Cannwyl corph is Welsh for corpse candle, which follows the path of a funeral.
An eerie ball of light, it marks where the dead one went.
Wherever cannwyl corph stops, that is where the corpse is buried.

I have been
a tear in the air,
the dullest of stars,
a word among letters,
a book in the origin,
the light of a lantern,
a continuing bridge,
Over threescore Abers.

I have been
a wolf,
an eagle,
a coracle in the seas,
a guest at the banquet,
a drop in the shower.
I have been
a sword in the grasp of the hand
a shield in battle
a string in the harp,

--From The Book of Taliesin, VIII

Leaping from the mantle, Eclipse of the magnificent whiskers and gentle paws landed on the broad windowsill and pressed her nose against the rain-streaked glass in time to see her master sidestep the ancient oak whose roots had all but ruined the cement walkway leading from the house. Slapping away a branch and shivering against the drops pelting down his neck, Methos pulled closer the collar of his trenchcoat and disappeared into the fog-filled Parisian night.

Oh, Great Bast, protectress of cats and those who love them... Turning twice on the tips of her toes, the black cat wound the prayer upward to the ancient Egyptian goddess as she wound her tail about her feet.

Peaceful guardian of the immortal realm of the gods, hear me. The one called Alexa is dead, and Methos’ heart hurts. He will not talk to me, and I cannot hear his thoughts. Can you? Can you guide him through yet another night of the soul, as you have countless times before? 250 lives, we have been together, since Alexandria burned, yet he will not hear me. I can lie beside him, can demand that he touch me, yet I cannot touch him.

Goddess, go where I cannot. Walk with him in the shadows of this city. Keep him safe from men and murderers, sharp swords and terror. Let him find petting and gentle touches. Bring him home at the end of this dark night. I will wait for him as I have always waited for him.

* * *

Slouched on Duncan’s couch, Methos stared out the portside window of the barge. “Alexa should have died in my arms, on a hill filled with lavender in Genoa. Instead, they hooked her up to that abominable machine, all dignity was lost, she couldn’t even talk in the end!” Choking, he viciously backhanded the tears away, as though to swipe away his pain as well.

“You don’t have to talk about it if you--”

“I want to talk about it!” He all but shouted. “Why does everyone want to ‘spare’ me by making me keep silent? I want someone besides me to know how beautiful Alexa was when she laughed. How eager she was to touch everything, see everything. Alexa lived the time she had left. She gathered every image, every memory close and held it like a child holds her first kitten--gently and wondrously and never letting go, until you pry their little fingers away to make them rest. Just as death pried her away.”

Turning the mug of hot tea between his hands, Methos spoke through clenched teeth. “Did you know she was terrified of hospitals?”

Duncan hesitated, uncertain as to whether an answer had been requested. Methos’ eyes searched his, and Duncan finally answered softly, “You never mentioned that.”

“Someone’s dying, and she’s tortured in the name of prolonging her life. Cruel, isn’t it?” He paused to sip his tea, then stared at it as though he hadn’t noticed it before. “‘Hospitals scare me more than does the pain,’ she said.” So we stayed out of them as long as we could. We ran away from the doctors, the injections, the pills, the cold white walls, the fears and the dying. We shared every moment we could together, with no white-coated inquisitioners telling us when we could speak and when we were permitted to touch.” Methos spat out the words. “She had a better life than that. She deserved a better death.”

“I’m sorry that she didn’t get one,” murmured Duncan.

“Me, too.” Grief did nothing to soften Methos’ features. “She wanted to die in that field full of lavender, but it was impossible at the last, when she needed that machine and its tubes to breathe for her.” He swallowed hard. “On her last good day, we were together in that field. The air was sweet, and she could smell it. Before they stuck her on the respirator, her last words to me were, ‘Don’t forget to listen to the children laughing.”


“We were picnicking in the lavender, and a group of children were picking grapes in the vineyard across the road. They ate more than they picked. Alexa couldn’t eat solid food anymore, so we were enjoying food for the soul: sunshine and a warm breeze and many, many hugs. Eclipse was with us, lying companionably close or stalking butterflies. Alexa and I talked about cats having nine lives and about reincarnation, if I believed she could come back.”

Methos broke off abruptly, and Duncan remained silent, knowing that there was no place for conversation yet. He could only offer the comfort of a friend simply by being there. Methos let the silence rest between them for several minutes. Finally, he raised tortured eyes.

“Alexa was the first in over a hundred years, you know. The first, since the age of crinoline and corsets, to let me share her life. She loved me. Cared about me. No, not even me--about silly Adam Pierson! And we had to try to live lifetimes in two-hundred forty-three days. Two-hundred forty-three sunrises. Two-hundred forty-two sunsets. I could have spent five thousand years with her. There was so much I wanted to show her, so much I wanted to do with her, for her, and there just wasn’t enough time! It was impossible. I failed to give her so much I wanted to. What I still want to.”

Tears were very close now, and the Immortal’s voice was trembling. He moved then, rising quickly to stride across the room and set the mug in the kitchen sink. Duncan knew the motion for what it was: the movement of someone who must move, must do something to distract himself from the pain.

Sighing deeply, Methos drew a great, shuddering breath. “Do you have any idea how difficult it is to share everything with someone in two-hundred and forty-three--no, in two-hundred forty-two and a half days?” he asked softly, his voice brittle.

Duncan’s own smile was tight and sad. “I have a pretty good idea.”

Methos looked up. “Yes, I suppose you do,” he murmured. His gaze flickered to her photograph, framed on the bulkhead wall behind Duncan. Some scars never heal, Methos reflected. I knew that when I went into things with Alexa. Then, I believed that I could withstand losing her because leaving her behind, leaving her to herself, would have been unthinkable. Eight months or eight days... It didn’t seem to matter then--at least we would have some time. Any time. I knew what the end would be. But our time together wasn’t enough. I don’t think eternity would have been enough, but those few days... they were just a taste instead of a banquet.

Oh, Alexa, I miss you. I’m not the kind of fellow most women look at and want to share with, or want to run about the world with. Looking at me and looking at Duncan, I know where a lady’s eyes go. I’ve had no illusions about that for the past three thousand years. You, dear Alexa, were someone truly special. Someone I will never forget.

He offered a crooked smile. “Thanks for listening, MacLeod. I should be going, now that I’ve bent and broken your ear with my mourning.”

“I don’t mind listening. You’ve helped me out more times than either of us care to remember.” Crossing the distance between them, the Highlander gathered his friend into a tight hug. “I understand what you’re going through, and how much Alexa’s dying has hurt you. If you need me, I’m here. No matter when, no matter why. You got that?”

“Sure. No problem.” Gathering his raincoat from the couch, Methos headed up the stairs, toward the door. “I’m going to be away for a few days, getting my head together. There’s a place in Wales, a place I haven’t been to in a long time. Not since...” Shrugging into the damp trenchcoat, he seemed to forget what he had been saying.

“Will you be back?”

“Of course. Sooner or later, we all come round again,” he said with a wan smile before bending to the task of buttoning the trenchcoat. When that was done, he looked down at Duncan, who waited patiently on the lower level. “Do you know what I’ll always remember first, whenever I think of Alexa?”


“That I was beautiful, too... in her eyes. I’ve never been that... to anyone else.”

Slipping out the door, Methos was gone before Duncan could offer to hug him again.

* * *

The train took two hours get from Shrewsbury--on the border of Wales and England--to Borth, where the journey ended. Eclipse complained bitterly the entire time, muttering beneath her breath, furious at having to stay in her carrier far longer than she thought necessary.

First it was an airplane, then Heathrow Airport, and then Victoria Station, said the low growls. Nasty places, loud and smelly places, with screeching machines and silly children sticking their grubby fingers in here and shrill old ladies cooing at me through the slats. And do you hurry? No. You take your time, strolling around, bouncing me about like so much luggage.

Drag me all over London, will you? I hate airports and trains, and you know it. You told me we were going back to Wales. You didn’t tell me it would take this damn long, or be this damned uncomfortable!

“Sorry,” Methos muttered into his paper, hoping the two students sitting opposite him on the train wouldn’t notice.

Perhaps they don’t speak English, the Immortal reflected, noting that the heartfelt conversation they were having--discussing their boyfriends’ shortcomings--was in Welsh. Perhaps they’ll think that I’m talking to the stock numbers, rather than to the witch under my seat.

I heard that! she shrieked. Scratch you for it, I could. I will. I won’t forget, you know!

She hadn’t scratched him in over 400 years, but that was no guarantee. More contrary than Amanda is Eclipse, Methos knew. Turning the page of his newspaper, he tried very hard to shut out the steady vocal and mental rumble of the cat’s grousing.

Flat, green farmland rolled by in the late afternoon, only to give way to rugged mountains--the Welsh Marches, said any British atlas, but the locals called them hills. The locals had a tremendous gift for understatement. Immensely ancient and wild were these mountains, with dead and unchanging, rust-colored bracken lining the sides of the valley traversed by the train. Even if Methos hadn’t known Cardiganshire and the history of the land, he’d have known there was one.

From Shrewsbury to Aberystwyth to Machynlleth... The train paused at each little village with its collection of low, grey stone houses and narrow streets. So different from the rough, thatched huts I remember. But that was a few years ago.

Sixteen centuries ago, when the king and Taliesin were alive, the cat reminded him acidly. Time passes, you know, even if you aren’t watching.

His eye wandered to the college texts stacked haphazardly beside the students. Mabinogion, read one.

Methos smiled. Ah, and so you’re learning the tales of King Math, who could know whatever anyone was thinking, if he chose. And his nephew Gwydion, who stole the pigs of Prince Pryderi of Dyfyd by conjuring, and made a woman of flowers for the son of his sister, Arianrhod. And let us not forget the head of the Immortal warrior Bran, which lived for eighty days after it was separated from his body. Nice trick, especially for Immortals, he smiled to himself. Nor can we overlook the beloved tales of King Arthur and his bard-magician, Taliesin. But those stories were made up much later.

I was there, he silently told the two giggling students. Silly children, I lived your stories before Welsh became a written language, back when it was only spoken and sung. You have only fragments, there in Mabinogion, in The Black Book of Caernarvon, and in The Red Book of Hergest... but I have memories of all the songs, the kings and the women, the banquets and the greatest bards before stories were made of their songs. I heard all the singers... Llywarch and Hen, Aneirin and Taliesin. I ate their horrid food, froze in their drafty stone castles, and listened to the music of the gods. And you listen to what--Nine Inch Nails? Dead Can Dance? God, how the mighty have been forgotten.

Sixteen centuries have passed, he reflected, yet when I come back here, it seems like only yesterday.

Getting off the train at Borth, Methos was hit by the wind--strong and enthusiastic and cold.

“God.” He shuddered, clutching at the collar of his coat, where the wind was making investigative forays. “I never remember exactly how cold this place is.”

Shielding Eclipse a best he could from the blast, Methos hunched his shoulders against the empty miles of grey sea behind him--lit only by the fast-setting sun over his shoulder--and left the train station to head down the hill, toward the warmth of the Red Goat Pub.

“You’ll be Adam Pierson, then?” said the plump, dark-eyed barmaid the moment he crossed her threshold. Shunting dirty beer mugs across the polished wooden bar, she grinned at the shivering stranger who stood clutching a small traveling case in one hand and a cat carrier in the other.

“How did you guess?” He answered her in Welsh, remembering at the last minute to update his accent and his grammar.

“Don’t get many cats in here,” she answered in the same language. “Want a pint and a saucer of milk to warm the two of you?”

“I’d rather have a pot of tea, if you don’t mind? She’d like the pint.”

“The cat wants a pint?” Hands on hips, the woman narrowed her eyes, finding little humor in this stranger’s games.

Adam recanted his request after a moment’s thought. “No, never mind the pint. We’ll both have tea, thanks.”

The look of disbelief from the hostess was met with Methos’ usual calm expectancy, and the woman scuffled off, muttering to himself.

Sidling over to the table nearest the fire, Methos shed his coat and opened the carrier. Mrphing her reprimand (the actual, snarling lecture would wait until they were alone), Eclipse stalked out and onto her companion’s lap. Sitting primly, she washed her rumpled fur until the tea came. Glowering at the pot with its single cup and saucer, she lifted narrowed yellow eyes and hissed at the barmaid.

“Um... could I have another cup, please? Eclipse hates drinking out of a saucer.”

“Does she now?” Incredulous, the woman fetched another cup and plunked it down beside the cat.

Crouching, Eclipse lashed her tail as Methos took far too much time pouring the tea and adding the required amount of cream.

Paws are so inconvenient sometimes, aren’t they? Methos thought wickedly, renewing an old argument they had regarding the abilities of claws versus human hands.

Stepping forward delicately, Eclipse rested one paw on the table even as she gouged the claws of her other three appendages into Methos’ thigh. Drawing a sharp breath, he disengaged the cat as she lapped delicately, innocently, at the tea.

The barmaid laughed. “Well, then. Just when I’d thought I’d seen everything. Will you be staying the night, or wanting your car right off?”

“Is it ready now?”

“Around the back.”

“Then I’ll be off momentarily.” Three things the twentieth century has over the fourth century, he reflected, eyes following as the woman retrieved the Hertz agreement he’d arranged. Fax machines, credit cards, and car rentals. It makes getting to Nany-Y-Moch a lot easier. In a matter of minutes, the car was Adam Pierson’s for the next few days.

“Do you mind if I leave the cat carrier with you?” he asked, shrugging into his coat and accommodating Eclipse as she leaped onto his shoulder. “I won’t be needing it while I’m here.”

“No problem. It’ll be hidden away in the closet. Just remind me when you return the car.” She handed over the keys.


Wind gently rocked the car windows. Eclipse stalked the little car’s length and breadth while Methos familiarized himself with its workings. Nothing unusual... standard shift (and where are the lights?), but British clutches could be testy, and so he straightened out relations with this one before easing out from behind the pub and onto the narrow, cobbled street. Traffic was non-existent this night, since all five hundred inhabitants of Borth were probably inside having their supper.

Scents duly investigated, Eclipse settled on the seat beside Methos and tucked in her paws. Leaving the lights of Borth behind, the Immortal took the lane to the right which led to and through Dolybont village, then over the hill to Talybont. The moon was rising, flooding the green with cold, silver light. The mini sprang ahead, obeying Methos’ commands perfectly, carrying him right up the way to Nant-y-moch. No lights beckoned him on: the way he was taking led only to miles and miles of black hills.

The country looked wild and lonely under the moon, making Methos remember the passage of years, and the deaths of his friends in battle on these fields. He entered his memories as he entered this land--unprotected and defenseless against the sadness in his heart. He missed many of the short-tempered, arrogant, stocky Welshmen he’d known in fourth century Cardigan as much as he missed Alexa.

Perhaps coming here wasn’t such a wonderful idea, he mused. But is there anywhere I could go to escape the memories? So many years, so many memories. I’ve been from one end of this earth to the other, and so unless the space shuttle begins ferrying passengers to Mars, or some extraterrestrial airline begins service between here and Alpha Centuri, I think I’m stuck.

Reminders are there, no matter where I go--layers upon layers of them, wrapped ‘round with life and love and loss. Nothing to do about that, but close my eyes and remember it all, tip my hat and say another farewell to the friends I knew... and then go on, into the future and whatever other losses it may hold. Days come, days go; they take friends and empires with them. We Immortals just go with the flow, as the Yanks say.

Methos knew he was trespassing--against the sorrows in his heart as well as against the land. Not even Immortals belonged back here, in the wilds of Cardiganshire.

I could be swallowed by these hills, he reflected, could simply disappear without a trace and no one—not even Duncan--would ever know what had happened. And who would miss me? The Watchers? Not likely. The Methos Project would be reassigned. And Duncan? He’d miss me for awhile, perhaps. After all, who else is going to annoy him quite as much as I do? But--optimistic boy scout that he is--he’d probably just believe that he’d meet up with me again, sometime in the future. No need to worry about old Methos. Immortals move in and out of one another’s orbit all of the time, throughout the decades. And trust the gossipmongers to report if my head’s gone wandering. After all, what else really matters to an Immortal?

About two thirds of the way to Nant-Y-Moch, the road took a sharp bend to the right. Looking out over the valley, Methos saw Nant-Y-Moch reservoir and its resident lake in moon-dappled glory. Not a light showed anywhere; there were absolutely no signs of men. He braked at the top of the hill for a better look.

“There it is, Eclipse,” he murmured, lifting the cat in his arms so that she could see the view. “Caer Taliesin... Merlyn the magician’s final resting place--buried underwater thanks to twentieth century progress. How do you feel about camping out in honor of the old fellow?”

A surprised yowl was his answer. Camping!? The cat sounded outraged, as Methos had known she would. But you’ve brought no tent, no sardines, not even a match. Methos, how could you--

“I don’t need any of that stuff and neither do you. We know how to get along without all the trappings of civilization. Catching and eating the odd mouse for a few days won’t hurt you. You’re getting soft and pudgy, anyway. It’ll be fun, like the old days with the knights,” he coaxed. “The moon’s even up. You’re old friends; she’ll help you hunt. What do you say?”

Looking away, Eclipse tucked her tail in tight. Take me back to the pub.

He laughed and let the car roll forward. The moon disappeared for a moment, hidden behind a cloud edged in silver. The earthen road went black except for the mini’s totally inadequate headlights, and Methos peered into the darkness. He was glad when the cloud passed and the moon returned to keep him company, helped light the way. But something was still wrong. The new view ahead made Methos swerve the little car dangerously.

“What the hell?”

Springing up, Eclipse peered over the dashboard. There was no lake and no reservoir. Where the moon should have reflected on a long sheet of water, it shone instead on a deep, wooded valley that twisted between the hills.

“My God,” Methos said softly, exchanging glances with the cat.

Now what? she demanded. Is that real? If it’s not, we’ll drown.

“There’s one way to find out.” He straightened the wheel.

“We follow the road.”

You’re mad, Eclipse commented almost conversationally before leaping onto his shoulder and leaning, trembling, against the side of his head. Her fur was warm against his ear.

“Don’t worry,” Methos murmured, stroking a hand down her back. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

I don’t like swimming, Methos, came the edgy warning.

Instead of skirting the edge of Nant-Y-Moch, the road ran down into the valley, through the trees. Stopping the car where the road narrowed, Methos exited with Eclipse still on his shoulder. I’m not getting down, she announced, digging her claws in slightly.

Methos cautiously approached the place where the water should have begun. Digging a toe into the dirt, he found that it was hard-packed and very old. No tire tracks stained it, no modern machinery had gouged drainage wounds or ditches at its verge.

“Nothing will hurt you here,” he reassured the cat. “This is one of the ancient, sacred Ways. I remember it now. I just never thought to see it again.”

Think whatever you want, she said, but I’m not touching the ground.

A light moving off to the right distracted them. Moving first out in the open, well beyond the car, it floated into the forest and was lost in a hollow before coming up over a rise.

It moves like a lantern carried by a man, said Eclipse, growling low in her throat as no man was visible, not even to her night-visioned, feline eyes.

It did move like a lantern, not in a straight line, but following a path through the woods. But it was far brighter than any lantern. And it glowed blue.

Reaching the road just ahead of where Methos stood with Eclipse, the light paused as though regarding them momentarily. The wind shifted behind the two, blowing up the mountain, and on it came a low, rhythmic sound that raised the hairs on the back of Methos’ neck. A mourning, aching moan, it carried words and tears in Old Welsh that the Immortal had not heard for fifteen hundred years.

That’s no lantern light.

Knowing the cannwyl corph for what it was, Methos stepped without fear onto the ancient road and followed it. “We walked here long ago,” he whispered. “We followed this ancient Way, lamenting the death of one of the knights, someone very precious to us. You weren’t with me. You stayed behind, at Caerleon with the King.”

We? Eclipse asked.

“The bards, Sagramore and the other knights. Don’t you remember?”

I remember your sadness, your grief, your quest. That was before the quest for the Grail?

Methos nodded, never taking his eyes off the light.

Does tonight begin another quest?

“I don’t know, Eclipse. I came here to be alone, to try to heal from losing Alexa. That’s all. I wasn’t expecting this.”

The cat spared him a look through narrowed eyes.

“It’s not as though I planned this, you know,” Methos protested.

The light led him deep into the valley, through the woods to a small stone cottage set on the other side of a stream. Crossing a wooden foot bridge, he went to the door and knocked, only to have it fall back--almost as though he was expected. Stooping slightly, he crossed the threshold and blinked slightly as his eyes adjusted to the gloom.

Leaping from his shoulder, Eclipse wandered about the cottage, sniffing here, exploring there. There wasn’t much to see. An ancient-looking Caledonian harp stood in the corner, strung with brass wires that looked shiny from constant use. Plucking a few strings at random with his fingernails, Methos made them ring true. Cedar logs were piled by the hearth. A bowl of apples sat on a bare wood table, beside an empty wooden mug with a broken handle. Kneeling by the hearth, which was strewn with sweet rushes, he impulsively put another log on the fire. It was a long time until morning, until the weak Welsh sun warmed the cold spring air--if, indeed, they could still consider themselves in Wales.

Whatever else has changed, Methos reflected, the outside temperature hasn’t. Maybe whoever owns this cottage will appreciate a little warmth when they return. Sinking cross-legged before the hearth, he scratched Eclipse’s chin when she wandered by.

“What do you think of this place?”

Her purr rumbled forth, pleased and unexpected. Warmth and comfort. Familiar smells of a friend. Here is home.

“That’s how I feel, too. Shall we wait for our friend to come back? It might be quite awhile, you know?”

By way of an answer, Eclipse curled up against Methos, closed her eyes and purred. Shifting around, Methos snagged a rolled-up fur from against the wall. Unrolling it, he lay down on it, gathered close his cat, and fell into the first deep sleep he’d had in weeks.

Chapter Two

I have been teacher to all manner of men,
I am able to instruct all the Universe.
I shall be until the Day of Doom upon the face of the earth;
And it is not known whether I am man, beast, or fish.

--from The Mabinogian, Taliesin

Pushing open the cottage door, the Immortal swept back his cloak and stepped quietly to the side of the intruder lying before his fire. Bending slightly, he peered at what the flickering light of the fire revealed of his visitor’s face.

Eclipse lifted her head to calmly regard the man towering over her and Methos. Piercing blue eyes in a sharp face met hers. Beyond them was a mass of black hair, broken only by a streak of Celtic-silver hair running from widow’s peak, down the center and to the end of the man’s waist-length mane.

Taliesin. She purred the name at him. My magician, singer, teacher, friend.

"So you’ve come home again,” he said, in a voice rich with amusement. “I have fish for our dinner.”

Eclipse purred harder and closed her eyes in approval.

“I would ask you to answer only one question if you wish to share it with me.”

She cracked open an eye.

“Why has your old knight come to this place between the worlds?”

She stopped purring. To mourn the loss of someone he loved.

Nodding understanding, Taliesin retrieved another fur--companion to the one Methos had taken earlier. Shaking it out, he spread it lovingly over his guest, taking care not to smother the cat before asking, “And why are you here with him, Egyptian lady?”

I love him. Lowering her head, Eclipse went back to sleep.


Methos awoke the next morning to the Buzz roaring urgently in his head, and to the sound of someone clearing their throat behind him. On his feet with sword in hand before his body had even registered that it was daylight, and he remembered that he happened to be trespassing in someone’s cottage, Methos had the sword’s tip at his host’s throat before the Immortal could draw another breath.

The man smiled where he sat at his table, waiting for his guest to awake. “Welcome, Galahad. How goes immortality with you? Still searching for the odd grail or two?”

Arms shaking with adrenaline-induced confusion as his body said fight and his brain commanded him to wait, Methos stared.

“Taliesin?” he croaked, only to clear his throat to remove the dryness of a night spent sleeping on the floor. Before him sat the most powerful Immortal he had ever met--sixteen centuries ago. Nature is my mother, wisdom is my father, Methos remembered the words of the magician, whose talents included prophecy and miracle-working through secret doctrines, symbolic serpents and dragons--all of which he’d tried to teach Methos before a young boy named Wart had happened upon the scene. Losing patience with Methos, Taliesin had turned to kingmaking.

“It’s me,” said the magician. “Unless you decide, after two thousand years, to make me the late Taliesin.”

Arching an eyebrow and cocking his head, he ordered the sword to redirect itself. The metal obeyed, twisting slightly in Methos’ hands.

“But before I die,” Taliesin continued, “will you show me what strange new costume are you wearing this time? Every time I see you, it’s something different. Stand up and let me see what outlandish garb you wear tonight.” He grinned, his eyes crinkling at the corners. “It’s always been good for a song or two.”

Methos set aside the sword. “Every time you see me, another hundred years or so has passed. Fashions change. You know that.”

“Mmm. They don’t seem to be getting any better. Silliness, if you ask me. It was leather tunic and leggings, when first we met.” Taking an apple from its bowl on the table beside him, Taliesin offered one to Methos, who shook his head. “Now tunics and leggings are sound and fairly practical. Thigh boots and feathers came next, as I recall. The boots at least kept the thorns from your thighs, but what were the feathers to do for you?” He snorted. “They would have looked far better left on the bird.”

Methos smiled in embarrassment. “It was the costume of the day. It was what was worn at court.”

“Next, you showed up in something you called a Victorian morning suit, wasn’t it? And now...” He squinted at the Levi’s and Irish wool fisherman’s sweater. “You’ve grown more sensible in your old age. At least those will keep you warm, and not attract predators.”

“Glad you approve. When last I saw you on that cliff outside Caerleon, you were wearing your finest black robes and had summoned a magnificent thunderstorm with lots of crackling lightning and rolling thunder. Stalking back to your cave, you shouted that you were so angry with me that you were sealing the door for another four hundred years. What happened?”

“What do you think happened? I got bored. Nothing to do in the dark, and I can only stay cross with you and a changing world for so long. Just because I don’t want to play the Game doesn’t mean I don’t want to live. Come here.”

Rising from his chair, Taliesin wrapped Methos in a bear hug, which was enthusiastically returned, with Eclipse watching fondly from the windowsill.

“Your cat tells me you that you lost someone recently,” Taliesin said after releasing his old friend.

Sorrow returned to Methos in a painful rush. New tears stung his eyes, and he blinked them away firmly.

“Her name was Alexa. “You’d have liked her.” He stared at his shoes.

“And the corpse candle led you to me, eh? I wonder... am I supposed to guard you from reaching her, or guide you to find her?”

Methos raised tear-filled eyes. “What is dead... is dead, Taliesin. You know that. I know that. I wouldn’t presume upon your magic. It’s far too late for that, and I never thought to search for you while she was still alive. What I want is just to talk to her one last time. A letter would be fine, if that would be allowed to travel between the worlds. If not....”

If not, those eyes told Taliesin, I’ll continue on my way and no harm done... except to my heart.

Taliesin squeezed Methos’ shoulder before drawing him back into a hug. “A letter from you would not be inappropriate,” he said gently. Of all the knights Arthur had, you were the oldest and the most vulnerable, Taliesin thought. And the most pure, Galahad. How else did you bring back the Grail and the Staff? Yours was the seat of Siege Perilous at the round table. And yours was the fate to watch the table crack, to see the knights die in battle at Arthur’s side over nothing but a bit of land, power over the peasantry... and Guinevere’s folly. Damn you to hell, Mordred.

But it was all ancient history, long gone and fully out of reach. With Taliesin stood the only knight to survive beyond the fourth century, the only knight to win the right to follow the cannwyl corph and find Merlyn, the once and future magician.

He’s the only knight so sick of our chivalry, our ‘might for right,’ and all of the trouble it caused, trying to control other people and the entire bloody world, reflected Taliesin, that never again will he serve such a cause. We all had to learn there was a price for trying to make people do what you want. It simply doesn’t work. We worked so hard to bring peace to the world, but the nobles and the knights never wanted it. Too boring, was peace.

He hugged Methos harder. “Write your letter, my son.” It doesn’t seem to matter that he’s forever older than me: he still feels like a son. “I’ll make certain that your Alexa receives it. And now, when’s the last time you had a proper meal?”

* * *

It took Methos almost a full day to frame the letter... hours to wander the woods and plan his words, hours to remember his beloved properly, so that she stood solidly before him in his mind as he penned the words. Hours to get it just right on the parchment, and another few hours to decide if it truly said all that he needed to say.

“Would you like me to read it before it’s sent?” Taliesin offered, stalking to the edge of the bridge and glowering at Methos where he stood, disturbing the fretful trout the magician had hoped to lure for their dinner. There was no hope for that: Methos’ thumpings and bumpings as he kicked the sturdy little supports had quite frightened away not only the fish, but any hapless rabbits Taliesin might have hoped to entice out of their hiding places.

Bread and wine tonight, he mourned. Not even an old moldy cheese left about. I wasn’t expecting company. And Eclipse is no use at all. He glanced at the cat where she lay, sunning herself on the doorstep.

“No, I don’t want you to read it.” Methos glowered at him, tapped the rolled-up parchment on the bridge railing. “It’s private, if you don’t mind.”

“All right, so which is it: to send or not to send?”

“I’m sending it.”

“Fantastic news. Eclipse--Ho!”

At the mage’s order, the cat sprinted with all speed across the green, leaped up and batted the letter from her master’s grasp.

“No!” shouted Methos as the parchment tumbled toward the edge of the bridge--and the water. Snatching the end of the ribbon tied around the letter, Eclipse saved it--barely--only to gallop off into the underbrush.

“Come back here!” he bellowed after the cat, and made to streak off of the bridge as though he’d go crashing after her.

Grasping his guest’s arm, Taliesin spun him about. “It’s all right. Eclipse knows where she’s going.”

“Does she? What about my letter?”

“It knows where it’s going, as well. Now, come with me. We have much discussing to do. You’ve hardly said three sentences to me the whole time you’ve been here. Tell me what the world has been about since I’ve been gone.” Plucking Methos by the beltstraps, Taliesin led him backwards toward the cottage.

“Will Alexa get my letter, do you think?” Methos asked plaintively.

“Of course she’ll get it. As far as Eclipse is concerned, your lady love is just over the next hill. The cat will find her, never fear. I taught that cat well.” Halting abruptly at the threshold to the cottage, Taliesin glowered at Methos. “Or do you doubt my teaching abilities?”

“Oh, no. No.” He summoned a weak grin, realizing from the expression on Taliesin’s face that he had better come up with the right answer, or risk being turned into a salamander or some other such animalisty lesson. “I have faith in you. You’re a most excellent teacher. Just look how I’ve turned out. And I’ve never had a moment’s trouble with Eclipse.” Except that you taught her to think for herself, like a human all those centuries ago. And a woman at that. “I have every faith in both of you.”

“Very good,” came the sepulchral comment and warning, all in one. “Now, Galahad, join me in a game of chess. And tell me all about fisherman’s sweaters and this Levi person who puts his name on the bottoms of other people’s clothing.”

Snatching a bit of dried meat from where it hung overhead, just inside the cottage door, Taliesin thrust a piece into Methos’ hand and yanked him inside.

Trapped again, he thought. Taliesin’s dried deer takes hours to gnaw, and his chess games take days. Heaven knows when Eclipse will be back.

* * *

Eclipse’s whiskers twitched where she sat across the garden, at the base of a birdbath that definitely had birds in it. As always, sparrow-scent threatened to distract her.

One doesn’t kill birds in paradise, she reminded herself. If I did that, I’d probably get stuck here forever. Like Persephone after she ate her unfortunate pomegranates.

Dropping the ribbon in her mouth, the cat chewed for a few minutes to get the grit out from between her teeth. It had been a long journey, and she’d had to take several rest stops. So had Methos’ letter. In the dirt.

Alexa was just over the next hill, she thought to herself. That’s all the further it is to Taliesin. Unfortunately, his hill is my mountain. Oh, my aching paws. Cheron, as always, was a misery to deal with. I had to give him one of my nine lives to get here. What that skeletal monk wants with a cat’s life, I’ll never know. Oh, well... I’ll just have to ask Bast to give it back to me. She outranks Cheron, anyway.

Smiling at the thought of her panther-goddess stalking--with claws unsheathed and lips curled back--the nasty guardian of the River Styx, Eclipse retrieved Methos’ letter and trotted forward once more.

Just a few feet more, she told herself. Down the garden path, past the holly maze, and over to the swing. Alexa’s right there; I can feel her. I just hope that she appreciates this. I’m not going to have any paw-pads left when I get back to Methos! One more thing to complain to Bast about....

There she is.

And there Alexa was--seated on a swing beneath a rose bower, wearing traditional Greek white robes, dragging her sandaled feet through the grass and not looking at all happy with her afterlife. Even as the cat approached, the woman sniffled.

Don’t tell me--she cries as much as HE does over her dying. Why must they always weep?

Mrrrrow?” Eclipse asked, dropping the letter as she came up alongside Alexa. Winding about the woman’s feet, the cat couldn’t help but draw attention to herself.

Glancing down, Alexa lifted the cat into her lap and buried her nose in the black fir. “Oh, Eclipse, I miss him so much.”

“Miow!” He misses you, too.

Alexa froze. Drawing back, she lifted Eclipse up, stared into her face. “It can’t be you. You’re not dead.”

Yellow eyes ablaze to find herself aloft, the cat paddled all four paws and hissed. Down. Now.

Alexa’s tears flowed faster. “It is you! It is. What’s happened? Has Adam died, too?” Pushing out of the swing, with the cat still in her arms, Alexa whirled around, her gaze searching the garden for a glimpse of Adam.

Squirming madly, Eclipse launched herself out of the enthusiastic embrace. Landing awkwardly at the woman’s feet, the cat yowled plaintively and batted the letter into Alexa’s toes.

“He’s not here,” Alexa said plaintively.

Of course not, you twit! The cat yowled louder. Alexa has gone witless with all her sniffling. Add laryngitis and long-suffering to my list of grievances, oh, great cat goddess!

Finally, finally, just as Eclipse was about to bite Alexa smartly on the toes, the woman looked down. Standing on Alexa’s foot, the cat licked her calf.

“Miiooooooowww!” Whacking the letter for the sixth time, Eclipse sent it rolling across the lawn.

Alexa went after it.

Good human. Fine human. Get the toy.

Retrieving the rolled parchment, Alexa turned it between her fingers and looked back at Eclipse. “Did Adam send this to me?”

“Mrrow.” Trotting back into the shade of the rose bower, Eclipse began washing her mussed-up fir.

The dirty, soggy ribbon was untied. The parchment was unscrolled. Alexa joined Eclipse in the shade.

My dearest Alexa,

Words are all I have to reach out and tell you that I love you, miss you, and wish that I could be there with you, holding you, and telling you how I feel. Pen and paper are so damned empty, but they are all I have... and with them we must both be satisfied, I suppose.

I’m writing to try saying some of the things that there just wasn’t time to say. I’ll think of a million other things to tell you once this letter’s been entrusted to whatever messenger Taliesin deems fit, but I doubt he’ll let me keep writing you....

Alexa looked up. “Taliesin? As in Merlyn-of-Camelot, Taliesin?”

“MrrrOWW!” This time Eclipse gave in to her irritation and bit Alexa on the ankle. Hush up. Keep reading.

“That was rude.” Alexa glared briefly, but she did cease asking foolish questions.

...Are you all right now, dear one? Have you left the pain behind, and do you have some hope of some happiness, a few adventures? I want to touch you once again, and remember you not in agony, dying in my arms, but to know that you’re all right now, that the pain has ended. That you are happy, or at least contented.

There was so much I wanted to give you, so much I wanted to show you before we were parted--and there is so much you gave to me. Through your small hands, I found acceptance and wonder, romance and love such as I haven’t known in more than five hundred years. Butterflies became magical, sunrises were full of promise. Our time together was far too short, but eternity awaited and then claimed you, and there was nothing I could do. By now you must know that life goes on, that one day I will join you. One day, we will be together again, and I will show you all of the things I could not. Time will be our friend, then.

“Five hundred years?” Alexa screeched. Who is he?” she demanded of the cat lying beside her. “And what is he, that he could get this to me?” She rattled the parchment.

Eclipse’s eyes held Alexa. You asked. I will tell. Using the magic she had learned in the temples of Alexandria, Egypt, the cat purred at the woman and drew her spirit closer. Unbidden, images entered Alexa’s mind. Understanding came with them....

Methos was a Roman general when Caesar ordered the Egyptian fleet burned in Alexandria’s harbor. Buildings near the harbor also caught fire--including our great library and the Temple of Bast, of which I was a servant. Entering the temple in search of parchment and papyrus to save, he hid and protected me in his tunic while flames claimed 700,000 books and hundreds of lives. The screams of the dying roiled around us, while the old gods were replaced by the new...

Alexa saw the Egyptian temple with its murals stained with blood, the slain priests and priestesses lying dead beside statues of Anubis and Bast. The man Alexa knew as Adam Pierson came out of the smoke, and Eclipse hissed even as she tried to conceal herself at the feet of her goddess. Gentle hands reached for her, but she scratched them. Smelling of sweat and blood, those hands reached for her again, closed about her trembling body and lifted her high.

In shivering terror, she was carried from the temple. For the first time, she saw the city outside her home. Soldiers bore down on the people she had served. Blood stained the sand. Fire burned. She hardly had time to take in the sight before she found herself on a black stallion. Burrowing beneath the folds of clothing, she dug in her claws and yowled while the man used shield and sword to cut a swath of survival for them both.

The memories of men screaming and smoke billowing gave way to the image of Adam’s face and lithe form... intent on a Zenlike exercise that he was performing using a broadsword.

He is Immortal, Eclipse’s voice rang inside Alexa’s head, with sword and blood and beheadings, and he cannot die, unless another Immortal takes his head, and with it his immortality.

Alexa was shown an always revolving montage of Adam facing challenge after challenge... first as the Roman whom Eclipse had known... then as a Phoenician spice trader, an Elizabethan charged with witchcraft, a Canadian fur trader, and a farrier tending Thoroughbreds at some Irish racetrack.

Swords rang, heads fell, Quickenings pierced the night. Alexa watched it all, receiving instant understanding through the magic Eclipse brought. The last image was that of the man she had met: sweet and shy and eternally bookish... Adam Pierson, the independently wealthy graduate student visiting friends in Seacouver, who was obsessed enough to take his cat with him wherever he went.

His name is not Adam, Eclipse said as Alexa struggled to absorb everything she was learning. He is Methos. Mine to love, mine to protect, mine to guard and to serve.

“Are you Immortal as well?” whispered Alexa.

Through the Roman’s saving me, he earned Bast’s protection and me as companion. I serve the goddess and am eclipsed by time, caught between dark death and bright life. Companion, I am, and companion I will always be, until my life ends with his.

Alexa’s mind struggled to expand around Methos’ vast age. “So he’s an Immortal from ancient Rome? He’s as old as the pyramids?”

Eclipse narrowed her eyes. That was who he was in one life. He is older than the pyramids.

“Older? What’s older than Rome and Egypt? Sumaria?”

Older. He has seen 5,000 years.

The cat’s yellow eyes released her. For a long time, Alexa just sat and stared at the writing in her hands. 5,000 years? And I’m sitting here, dead, and staring at a letter that was written by a 5,000-year-old Immortal, brought to me from the world of the living by a talking cat who was born thousands of years ago in ancient Egypt? And they say miracles never happen.
“How many lifetimes has he had, Eclipse?”

One. Years upon years, stretching into forever with the same body, the same face, the same soul.

“That’s impossible! No one lives forever.”

Methos lives. He does not, cannot die.

Alexa considered the message, and the messenger. “You’re serious, aren’t you? You’re telling the truth.”

Alexa remembered oblique comments Adam had made, opinions he had voiced that hadn’t sounded like opinions but absolute knowledge regarding ancient mysteries. He gave me all of the puzzle pieces, Alexa realized, but Eclipse is here helping me put them all together. Oh, wow... I’m in love with an older man. Adam Pierson’s vast knowledge of history and ancient lands all came together into one unbelievable, fantastic truth.

In reverence, she stroked the cat’s back. “How terribly lonely it must be for him. I’m glad that he has you. You must be the only constant in his life.”

Pleased with Alexa’s understanding, Eclipse resumed washing. Alexa resumed reading.

...All stories end, but I promise you that ours is not over yet. We will be together again, if you wish it. Please wish it? If there is any way to reach you again, know that I will.

I will always love you, sweet Alexa. My thoughts will always be with you.


She burst into tears. Again.

Chapter Three

Goodbye... My memory of the future is gone.
I know no more the sorrows and joys before you.
I can only wish for you in ignorance, like everyone else.
Reign long and reign happily. Oh,
and Wart! Remember to think!”

--Merlin, from Camelot, by Alan Jay Lerner

Eclipse plunked the letter down at Methos’ feet and glowered up at him. Never again will I carry missives with ribbons, she proclaimed, huffing off into a corner to nurse her mangled mouth and paws.

“Thank you, Eclipse,” Methos offered humbly. “Taliesin, do you have something to help her?”

“I have venison and a gentle healing poultice for her feet, and many hugs and many strokes for her sybaritic soul. Will that serve you, sweet servant of the Goddess?”

Even from across the room, Methos could hear the cat purring her approval as Taliesin went to tend her. Who else in the history of the world has had Arthur’s own mage tending her rather petty complaints? Methos shook his head. I’m sure Eclipse believes she deserves such fussing.

Turning his attention to the letter at his feet, he realized that he’d never considered the possibility that Alexa might write back. Taking a deep breath, he retrieved the missive, untied the ribbon, and took a deep breath before beginning to read.

Dearest Methos--

Eclipse has told me that is your real name, and I think it suits you far more than ‘Adam Pierson.’ I know what you are now, and wish I had known then. I would have liked to have known about the miracle in my life. I would liked to have asked you all sorts of irreverent, nosy things--like what was Egypt and Rome really like? how did you come to know a certain magician? and what was Guinevere like? Was she prettier than me?

Eclipse is silent on points regarding Camelot, though she has said she shared that time with you, as well. I suppose that my learning will have to wait until I see you again. One more thing to look forward to, my love.

Except for the agony of missing you, the pain is indeed gone, and I am slowly learning to smile again. It’s a difficult task, for I miss having you near. I miss the sound of your voice and your touch most of all. You spoiled me in those last months and made me realize what I had been missing by cutting myself off from everyone. If I had only known then what I know now... but it wouldn’t have done any good. You rescued me the moment you stepped into Joe’s. Until that moment, I lay dormant, like the cocooned caterpillars you pointed out to me in the lavender. Even if I had things to live over, nothing would change until the butterfly moment I met you. To everything there is a season, and our winter was meant to be.

Guardians here in the afterlife have said there are astral libraries here full of universal knowledge that I know, without doubt, Adam Pierson would drool over. Alas, I’m here and you’re not! But perhaps that’s a distinct advantage, for I’ve been told that I have only to concentrate on some part of our earth’s history and voila! I will be shown what really happened. If I concentrate on someone named Methos, do you think I’ll be shown 5,000 years of your life? With the library show me your current life and let me be with you that way? It’s worth a try. Until your letter, I haven’t wanted to try anything at all.

All by itself, the afterlife isn’t very magical. But now that we’ve exchanged letters and I’ve gotten to talk with your cat, I know that miracles are not only possible--they are the norm over here. I don’t know if you intended for me to find about all of this magic, but I have. I’m going to pursue it, if only to have something to do until you come.

Thank you for showing me where more adventures lie. I want to wish you love and all happiness, and tell you not to lose your head too soon because I would never wish you ill. On the other hand, the longer you live, the longer we’re apart. If you were no longer Immortal, we would be together. And so, rather than risk sounding selfish and tell you that I hope to see you soon, I’ll wish you all peace and love and dreams come true, instead.

I will never forget you, my sweet man. I will always be here, waiting for you. I know now that we’ll meet again, and after your letter I can bear waiting for you on this side. Oh, please, remember me. Don’t forget. Please think of me.

All my love,

“Does it smell like her?” Taliesin asked eagerly from across the room.

Methos looked up, startled. “I beg your pardon?”

“Smell. Scent. Perfume. Does it smell like her? Eclipse says it does.”

He sniffed. “Actually, yes. It does smell like her.” Inexplicably, tears filled his eyes. This is what I needed, he realized. Just to know that she was real, and that she’s safe. Just to have part of her with me, one last time.

Leaving the cat, Taliesin crossed to Methos. Muttering some words in a language Methos didn’t immediately recognize, the mage made mysterious passes over the paper. “There now. That’s done. Now it will always smell like her.”

You will always have that much of her with you, my son, Taliesin thought. That much, at least, I can do for you.

“Thank you,” said Methos, simply. Not trusting himself to say more, he simply sat, reading and rereading the letter as though he would memorize every word.

He probably already has, thought Taliesin. After a few minutes, he asked, “Your quest is completed, I suppose. Will you be leaving soon, then?”

“Hmm?” Methos looked startled, as though he’d forgotten that he wasn’t alone. “Are you so eager to get rid of a certain cat and her knight, then?”

“Not particularly. But I remember you as the sort of knight who finishes things and then runs off to whatever task awaits him next.”

“No task.” Folding his letter, Methos slipped it into his wallet, which was then slid securely into his back pocket. “At least, no pressing task. For someone who has all the time in the world, what task could possibly be pressing?”

“Well then, stay awhile,” the mage invited. “I’ve missed talking to you, even while you’ve been here. Now that all distractions have been laid to rest and the grieving has eased a little, perhaps you can pay some attention to this old man, hmm?”

“Old man?” Crossing his arms, Methos rocked back in the chair and grinned at Taliesin. “You were never old. Beyond petting and pampering my cat, what did you have in mind for us to do?”

“I’ll tune the harp and play some music.”

Methos’ eyes lit with a greedy fire at that suggestion, and Taliesin’s eyes twinkled back at him. I haven’t forgotten how you begged me to play, all those centuries ago.

“The Matter of Britain may long have claimed my magical abilities, leaving little room for bardic efforts,” the mage said, “but well it is that I remember the odd song or two.”

“Or three or four or?...” Methos said hopefully. “As long as you’ll play, Taliesin, I’ll stay.”

* * *

The bard played and they both sang the night through, until Methos was nodding in his cups and Taliesin’s voice had grown hoarse. The next morning saw all three of them wake with a ravenous hunger--and Taliesin determined to see if the Immortal could still catch fish for breakfast.

“How much do you remember of what I taught you?”

“What you taught me?” Methos chuckled. “I seem to remember a young, starving bard who begged me to give him a fish for dinner in exchange for an old Celtic melody. He wanted food first and the song second, because he was so weak that he couldn’t stand.”

“Must have been my student you remember,” Taliesin blustered. “I never--”

“Hardly ever.”

“All right, then. Hardly ever.” The mage relented. “Still, we’ll see who’s the better fisherman now.”

Lying flat-bellied on opposite sides of the stream, the two Immortals wiggled their hands in the water and waited for the odd, unsuspecting trout.

Methos went first, sidling his palm beneath the belly of a beautiful rainbow specimen--and promptly missing when his hand exploded out of the water and the fish darted downstream, to safer shadows.

“Dammit! That’s the third one this morning.” Rolling over, onto his stomach, Methos squinted at the clouds through sun-dappled branches. “The lectures from my stomach are becoming unbearable.”

“Er, Methos... About that young bard who offered to sing for his supper?...”

Sighing, the Immortal closed his eyes and tapped his fingers on his ribs. “What do you want me to sing?”

“Not a thing. I’d like an apology, if you please.”

“All right. Fine.” He cleared his throat and prepared to issue the official proclamation. “I’m sorry, Taliesin, that I made you sing for your supper in 650 A.D. Can you catch me some breakfast, now?”

“Most certainly.” And he did. Upstream, where the melancholy trout hadn’t been warned of their coming.


“Do you ever think of staying here?” asked Taliesin, as they picked fish bones from their teeth.

Methos shook his head. “Do you ever think of leaving here? Of getting back into the Game?”

The mage threw another log onto the fire and studied the sparks as they rose through the smoke. “The world is a different place now, Galahad. No place for magicians.”

“The world has changed more than you know. The Old Ways and the old languages are coming back. Gaelic, anyway.”

“And could I understand it?”

Methos threw a string of modern Welsh at him.

The magician frowned and rubbed his nose thoughtfully. “I believe you just asked me where a fellow could go to relieve himself?”

“You can understand it.”

“But to live in a world without the Pendragon...” Taliesin shook his head. “I miss Arthur. My time is over, Galahad.”

“Some would say the same of me,” Methos challenged, “and I’ve been around longer than you have.”

The mage snorted. “You were always young at heart. It’s how you’ve survived all this time. And kept your sanity.”

“No, Taliesin. I survived by treating everyone and everything like peach fuzz.”

“Peach... fuzz....” Up went the black eyebrow again, making the mage look positively evil.

“Most everything in the world is peach fuzz,” Methos explained, lying on his side and plucking a blade of sweet grass to suck on. “It’s all surface, hasn’t a thing to do with the rich, sweet fruit of life. You have to ignore the fuzz and bite beyond--bite hard--to get to what matters. Calling most of life peach fuzz helps me remember what matters, and what doesn’t.”

“Another kind of magic.” Taliesin pondered the fire a moment. “So most everything is peach fuzz, is it? Was Alexa? Was Arthur?”

“You know they weren’t.”

“So why do I see you wincing every time I call you Galahad? It was your name, you know? You were a knight of the table round. Made so by Arthur himself.”

“Methos is my name. Has been for a very long time.”

“Is that why you don’t like me calling you Galahad?” Taliesin pressed. “Does it remind you of that knight you’re trying so hard to forget?”

“It reminds me of a bloody field in Cornwall, and of watching a great many friends die. You weren’t there. I was.”

“I was there. In spirit. Beyond sight, beyond--”

“Beyond helping!” Methos spat, amazed at the ferocity of his bitterness after all these centuries. “I watched chivalry die that day, Taliesin. You didn’t. I saw Arthur weep as he fought, I watched his heart crack along with that blessed table and our King’s head. I saw him lose everything to that bastard son of his.”

“Mordred wasn’t his son,” Taliesin challenged quietly. “How could Mordred be Arthur’s son, when Arthur was destined to be an Immortal, like us?”

That stopped Methos. Stopped him cold.

“You felt the pre-Immortal vibration of our king whenever he was around,” insisted Taliesin. “You had to.”

“I felt it,” Methos acknowledged. “But he never returned from Avalon, and so I felt that the legends of him surviving the battle were only that--legends. I thought that Mordred’s--or some other enemy--must have taken his head for him never to have entered the Game.”

“The once and future king lives still,” said Taliesin. “That is more than legend. And you are wrong, Methos. I was there, watching, on the edge of the battlefield. And I was helpless to stop events Arthur had, years before, put into motion. I saw you fall with Lionel, but knew you would rise again. When you still lay dead when the tide of battle was over, I knew that too many had seen you lying there, lifeless. Everyone knew Galahad was dead. Once you had revived, you would have to leave Caerleon and begin a new life elsewhere. And so, I assumed Sir Bedevere’s shap.”

“You did what?

“I shape-changed and gathered the remaining knights to retrieve our king where he lay dying of Mordred’s death blow to his head. At Arthur’s urging, I hurled Excalibur into the Lake, and summoned the Lady who retrieved the sword and took Arthur to the Blessed Isle. But surely you know the stories? How can you live in your world, and not know the stories? They’ve been told countless times. Mallory, Tennyson, T.H. White, Bradley, Roberson--”

“Where is Arthur now?”

“Where he has been the past fourteen centuries. In Avalon.”

Avalon. Beneath Glastonbury Tor, just as the legends say, Methos realized. Buried alive in a Faerie cairn beneath the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey. And, in this modern age, no one would ever think to actually look for him there.

Methos made to rise from the table, thinking to gather Eclipse and his thoughts, and make straight for the Tor on his next quest. Cairns can be opened. Immortal kings can be retrieved. “Perhaps it is time for your once and future king to return.”

A strong, wiry hand on his wrist stopped him.

“No, Methos.” Taliesin’s dark eyes brooded into his. “Arthur has fought his battles and is living where he belongs. He knows about the world above, and about the Game. He is well contented to stay in Avalon, and we should leave him there.”

“Then why tell me all of this? Why tell me where he is if I’m not supposed to bring him back?”

Taliesin’s smile was wry. “I was hoping to reassure a melancholy, cynical knight born before the age of chivalry that chivalry is not dead. Oh, you may wish it was, and you may behave as though you refuse to acknowledge that Arthur’s code can still apply in your new and most modern, Levi-clad world. But deep down, Methos, you still belong to Arthur and to his dream: ‘violence is not strength and compassion is not weakness’: might for right, rather than might is right. You remember the promise you made--to fight for the weak, to guard their honor and their lives.”

“‘We are civilized,’” Methos recalled the lectures he and all the knights had heard from Arthur. “I remember!” he spat. “And I remember your black scrying mirror and crystal ball. You’ve been watching me, even today, haven’t you? Spying on my private conversations, on my life? Have you forgotten mankind’s treachery, Taliesin? I haven’t. I’ve seen far more perfidy than the Matter of Britain commanded. So spake King Arthur: ‘We are civilized.’ I have lived much longer than that young and very earnest man who even now lives protected and secluded at Avalon, and I’ve seen life as it is.

“I’ve known centuries of inhumanity and betrayal,” Methos continued, as though once he’d begun explaining himself, he could not stop. “I’ve seen mankind destroy its own kind, murdering not only its children but their promise and this planet--this fragile blue ball of earth and water that gave them life and continues trying to nurture them. Not only humans have suffered: species upon species has died or waits in the wings, nearly dead because of man’s selfishness. There is no longer room on this earth for the manatee, the macaw, the dusky seaside sparrow, for the white tiger. In another century, even the dolphins and the sharks may be gone. In an agony of helplessness, I’ve watched the betrayal and slow death of all I hold holy and good, until I want no part of the heartbreaking, lying thing you call chivalry!”

“Neither do I,” Taliesin said calmly. “Why do you think I locked myself away in that Cornwall cave? Oh, I know the stories well enough: the sweet young fairy, Nimue, lured me into the woods, and, because she was so beautiful, I taught her everything I knew of magic. Once the student had graduated, she locked me away in a castle on the clouds, or in an emerald cave--choose whichever legend you wish to believe.” He scowled at Methos. “I, share all of my magic? Bah! Never happen. I locked myself away, thank you very much. Couldn’t stand the mess of things Arthur was making with that idiot little wife of his, not to mention that idiot so-called son of his. As though Arthur was the only lover Morgause had ever taken when Lot was away.” He snorted derisively. “You just try telling Arthur that, though. I disappeared myself to let matters take their natural course.”

Methos stared at him, incredulous. “Are you telling me that you knew what would happen with Guinevere, Lancelot and Mordred, and decided to... absent yourself?”

Taliesin nodded. “I told Arthur, warned him not to marry his pretty Guinevere. But would he listen? No. And so I left. T’was far better than standing about and watching everybody destroy themselves. When you live long enough--and I’m certain I don’t have to tell you this--when you’ve lived long enough, Methos, you realize just how little control you have over other people. Their folly may be completely clear to you, while they traipse blithely onward, straight toward the edge of the cliff. Oh, you can point out the cliff, draw them magical pictures in the air and prophesy all you want. King or commoner, they listen politely, nod solemnly, and then go out and do whatever they bloody blazes they want--which usually leads them to falling--plop!--straight over the cliff and onto the rocks. Whereupon they scream and howl for you--the resident magician--to summon the powers and make everything all right.”

Methos shook his head. “Hard to watch, isn’t it?”

“Oh, I stopped watching a long time ago. But now... Now I think that it might just be time for me to pop my head outside my cave for another look ‘round. What do you think?”

“Are you asking if I think you should leave this place and go back to the world of the living with me? You want to rejoin the Game?”

“Exactly so.” With a grin, Taliesin clapped Methos on the shoulder. “You know all about the world out there. I couldn’t ask for a better teacher. Do people still enjoy the odd harpsong or two?”

“In certain circles, yes,” Methos ventured slowly.

“And can you get me a set pair of those... Levi leggings?”

“Umm... of course.” He eyed the grey wool robes of the bard. Actually, if I take him to King Richard’s Faire in Maryland, he might get further by wearing what he’s got on. “You’ve absolutely no idea what you’re asking, much less the challenges you’ll face, do you?”

“Absolutely none!” Taliesin bellowed. “Exciting, isn’t it?”

“Exciting,” Methos echoed, realizing that he was about to be distracted, for a very long time, from his sorrows over losing Alexa. I’m supposed to take Merlyn the Magician into the twentieth century, with no more education regarding the modern world than a short lecture on the Irish cottage industry’s manufacturing of fisherman’s sweaters and how wise Mr. Levi was to see the possibilities in using extra covered-wagon canvas to fashion work clothes that have become extremely popular over the last hundred years.

Methos’ mind boggled at the enormity of the task ahead of him: Educate one sixth century magician in the workings of the modern age. Introduce him to Walt Disney’s The Sword in the Stone, to vending machines, katanas and nuclear war, space travel, Star Trek, and Queen. Methos felt like banging his head against a rock. I took the long road through time, and some of this world still doesn’t make sense to me. And I’m supposed to explain it to him? How am I letting him talk me into this? I can’t possibly do this alone.

Duncan! he thought. I’ll get Duncan to help. He’s a fellow Celt, yes? He’ll know what to do with Taliesin, yes? And he likes chivalry. He hasn’t become disenchanted with it the way we have. He and Taliesin will get on famously. Duncan’s even got some nifty hair ties to share with the mage.

“All right,” Methos proclaimed. “Let’s do it. Gather your things. We leave for 1996 tonight.”


With harp and satchel slung over his shoulder, Taliesin led the way from the forest that had been his home for the past sixteen hundred years. Eclipse trotted quietly at Methos’ side, and another--or perhaps the same--cannwyl corph kept them company. It bobbed and hovered on the other side of the trees, as though bidding the magician and his companion a loving farewell. The blue light faltered where the ancient earth ended, and Taliesin paused on the threshold as well, setting down the harp for a moment.

“Once you leave,” Methos asked, “can you come back?”

“No one can go backward,” the mage said, turning in place in the moonlight and surveying the land as though knowing he would never see it like this again. “All of us, we can only go forward. You know that.”

The magician’s eyes glinted in the moonlight, centuries of emotion pooled there. There would be no more spying on Arthur in Avalon, no more letters sent to Alexa. Once Taliesin left Wales, the magic would fade and this particular door between the worlds would be closed forever.

“Thank you,” said Methos, knowing Taliesin had somehow lured him to he had been lured to Nany-Y-Moch for the specific purpose of healing his own soul and rescuing Taliesin from his boredom.

“Think nothing of it. Shall we go?”

Methos took the harp while Taliesin gathered his satchel--all that he had in the world. Within the burlap cloth lay a few books scribbled in ancient Gaelic--songs and stories, all. The only magic carried from Nany-Y-Moch tonight would be stored in Taliesin’s head. His time for needing magic books had long passed.

They left the forest for the grassy plain, and the wind came from the trees to sing to them once more. Methos’ eyes filled with tears as Taliesin began singing, too, as they climbed the hill toward the waiting car and a new, strange century.

Wherein the deep night sky, the stars lie in its embrace/ The courtyard still in its sleep, and peace comes over your face./ ‘Come to me,’ it sings. ‘Hear the pulse of the land./ The ocean’s rhythms pull to hold your heart in its hand.’/ And when the wind draws strong across the cypress trees,/ The night birds cease their songs, so gathers memories.

Once reaching the car, the Immortals turned together to survey the ancient forest shimmering behind them. The wind teased with less intensity, almost mournfully.

Farewell! sang the whispers, in chorus with Taliesin’s parting song. Last night, you spoke of a dream where forests stretched to the east,/ And each bird sang its song; A unicorn joined in the feast./ And in the corner stood a pomegranate tree with wild flowers there, no mortal eye could see./ Yet still some mystery befalls, sure as the cock crows at morn/ The world in stillness keeps the secret of babes to be born.

And that’s what we all are... thought Methos, listening and oblivious to the tears tracing down his cheeks. Babes a’borning to a new day, a new age... a new immortality. Oh, Taliesin... it will be a joy, teaching you about the 20th century.

Even as Methos and Taliesin watched, fog rolled through the trees, the moon was hidden behind a bank of clouds to obscure the forest view. When the moon returned, the fog had gone and so had the woods. Only the familiar reservoir waters lay revealed, with gentle waves lapping at the shoreline. Where once a magical forest had lain, water alone glimmered in the moonlight.

For a moment, the bard’s voice faltered, only to return, strong and confident, as the wind whipped through his hair.

I heard an old voice say, ‘Don’t go far from the land./ The seasons have their way no mortal can understand.’”1 Bowing slightly, Taliesin saluted the water and the moon before turning to Methos’ car. Arching an eyebrow in inquiry, he awaited the first lesson of his new century.

“It’s a sort of a covered wagon,” Methos began, coming around the boot to show Taliesin how to open the door. “But you can’t make Levi’s out of it.”


1 “Courtyard Lullaby,” by Loreena McKennitt, from her CD, The Visit.

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