The Holyground Highlander Forum Midweek Challenge
Archivist’s Note: The stories and vignettes offered here from various Holyground Forumlanders have not been edited or changed other than having a spell-check performed and being reformatted for this website.
The Challenge by Leah CWPack
They All Come Home, Part 3 – Eden’s Serpent by wildcard
Garden of Memory by Ysanne
Pretty Maids All In A Row by Storie
Zen Memories by Ghost Cat
The Garden of No Light by lynnannCDC
The Midwife’s Garden by Wain
New Beginnings by SwingGirl
A Brighter Future by LA-LA-Lander
MWC: GARDEN VARIETY
Your challenge, should you decide to participate:
Write a short scene or story that takes place in a garden (of any kind), featuring any two Immortal characters from HL.
As always, if you wish to have your entry archived , don't forget to put "MWC" in the subject line of your entry posting.
MWC: They All Come Home part 3 - "Eden's Serpent"
Posted By: wildcard
Date: Tuesday, 26 June 2001, at 9:53 a.m.
I know absolutely nothing about gardening. We moved into town when I was five, and I’ve been a city boy ever since. However, I was looking for a challenge.
For those who are unaware, I decided a few weeks ago to attempt to tell a continuing story using the MWC’s. Each challenge represents another chapter. There have been two installments so far. If I have the time, I will come back and repost the early parts. Meanwhile, here’s the next part. I had to do it on the run, I hope it doesn’t seem too rushed.
The story so far:
Amanda and Nick have come to Rebecca’s abbey to visit with John and too begin Nick’s training. However, once they arrived they discovered another visitor, Kenny. Amanda has avoided confrontation so far, but a troubling dream has convinced her to take action.
They All Come Home – Part 3
It was beautiful.
Amanda stood in the entryway of an expansive cloister. There were four entryways, one along each wall, leading to different parts of the abbey. They were adorned with impressive arches, each intricately carved depicting different seasons. From every entrance ran a marbled walkway fragmented into separate blocks of descending size. It was like a giant abstract calendar detailing the passage of months, weeks and days. In the center, the pathways joined around a large elaborate fountain
The fountain mirrored the look of the archways and walkways, with detailed carvings and chrono-centric designs. It had been molded into the likeness of a large tree, a solid trunk supporting separate levels of boughs and leaves. The top of the fountain presented a solid canopy from which water flowed freely, dripping onto the branches below. As the water filled the next level, it flowed through a series of interconnected leaves, forming a circular waterway. Once full, the water drained into the next tier, slowly filling a larger basin of leaves. That level eventually spilled down into the main pool, submerging a complex network of tangled roots. From there the pool drained out, feeding the garden lining the walls and walkways of the cloister.
It was the garden that took Amanda's breath away. An enormous variety of plants, bushes and flowers had been planted throughout the cloister. There were fields of clover and bushes of rose and lilac, vines climbed the walls and arches decorating the ancient stone with exotic blossoms, and even the fountain was garnished with lilies and creeping vines. Despite the enormity of the garden, each plant and blossom had been carefully placed and tended too, the bushes had been neatly trimmed, and the vines were constrained to a specific order. The fauna began on one wall with small white and light yellow blossoms continuing into light greens and lavender blooms. The next wall held deep green vines with lush red flowers, fading into dark orange flowerets. On the third wall, the layer of orange continued, eventually giving way to a darker more rustic hue. On the last wall the rust blended with light tan and cream, finally becoming a field of white. The garden was an incredible blend of colors and textures, lying peaceful beneath a deep blue sky. Kneeling at the fountain, was the man responsible for it all.
"John, I'll never get used to this. Every time I'm here I find you've improved on paradise."
"Not paradise, but as close as I could make it... for her."
"She loved it. She always wanted a garden here, but could never make it work. Immortality doesn't come with a green thumb."
"She told me she had tried it a few times, but always had trouble. She also told me that one of her students cleared everything out, garden, fountain and all."
Amanda turned guiltily away from John's sly smile.
"It wasn't like that. Tennis was the newest fad and these cloisters were perfect for it. Monasteries throughout France were converting them into courts. When I told Rebecca about the game she seemed interested, I thought I'd surprise her."
"And, you did."
"I didn't realize how much she liked this place, even with her pitiful garden. Anyway, I got everything back, even the fountain..."
The fountain had been the hardest part. She had sold it to an English warlord who then refused to sell it back, insisting that it was vital to his collection. Due to the fountain's size, stealing it back was not an option. Even if it were possible, the British boor would certainly know where it had gone. Instead, Amanda was forced to bargain. Unfortunately, that wouldn't be easy either.
The warlord agreed to return the fountain in exchange for a special service. His stronghold stood opposite a stronger French fortress. His forces had been unsuccessful in every attempt to storm it. Meanwhile his defenses were strained, and defeat seemed eminent. Every castle has its weakness. He charged Amanda with finding a way through the French fortifications.
Amanda easily infiltrated the castle. She was a woman, beneath suspicion, and the fighting had ceased for the moment. The door was open. Once inside, she began inspecting the structure. A thief's greatest asset is their ability to observe. A combination of patience, perception, logic and intuition, observation allows a thief to identify objects of value, acquire access to them and avoid detection. In this case, it allowed Amanda to "case" the stronghold, mapping passages and noting activity. Later, she could return for a more in depth inspection, slipping through the fortress covertly searching for the tunnel.
Castles were built with secret passages. Most were frivolous, from the lord's bedchamber to his mistress' secret room. But, there was usually a tunnel to the outside. These served as lifelines during a siege, providing passage for food, water and, if necessary, escape. However, such passages rarely remained secret. Once discovered, the tunnel became a weakness. Enemies could cut off supplies and possibly infiltrate through the passage. A stronghold would continue suffer from such a weakness, throughout its history.
The irony was delicious. In the main courtyard was a very large fountain. It had seemed out of place to Amanda, due both to its size and location. It was set in a secluded corner of the courtyard, but stood out to anyone in the area. It was huge. The center column was very wide, large enough to conceal a grown man. Earlier, Amanda had the opportunity to experiment. With some floating leaves, she found there was a clear current flowing to one side of the column. Now draped in the cloak of night, she confirmed her suspicions.
The seam was nearly undetectable but, once she found the release, Amanda easily opened the column to find a ladder leading down to a dark passage. She followed the passage cautiously, listening for guards and watching for couriers. However, she found the hidden exit without incident. There were no guards and no supply line. She was the only one who knew about the passage. She had the information she needed.
"So you helped the English invade the castle?"
"And, you got the fountain back?"
"It didn't bother you to betray the French?"
"No, because I didn't."
The invasion had been quick and easy. The English took the castle and the French fled. But, no one expected the French to invade the English stronghold. How they gained access was unknown, but it was clear that that castle had a hidden lifeline too. The English had never found it, but the French now had full knowledge of each fortress. The French could survive the sieges for months, while they cut the English supply lines and watched them slowly bleed to death.
"You discovered both passages?"
"And suggested that the French trade up to the more secure position."
"Rebecca always said you could be dangerous."
Amanda smiled warmly. She was happy here, she always felt safe here. But then, she felt a chill as a familiar wave of vertigo swept over her. Nick was in town, it was someone else.
"John leave. Please."
"It's the boy isn't it."
"I promise I'll explain everything. But, I need to talk to him. Alone."
As John left, Amanda sat on the edge of the fountain. She heard his footsteps approaching from behind her. They sounded so light, so small. She still couldn't believe he had survived all these years, and she couldn't accept how. Something that seemed so innocent and pure had been mutated into something cold and merciless, into death.
"Are you still angry with me?"
She stared at Kenny, bewildered. She didn't have an answer. His voice was that of a child afraid he'd upset his mother.
"You're a murderer."
"Are there any of us who aren't?"
"It's different, face to face, not the way you do it."
Kenny laughed. It sounded so sweet and joyful. It froze Amanda to the core.
"Amanda, I do what I have to, to survive. We kill one another, it's what we do. I can't face an opponent on even ground. It isn't possible. I have to survive by any means, by guile and deception. I learned that from you."
Amanda had prepared for this confrontation, but she was still speechless. She was paralyzed, caught between her disgust in this creature and her desire to protect this boy. Oblivious to this conflict, Kenny continued.
"You're a thief, one of the best in the world. You're reputation is well known. But, few people know about this place, about Rebecca. She was one of the best, wasn't she? She taught you to fight, helped you develop you own skills and style. You left and developed your thieving skills, learning acrobatics and stealth. You learned from others and combined your skills. I've seen you fight. You're far better than you let on. You allow everyone to underestimate you. You pretend you're something you're not. The bad guys ignore you and the good guys protect you. Like that Scottish Boy Scout. And, what about this new guy? He looks like the overprotective type. Is that how he died?"
Finally, Amanda found her voice.
"For centuries I thought you were dead, now I wish I'd been right."
He had finally made her react, and he smiled.
"You are still angry."
"Why are you here?"
"You told me to come here. You said I'd be safe."
"That was eight centuries ago. There's nothing here for you now."
"But, I am safe here. This is holy ground and John is so kind."
"If you hurt him..."
"Why would I hurt him? He isn't a threat to me and I'd gain nothing. Besides, he has so much knowledge."
"What do you mean?"
"I heard a story a while back. It was one of your students who told me, actually. I was told that there was a stone. With this stone an immortal would be unbeatable. Rebecca had this stone. You wear part of it."
"It's a myth Kenneth. Methuselah's Stone had no secret power. Besides, it was destroyed and lost."
"Do you truly believe all that? Weren't you ever curious about the stone? Where did Rebecca get it? Why did she divide it? What exactly was it? Didn't she ever tell you? Do you think she never told anyone?"
As he asked each question he walked away, stopping at an entryway to stare back at Amanda.
"What is this, a game?"
"I'm a kid, I like games."
As he turned to leave, a revelation came to Amanda.
"Wait... You said one of 'my students'. Who did you talk too?"
Kenny never turned back, the reply came as if it were an afterthought. Yet Amanda was sure there was a melodic tone to it. As if it were a child's taunt.
MWC -- Garden of Memory
“She’s sitting in the garden,” the cleaning woman told the visitor. “She likes to be outside when she’s feeling well enough. Says she’s already spent a lifetime breathing antiseptic instead of smelling the roses.”
The handsome young man looked a bit startled at her words, then smiled and thanked her. The wiry middle-aged woman in the blue uniform watched him walk down the hall and sighed at the footmarks he left behind on her clean, damp floor.
Duncan MacLeod pushed open the double glass doors at the end of the hall, escaping the institutional smell, and walked down the ramp, then turned right, following the paved pathway around a huge rhododendron bush at the corner of the care facility. There the yellow bricks of the building glowed in the afternoon sun, softening the ugly façade. After walking a few more yards he paused at the entrance to a small rose garden, framed by an arch of pink climbers, and studied the elderly woman sitting on the wrought iron bench. She seemed frailer than the last time he visited her – had it been a year already? The woman was cupping a full-blown scarlet blossom in her long fingers, bending over to breathe in the delicate fragrance. She let the flower go and raised her face to the sun, closing her eyes. Her thinning silver hair, cut in her usual short bob, ruffled in the mild breeze and she ran her hand through it to settle it again. Duncan felt a sharp throb in his heart as he recognized the gesture, one she had always used after he had mussed her hair in bed, and instead of a fragile woman sitting in a sunny garden, he saw her young and lithe, laughing at his stories as she fed him grapes and kisses.
Suddenly sensing that she was no longer alone, she turned and saw him standing at the trellis. He gathered his will power and walked forward to greet her, smiling. His smile began genuine when her eyes lit in recognition and she grinned.
“Duncan! Oh, Duncan! I’m so glad to see you,” she laughed, reaching up to accept his hug and kiss, holding him close when he sat beside her and hugged her again.
“It’s great seeing you, too, Anne,” he said, “how’s Mary?”
“She’s fine. She’s married, did you know? Oh, of course you do – you came for the wedding last year. Sometimes I get things confused, old lady that I am.”
Anne looked disconcerted, but brightened when her companion ignored her lapse and continued chatting, still holding her thin, veined hand in his large, strong one.
“They’ve adopted a child, Duncan, the sweetest little boy. I don’t know which one of them is unable to have children, and I don’t like to pry, but Mary’s over forty, so it’s about time for her to have a family. They were so lucky to get Brandon. Oh! I think they should be coming today for a visit. Can you stay? I’d love for you to meet my grandchild.”
“Of course I’ll stay, Anne. In fact, I think I see them coming right now. Is that Brandon charging down the path?”
Anne squinted at the small figure running ahead of a man and woman, making straight for the garden, yelling, “Granny!”
“How’d you guess?” laughed Anne, and waved to the boy.
Duncan grinned, and watched as the child burst through the rose-covered trellis and pounded toward them, intent on his grandmother. In another instant his smile faded, and he frowned in concentration. The tiny subliminal buzz in his head strengthened as the boy reached their bench and threw his arms around Anne’s waist. Duncan heard his excited chatter and Anne’s affectionate replies from a shocked distance, then forced himself back into the present when Anne introduced the boy.
He spent a pleasant hour in the rose garden with Anne and her family, then made his good-byes to everyone, promising to return before another year went by. Mary strolled back to the parking lot with him, bringing him up to date on her mother’s health and thanking him for keeping in touch.
“I’ll always be there for you and Anne, you know that,” he chided gently, “and now for Brandon, too. If you ever need me for anything – anything – please call. I know my life makes your mother uneasy, and I’ll keep my distance because of that, but you’ll always be in my thoughts, Mary. Will you remember that and call me if you need to?”
Mary gave the tall Immortal a quizzical look and put a reassuring hand on his arm. “Of course I will, Duncan. You’re so sweet to think of us.”
She waved as the sleek black vehicle eased out of the parking lot, and shook her head. Duncan was always so intense. She wondered what in the world he thought could happen to them that would need interference from a sword-wielding, 450-year-old Immortal. Chuckling, she turned back to rejoin her family in the garden.
MWC: Pretty Maids All In A Row
The lawn was immaculate, a uniform green, divided into neat rows by flat marble stones set even with the ground. Some of the sites were graced with floral offerings. Most were bare - small rectangles of grass identified only by a name and two dates: the beginning and the ending of a life with a painfully short dash between them to indicate that each of the interred had, at least, lived.
He was aware of Duncan's strong presence beside him as he knelt and gently deposited a small bouquet of cream-colored roses on the turf below the stone. Ten years, and he had not even known she was dead. Sorrow swelled in his heart and threatened to burst the dam of indifference he had built to stay such expressions. So many emotions were locked inside. Some he allowed an occasion out to play; sadness was not one of them, and so he had come to wear it, unawares, in the lines on his face.
He stood and felt Duncan's comforting arm around his shoulders. He envied his younger friend. Duncan was able to exorcise his memories from their positions of offense into a safer place, a stable environment in which he could visit the ghosts, linger with them, commune with them, yet not be affected by them, ever again. Connor had never discovered such a haven inside his own soul.
An ancient chapel near the entrance of the memorial garden offered solace. He gravitated toward it as they made their way among the deceased. Eternal rest. An appealing concept, even as he marveled that those who certainly would die were so reluctant to embrace death while those who could not die wondered, sometimes wistfully, what it would be like to rest, at last and forever more, in peace.
They stopped beside the chapel and exchanged glances. Duncan nodded in understanding and turned away as Connor mounted the crumbling steps and entered alone. Within the dilapidated and lonely exterior, he was pleasantly surprised by the pristine warmth and beauty of the oratory. Candles waited on tables at each side of the altar and as he approached he allowed his emotions a rare chance to surface and free themselves from ages of exile.
Ten years; he felt the blow again. So many women had advanced his life, contributed to his very being in ways he would not be able to repay, were it never too late to put forth the effort. But it already was - it always was.
He reached for a candle, studied the flame, the droplets of wax cascading down the side, slowing as they cooled … tears, frozen in time … tilted it and lit the first of his own.
Caiolin … his mother, the strongest individual he had ever known, whose love had bequeathed him the ability, the power to give and receive love, whose unflagging loyalty in the face of death had taught him that there were worse things to endure, such as the bitterness of betrayal …
Heather … a second flame bloomed and danced and for a moment he again felt the intensity of her presence, the pleasure of her living, the excruciating heaven of her love…
The row of candles grew as buried memories burned again, releasing the sweet incense of joy and the myrrh of their passing.
Rachel … precious child, beautiful woman, cherished companion, who looked up to him, into him, out for him. He could weep for her now, if the tears would only come.
Brenda … a debt of gratitude for winning a battle, if losing the war. She tried, they all tried, to save him from his world, but they could not save him from himself.
Even he had failed to do that.
He surfaced from his emotional journey to find a dozen flames curling and weaving before him. There could easily be three times more, ten times more. There was not enough time - perish the thought - to consider them all, to pay just tribute to each memory, to grieve each loss.
He kept vigil through the night, allowing sorrow gradual release in sparks and wisps, as the candles slowly burned down in the order he had lit them; until, one by one, the flames expired in breaths of smoke that spiraled upward, out of sight, and out of time.
* * * * *
MWC: Zen Memories
A dark figure sat on the side of a hill, looking down upon the stillness below. The silence was deafening, you could hear your own heartbeat. MacLeod gazed upon the patterns, like frozen waves, hardly breathing. Zen: the art of becoming so much a part of something that you finally become nothing. Banishing all thought, and allowing yourself to simply Be.
The perfect moment was interrupted by a cough; "Come on Mac, what is this? You said you wanted to show me a garden…" Richie? Memory flooded from the depths of his mind. The boy never had been able to wrap his overactive mind around the concept of Zen.
He spoke to his absent friend as if he were with him; which, in a way, he was. "This is a garden, of a sort. You just have to let go of your preconceptions, don't think too much."
The ghost-voice was still there, "Only you could think of sand and stone as being a garden. You're too serious; if you were any Deeper, you'd never get out again."
Duncan shook his head slowly; "Most gardens are temporary; this at least is Real." He looked down at the great stones rising out of the white-sand sea. "The bones of the Earth."
He recoiled suddenly as if from a mental slap. Maybe this wasn't merely memory. "Snap out of it, Mac. Rocks aren't Real; rocks are dead. If you start thinking like that, you end up worse than Methos. If you're going to live forever, then you gotta Live!" Duncan sighed: how could he live, how did he have any right to live, when everything around him died? Darius, Tessa, Charlie; Richie, by his own hand--Oh God!
"Relax, Mac" whispered the ghost-voice; "it wasn't your fault. Besides, I'd rather spend eternity a part of you than inside any of the creeps we met over the years." He could almost see that lopsided grin. "You can't keep living in the past, especially you. It's bigger than you are. Carpe Diem." It was probably the only Latin phrase the kid ever learned; his own personal philosophy, right up to the end.
Seize the day: maybe that was all he could do. One day at a time; one moment at a time if necessary. With instinctive grace, MacLeod rose to feet, balancing on the hill as if it were level ground. He took one last look at the scene below, it was no longer tranquil and serene; it was sterile, it was conformist, it was boring. A mischievous grin spread slowly across his face. Suddenly he broke into a run, picking up speed as he rushed down the slope. Wind whipped through his hair; he hit the sand at a gallop and didn't stop. Never looking back, he left a wild whoop hanging in the still air and a ragged trail of footprints through the sands of time.
MWC - The Garden of No Light
Posted By: lynnannCDC
Date: Friday, 22 June 2001, at 8:15 p.m.
The language has been "cleaned up" for the family forum -- use whatever cuss words you may desire!
I couldn't help myself. The muse came to me before Leah said she would post a different challenge, and I knew I still had to write it, even though I only knew who was in the garden, not why or where... such is the whim of a muse.
Garden of No Light
The faint light of the half moon shadowed the garden. Shrubbery and bushes were just gray shapes rising from the lawn. The hedge of the maze appeared as a large black wall as two figures crept past. Trees towered over the house, leaves and branches rustling in the soft breeze. The taller of the two stopped short and was nearly bowled over by the one behind him. "FitzCairn! Watch where you're going, you dimwitted Englishman!"
"How can I watch when I can't see a blasted thing? Where are we?"
"The house is just ahead, and keep your voice down!" the Scot whispered urgently. "This is all your fault anyway. It's bad enough you decide to keep a journal, but you had to mention my name?"
"I said only kind things about you, laddie. I don't see the problem." Hugh FitzCairn adjusted his tricorn hat. "I was just practicing my newfound skill of a scrivener. You don't have to be so high and mighty because you learned to read a hundred years ago!"
"Quiet! I hear dogs. Do you hear them?"
"The lord of the manor has a hunting pack. I expect they're all safely in the kennels. I've never known you to be so frightened, MacLeod."
"Frightened? Me? You over-blown, useless excuse for an immortal! You just had to show her ladyship your journal and let her take it."
"I didn't let her take it -- she filched it when I was dressing. She can't hardly read a whit either, and my chicken scratches are nearly impossible to read -- she said so herself."
"FitzCairn, I swear, when we get that book I'm going to make you eat every single one of those pages."
"I'm certain a small bonfire would do just as well at destroying it."
"But then I wouldn't have the satisfaction of seeing you choke on it!" the Highlander grinned in anticipation, his white teeth one of the few things the older immortal could actually see in the dark.
"Really, MacLeod, I'm sure we can come to some amicable agreement."
"Every - single - page!" the younger one ground out. "Come on. Let's get this over with."
Duncan MacLeod started out again, but halted at FitzCairn's weak wail. "MacLeod, something's got me."
"There's none here but us!" A quick check revealed Hugh's cloak was caught in a rose bush; the harder he pulled, the deeper the thorns worked their way in to the material. "Stop it, you dolt! You're just catching it more. Take off the cloak and leave it!"
"Here now! It's frightfully cold! Besides, the Lady Emily could identify it, she gave it to me."
"Well, I doubt she would identify it to her husband. I'll know the Gathering is near if you ever learn to keep it in your breeches, Fitz."
"Don't count on that, laddie," the other chuckled. "Come on, help me get this loose."
The two immortals tugged until the cloth ripped, tumbling them into another thorny bed of roses. MacLeod clapped his hand over the mouth of the howling FitzCairn. "Quiet, you whimpering Sassenach. You'll heal."
"No need to be insulting! And it's the cloak I care about. I liked this one."
"Gah!" MacLeod hauled himself out of the shrub and pulled FitzCairn to his feet. "After this, if I ever see you again, it will be too soon!"
"You say that every time, my boy, but you still grin like a fool to see me."
"Maybe this time I'll have learned my lesson. No more writing journals, Fitz, you hear me?"
"Oh, yes, I hear you."
"Or diaries, or letters or stories. Stick to something innocuous, like recipes, or I'll hunt you down."
"Recipes? What use is that?"
"Learn to like it, or just stick with reading. Come on."
MacLeod led the way to the manor house to retrieve the damning evidence of immortality. FitzCairn, following silently, wondered what the laddie would say if he ever learned the name MacLeod never showed up on the pages.
thanks for reading!
MWC: The Midwife's Garden
It was her second trip across the town of Évreux that late summer day. Her first trip had been while the morning was still cool, and she had walked briskly to the baker’s for bread and back to her little home again, smiling greeting to those she passed along the way. After their midday meal, the residents of the little French town moved more slowly. The afternoon heat and sun were a blessing for harvesting wheat, albeit they made it hard on the people scything, bundling, and carrying. The old women dressed in black who had been chatting and sweeping in front of their houses in the morning were seated in the shade against the stone walls of their homes, seeking respite from the afternoon sun. The old men clustered in the shade under a tree in the town square. A group of women with babes too little to help in the fields stood near the fountain with earthenware water jugs.
This second trip through town was not for bread, but for business. She had spent an hour with a young mother who was hopelessly distraught over her colicky baby. An infusion of dill seeds and the softest of massages had helped the child. The young mother had needed soothing words to bolster her confidence and instruction in how to administer the infusion. After a short visit with the blacksmith’s daughter, now well along in her first pregnancy, Grace Chandel headed back home.
She was nearing the fountain in the town square when she felt a vibration deep within her bones, the warning of another Immortal. Grace reached for no sword because she carried none. She calculated silently, 1372 to 1660. Two hundred and eighty-eight years. If I die today, I will have lived two hundred and eighty-eight years.
Her abrupt stop caused the women gathered about the fountain to stare. Grace was about to reassure them that everything was fine; indeed, the square was not deserted despite the number of townspeople working the harvest. No Immortal would challenge her here. If she made it to her house, she would be safe, for the house was built on holy ground.
The sensation that Grace felt in her bones grew stronger. A footfall on the cobbled street behind her drew her attention, and she took a deep, resigned breath and turned to face whatever was to come.
Behind her did not stand death, but a familiar woman with long, flowing hair and leaf-green eyes.
"Cassandra!" Grace said as she embraced her under the watchful eyes of the women at the fountain. "It’s been . . . " she cast a quick glance to the women, " . . . years. You haven’t changed a bit." At this, Cassandra hiked her eyebrows in mild amusement and surprise. The two Immortal women left the cobbled town square, smiling and with arms linked, and made their way up the dirt road to Grace’s house.
"I haven’t changed a bit?" Cassandra whispered in a teasing voice. "Did you expect me to, or was that for the benefit of the women gossiping at the fountain?" Grace nodded affirmatively at Cassandra’s second choice. "Be careful of the short one with the dark hair," Cassandra warned. "She has a meanness about her."
Grace nodded again. They kept their voices low; in a small town, the walls have ears. "That was the baker’s wife, and you’re right about her. She looks for the worst in everyone."
"There’s one in every town," the ancient Immortal assured her, millennia of experience showing in her face. "The one who thinks she’s better than the rest, the one who criticizes how everyone else raises their children, the one who meddles in other people’s business," she continued. She placed her free hand over Grace’s forearm and added gravely, "And she’s the one who will be the first to denounce the village healer and midwife as a witch when times are bad."
Cassandra eyed the cross carved in the lintel over Grace’s door. "Holy ground?" she asked.
Grace opened the door and led the other Immortal woman inside. "Yes," she answered, "it is. It was one of the houses of the béguines, the lay women, attached to the convent. But the sisters got a new patroness, a very rich patroness I might add, and built a new convent a little further away from the bustle of the town."
"Still no sword?" Cassandra’s eyes narrowed in a gentle reprimand. "Then I guess living on holy ground is a comfort."
"Still no sword," Grace replied quietly and without rancor. It was an old argument and one they never engaged in anymore. "And yes, the safety of the house is a comfort. But you should see the garden!"
She took Cassandra’s hand and led her through the house and out into the stone-walled space beyond it. Cassandra smiled her approval. Before them were carefully tended square plots of medicinal herbs with a small kitchen garden tucked to one side. A bird splashed and twittered in a footed stone basin at the center crosswalk. Honeybees and other insects buzzed drowsily from flower to flower. The scent of herbs hung heavily in the hot summer afternoon. The two women, formerly teacher and pupil, walked among the bright islands of green dotted with color.
Cassandra stopped at a raspberry bush, plucking a single ripe fruit and then balancing it on her finger like a tiny red thimble before popping it into her mouth. Grace stooped to lift the some heart-shaped leaves, reaching underneath to pluck slender green beans. Wordlessly, Cassandra joined her. The two women piled enough for supper into Grace’s apron, whose corners she gathered up so that they could continue their walk through the garden. Cassandra recognized the flat, grayed-down yellow flower heads of yarrow, used to break fevers; the sticky, fuzzy leaves and bright orange-yellow flowers of calendula, used for skin irritations; and the tall, ferny, blue-green fronds of dill, with its flowers gone to seed. Grace had tied squares of cloth around each flower head to catch the seed, which drooped and nodded in the light breeze.
Wound wort, feverfew, and poppies passed Cassandra and Grace’s inspection. The older Immortal stopped at a large, silvery green mound of lavender and brushed her hands lightly over the foliage, setting the stems to dancing and releasing a heady scent into the air. The two healers walked back toward the house. Cassandra stopped to look at a plant with thick, fuzzy green stems, deeply indented leaves, and tiny yellow flowers. She cast a questioning look in Grace’s direction.
"Love apple," Grace supplied. "It’s new to me, too, brought from the New World."
Cassandra examined the green mark left on her hand when she had brushed against the stem. She sniffed and tasted the residue and frowned. Bending low to examine the flowers, she asked, "How is it used? It resembles deadly nightshade."
"It does," Grace agreed. "The leaves, roots, and flowers are poisonous." Cassandra didn’t have to ask how Grace knew. Being Immortal had many advantages. For a healer, the greatest advantage was being able to try out remedies without danger of the final, permanent death. Grace continued, her eyebrows knit in concentration and thought, "The fruit is not poisonous, although I have yet to find a use for it. One day I may. Who knows but that it might not cure the plague or the smallpox or ease the pains of childbirth? I’ll find some use for it. I have time." Grace smiled at the thought of this other advantage of Immortality.
Grace led Cassandra into the small shed that stood outside of the back door to her house. She took out a basket, sat on the doorstep, and began to snap the tips and tails from the beans she had been carrying in her apron. Cassandra sat next to her and began to help. "I’ve always said that the best part about being a teacher is when you learn from your student. Love apple . . . " she considered. "Perhaps one of us will find a use for it."
The next days passed smoothly one after another. Grace was glad for Cassandra’s help, because she was busy not only with harvesting medicinal herbs but also with the extra care that the people of Évreux needed during the grain harvest. The people worked themselves at a fever pitch, and their bone-tiredness led to falls, cuts, occasionally a broken bone. In Grace’s garden or visiting one of her charges, the two women worked silently and efficiently side by side with the companionable ease of long acquaintance.
There was a particularly difficult broken arm one late morning, and by the time the two healers had returned to Grace’s home, it was late afternoon. They walked out into the shed to turn over the calendula buds that had been drying on an table there since after breakfast. Back in the house, Grace began to tidy up her supply of medicines, which they had left in disarray when called away that morning. Cassandra looked in the earthenware jars, the stoppered bottles, and the bags, sniffing and tasting a few of the medicines. She looked, at first unsure and then startled, at two of the jars.
"You have enough feverfew and ergot here for ten towns the size of Évreux! Do the women here have so much difficulty in childbed?" Cassandra asked.
Grace sighed and explained, "The women of Évreux, and those in the rest of France now lie down in childbed, as they say the noblewomen do."
Cassandra’s mouth dropped open. "Lying down? Why would they choose to push up instead of down? It’s so much harder!"
"By the time they’ve realized that, they’re too exhausted to labor anymore. The ergot and the feverfew are needed then, to help them deliver before they die along with their babes."
Cassandra nodded her head in sadness and disbelief, speaking slowly, "We can only hope that they come to their senses and go back to the old way."
A week passed before Grace asked the question that had been unspoken between the two women. They were sitting on the doorstep looking at the deepening evening shadows in Grace’s garden. Why had Cassandra come?
Cassandra answered Grace’s question with another question, "How do you find Évreux? How is your life here?"
"It’s much like you told me it would be," Grace answered, "and much like every other place I’ve lived. It’s lonely sometimes. When times are good, the people are kind, except for the baker’s wife, who finds fault with everyone. When times are bad, there’s always someone who begins to whisper about witchcraft."
"And you leave then?" Cassandra asked.
"Sometimes," Grace replied with a shrug of her slight shoulder. "Sometimes not. I’ll have to leave here soon. It’s been nearly a dozen years, and soon people will notice that I’m not growing any older."
Cassandra turned intense eyes onto Grace. "Leave now."
"What did you see?" Grace asked her. She didn’t share Cassandra’s gift for visions.
"I’m not sure. You, here in Évreux, cold weather, a woman lying in, an Immortal man coming upon you with his hand on the hilt of his sword, nothing more. Nothing I can make sense of," Cassandra revealed.
Grace reached her hand out and patted Cassandra’s cheek. "I can’t leave now. I have two women with child. The one due in the cold weather is young and this is her first. I’m sorry."
Cassandra abruptly stood and crossed the room. "At least take a sword," she insisted, daring to reopen the old, unresolved difference that stood between them.
"I can’t," Grace reminded her. "I don’t want to die, but I could never kill another to save myself. There can be only one, dear Cassandra, and I know it won’t be me. I live on holy ground, I go to crowded places. That has kept me safe so far."
Cassandra sat down hard in a chair and began to examine her hands, turning them over and over, closing her right hand around an absent hilt. She let out a short, frustrated sigh. "I used to blame your first teacher for this."
"Charles?" Grace questioned. "Whatever for?"
The right hand tightened around the absent hilt again. "I thought it was his fault that you wouldn’t pick up a sword. I know now it wasn’t his fault." She sighed again. "I always hoped that I could convince you to defend yourself."
Grace’s eyes widened in understanding. "You blamed yourself. Don’t."
"There’s evil in the world," Cassandra told her vehemently. "I don’t mean the fear that drives people to call us witches and stone us or hang us, but real evil." She closed her eyes and shrunk in on herself a little. "And there are many things worse than death. Please, Grace. You do much good in the world. The earth needs you to stay here and care for her people."
Cassandra looked at Grace’s sad, apologetic smile. Acknowledging defeat, she embraced her former student. "Be careful, at least," Cassandra urged.
The two women parted the next morning without anger. Standing in the corner of the garden shed, wrapped in a length of cloth, was a sword. Grace smiled at her teacher’s gift and took it to the church, where she donated it to be sold for alms for the poor. Grace looked at the cross over her front door that marked her sanctuary and gave a peaceful smile. If the Immortal man from Cassandra’s vision found before the new year, she would have lived two hundred and eighty-eight years. If he found her after the new year, she would have lived two and eighty-nine years. But by then, the two women in her charge would have been delivered of their babies with their midwife’s help.
MWC: New Beginnings
Posted By: SwingGirl MacSlow <SwingGirl3@yahoo.com>
Date: Thursday, 12 July 2001, at 12:14 p.m.
Methos and Duncan sat on a bench in Seacouver Park. In front of them was a small garden, filled with flowers of many colors and varieties. It was a beautiful sight and it was made even better by the fact that Methos had made it happen. "With a little help from his friends," Duncan thought with a smile.
It had been over a year since Alexa had passed away, but Methos had wanted to do something for her on her birthday. She had loved flowers and he had often bought them for her, sometimes even surprising her by having them waiting for her in their hotel room when they returned there at the end of the day. So after getting permission from the proper city officials, Methos had decided to plant the flowers in the local park. Most of the previous day had been spent creating the garden. Joe had helped him pick out the types of flowers that they thought Alexa would have liked and Duncan and Richie had helped him plant them. Methos had even placed a small marker among the flowers, to commemorate the life that had been cut way too short, even by mortal standards.
As they had worked, Duncan teased Methos, saying that he had never figured him for a gardener. Normally, Methos would have agreed with him, but he knew that this was something he had to do, for Alexa, as well as himself. Although it was still sometimes hard, Methos found that it was slowly getting easier to move past the pain that had been with him since Alexa had died.
As they sat, Duncan noticed that Methos was staring, but not really seeing anything, as though lost in his thoughts. "Are you alright, Methos?"
Methos looked at him then. "Yeah, I am, for the first time in a long time. It was so hard when she died. I have loved many others in 5000 years, but Alexa was something special. I can't even name what it was, I just knew from the first moment I saw her that I wanted to be with her for the rest of her life, however long it was. I think of her every day and will always remember her, but I need to go on with my life. She would want me to.”
Duncan said nothing, only nodded. Although he was much younger than Methos, he knew what it was like to lose mortal love and friendship and that it sometime hurt so much that you think that your heart will never mend. He also knew that eventually, the pain would lessen day by day until you can go on with your life.
Suddenly a little girl, who couldn't have been more than three or four, ran past them. She had made it to the edge of the flowerbed, when she stumbled and fell. Methos and Duncan both stood to help, but Methos reached her first. He picked her up. Then he bent down and picked one of the flowers, tucking it behind her ear. The girl smiled at him and giggled, instead of crying the tears that had threatened to fall a moment before.
Just then, a woman raced up, clearly worried. “Jenny, there you are. I thought I told you not to run away like that.” She smiled at the two men and thanked them. Then she took the child into her arms and headed back to the group of mothers and children who were gathered on the nearby playground.
Glancing at his watch, Methos turned to Duncan. "What do you say we go have a drink at Joe's? That new band is playing tonight, the one Joe has been raving about all week."
With a smile, Duncan agreed. "Sounds good."
As they left the park, Methos looked all around him. The sun was shining. There were people everywhere: parents with their children, a group of teenagers playing a game of baseball, and even an older couple strolling hand in hand. It was a beautiful day, the future looked bright, and, for the first time in a long time, Methos was looking forward to it.
A Brighter Future
Not the story yet... Saturday morning I awoke with this story *demanding* to be written, despite my best efforts to sleep in. Whether or not the story is any good, this was very exciting for me because I have not had what you around here call a "muse visitation" in well over 6 months. Maybe the stories are finally back. Fingers and toes crossed.
Anyway, here's the pesky little story:
A Brighter Future
The battle raged around him. Bloodied, clashing men as one seething mass covered the fields and hills as far as he could see. Their cries of victory or anguish as each individual skirmish was won or lost, and the clanging of swords and shields created a collective din that could be heard for miles.
He drove his sword into an approaching enemy, twisting to make the hole larger, then cleared his sword with a yank and a grunt. He plunged his sword into the next enemy soldier, cleared the sword and drove it into the next, and the next, and the next; slashing, stabbing and yanking the sword free, again and again.
It was unseasonably warm for this early in the spring, and sweat poured off of him, mixing with the blood of his enemies that now covered him from the top of his once-shiny helmet to his muddy, sandaled feed. The ground, wet with blood, was turning into a muddy paste that smeared over everything as men fell, recovered, and fell again, some for the last time.
His army was winning. He could tell by their position on the field, deep, near the enemy's encampment; and by the number of helmets with waving yellow adornments still standing across the battleground.
Looking at a fallen enemy soldier lying face down at his feet, he pushed the tip of his sandal into the back of the man's head until his face was firmly embedded in the brown and bloody earth. Raising his sweaty, dirt-smeared face, he lifted his blood-covered sword arm to the sky and let out a cry of exhilaration!
Darius awoke with a start, breathing hard and covered in sweat. He closed his eyes tightly and took a deep breath. How many centuries would it take before these dreams of bloody battles would end?
Although it was still well before dawn, he got wearily out of bed, showered and dressed, then proceeded with the morning rounds of his small church: lighting candles, cleaning, opening the doors and gates.
Outside the front gate, one of the parishioners had left a flat of flower bulbs with a short note thanking Darius for some counseling he had given. Darius smiled at the kind gesture. He was about to take the bulbs inside, when suddenly he stopped. He turned toward the small garden beside the church. Driven by an impulse beyond himself, he took the flat of bulbs to the garden and set it down beside a patch of dirt. Going to a small shed next to the side of the building, he gathered some gardening tools and fertilizer.
Darius kneeled on the grass next to the bulbs and said a small prayer of blessing over them, that they might bring joy to all who saw the flowers that would bloom there later in the spring. He gazed for a moment at the grass, the trees, the birds just starting to sing in the early morning light. The hectic Parisian traffic was still relatively quiet. He closed his eyes and felt the serenity of Holy Ground surrounding him. It was the perfect place for some colorful flowers.
Taking up his spade, Darius drove it into the earth, twisting to make the hole larger. He plunged it in again a few inches away, making the next hole and the next, stabbing and digging again and again, until he had spaces for all the bulbs.
It was unseasonably warm for this early in the Paris spring, and Darius soon dripped with sweat from his effort, small drops falling from his face to mingle with the turned earth. He wiped his brow, leaving streaks of mud on his forehead and cheeks.
Taking up a bag of fertilizer, he put a small amount in each hole, followed by some water from a watering can. He picked up the bulbs, one by one, examining each to make sure it was healthy and to identify the type of flower it would soon become.
Arranging the different varieties carefully, he planted each bulb gently in the earth in one of the prepared holes, filling over the top with the now muddy soil, leaving just a bit of each bulb exposed. With the tip of his sandal, he pressed gently around each bulb until it was firmly embedded in the brown earth.
As he finished by sprinkling water over the whole bed, he felt the unmistakable buzz of another Immortal. Smiling, he turned to see Duncan entering the gate to the garden.
"Look at you! Been making mud pies?" teased Duncan with a big grin, looking exaggeratedly up and down at Darius' mud-streaked face and robes.
"Good morning, my friend. I was just planting some seeds that the future might be more beautiful," replied Darius with a faraway look. Shaking himself he added, "Would you like to come in for some tea? I was just finishing up here."
"Only if it's *regular* tea. I'm not drinking any more of that moss stuff! I mean it," said Duncan with a grimace and a look of determination.
"Yes, whatever you like," said Darius patiently. "You go in and start the water to boil while I clean this up a bit."
"Do you want some help?" asked Duncan.
"No, no. It will take but a minute. I'll be right in." Darius patted Duncan's broad shoulder as he turned back to the flower bed and knelt to gather his tools. He felt Duncan's buzz recede as the Highlander entered the church.
Darius gazed again at the garden. He closed his eyes for a moment and said a short blessing over the planted flower bed, then picked up his tools and stood. Raising his sweaty, dirt-smeared face to the sky, he smiled.