It was a private council that sat in Captain Banks' office: Banks, Harlowe, and Adam. Though Harlowe didn't show it in his eyes, it was quite obvious that he had spent quite a few hours at the bars. Nonetheless, he was functional.
They discussed the information that Ellison's mysterious informant gave them. None of them considered the possibilities outlandish. Of course, they would never be able to pursue them in an official manner, but they might discover the clue that might enable them to bring it to an official end. The nice thing about this case was that the 'spitting on the sidewalk' charge didn't have to be used.
"So, who was alive back in the 1600s?"
"I was," Adam sheepishly admitted.
"Oh?" Harlowe raised his eyebrows. "How old are you?"
He shrugged, "Older than both of you, I guess."
Banks raised his hands. "That's none of anyone's concern for right now. OK, Mr. Pierson, did you know anything firsthand about that little war?"
Adam shrugged. "There was nothing little about it, but you have to understand that the term 'world war' was coined far too late. The whole world was at war, so it could hardly be called 'little.'"
In these days, Methos still went about by his own name. He was confident to the point of being arrogant, assertive to the point of being grabbing, and viscous as a wolf. With many long years of life, he had learned not to broadcast himself. However, there were certain traits that had radiated in a very unconscious manner.
Even the charlatan psychics would have known that this man was sharpened to the soul.
He stood on the deck of the English ship going to Kalmar by way of the Netherlands, Denmark, and Poland. It was a merchant ship following an invisible trail laid down many years ago by the founders of the Hanseatic League. How the Captain seemed to know where it lay with little aid from the stars and compass, Methos didn't know, but he was skeptical enough to call it skill, and not magic.
Navigating through the waters of the North was something of special curiosity to Methos, as it was something that he had to manage through the years on many occasions. First, open water navigation was impossible because of the heavy mists, meaning that coast-hugging was a necessity. Even those well-traveled Vikings who had seen the Arab lands (meaning that they knew the art of star-mapping) were unable to pierce the heavy mists.
It was not until the magnetic stones were available that open-sea navigation became a function of preplanning rather than dice rolling.
All of that rolled through his mind as he watched the mists and waves roll. Though he couldn't see it with his eyes, he knew that the coast of France lay to his right, perhaps close enough to swim. The Holland ports would be in reach very soon.
It was a mortal who approached Methos from behind. It was a modern-day equivalent of a bard: a poet. Wheldrake, his name was, and he was a flamboyant dandy by any account. "Good morning to you, Master Methos." He spoke with a Londoner accent, but an almost Celtic flair. "It looks like the mists agree with you!" He puffed on his pipe. Not the Devil's Weed from the Americas, but rather Persian hemp. The smell was very potent.
Methos was neutral. "It is a day, like any other. What news have you heard from the German lands?"
At first, Wheldrake looked confused, then he laughed, "I see that you are a scholar! Very few think to look at the family trees connecting the races. They would rather look at their dissimilarities! The Netherlanders are revolting against the Spanish. By the sound of it, the Spaniards are red-blooded monsters squeezing out every drop of Netherlander blood and even trying to extinguish the Protestant flame throughout the lands there.
"The Duke of Alba was sent there to crush them, claiming that since he had tamed men of iron in his day, why could he not crush these men of butter?" He laughed heartily, "The man has a way with words, by any account! But that is beside the point. The Duke is such a monster that I would dare call his wars brutal crimes. All may be fair in war and love, but there are some things that are never done. This man has done them."
That sparked Methos' interest. He had heard of this Duke before. Though he was mortal, he might even give Kronos a run for his money, and threaten to make Caspian the Brutal appear to be a saint by comparison. He snickered at the thought of Saint Caspian the Compassionate.
Wheldrake looked out at the sea, "I tell you, Methos, there are patterns in the cycles of history, and we are seeing one right now. We see the most brutal war of wars being fought right now, and we will see it come to a head. In the many tales and myths I tell, it is always the hero who wins, but I believe that these tales are woven to offset the reality: it is the nemesis who wins and the hero who is martyred. Could it be that it is a martyr who makes any goodness possible? Look at the power of the death of Jesus, or the Christians slain by the Romans, for example."
Methos nodded. "Martyrs certainly have a way of binding a people, but martyrs can also spell their defeat by crushing their hope. Who do you think the martyr will be?"
He shrugged. "It doesn't matter to me. It will be the most unlikely man, yet a man beloved by the people. He will die, and the people will be strengthened in a way that they were never strong before. Call me cynical, but I believe it's similar to when a young man faces the world for the first time knowing that his parents are no longer supporting him."
It was a few days later when they docked at Amsterdam, loading salted pork and cheeses in exchange for some English textiles and blades. Methos snorted, wondering how many knives were hidden within loaves of bread.
The Captain, a very reclusive Swede, approached Methos. "I'll have to warn you that even though you're a paying passenger, you go by the same rules. If you're not back from shore leave by dawn, you're marooned, and Holland isn't a nice place to stay these days."
The war, of course. Looking at it, Methos didn't feel that it was too appealing. "I'm staying here, Captain."
"As you wish."
He spent his time writing his journals. Private meditations mostly, just as Marcus Aurelius did. Time passed without incident until he felt the presence of another immortal. If this were dry land, he would have vanished. In this situation, he held his ground. Nowhere to run.
It was two women, and he felt even more nervous. A man was simple enough: he was there to kill you or leave you alone, and your options were just as simple... kill him or leave him alone. With a woman, it was never that simple. It could be that the most helpless women were the most dangerous... or the most helpless. It was that simple: women were too complex when it came to assessing how dangerous they could be. Thus, they were dangerous.
The two women looked as similar as night and day. One was regal in her dignity, as well as her style, whereas the other looked worn, ragged, and roguish, especially in the look in her eyes.
The regal woman was a Macedonian, by all appearances. If he didn't know any better, he'd even say that she looked very familiar. She seemed to be unconcerned about the presence of an immortal, and spoke to the Captain in flowing Danish, "I wish to purchase passage to Estonia."
The Captain protested, "But I am only going as far as Kalmar, and then I must go to Ireland as soon as I can! Estonia would add too much time!"
"Then take me to Kalmar. I'll book a ship there."
The Captain relaxed. "I'll charge you the same as I charged the other passenger."
"Who would that other one be?"
"He calls himself Methos, but who he is, I can't say except that he is a scholar of sorts."
The woman smiled, "Aren't we all?"
The Captain shrugged. "I am a God-fearing man and seek to keep my men in line, but I must warn you that you must also be on your guard. After a few days at sea, they may decide that it's been too many days since they've seen a brothel. Do you understand my meaning?"
She shrugged. "Let me warn you that if you fail to control the men on your payroll, they'll be castrated."
He laughed, "I like you, woman!"
The next two days passed without incident as they sailed towards Denmark. The two immortals had not directly encountered Methos, but it was bound to happen sooner or later on a ship this small size.
"Methos," she smiled, approaching him from behind as he contemplated the mists. "Your reputation precedes you. Are you the same Methos who is said to have lived for almost five thousand years?"
He shrugged, "I'm sure that there was a Methos of that age. I claim nothing except my name."
"The mark of a philosopher."
"As you like," he shrugged. "Who would you be?"
They looked at the mists together, but somehow, Methos had this awful feeling that she was laughing at him on the inside. "What were you doing in that mess?"
Her smile fled, replaced by a bitter grimace, "Nothing of importance." She didn't elaborate, and Methos knew well enough to leave it alone.
"Are you leaving Holland or going to Estonia?"
A thoughtful pause. "A little of both." Another thoughtful pause, except that she smiled this time, "So tell me, old man, what do you think about Rhine wine?"
Banks pressed, "But did you know anything about the Council of Blood or the Duke of Alba?"
He shrugged, "I was heading by the place on my way to Estonia. I met someone leaving the place, but it's been so long ago that I don't even remember her name. I never met her again, that's for sure. Maybe she's dead. If I heard about any of Amanda's antics, I would have remembered it, most certainly. The only gossip at the time was about how brutal the Duke of Alba was."
"Did you know of any immortal who might have had cause to feel angry at him?"
Adam laughed until he turned blue. "You might as well ask the same of Hitler! To the Flemish, the Duke was even worse than Hitler."
Methos laughed aloud, a little drunk, but not to the point of staggering.
Although he liked his beer (and wine a little less), his secret to survival was in letting everyone else get hammered while he sailed on a buzz.
"...and when he wasn't looking, I switched goblets with him!" Maria finished. Methos may have been sloshed, but she was even more hit.
He laughed even harder, wiping tears from his eyes. "I always thought that pompous bastard had it coming to him! How long until the poison worked?"
They settled into a comfortable silence for a few moments. "If I might change the subject, who is your friend?"
She sighed. It obviously was a sore subject. "Marisa van Ness. Just another victim of the Duke of Alba and that damned war, and to make matters worse, she discovered her true nature." She spat wine and saliva at the wall. "She shouldn't have suffered at their hands, not like that! Many in those lowlands shouldn't suffer as they do."
Methos shrugged. "Suffering is part of life. Nobody, mortal or immortal, can escape it."
"Maybe..." she sighed, "but it's still monstrous. Mortals, at least, have the luxury of dying for true, even though they fear dying. We, once they learn that we heal and resurrect ourselves, suffer much more than any mortal could."
"Is she yours?"
Maria nodded. "I had a disagreement with the Duke when I found that he was giving her his special attentions. That damned Inquisitor had the poor girl convinced that her immortality was the Devil's curse!"
"I can believe it..." He smiled. "Wheldrake has his eye on her, if you hadn't noticed. Maybe he might make her forget a thing or two."
She frowned, "It won't happen. D'Egmont was beheaded by the Duke, and she was engaged to marry him. Part of the reason she's going to Kalmar with me is so she'll gain her center. Once she learned the news, she was ready to tear down the whole city."
Methos thought he remembered something, "But Wheldrake told me that D'Egmont supported the King of Spain!"
"He did, but there is apparently an ulterior motive to that execution, and it's not just political."
"What could it be?"
"Who knows? Neither does Marisa, so don't ask her."
Banks swore, "So what the hell do we do?"
"What can we do?" Adam countered. "We've been given evidence that this is an immortal matter, and when it comes down to it, there can be only one. Amanda is my friend, and I'd like to see her safe, but the fact is that there is nothing that we should do." He emphasized that. "Should do. Nobody can interfere."
"But swords haven't been drawn!" protested Harlowe. "We may not be able to interfere in a sword fight, but this isn't a fight!"
"No," smiled Adam. "It's a fight between two women who use a totally different set of weapons."
* * *
In the privacy of the phone booth, Adam called up another friend. "Hello? Olympias? We need to talk."
* * * *
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