchering them in their sleep!" Connor noted the cold wind, which had picked up and the darkening sky then indicated the sword with a jut of his chin. "Pick it up."
Dumiere blinked in surprise but went over and brought it back into immediate contact with MacLeod's. Back and forth, the swords connected, as the shrill sound of cold metal rang out eerily in the night and little by little, blood began speckling the ground. He panted with the effort; his heavy body no match for the speed of neither Connor nor the actual physical blows that Connor managed to get in. He reeled about in search of a way out as Connor slowly and methodically began to slice him to ribbons. "Killing was only a means, MacLeod, something that I found I was good at! That they were in the wrong place--"
Connor sliced at him four times in quick succession, making instantaneous contact. "They were in their home!In another time and place, perhaps we could have been friends, do you realize that? We have so much in common Dumiere, but I don't kill for a living, unlike you. You have centuries of blood on your hands that no amount of cleansing can be rid of and you enjoy it, don't you? Don't you?" he snarled at the other.
Dumiere bowed his head in acknowledgment, a cruel smile playing about his lips. "I do at that." He sighed then continued. "Such a challenge to plan the caper, to see them scurry about as they try to save themselves, to taste the freshness or staleness of a young girl or woman. I don't want to cleanse myself, MacLeod, I want to bathe in it, to revel in it, to hold it like a woman against me in the night as I think back on it." He swung his sword and caught Connor by surprise as it sliced through his pants leg behind the knee cutting the tendons in half.
Connor fell instantly, disabled, as he held the leg in shock and pain, watching Dumiere loom over him again, sword upraised. He slowly tried to crawl away but was blocked by Dumiere easily. "Heal quickly," he wordlessly told himself, "before it's too late." Silently, snow began to fall in big, thick flakes as it slowly began to cover patches on the ground and the limbs of the trees; it was beginning to look like it had 300 years earlier.
"Now, how does it feel?" Dumiere watched what he interpreted as fear loom in Connor's eyes as he laughed softly at his antagonist's predicament. "How does it feel to be hunted instead of the hunter, hmm?" He pulled back then let go a swift kick into Connor's ribs, as MacLeod howled in agony and rolled away. "How does it feel, you stupid Scot, to be on the receiving end of it? And as far as being friends go, I highly doubt it; it wouldn't have paid enough for me to be a friend to you. You were nothing then when we first met, and you are nothing now!"
Connor felt the last bit of tissue and tendon reconnect whole again, but continued to play injured as Dumiere continued to rant. When another kick came at him, he grabbed at the remaining leg and pulled hard, causing Dumiere to come crashing down nearly on top of him. He smashed a fist into his opponent's diaphragm, and heard a satisfying whoosh of breath leave Dumiere.
Rolling away once more, he took back to his feet, flexing the once injured leg to make sure that it was whole once more. As Dumiere rose back up, he slashed at him once more with the katana on Dumiere's back in a criss-cross pattern, purposefully drawing out the inevitable.
Dumiere howled and swung his sword behind him at MacLeod once more as he moved away. The pain was intense; he looked at the Highlander with widened eyes that began to reflect his fright. He began to shake visibly; he couldn't control himself. He was up against a master swordsman, with obviously more experience than what he had led him to believe. That was a major error on his part, to have expected less than what he was now experiencing first-hand.
Connor took note of Dumiere's reactions and held his sword higher above his head, one hand outstretched towards the other Immortal, carefully watching Dumiere's eyes to see when the next blow was going to come and from where. "I think I know what your problem is, Dumiere," Connor noted softly. "You're a loud-mouthed coward, who can't stand up to a confrontation so you have to be like a little asp, sneaking your way both in and out before and after a kill." Cocking his head to one side as he smiled coldly he went on, "It's time to get rid of the snakes.
Dumiere blinked angrily and lunged forward off balance; Connor whipped his free hand back on the hilt of his weapon, drawing it sharply and cleanly downward, clefting it between the third and fourth vertebrae of Dumiere's neck. "For the MacDonalds and for Scotland!"
Dumiere half-gasped and gurgled sickly as his head separated from the rest of his body, bouncing and rolling along the grass until it came to a stop in a patch of snow that turned bloody in a matter of moments. The rest of his body fell in a heap, blood pooling about the neck area.
Connor looked at the body before turning to walk away. Flashes of light and energy poured through the air, sparking fires among the trees and dead foliage, which lay on the ground. He cried out as the tendrils of the Quickening caught him, spun him around and sent him staggering with the force of it. His face contorted in agony as his body spasmed with each renewed burst of energy released from Dumiere's body as pain and pleasure washed over him at the same time. Trees burst open, sending sharp splinters of wood flying at him and the woods echoed with the sounds of both fire and destruction.
He dropped to his knees as the Quickening subsided then entirely dissipated, while the flames disappeared as quickly as they had appeared as if nothing had ever happened. He shook his head, and swayed upwards to his feet, before making his way back to his car away from the carnage. He paused long enough to pick up the rapier that had been his opponent's and threw it in behind the seat, started his car and headed back.
Dawn broke cold upon the mountains and the curled, thick mists that covered the ground. Connor caught his breath at the beauty of it, lost in the longing of wanting to stay here in the Highlands but knowing that it was impossible. It was time to move on once more.
He looked about him on his perch on the mountainside at the snow-capped mountaintops turned golden with the sunrise, and the still sleeping village of Glenfinnan that lay below him. The mountains, which surrounded Glenfinnan, lovingly called the Sisters by the inhabitants, were divided up into two different areas. On one side of Loch Shiel and Glenfinnan, rose the Three Sisters; a series of three craggy and forested mountains while on the other side of the loch rose the Five Sisters, a grouping of five mountains clustered together in a forested glory. In between the mountains lay the silvered glory of the loch which reflected the deep blue of the sky above it.
Connor looked away in the distance as he caught on the air a fragment of a melody that he recognized as being very old that was being played on bagpipes as if to welcome the day. Straining his ears he listened, and closed his eyes as his hand beat in time to the melody and his Highland blood stirred at the sound. It was mournful yet turned brighter before fading away on the air.
He looked back towards Glenfinnan as it slowly began to stir to life and sighed painfully, while patting himself down in search of the necessary papers he would need to get out of the country and start life over again under a new identity. "Ah, here they are!"
Pulling the papers out, he glanced through them and then looked at his new passport. He looked around once more, then looked at another set of papers that lay beside him--tickets for passage to Africa by the shipping line that he had co-owned and operated out of Aberdeen for almost three and a half centuries. Once he arrived, then it was a short plane trip inland to Marrakech.
He stood, stretched and surveyed the area a last time, holding it in his heart so that he could come back to his homeland when needed if only in his memory, until a generation or two had passed and all of what had happened recently had been forgotten. Lowering his head while knitting his brow, he whispered, "Goodbye, Bliadhna Phrionnsa (Glenfinnan). Goodbye once more, my homeland." He turned and brushed the lichen away from the tombstone that lay behind him. "And goodbye, Angus. I no forgot ye through the years." He said a silent prayer, then turned to go.
He walked through the bracken, gorse and heather, started up his car once more, then slowly drove off into a new life, leaving behind now defunct one. Once more, he was like a phoenix rising out of the ashes as he was remaking a new self and another life for himself and leaving his old one behind.
Next stop, Marrakech.
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