ROG on Vacation-Part 3

CHAPTER 9

Methos walked into the cell, carefully assessing the dimensions, trying to decide what to put where. He carefully kept his manner very casual, as if he were sizing up a window for new drapery.

Sekin, a little unsettled by Methos's strange behavior, looked nervously about the room, trying to figure out what the other man was so interested in. "I'm still not going to tell you anything," Sekin said with false bravado, trying to keep his courage up.

'I have him on the run already,' Methos thought to himself. 'Shifty little weasels. They're all alike. Know the rules of the game, think they hold all the cards and they're fearless. Change the rules a little and they fall all to pieces. But, he's clever. I'll have to be careful not to overplay my hand.' Methos, never actually looking at Sekin in order to emphasize the man's unimportance, said matter of factly, "I didn't think you would, yet. But, you will... eventually. We have all afternoon."

"You're bluffing," Sekin said loudly, not entirely sure of that fact. The 5,000-year-old Immortal didn't look like a man who was bluffing.

Just then, there was a knock on the cell door. Methos opened the door and waved the two guards carrying a large table inside. 'Right on cue,' Methos thought. "Better put that over there against the wall," he said pointing at the wall opposite Sekin's wooden pallet. "Did you bring the shackles?" he asked the men.

"I couldn't get manacles without raising suspicions. I brought some leather cuffs instead. They should do well enough for a runt like that," Torin said, nodding over at Sekin, as his brother and him finished setting the table in place.

"As long as he's held firmly in place, I don't suppose it matters. I just don't want him squirming too much." Methos shot an assessing glance over at the increasingly nervous Sekin. "Strap him down. Don't remove the chains. I don't know if they have anything to do with binding his magic, and I don't care to find out."

Torin and Boric untangled the leather restraints Boric had bundled inside his tunic and started toward Sekin. "Wait! Wait!" Sekin shouted shrilly. "The king ordered that I not be tortured. You can't do this!"

"Yes, that was very kind of him, but not very practical. Fortunately for the kingdom of Gondor, the king isn't here right now and what he doesn't know won't hurt me," Methos explained in a good natured manner as Sekin was being dragged toward the table.

"Stop! You can't do this!" Sekin shouted in panic, as the guards strapped him to the table, spread eagle.

"Make sure to tie him tightly. I don't want him working a hand free once we've begun," Methos instructed the brothers.

"Yes sir," Boric answered pulling an ankle strap tighter and causing Sekin to wince in pain.

"Stop it. Let me up, now!" Sekin demanded.

"You can stop this anytime you want. All you have to do is tell me who hired you," Methos replied in a reasonable tone.

"I... I..." Sekin started then trailed off a calculating look entering his eyes. "You almost had me there. I almost believed your bluff and caused myself more pain than anything you'd do to me. You're good, but not good enough," Sekin said with a sneer. The fear hadn't completely left his eyes, but Sekin was definitely feeling more confident than he was just a moment before.

'Damn. I moved too soon. It's going to take a lot to recover the ground I just lost.' Methos berated himself. Then he gave Sekin his best 'Death' grin and said, "I was hoping you'd say that. There's something I've been wanting to try for years, but an opportunity has never presented itself, until now." Dropping back to a more normal expression, Methos turned to the guards and asked, "What have you brought me?"

"Here, my lord," Boric said, giving Methos the roll of carpenter's tools.

Methos unrolled the tools on the table Sekin was strapped to. He stared at them a minute, a look of consternation on his face and said, "What are these? I asked for surgeon's knives not workman's tools."

"I'm sorry sir," Torin said obsequiously. "I couldn't find any doctoring kits for sale. Carpenter's tools were the best I could do."

Methos leveled a displeased look at Torin, and Torin flinched back in fear. "I suppose these will have to do," Methos said with some irritation. "Did you at least find a brazier like I asked for?" he continued, clearly put out with all the substitutions.

"Yes my lord. It's right out side. We'll fetch it in and get the fire started, right away sir," Boric said.

"Very well," Methos replied in dismissal.

The two guards quickly exited the room with looks of relief, grateful their master had not taken issue with the substitutions. Or at least that's the way the situation looked from the outside. 'A remarkable job those two are doing,' Methos congratulated himself on his choice of assistants. 'I almost believe they are scared of me.'

Methos started to rearrange the carpentry tools which were laid out beside Sekin. Occasionally, he would pick one up and examine it in the slanting rays of light coming in through a small grate near the ceiling. Then he began to sharpen one of the smaller carving knives. "Good servants are hard to find," he said casually. "I ask for a very specific item and they bring me an inferior substitute. I suppose I must contrive," he added with a sigh of resignation sounding more like a lord complaining about having to eat dessert with a salad fork than a man bent on torture.

Boric and Torin returned with the brazier and placed it at the foot of the table. Torin then took out a tender box and lit the coals inside. "Will there be anything else sir?" Boric asked when the task was done.

"No, that will be all for now. But, stay close, in case I need something." Methos ordered. Boric and Torin left the cell closing the door behind them.

Once again Sekin was growing nervous. He was sweating profusely. 'Good, I have him off balance again,' Methos observed to himself. 'I need to keep him involved.'

"You've suddenly grown quiet," Methos said to Sekin. "No questions, comments, or snide remarks to make?"

Sekin swallowed nervously then said in a slightly shaky voice, "Actually, I do have a question. What is it you always wanted to try, exactly?"

"Excellent question," Methos said encouragingly, in the same manner he'd use with a bright student in one of his lectures. Then he paused and with a thoughtful look said, "But, I'm not sure I should tell you, then I might not get to try it after all."

Sekin paled in fear. He was starting to think his opponent was a mad man, which would mean very bad things for Sekin. Mad men are unpredictable and if Methos were such a one, Sekin had very little hope of gaining the upper hand.

Methos taking in Sekin's appearance was very encouraged. 'It won't take much more to nudge him right over the edge,' Methos thought. "I did invite the question myself, I suppose it's only fair that I answer," Methos said. "What I plan for this afternoon is an experiment."

"An experiment?" Sekin said with growing trepidation.

"Yes, an experiment," Methos answered. 'Careful, carefully now. I won't get another chance if I screw this up,' Methos thought, deciding that reliance upon the truth would be the safest path to success. "You see my brother, Caspian, always said skinning people whilst keeping them alive was the mark of a true artist. Now I always thought fire would be the best way to do that, cauterizing the wounds to prevent the subject from bleeding to death. But, Caspian insisted that fire would only slow the operation and the subject's heart would give out before he was through. Caspian had far more experience at this sort of thing than I ever will, that much I'll grant you. But, he was also insane. He tormented the helpless simply for the joy of inflicting pain, not the best frame of mind for making rational observations. I, on the other hand, am only interested in furthering my knowledge of human endurance." As he gave this speech he was busily cleaning blades and placing things in the fire to heat. "Now then. I believe we're ready to begin."

"I don't believe you. You're making that up," Sekin said, hoping what he said was true, but not really believing it.

"Perhaps I am," Methos said, cutting away Sekin's clothes. "You'll find out in a minute, won't you?"

Sekin's gaze darted around the room, as he tried to find a way out of his predicament. Triumph momentarily flashed in his eyes as he got an idea. "How are you going to explain my skinned corpse to your king?" Sekin asked.

"Did you know that if you were to try a high level spell in here the backlash might actually burn you to ash?" Methos countered.

Sekin's eyes widened as he became increasingly sure his captor was really going to go through with it. "You don't actually mean to go through with this. What if the king were to find out about this?"

"Then things would go very badly for me, which is why I'm making sure the king doesn't find out," Methos answered as he cut away the last of Sekin's clothes, leaving Sekin's unsightly wrinkled, goose-pimpled, flesh open to the chill air. "Now what am I forgetting?" Methos muttered to himself. "Of course, an apron." Then he went to the door, stepped outside, and asked Boric to fetch him an apron.

"Sorry for the delay," Methos said politely. "I forgot to ask for an apron. My man shouldn't be but a minute fetching one from the kitchen."

"An apron?" Sekin said.

"Yes, an apron. Blood splatters you know."

Sekin stared up at the ceiling, his eyes glazed with fear, and thought over his situation. 'He's cracking. I knew the kindly professor routine would get to him. No late night creature features here. He has no idea what to make of a mad scientist,' Methos thought gleefully.

Boric returned with the apron, then left the room. Methos tied on the apron and said, "Finally, down to business," He picked up the small knife he'd just sharpened and barely touched it to the skin over Sekin's collarbone.

"Wait! I'll tell you. I'll tell you everything," Sekin gasped out, afraid of what Methos was going to do.

"You will?" Methos said putting the knife down and sounding a touch disappointed.

"Yes, I'll tell you all of it, on one condition. Immediately after I tell you, you have to kill me and burn my body to ash this very night."

"I am the one with the knife here. You don't get to set conditions," Methos reminded, giving the impression that he really didn't want to give up this "opportunity." 'I've hooked him. Now I just have to reel him in before he wriggles free of our little deception,' he thought.

"It's the only way I'm telling you anything. I'd rather be skinned than risk what might happen to my still mostly intact corpse. You have to swear to me that my body will be burned to ash or your precious king will never know who wants him dead until too late," Sekin said nastily, getting one last dig in before his inevitable death.

Methos paused, as if considering Sekin's offer very carefully. In fact, there was no real question of whether or not he was going to take it. Then after what Methos deemed an acceptable period time to keep up the charade had passed, he said, "I suppose that's an acceptable condition. I swear to kill you quickly and burn the corpse tonight. But, why?" Methos said honestly curious about the reason for Sekin's request.

"My master. He is a necromancer. If you don't completely destroy my body he will resurrect me and make me his slave, for eternity."

"Ah, I see. Now tell me, who is this master of yours?" Methos asked.

"I don't know. I never saw his face."

"Now, Sekin. I thought you were going to cooperate," Methos said menacingly, arching one eyebrow.

"I am. I'll tell you everything I know, but I truly don't know who he is," Sekin said pleadingly.

"Very well. Start from the beginning. Tell me how you met this necromancer, and don't leave anything out," Methos ordered. Then he walked over to the wooden pallet, and took a seat, settling in to listen.

"It started a few years ago. I was looking for some supplies for the youth spell. My usual supplier couldn't get me everything I needed, but agreed to ask around for me. Then late one night, a man cloaked and hooded came to my door. He said he'd heard that I was looking for some items and that he had them available for sale."

"What sort of items?" Methos interrupted.

"Eyes and tongue of a maiden," said Sekin.

"Go on," Methos said evenly, keeping his disgust carefully concealed in order to preserve the charade.

"I bought them. The same thing happened repeatedly for more than a year. I'd ask my normal man for some ingredient or other. He wouldn't have it. Then a few days or weeks later the man would show up and sell it too me.

"Then one night he showed up and I hadn't asked for anything. He told me to kill the king. I said I wouldn't do it. It was too dangerous and there was nothing in it for me. He said it was a lot more dangerous if I didn't do it. He'd turn me in as a witch, if he didn't just add me to his 'collection.' And, if I did do it I could get elven eyes for my spell, because he wanted to add the Queen to his 'collection' and I could have the leftover bits. So I agreed to kill the king," Sekin finished explaining.

"His 'collection,' what's that?" Methos asked somewhat puzzled.

"That's how I knew he was a necromancer. When they reanimate the dead, they cut out the eyes to separate the soul from the body. Otherwise it will have a will of its own when it comes back," Sekin explained.

"Why would he send you after the king, if he only wanted Lady Arwen?" Methos asked.

"That was the strange part. He said Arwen would never love him if the king was still around. But, necromancers are all a bit mad."

"And witches are the epitome of sanity," Methos said dryly. "Is there anything else you can tell me about this necromancer? Anything at all?"

Sekin thought for a minute, then said, "He stuttered."

Methos stood and started pacing the room. "The mercenaries. Did you hire them yourself?"

"No, I couldn't afford them. The necromancer put them at my disposal when I first agreed to help him."

"Do you trade with the east?"

"No, only nobles have the wealth necessary to fund such long expeditions."

"It all fits together then. A member of the court, with eastern connections, a fixation on the queen, and a stutter. It has to be Landon," Methos said, thinking aloud.

"You know who it is now, you'll not forget out bargain," Sekin reminded, nervously.

"I won't," Methos said picking a knife up from the table and circling around to Sekin's head. "Are you ready?"

Sekin swallowed nervously and tried to resign himself to his fate. From the time he was captured he knew that a quick, permanent, death was the best he could hope for, but that knowledge didn't make it any easier to accept. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut and gave a jerky nod.

Methos swiftly and professionally ran his blade across Sekin's throat. The witch was dead in seconds.

Aragorn, followed closely by Legolas and Gimli, rushed in the door. "You swore to me that this was only a deception," Aragorn said with righteous anger.

"It was. I didn't torture him," Methos protested.

"But, you killed him," Aragorn replied shocked at Methos's behavior.

"It was what he wanted. Besides, he was just going to be executed anyway," Methos defended his actions.

Legolas laid a restraining hand upon Aragorn's shoulder and said, "I too am much perturbed by Adam's cold blooded slaughter of a helpless man, but he does have a point. He did agree to kill Sekin, if Sekin told him what he could. He couldn't honorably not kill Sekin."

"That is true, but Adam still overstepped the bounds set for him," Aragorn relented a bit, his temper cooled by reason.

"I offer an abject apology. I was over zealous in the execution of the task set before me. What can I do to make amends?" Methos said sincerely, executing a courtly bow, the likes of which had not been seen since the first time he sparred with Aragorn and the two men got to be friends.

"You can see to the second half of Sekin's request," said Aragorn.

"Of course, my lord. I will see to it immediately."

"You will see to it personally," Aragorn added.

"Personally?" Methos asked, regretting his offer to make amends.

"Yes, personally. And you had best start soon. A fresh corpse can take most of the day to burn to ash."

"Yes, your Majesty," Methos said not liking this turn of events at all. Minding a burning corpse was going to be an extremely unpleasant task.

Gimli, who'd remained silent throughout this interchange, asked, "Where's Landon?"

All the color drained from Aragorn's face. "He was bringing Arwen silk samples from his latest shipment today."

"Surely, nothing can happen to her here. All of her ladies will be around," Gimli said

"But, they aren't, they went on a picnic. Arwen's alone," Aragorn said as if in a trance.

The four men looked at one another, then as one they ran from the cell and up the dungeon stairs.

Legolas was the first to reach the queen's solar. The other three arrived shortly afterwards, Aragorn and Methos out of breath from running across the palace. There they were greeted by an unsettling sight.

Arwen was sitting on the floor, her skirts spread around her, pretty as a picture. Pretty, until one noticed the blood spreading from Landon's cooling body and soaking her skirt. Arwen was sitting there, still as a statue, staring at the jeweled handle of dagger embedded in Landon's chest.

"Arwen?" Aragorn said, both relieved to find her alive and worried by the lost look in her eyes.

Arwen, only then noticing the presence of others in the room, jumped up and ran to her husband, tears running down her face. Aragorn held her tightly to him and whispered reassuringly to her, "It's over now. He's gone."

Arwen, not knowing of the recent discoveries in the dungeon, tried to explain. "He was confused. He thought I'd love him if he could take me away from here. I didn't want to kill him, but he went mad when I rejected him. I had no choice. If only I'd realized before how obsessed he was... This could have been prevented. He didn't have to die," she said in a broken voice.

Aragorn was at a loss for words. He didn't know what to tell Arwen to make her feel better. Would knowing of Landon's evil make things better or worse? Methos, seeing Aragorn's situation, interjected, "Landon's the one behind the attempts on Aragorn's life."

That got Arwen's attention right away. "Landon tried to kill you?" Arwen asked of her husband, swiftly pulling out of her personal grief and guilt.

"Yes, he was the man. He was also practicing necromancy," Aragorn confirmed.

Arwen's eyes narrowed in anger, the knowledge of Landon's evil deeds quickly dissipating the sympathy she felt for him. She could forgive his obsession with her, but she couldn't forgive a threat to the life of her beloved husband. "How could I have been so foolish? I never suspected he was anything more than a harmless merchant."

"None of us suspected him, my lady," said Legolas.

"Come, I'll walk you back to our quarters so that you can bathe and change," Aragorn said to his wife.

"Yes, I want to wash away this blood as soon as possible. It is beginning to itch." Arwen agreed, dismissing Landon from her mind.

"Adam, I believe you have a task to see to?" Aragorn reminded, then the royal couple swept out of the room.

"I was hoping I wouldn't have to do that, Landon being dead and not in a zombie making position," Methos said.

"A promise is a promise," Gimli reminded.

"I had better get started then," Methos grumbled unhappily. Then he left to collect Sekin's body from the dungeon.

"We should see that Landon is properly disposed of as well," Legolas said. "I vaguely recall a story about a necromancer who could bring himself back from the dead."

Gimli winced and said, "I suppose you're right. I certainly don't want to take any chances on him coming back."

Everyone set about their assigned tasks for tying up the loose ends. The threat to the king's life was officially ended. All that was left was cleaning up the mess.

CHAPTER 10

Landon and his lackey were dead. Their bodies were burnt to ash and scattered at sea so that they could never return. Landon's 'collection' was found at his estate, once again lifeless, the animating magic having drained away upon the necromancer's death. The mutilated bodies of several once beautiful girls were buried with all the appropriate honors. All the loose ends were tied tightly, and things could finally return to normal in Gondor's royal city.

Gimli and Legolas made plans for their long postponed departures. Legolas intended to spend some time in the elvish settlement he had begun in Ithilien. Gimli wanted to make a return trip to the Glittering Caves. Now that the immediate threat had past, they felt safe in separating for a time.

Methos was also considering a trip. The way home was still unclear, but now there was time to investigate. He'd enjoyed his time in Middle-earth but was missing his friends at home. He'd grown quite fond of Legolas, Gimli, and Aragorn in the year he'd known them, but there were too many things he couldn't share with them. He'd gotten used to being around people who knew the whole story and accepted him anyway. Methos missed that. The recent tension, arising from what he did to Sekin, served to underscore the matter.

The evening after the Landon incident was wrapped up, Methos made mention of his desire to find the way home. Legolas and Gimli, conscious of their previous offer to help, suggested the three of them ride out to the place Methos had been found and search for markings. Methos agreed, and they decided to set out the next morning.

The three set out early that morning but not at the crack of dawn. This expedition wasn't an urgent one and the clearing was only a couple hours away. They rode throughout the morning in an uncomfortable silence. Legolas kept giving Methos contemplative looks, as if trying to figure the Immortal out. Methos noticed the looks but wasn't planning on saying anything unless he had to. Gimli noticed this interchange but didn't take part.

They arrived at the site, mid-morning. "Finally," Gimli said, relieved to be off the horse.

Methos looked around the clearing and said, somewhat disappointedly, "I don't see any markers."

"Nor do I," said the elf, "but there is something here. This clearing is too perfectly circular to be natural."

"Now that you mention it, that is a bit odd," Methos replied, a little more encouraged.

"What are we looking for, exactly?" Gimli asked.

"I'm not sure. On the other end, there was a circle of short round stones covered in carvings, surrounding a single center stone. I don't know what form the circle will take here. However, the shape of the clearing indicates there is one of some sort. We'll just have to look around."

"If there was a center stone there, shouldn't there be a center marker here?" Legolas asked.

"There's a thought," Methos said walking to the very center of the clearing. He kneeled down to inspect the ground at the center more closely. "Well, there's no stone, but come see if this looks odd to you," he said to his companions.

Legolas and Gimli went to see what Methos was referring to. It was a roughly two-foot wide, perfectly circular, depression. "That does look a bit odd," Gimli agreed. "I'd be interested to see what was under there, causing such an odd lay of land."

"As would I," Methos added. "I'll go fetch a shovel," he said, heading back to where their horses were tethered. They'd brought a pack horse along, laden with a variety of useful equipment.

When Methos returned, Gimli took the shovel from him and bent to work. Starting at the edge of the depression, Gimli pushed the blade of the shovel into the soft soil. When he had only pushed the blade in half way, he hit stone. "There's something down there," he said. "I believe we've found what we were looking for."

Gimli continued digging. Legolas and Methos retrieved shovels from the pack horse and started to help. The circle was swiftly cleared of dirt. Underneath, they found a hollow stone hemisphere covered in carvings. Methos knelt to give their find a closer inspection, brushing the carvings free of dirt, "This is most definitely it. Once I can read these marks I should be able to return home... I think."

"They are not in a language of your world?" Legolas asked. "I do not recognize the characters."

"I'd be surprised if you did. The letters are Greek, from my world, but the language isn't. It's probably a language of Middle-earth. That would match what I found on the other stones, a combination of Middle-earth's and my earth's languages," Methos explained.

"You can read some of this then?" Gimli asked.

"Not exactly. I can sound it out, but it all looks like gibberish to me. 'Sayerkee kawen...'" Methos tried reading a few lines.

Legolas, looking thoughtful, said, "It might be Quenya. That first part sounded a little like high elvish."

"That seems a likely possibility. Actually, I'm surprised it sounds like anything recognizable. I'm probably butchering the pronunciation. The Greek alphabet doesn't appear to be the best suited to whichever language this is. There are letter combinations here which would never be used in Greek."

"But you can translate it, given enough time?" Gimli asked.

"Yes, given enough time." Methos shrugged. "Maybe we should look around for the other markers?"

Gimli nodded his assent and gave out the assignments, the dwarf was accustomed to organizing work crews, "Methos, you start on that side," he said pointing across the circle. "Legolas and I will begin closer to the road."

The three worked the rest of the morning, and by noon a ring of six shallow stone depressions had been uncovered. At that point they decided to stop for a meal. They would start making notes of their discovery, for later study, after a rest.

Once the mid-day meal was unpacked and the three settled in to eat it, the uncomfortable silence of the morning descended again. The elf returned to giving the Immortal speculative glances. The Immortal returned to intentionally not answering the questions he knew the elf had in mind. The dwarf took the situation in without comment. The meal went on and the situation got increasingly uncomfortable. Finally, Gimli, not being able to stand it anymore, asked, "Exactly how much of what you told Sekin was truth and how much deception?"

"Well... I can honestly say I've never wanted to skin a man alive for any reason," Methos replied flippantly, trying to keep the conversation light.

Legolas, the ice broken by his blunt friend, then asked, "The things you said about your brother? Was that also a fiction?"

"Unfortunately, not. Caspian really was that bad and worse," Methos answered honestly, but purposely not telling his friends what they truly wanted to know.

"Worse?" Gimli asked, not knowing what could be worse than skinning alive.

"Children," Methos explained simply.

Legolas blanched in horror. He knew of worse things done by the minions of Sauron, but those were done by creatures of darkness. This was a man, one closely related to a man he called friend. That made the acts more horrific somehow. "What kind of monster was he?" Legolas asked, appalled.

Methos shrugged, not certain how to answer the question, and said, "The average kind? He was insane and liked to torment others. He was just better at it than most. Had a lot more practice."

"This doesn't make sense. You said Immortals didn't have families. How could he be your brother?" Gimli interjected.

Methos winced and said, "I was afraid you'd notice that." Then sighing in resignation he began to explain, some of it, "We weren't brothers by blood, but we rode together, as brothers, for a thousand years."

"You chose brotherhood with a madman and a monster?" Legolas said surprised.

"It wasn't as simple as that. If it were only Caspian, I would have killed him soon after we met. I never liked him. But, there were two others to be considered, Kronos and Silas."

"And these men somehow made Caspian less a monster?" Legolas said skeptically.

Methos snorted in grim humor at that suggestion, "Kronos might have made Caspian better, but only by comparison. No, Silas and Kronos only made the situation worse, not better. Where I come from we have a saying, 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em.' and I couldn't beat Kronos. My choices were helping Kronos by joining his 'brotherhood' thus becoming one of the most powerful men on the continent or dying because he would have killed me."

"You forsook honor and allied yourself with evil merely to preserve your own life?" Gimli said with disgust.

"It seemed like a good idea at the time," Methos answered, unapologetic.

"And you had to maintain this deception for a thousand years?" Legolas added, skeptically.

"Well... not exactly. I wasn't overly enthused about the plan to start with, but I have to admit to warming up to it over time. Individually, we were formidable. Together we were unstoppable. That kind of power is seductive. But, it was all a long time ago. Things change in three thousand years. I changed," Methos explained, not bothering to sugar coat it any, but not volunteering any details.

"So you're not the same person who... who did what exactly?" Gimli asked, suddenly realizing how vague Methos had been.

"Oh, the usual," Methos answered, significantly downplaying his past activities, "Looting, pillaging, demanding tribute, that sort of thing. Times were primitive. Steel hadn't even been invented yet. The more sophisticated evils were beyond us."

"Common banditry," Gimli said with a snort of derision.

"Basically, except we couldn't be killed," Methos agreed, really not wanting to bring up the bit about being an evil of legend.

Legolas then said, "Why didn't you tell us this before?"

"It never came up. And, there seemed no reason to bring it up. I don't usually tell everyone I meet how I, once upon a time, was evil but have now mended my wicked ways."

Legolas gave Methos a hard look and said, "No, there is more to it than that. What aren't you telling us?"

"What else could there be?" Methos asked innocently. "I did some bad things to save my own neck and now I don't anymore. That's about it."

"There is still something you are holding back," Legolas insisted.

"You're really not going to let this go are you?" Methos said irritated at the elf's persistence.

Legolas only looked at Methos. He was wearing an expression which reminded Methos of the elf's often overlooked status as a prince. Prince Legolas was not accustomed to receiving evasive answers.

Methos finally gave up the struggle and decided to come clean. "I have explained most of it. I didn't tell you any lies. There's just a little bit I left out," he said holding up two fingers less than an inch apart.

"Yes?" Legolas signaled Methos to continue.

"In my world, there's a legend. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. There are four riders, War, Strife, Famine, and Death who are said to bring the end of the world. I was Death," Methos said in an off hand manner, thinking that the more weight he gave to the matter the more weight they would attach to it.

"Why keep that part so closely guarded a secret?" Gimli asked, confused.

"It is a question of magnitude. What would be so fearful that the memory would remain thousands of years later?" Legolas asked rhetorically, the significance of what Methos told them slowly sinking in.

"I need to start documenting the carvings, if I plan to finish today," Methos said, abruptly changing the subject. "Since the lettering is Greek, I should be fine on my own. Why don't you two head back to the citadel?" Methos suggested, thinking to give Legolas and Gimli time to digest what they had just learned. "I'll follow, later."

"I suppose we could do that," Gimli said, "but I'm not sure we should."

Methos rolled his eyes at the dwarf's new found suspicion of him. "I've been here for over a year. If I were going to run off and commit evil acts I would have done it by now. I will simply make some notes and return to Minas Tirith before dinnertime. I might have been an evil bastard in ages past, but I've been a harmless scholar for a lot longer. You haven't been completely mistaken about my character all this time."

Legolas and Gimli exchanged a meaningful glance, then Gimli said, "Right, we're leaving then. See you this evening," in a slightly warning, but not unfriendly, tone. Legolas and Gimli mounted their horse, Legolas nodded to Methos in farewell, then the two headed back toward the city.

Methos, setting to work, muttered to himself, "What is wrong with me? I go millennia without telling a soul about my dark past, then in less than a decade I tell everyone I know. I shudder to think what Freud would make of this. I'm not dealing with unresolved issues. I'm not. All my issues are fully resolved."

Legolas and Gimli returned to Minas Tirith and went in search of Aragorn, in order to fill him in on their latest discoveries regarding Methos. They found him in the Queen's solar. Aragorn tended to do a lot of his paperwork there. The sunny room was more pleasant than his study and the Queen's presence was an even greater attraction.

After relaying what Methos had told them to Aragorn and Arwen, the group fell silent.

"That does explain many things," Aragorn finally said.

"That it does. I always knew there was more to him than met the eye, and now we know," said Gimli with a shrug. Gimli didn't exactly have complete faith in Methos, but he never really did. Methos seemed a decent enough sort for now, and that's all that really mattered to the pragmatic dwarf.

"How can you be so accepting of his past? He was evil!" Legolas asked, surprised at his friends' reactions.

"But, he isn't evil now. He has been nothing but a friend to us in the time we have known him," Aragorn countered.

"I do not understand. How is it that a man can be evil at one time then later change his heart to good?" Legolas said, trying to understand Methos's side of it.

"I don't understand either, but nor can I understand what it would be like to live thousands of years while everyone I know dies around me. I'm not surprised though. All men have a dark side. Given enough time and temptation it would be difficult to not stray on to darker paths," Aragorn said meditatively.

"I believe it speaks in his favor that he was able to change his ways," Arwen interjected. "Once a man has committed himself to evil, there is usually no turning back. Returning to the dishonest, brutal, and easier methods of before is too much of a temptation."

"Then why did he change? And, how do we know he won't suddenly take up evil ways again?" Legolas asked, starting to see Methos's side of things, but still unsure.

"You would have to ask him that, but I would guess it was a woman," Arwen said shrewdly.

"A woman?" Gimli asked, surprised by the queen's answer.

"He keeps it hidden well, but Adam has some decidedly romantic tendencies. I believe a woman he loved could easily convince him to give up that life," Arwen elaborated. "And, I very much doubt he will change back to what he was. There doesn't seem to be any evil in him, not anymore."

"I agree with that assessment," Legolas said, "I have never believed him evil which is why I can't understand this. How can a man change so very much?"

"Perhaps it wasn't that great a change," Aragorn suggested. "Perhaps he did evil things, but was not himself evil."

"How could that be?" Gimli asked, not understanding what Aragorn meant. Was not an evil man simply a man who did evil?

"We weren't there and have no idea what happened," Aragorn explained. "There could have been good reason for him acting as he did."

"Justification for slaughtering innocent people?" Legolas asked.

"Not justification. There is no excuse for killing innocents. But, some mitigating factor which would explain why he did it. Even a good man can make mistakes," Aragorn pointed out.

"That is true." Legolas agreed. "We don't know the circumstances. Perhaps there is an explanation."

"And he does seem to feel some remorse," Gimli pointed out, "and didn't make excuses for himself. I don't think we're in any danger of him going back to those ways."

"I keep coming back to thoughts of his isolation. The pain and loneliness of an Immortal existence must be maddening. I can't bear the thought of watching all those I love age and die while I stay young forever. To know that he has experienced that over and over again, makes me think that perhaps he wasn't quite sane at the time. Also the proposal of a brotherhood which would not die had to be very tempting, even if its members weren't the ones he would have chosen," Arwen suggested, herself very sensitive to the issues involved in immortals associating with mortals, from personal experience.

"Yes," Legolas agreed, "it could have been madness. I haven't given very much thought to that particular aspect of his immortality. Perhaps, because it strikes a little too close to some of my own concerns," he said, looking around at his friends, all of whom would die some day.

"In any event, this new revelation about Adam's past in no way changes anything. He is the same man who saved my life a few weeks ago and assisted in catching an assassin. I don't know why he did the things he did, but I don't think it matters. All that is important is the man he is now. Aside from being occasionally irritating, his behavior has been above reproach," Aragorn said in support of his friend.

"It was good of him to help find the assassin. Gondor isn't his country and its fate is of no concern to him. A bunch of ancient history which took place on another world makes little difference to me," Gimli said in support of Methos. "But, it is nice to finally have all the pieces to the puzzle. All those little thing which didn't quite add up were irritating me."

"I suppose you are right," Legolas conceded. "His story just caught me off guard. I never would have thought a friend capable of such things, even sometime in the distant past."

"So, none of you plan on holding his past against him?" Arwen asked.

"Nothing to hold against him," Gimli said, "he never harmed me or mine."

"The past remains the past," Aragorn agreed.

"I too shall try to treat him the same as ever. Although this new knowledge will undoubtedly color our future relationship, I have no ill will against him," said Legolas.

"Excellent," Arwen said, pleased to have things her own way. "Evening approaches and I must dress for dinner," she added rising from her seat and putting away her embroidery.

The gentlemen rose also, as Arwen left the room. Then, they too went to their rooms in order to put on the appropriate dress for the evening meal.

CHAPTER 11

That evening Methos went about his normal routine at court, charming the ladies and entertaining the nobles with tales of earth, almost as if nothing had happened. Almost, but not quite; he did make it a point to avoid Gimli and Legolas. Realizing how much the revelations about his past disturbed the elf, Methos wanted to give Legolas some space. 'He's not so close-minded and judgmental as to never let it go, but that strong sense of justice is bound to get in the way, for a while at least.' Methos thought, considering the situation as he prepared for bed. 'Since Mac got over it, I'm sure Legolas will too and probably a lot faster. But, I think I shook up his worldview some and I better give it time to settle before trying to enter into polite dinner conversation with him. No sense asking for trouble.

'Gimli seemed to take it better than anyone I've ever met. He didn't bat an eyelash. I wonder why that is?' Methos mused on his situation. 'Perhaps it has something to do with the rather simplistic concept of good against evil they have here. That old enemy of theirs was just EVIL, no explanations added, and Aragorn and his friends are GOOD, simple as that, completely black and white and very tidy. Since he knows I'm one of the white hats I couldn't really have been one of the black hats. Then again it could be that Gimli didn't really grasp what I once was. It's not like they have the biblical imagery of the Four Horsemen engraved upon their collective psyches here, the way it is on earth.

'But Legolas, he understood some of it. He could imagine what it would take to make such a lasting impression. I can only be grateful he can't know how lasting an impression I, we, made. Then I don't think he'd ever let it go. Ah well, what's done is done. They're all grown ups who've seen a thing or two in their time, they'll come to terms with my past sooner or later. I just hope it's sooner. I've gotten too used to having friends in the past few years and don't fancy giving them up, even temporarily.'

Having sorted the situation out in his head, Methos went to bed and slept the sleep of the innocent. In 5,000 years of life the Immortal had learned the trick of sleeping anywhere, anytime, with or without a guilty conscience, and no matter how stressful the situation. A very useful trick considering his past experiences. If he weren't able to block all else out in favor of a restful night's sleep, Methos would never be able to rest, too many evil acts and painful memories.

Early the next morning Legolas and Gimli were saying their farewells. Legolas was headed toward Ithilien and Gimli to the Glittering Caves. The two were going to miss each other, but there were things each had to see to, things which had gone undone while they'd stayed to protect Aragorn. Lordship carried many responsibilities, and the two were nothing if not responsible.

"I have been away from my kindred for too long," Legolas said. "Minas Tirith is a beautiful city, but it is no match for the beauties of nature. I miss the musical sounds of my own language and the shade of trees over head."

"I know what you mean," Gimli replied. "This human city is growing tiresome and wearing upon my nerves. I'm looking forward to further exploration of my new home. We only saw the central branch when we were there last. I want to know what further wonders the side passages hold. But..."

"But, you hate to say farewell to the friends you have made," Legolas finished for him.

"That, and the journey. I've gotten too used to sharing a mount. I'm still not very fond of horses, but walking is going to seem very slow by comparison. Walking without companions to pass the time with shall seem even slower," Gimli grumbled.

"I'm afraid there's nothing I can do to make the journey swifter," Legolas said with a grin. "But, the farewell won't be for very long."

"That's right," Gimli said, "Aragorn has his yearly gathering where the Lords of Gondor must account for their past year, but I thought we were exempt?"

"We are, but we should still attend if there's nothing pressing elsewhere. Our absence may cause ill will among the nobles," Legolas explained.

"Then by all means, we'll attend," said Gimli. "We shall meet again next spring then?"

"Next spring," Legolas agreed with a nod, grasping Gimli's arm in farewell. Then the elf mounted his horse and said, "Safe journey my friend."

"Safe journey," Gimli returned.

The elf circled his horse and rode away. Gimli took up the reins of his supply pony and began walking toward his beloved caves.

Methos, who'd been asleep during their departure, went looking for the elf and the dwarf. He didn't think he'd given Legolas enough time yet, but wanted to test the waters anyway, in order to gauge the elf's state of mind. Instead, he found Arwen gathering flowers in the palace gardens.

"My lady," Methos greeted her with a bow. "I'm surprised to find you picking your own flowers. I thought that was one of the tasks performed by your platoon of gardeners."

"It is, normally," Arwen agreed not looking up from her work. "But, this small task makes a pleasant change from needle work and household accounts."

"I suppose it does at that. Have you seen Legolas or Gimli this morning, my lady?"

"Were you not told?" Arwen said turning away from her work and looking at Methos with confusion in her eyes. "They left this morning, returning to their own lands."

"Oh yes, they did mention leaving, a couple days ago. I'd forgotten," Methos said evenly, carefully concealing his true reaction. 'If they left without even saying goodbye they must be more upset than I thought they were.' he thought with some chagrin and a tinge of sadness.

Arwen, noticing Methos's mostly hidden dismay, said, "Legolas did leave you a note. They left very early and did not think you would appreciate being wakened, only for them to say their farewells. I left it on my desk; perhaps you should send a page to fetch it."

"I'll do that, my lady." Methos went back inside the palace, sent a page to the Queen's solar to fetch the note, and returned to Arwen. He sat down on one of the benches near the queen and studied her closely. She was the picture of serenity. She stood next to a climbing rose vine with a flower basket hooked over one arm. She'd carefully study the plant, cut a flower with the gardening shears she held, and place the flower in the basket. Each movement performed with the precision expected of a surgeon, rather than the more relaxed demeanor most would approach the task with. After a moment Methos broke the silence, "You know, don't you?" he asked shrewdly.

"Gimli and Legolas did share what you told them with Aragorn and me," Arwen replied carefully. "However, I don't claim to know anything. I don't know what you did, why you did it, or why you've changed."

"Are you asking me? Do you want me to explain myself?" Methos asked with a combination of bitterness and cynicism. He didn't like being questioned, but knew it was his own fault. He appreciated her giving him the benefit of the doubt, but dreaded proving her wrong. There were no excuses for the things he had done.

"I want to understand," Arwen stated simply.

"There's not a lot to understand. I did some very evil things and I enjoyed it. Then it stopped being fun," Methos said.

"There has to be more to it than that," Arwen insisted.

"There isn't. My brothers and I would ride into a village, kill everyone who resisted or just got in our way, took what was useful, burned the rest, and enslaved all the survivors. That was our idea of a good time. Riding down helpless people running in fear was good sport. I can't even cite greed as a reason. There wasn't much to steal in most of those villages. There were times when we went hungry because there wasn't any food to take. Not having anything worth looting was no reason for us to avoid attacking. Bloodlust was reason enough," Methos explained, growing frustrated by Arwen's continued belief in him. He was trying to tell her he was evil and she clearly wasn't buying it.

"But, why did you do it? What was the reason for such acts?" Arwen asked, distressed by the picture her favorite courtier had painted for her but unwilling to believe him to be so completely evil.

"There was no reason. I did it because it was fun. I liked terrorizing people. The thrill of bloodshed, the sense of power, it was intoxicating," Methos said, trying to disabuse Arwen of any illusions she might have.

"If that life was so 'fun,' why did you change?" Arwen asked shrewdly, positive that Methos's heart wasn't as black as he'd have her believe.

"Various reasons. You do anything for long enough and it's bound to get old. Riding into a town and randomly killing people was getting boring. Then there were the growing tensions among the four of us. Kronos and Caspian were never exactly sane, but as time went on they got progressively worse. Caspian was becoming an uncontrollable lunatic. Kronos, seemed sane enough on the surface, but he was a megalomaniac with growing paranoia. And, I was beginning to realize what a limited existence that truly was. There was so much I didn't know about the world, so much I wanted to learn, and terrorizing the countryside doesn't leave much time for study."

"And?" Arwen asked, one eyebrow raised.

"And what?" said Methos puzzled by Arwen's question.

"What event was it that made you change? The reasons you named would explain your leaving the company of your brothers, but they don't explain how you changed as a person. What specific events led you to the realization that what you'd done was wrong?" Arwen elaborated.

Just then the page returned with the note from Legolas. Methos thanked the page and opened the note, saying to Arwen, "That is an excellent observation my lady. Not many people would catch that detail." Then, continuing to stall for time, he quickly read through the note. It said:

Methos,

I regret that we should part on less than friendly terms, but there are tasks which cannot be delayed any longer. I must depart. I was surprised and dismayed by what I learned yesterday, for I cannot understand it. However, I am not your judge and there is nothing for me to forgive. Whatever your past consists of it is your own and I shall not sever our friendship because of it. Farewell, my friend and should you still reside in Minas Tirith come spring I will see you then. Gimli also adds his farewells.

Sincerely,

Legolas

Arwen gave Methos a moment to read the note, but was not about to let her line of questioning go. "I am correct in my assumption? There was some specific event which changed the course of your life?" she prompted when she saw him reach the end of the note.

"Yes there was something," Methos confirmed, "a woman."

"Alexa?" Arwen asked.

"No, Alexa wouldn't be born for another 3,000 years or so and we only met a few years ago," Methos said.

"A few years ago... you mean your wife was mortal?" Arwen said shocked by the realization. When she'd found out about Methos's immortality she'd assumed that his wife was the same and had simply lost a duel.

"Yes, she was. All of them were. I couldn't marry another Immortal."

"All of them? How many times have you been married?" Arwen asked, horrified at the prospect of watching not one, but multiple, mortal loves die.

"Sixty-nine at last count," Methos said with a shrug.

"But how can you stand it? How can you marry a woman you know will die while you go on without her?" she replied, completely bewildered by this staggering bit of information.

"It's not easy, but it's better than the alternative. 'It is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all.' When the choices are being happy for a time then suffering the pain of losing the one you love, or always being alone, unhappy, and only half alive; I'll chose momentary happiness every time. Love is too important and rare for any chance at it to be passed up, no matter how short the duration."

Arwen nodded in assent, that being a sentiment she shared. She had made a similiar decision when she chose to be mortal in order to be with Aragorn. "I suppose living with mortals and grieving their deaths is better than being alone..." Then, after a short pause she asked, "but why can't you marry another Immortal?" puzzled by Methos's previous comment.

"Well, there's the Game for one," he explained, "knowing that one day you may have to fight to the death tends to put a damper on the relationship. There's also the level of commitment involved. 'Til death do us part' takes on a whole other meaning when it comes to Immortals. Several thousand years is a long time to live with just one person."

"You believe immortality makes marriage impossible?" Arwen asked somewhat incredulously, knowing more than one happily married elvish couple.

"Not impossible, so much as extremely difficult, for humans at least," Methos clarified. "Humans are too changeable to make such a long term commitment work. Several centuries go by and you're looking at two people with little in common with the two who originally married each other. Occasionally, they change in ways that compliment one another, but mostly they drift apart. There's no way of knowing beforehand which it is going to be, making marriage a rather large gamble."

"You said yourself that love is too precious to be avoided, but now the risks of marriage between Immortals is too great?" Arwen asked archly, pointing out the flaws in Methos's reasoning.

"I never said I was consistent," Methos said with a grin, "But, you're right. With the right woman the future isn't too great a risk to take. With Alexa I would have taken that risk, if I could have," he continued grief momentarily reflected in his expression.

"I am sorry. I didn't intend to remind you of your loss," Arwen said with sympathy. "You never told me about the woman who changed your life?" she asked, trying to change the subject.

"Cassandra, we're just moving from one painful subject to another today," Methos said flippantly, trying to cover his true feelings.

"Another lost love?" Arwen asked, not really wanting to pick at Methos's old wounds, but feeling he needed to speak of them to someone. The queen was positive Methos was judging himself too harshly and needed to forgive himself for his past misdeeds.

"No... yes... I don't know, maybe." Methos said.

"If she wasn't your love, what was she to you?" Arwen prompted.

"If you want the short version, I owned her. She loved me and I... cared for her. Then Kronos reminded me of our oath to share and share alike, so I gave her to him rather than cause a fight between us," he replied conversationally, sure that this would be the final straw. His treatment of Cassandra would be what finally convinced Arwen of the truth about him.

"And, he killed her," Arwen stated, thinking she finally understood.

"No, actually, she killed him, temporarily. Then she escaped. I didn't see her again for another three thousand years or so, when she tried to kill me a couple years ago," Methos said casually, but underneath his calm facade he was squirming, anxious for the interrogation to end.

This revelation left Arwen completely nonplused. For the first time in centuries she found herself speechless. The queen had no idea what to make of what Methos had just told her. Everything else fit neatly into Arwen's personal theory regarding his past, that he had cracked under the pressures of being an Immortal and fell into some evil ways, but this didn't match up. It didn't disprove her theory, but it didn't quite fit. This particular incident showed him to be more self-centered and spineless than it showed him to be mentally unstable.

The two sat in silence while Arwen ruminated on what he had told her and Methos waited for the other shoe to drop. Finally, Arwen asked, "Cassandra clearly didn't succeed in taking your life, does that mean you killed her?"

"No, I didn't kill her. I couldn't and still live with myself. I told her to go ahead and kill me if she must. Mac convinced her not to because I wasn't the same man I was all those years ago."

"I see." Arwen said with a smile, feeling her assessment of Methos to be confirmed by this story. If the person most wronged by him could see her way to forgiveness, he must be deserving of it. The queen wouldn't normally pry so far into another person's life, but after her great misjudgment of Landon she wanted some reassurance that her ability to judge a man's character was still intact. Reassured, the queen asked, "Would you take the flowers to Aragorn's study for me? I need to fetch a vase. I think these roses will be just the thing to liven up that gloomy room."

Methos blinked a couple times, surprised by Arwen's calm acceptance of it all, and said, "Of course my lady, I would be delighted."

Arwen handed Methos the basket and went inside the palace. Methos watched the queen leave, an expression of bemusement on his face. Then, he slowly followed her, shaking his head slightly and saying under his breath, "Elves... they're just strange."

CHAPTER 12

An airport in Switzerland, a few weeks before Christmas...

Duncan was waiting at the airport for Joe. He looked around at the huge crowds wandering why it hadn't occurred to him how many people decide to take family ski trips for the holidays. The airport was a madhouse, harassed travelers looking for misplaced luggage and trying to keep track of tired children. 'I should have come later,' the Highlander thought eyeing the enormous line at customs.

After a half hour or so, Joe cleared customs and the two went out to Mac's rental car. "How was the flight?" Mac asked.

"Horrendous. I was next to a woman with a baby."

"That screamed the entire time?"

"No, the baby was fine. It was the woman who was a problem. She changed his diapers right there next to me then would hand me the used one and ask if I would 'be a dear and give this to the stewardess next time she comes, since you're on the aisle,'" Joe said in a high pitched voice, imitating the woman from the flight. "Remind me not to travel during Christmas if I can help it."

Mac laughed, nodding in agreement, and said, "I'm afraid our accommodations at the inn aren't ideal either. They were almost completely booked. We'll have to share a room."

"Perfect. Just remember, annoy me and there's no telling what might end up in your chronicle," Joe warned.

"No singing in the shower at the crack of dawn?"

"Not unless you want future generations of Watchers reading a critique of your song choice and singing ability."

"I think we should spare them that," Duncan conceded with a grin.

They rode along the winding road for a few moments in silence. "Have you found anything on Methos?" Joe asked on a more serious note.

"Not yet. I went up to the clearing where they fought and saw the stones he came for, but I didn't find anything," Mac replied with a shrug, sounding frustrated.

"Maybe there's something on his laptop that will help."

"The police took that."

"And the Watchers took it from the police and I persuaded them to ship it to me at the inn."

"They just agreed to send it to you? I'd think they'd be too concerned about what Adam Pierson, former Watcher, might have on it to let it out of Headquarters."

"They probably wouldn't have given it to me, if they knew it was Adam Pierson's."

"And you just forgot to tell them," Duncan said, feeling like they might actually get somewhere now. Methos kept all of his important files password protected, but Duncan had been given the password. In case Methos finally lost a fight, he didn't want the most recent of his diaries to be lost.

"I don't know if Adam Pierson and Mike Adams are one and the same. I never saw Mike Adams with my own eyes." Joe said innocently.

Back in Middle-earth...

Aragorn and Methos were sparring in a corridor in one of the areas of the citadel which had fallen into disuse. It had been raining for the past three days and the king, ever practical, suggested that practice be moved inside where it was dry, for him and Methos at least. The guardsmen still had to contend with the weather for the country needed to be protected rain or shine, but rank does have its privileges.

The oldest Immortal didn't particularly enjoy weapon's practice, it was too much like work, but 'When in Rome, do as the Roman's do.' had been the ancient Immortal's motto for millennia. The Romans of Middle-earth were very serious about practicing their fighting skills. Methos and the king had regular twice weekly matches. On the practice field Aragorn and Methos were about evenly matched, after Methos got back into top fighting form. Inside the palace, Methos had an edge.

Methos was advancing on Aragorn, backing the king up a staircase. One step and another and another, step by step halfway up the staircase King Elessar was still managing to hold his own, but Methos was watching very carefully for his chance. Then it came, Aragorn stepped back a fraction of an inch too far and his heel brushed the edge of the next step up, throwing him off balance. Methos took advantage of his opponent's momentary distraction to twist his sword around Aragorn's and wrench Aragorn's sword from his grasp. Methos then moved in for the kill, metaphorically speaking. But, it wasn't to be so easy. Aragorn ducked Methos's swing, dropping to almost a reclining position against the steps, and kicked Methos over the side, giving himself time to recover his sword.

"You very nearly had me there," Aragorn observed as the two faced each other in the hallway. "Those stairs nearly did me in. I haven't had much occasion for fighting indoors."

"That's what I was counting on," Methos replied, as the two circled around looking for an opening. "Nice kick by the way," he added shrugging the shoulder he had landed on, "I didn't see that one coming."

"Lucky for me," Aragorn said distractedly, planning his next attack. Methos almost never made the first move, preferring to see what his opponent was up to before committing to anything.

This time Methos did the unexpected. He attacked first. The battle went on for another few minutes, but the two men had been chasing each other up and down corridors for quite some time now and both were getting tired. Finally, Methos managed to shove Aragorn into a corner and trap his sword against a wall, winning the match.

The two men, breathing heavily and rubbing various sorer parts of their anatomy, hobbled over to the stairs and sat down for a moment's rest. "Where did you learn that parry you used when we were stumbling over the benches?" Methos asked, "I thought that maneuver could only be used with a saber."

"As did I. I didn't see any other choices so I decided to try it anyway," Aragorn said with a grimace. Rubbing his shoulder he continued, "I now know why it is only used with a saber. Almost dislocated it. By tomorrow the shoulder's going to be worse than the ribs."

"A wrenched shoulder is better than being a corpse," Methos observed.

Aragorn nodded in agreement with that sentiment, still manipulating his shoulder in order to assess the damage.

"Sorry about that. You're better with a sword than half the Immortals I know. I tend to forget that you're not one of us and fight like I would if I were sparring with MacLeod or another Immortal," Methos said, with an apologetic smile.

"There is nothing to apologize for. A few bruises and pulled muscles will heal. I have learned many things from you which I don't believe I would have learned had you held back," said Aragorn waving away the apology.

"All right then, no going easy on you. But, why so concerned with learning this? You're already one of, if not the best swordsman in Middle-earth, you haven't any enemies to speak of, and you're the king," Methos asked curiously.

"Old habits are not easily left behind. I was not always king. For many years I was a Ranger with only my wits and my skill with a blade keeping death at bay. And... although there is no threat at present and my sincerest wish is for the peace to continue, I have no knowledge of what the future might bring."

"Hope for the best, but plan for the worst," Methos said, nodding in approval.

"Precisely," Aragorn agreed. Then changing the subject, "So, Immortals regularly injure one another just for practice?"

"Friendly matches are usually no holds barred short of broken bones. Bruises, no matter how bad, heal in seconds. Breaks don't take much longer, but they hurt a lot more. Killing someone temporarily is also a no-no, usually."

"Usually? There are times when it is acceptable to kill your friends for practice?" Aragorn asked, surprised.

"Sometimes it's necessary to run a student through a few times to make them take the lessons seriously."

Aragorn gave Methos an incredulous look and said slowly, "You find it necessary to kill your students a few times in order to teach them?"

"What? They get back up, good as new." Methos said defensively. Then, after a pause for reflection, he conceded, "I suppose it's not exactly necessary. There are other ways to bring the seriousness of the situation home to them, but that would take longer."

"And require effort on your part," Aragorn tacked on to Methos's statement.

"Okay, I admit it. I'm lazy. There are reasons I never take on a student unless I absolutely have to. I never claimed to be a good teacher."

"I pity any student who has you for a master," Aragorn said with a chuckle.

"I thought you said you'd learned a lot from me?" Methos reminded Aragorn of his previous comment, arching one eyebrow.

"I..." Aragorn started to reply but stopped when a page entered the corridor clearly looking for them. Aragorn rose from his place on the stairs and walked toward the page.

"Your Majesty," the boy said, bowing, "a visitor has arrived from Ithilien."

Knowing that elves rarely visited the dwellings of man without some pressing reason, Aragorn was put on alert. "Is there some trouble in Ithilien?"

"I don't believe so, Your Majesty." the page answered, a little uneasy about being questioned by the king. "Master Sandir came to see Sir Adam. He said he had heard many interesting things about him and wanted to see for himself." They had decided not to inform the entire court about Methos's past. Most of the nobles still knew him simply as 'Adam.'

"I see. Tell Master Sandir that Sir Adam will meet with him shortly," Aragorn said, relieved to know nothing untoward was afoot. "Sir Adam," Aragorn called, turning toward Methos, "An elf by the name of Sandir is here to see you. No doubt he can assist with your translation."

"Oh yes, I'd almost forgotten about him," Methos said as he walked over to where Aragorn was standing.

"Forgotten about him?" Aragorn asked, confused by Methos's statement.

"Your archivist sent him a letter asking for his help when I first arrived here," Methos explained.

Then, they went off to clean up a bit before greeting Sandir.

Methos walked into the library, where Sandir was waiting for him. The elf wished to get right to the task which drew him to Minas Tirith and was already examining the copies Methos had made of the markings on the stones when Methos arrived. Methos stopped in the doorway for a moment to examine the new arrival. He was young in appearance, looking not more than thirty, if that, as were all the elves. But, his silver, not gray or white but a true silver, hair and that indefinable something which the truly ancient carry with them belied his young appearance.

Having heard Methos's arrival, Sandir looked up from the papers and turned to Methos. "You are Sir Adam?" he asked with a pleasant smile.

Methos nodded in assent. "Sandir, I presume. It was good of you to come," he greeted the elf. Taking in the elf's welcoming expression and the look of wisdom in his clear blue eyes Methos thought to himself, 'If there was ever a candidate for Methos: Ancient Wise-one, this is he. He could probably convince me he was Methos, if he put his mind to it.'

"After the things Prince Legolas told me of you and your... journey, my curiosity wouldn't allow me to stay away," Sandir replied jovially.

"Have you found any answers yet?" Methos asked curiously, looking over at the copies Sandir had been examining.

"Not yet, but perhaps with your assistance... I do not recognize these characters, but I'm told you do. If the words are Quenya I should be able to understand them, if you would be kind enough to read them out?"

"Of course. When would you like to begin?" Methos said, both excited at the possibility of finally making some progress at finding a way home and nervous because it may in fact turn out to be a dead end. The language might not be Quenya or, even worse, it might be and the stones might say that there is no way back.

"There are several hours yet before the evening meal. We could begin now," Sandir suggested, sensing Methos's anxiety and more than a little curious about what the writing said himself.

"Sounds good to me," Methos agreed.

Sandir took up pen and ink and prepared to take notes. Methos gathered up the copies and slowly read the first line. Sandir winced a bit at Methos's pronunciation saying, "Prince Legolas was correct. That is Quenya."

"That is a relief, but I take it my accent needs work," Methos said, the corners of his mouth quirking up into a self-deprecating grin, one of his concerns having been alleviated.

Sandir simply replied by repeating the line as it should have been said.

"I see. It should sound a bit Scandinavian, but more musical. I'll see if I can't do better with the rest of it," Methos said. Then he read the next line. This time Sandir didn't wince, although the pronunciation was still far from perfect.

They spent the next couple hours working on the translation. Methos would read a line or two and Sandir would write down the translation into common tongue. For the most part it went very smoothly, Sandir having to ask for repetition and Methos having to try another pronunciation only a few times. As the sun began to set, they finished the translation and what the stones said was this:

The gate is locked and the path is hidden
Death of the undying shall turn the key
When the time is right and the sign is given
To those undying a passage will be

In light and darkness the worlds align
The longest day from there to here
The longest night from this to thine
At these times the paths appear

'By my blood bridge the worlds'
And swiftly draw the blade
Speak the words and spill the blood
And travel the roads away

"I'm not entirely satisfied with the translation," Sandir said meditatively. "I am fairly sure that this is the meaning, but in Quenya the rhyme has much elegance and beauty which my poor translation does not convey."

"It's not a masterpiece of literature by any means, but the instructions seem clear enough. I just have to go to the stones on the winter solstice, cut myself, and say 'by my blood bridge the worlds.' That's what I really wanted to know."

"That does appear to be the way, but I don't understand the first part. It seems to be saying that only immortal beings can pass and only the death of an immortal can unlock the 'gates' to start with. How can that be so? You, a man, passed from your world to this. And how can one who is immortal die? I suppose it could refer to the death of the body, as happens to sorely wounded elves, but Prince Legolas said there were no elves in your world. I think, perhaps, we should try translating the first part again."

"Yes... well... actually it does make sense. I know what it is referring to," Methos said a bit uncomfortably. The cat was already out of the bag, so to speak, with a good portion of his Middle-earth acquaintances. And, by this time he had accepted the fact that people knowing his secret would present no particular danger to him on this world. If that weren't the case, he would have pretended to be as confused as Sandir and done the translation again in order to protect himself. As it was, he was prepared to share the truth with the elf but he still wasn't exactly sanguine about it, especially considering that they'd only met hours ago.

"You do?" Sandir asked, eyebrows arching in surprise.

"It's something I generally try to keep as quiet as possible, so I'd appreciate it if you'd keep this to yourself..." Methos paused to get Sandir's assent.

"I will keep your confidences," Sandir agreed very seriously.

"Good. You see, I happen to be an Immortal," Methos said in an intentionally very offhand manner. Something about the appearance of wisdom always made Methos want to ruffle a man's feathers a bit.

"And the one to die, he was another like you?" Sandir deduced, slightly surprised by Methos's revelation.

"Yes, that's pretty much the shape of it."

"Are all the men of your world immortal?" Sandir asked, fascinated by the possibility.

"No, there's only a few of us. Most men are pretty much like the ones here, mortal."

"Then, this does seem to be the correct translation."

"Yes, it does sound right. I suppose I'll know for certain in a few months when the winter solstice comes," Methos agreed.

"In the meantime, perhaps you could tell me a little more about your variety of immortality?" Sandir asked, hopefully.

"I don't see why not," Methos shrugged, "You were such an enormous help with the translation, it is the least I could do."

Months passed and the winter solstice arrived. Aragorn and Arwen, along with a small troop of guards, rode with Methos, once again dressed in his earth clothes, to the stone circle. The guards stayed back behind the trees while Aragorn, Arwen, and Methos went into the clearing to say their farewells.

"I shall miss my favorite courtier," Arwen said with a slightly sad smile. "None of the others are half so creative in their flattery."

"It was simply the truth my lady," Methos said with a courtly bow.

Hoof beats sounded off in the distance, drawing near the clearing. Then Gimli and Legolas rode into the circle. "You didn't think we'd let you leave without saying goodbye?" Gimli called as they dismounted.

"It wouldn't be a proper leave taking without you Master Gimli, and you, Prince Legolas," Methos answered.

Legolas walked over to Methos and the two clasped hands in friendship. "I've come to wish you a safe journey and to give you a parting gift," the elf said, handing Methos an elven bow.

"It is... exquisite," Methos said examining the beautifully crafted weapon.

"You once said you had not practiced archery in several centuries. I thought this gift might motivate you to take it up once more," Legolas explained.

"That it shall," Methos agreed caressing the finely carved wood, "Thank you."

"I know you're too attached to that sword of yours to use even a much better made replacement," Gimli said, referring to a past conversation about the merits of dwarven made blades, "but, I thought these might come in useful." He pulled from his belt a pair of dwarven made daggers. They were simply crafted, with plain leather wrapped handles, clearly made for practical use, but the precision with which they were executed made them beautiful instruments.

"I'm sure they will," Methos thanked the dwarf and put the daggers away in one of his trench coat's deep pockets.

Then Methos came to Aragorn. The stood together in silence for a few moments. Then Aragorn spoke, "I shall miss my favorite sparring partner."

"I doubt you'll miss the assorted bumps and bruises," Methos returned.

"I don't suppose I will miss those... Methos, thank you. Thank you for my life." Aragorn said solemnly

"You're very welcome," Methos said with a dismissive shrug, brushing aside the king's gratitude.

"You will be careful once you've rejoined this 'game' of yours? I hope your head remains attached to your shoulders for a long time to come."

"I hope the same thing and I'm always careful," Methos said, refraining from rolling his eyes, but the tone still clearly present in his voice.

Aragorn grinned at Methos's childish reaction, like an adolescent when his mother tells him to be careful. "Farewell my friend, safe journey home," Aragorn said grasping Methos's arm in farewell.

"Yes, safe journey," Arwen agreed going up on tiptoe to kiss Methos on the cheek.

"Well, this is it, the moment of truth," Methos said walking to the center of the circle and taking out one of the knives Gimli had given him. He took one last look at the friends he had made while in Middle-earth. Then bracing himself slightly, he drew the blade across the palm of his hand and as the blood dripped into the stone bowl he recited the key line of Quenya Sandir had drilled him on.

The script inside the stone hollow began to glow and to spin, much as the other circle did, but this time the glow was softer. The light slowly spread up from the bowl and enveloped Methos growing brighter by the moment. Eventually, Methos had to close his eyes to the blinding light. He had no way of knowing how long he stood in the light with his eyes tightly shut, it could have been hours or mere moment, but at some point he lost consciousness.

Next thing he knew he awoke lying on a patch of frozen ground, snow dripping onto his head from an overhanging branch. Slowly he sat up, clutching his throbbing head and looked at his surroundings. The low stones and the trees were exactly as he remembered from a year and a half ago, only now it was all covered in snow.

There was one other difference between this time and the year before. This time Methos wasn't alone. "Damn it. 'Undying' must have meant any immortal rather than just Immortals," he muttered to himself as he bent to examine the unconscious elf.

The End