Long Forgotten Snow
By Kay Kelly aka Wilusa
If anyone asks, say it was forgotten
Snow has begun to fall.
Some of the soldiers are cursing. Others mutter in superstitious fear.
I move through the snow as if in a dream. Only a part of me is really here--tending the wounded, offering words of comfort, waiting.
Another part teeters on the threshold of a different, long-vanished world. I can almost see and hear it! An army under my command, trudging through a less surprising snow...
It was only the rank and file who trudged. I rode at the head of my officers, astride a magnificent coal-black stallion.
Yes, there it is at the edge of my consciousness, that stallion's familiar whinny. I can feel the weight of my Roman-style armor, the sword jouncing against my side.
The snow must have stung my face, as it does now. But I remember only the wind in my hair, the pride in my heart.
Before me, all but defenseless, lay the prize I'd coveted for years. Paris.
Everyone knew the legends. Paris was guarded by an ancient holy man, Ludovic, who'd turned away countless invaders with his words alone. Some said he'd driven them off by brandishing what he claimed was a powerful relic, the Cup of the Last Supper.
Ludovic was, of course, an Immortal. He'd probably demonstrated that often enough to convince the gullible he was something close to a god. But I knew better.
Not a god, no...but he was rumored to be the oldest of us all.
I already lusted for his Quickening.
The outline of the city grew clearer amid the swirling snow. In the foreground loomed the dark bulk of its gates.
I rode straight toward them. I knew without looking that my men were close behind me, trusting me above all others.
I sensed the Immortal guardian before I saw him.
And then he stepped into my path.
I was so startled that I barely managed to rein in my mount before the hooves could strike him.
I was amazed at the man's appearance and, at the same time, annoyed with myself for being amazed. I myself was several hundred years old, and looked forty. But despite that, I had unconsciously expected this "ancient holy man" to look the part. An austere figure with a timeworn face, flowing white hair and beard.
Instead, I gazed upon a strikingly handsome man. He looked no older than his early thirties. His snow-flecked hair was short, dark and unruly; only side-whiskers framed his face. There had until recently been a beard, I noted, as I saw the paler chin.
He was, however, wearing a priest's robe. And he appeared to be unarmed.
He looked up at me and said softly, "Darius. Oh, Darius..."
His cheeks and lashes were damp from the falling snow.
Was that all it was? Or...were those brown eyes brimming with tears?
I blinked, gave my face a cursory wipe.
My own eyes didn't deceive me. The man was weeping.
And yet, inexplicably, he wore a radiant smile.
I refused to let him rattle me. "So you've heard of me," I said with my usual arrogance.
"Yes, I know who you are." His voice shook. "We learned you were coming. I've been waiting...waiting so long for this day!"
I dismounted so we could stand face to face. Handed off the reins to an aide, and made a point of drawing my sword. "The day I sack Paris?"
"No, Darius," he said quietly. Smile and tears were gone. "You will not sack Paris."
I heard my men shuffle nervously. My Immortal second-in-command was hanging back at an unheroic distance.
"You're going to stop me?" I asked coolly, looking him up and down. "I don't see your sword."
"If I planned to stop you, I wouldn't need one. But no, I'm not going to do it. You are."
I laughed harshly and tried to step around him, toward the gates.
He moved in front of me again. "I won't fight you or use the power I have to stop you, Darius. But I won't stand by as if I approve your plundering the city, either." He closed his eyes for a moment, as if gathering strength. Then he opened them and said, "You know this is wrong. Your whole campaign is wrong--but think only of Paris. These people have done you no harm. Why can't you approach them as a friend, buy provisions for your army, and go on your way?"
I had the eerie feeling he was making a pro forma appeal he knew would fail.
"Sorry," I snapped.
I thought of taking his head at that point. After all, I'd wanted his Quickening before I met him. But I'd expected more of a fight. At the very least, a fire-and-brimstone tirade and a threat to use magical powers. This strange man hardly seemed worth beheading.
So I tried, instead, to thrust him out of my way.
He didn't resist...but I couldn't budge him.
I heard the gasps of the dozen men who'd seen. Furious, I gestured to my lieutenants to help.
It was no use. Ludovic was as immovable as if he'd weighed a ton.
He wasn't blocking the city gates. We could have gotten around him.
But my men were edging away, making hex signs. My second-in-command was barely within sensing range.
"I don't fear you," I told Ludovic.
"You have no need to fear me."
"I will kill you if you don't step aside."
"I know." He met my eyes and said steadily, "I expect you to take my head, Darius. That's all right. It's as it should be.
"But after you've done it, you won't let your army sack Paris. And the decision will be your own."
I hissed in exasperation. Raised my sword--and paused. "Stop talking nonsense, and give me a straight answer to one question. Is it true you're the oldest living Immortal?"
"You'll learn that from my Quickening. But yes, I am."
I wasn't satisfied. "There are reports of someone called Methos--"
Ludovic nodded. "Methos really exists, and he's very old. It's a complicated story, but I am older than he. Much older.
"There's something I must show you..." He slipped a hand into the folds of his robe and produced a battered chalice.
I groaned. "So that's the Cup of the Last Supper? You're going to wave it at me and pretend to cast a spell?"
I was already inventing explanations for our not having been able to move him. His reputation must have intimidated me, even though I hadn't been consciously aware of it. My failure had cowed my men.
But he wouldn't succeed again with a magical relic of Jesus! That was pure claptrap.
"No, Darius, no spells." His eyes were suspiciously bright. "It is the Cup of the Last Supper, but it's not a magic talisman. Its real importance is as a symbol...of conscience, and courage, and hard necessity.
"With my death, this Cup will pass into your keeping. And you'll treasure it, though you don't think so now. But you do have one choice to make." Slowly, he held it out. "Will you take it from my living hand or my dead one?"
My flesh crawled. Was this some kind of trick?
Ridiculous. I wasn't actually afraid of magic, was I?
To show I wasn't--to show myself I wasn't--I said tersely, "Living."
Ludovic's sharp intake of breath told me that was the answer he'd been hoping for.
He offered the Cup reverently, and my fingers closed around its stem.
It was only a cup. It had no effect on me.
But his hand brushed against mine...and the touch wasn't accidental.
I suddenly realized Ludovic had wanted that moment of contact. And he tried to prolong it.
I couldn't imagine why.
I cared nothing for his stupid Cup. I intended to show him how little it meant to me by tossing it away.
But instead, I found myself putting it in my saddlebag.
I turned to see a smile on Ludovic's face.
He knew I was raising my sword again, but that smile never faded.
I swung with all my strength.
My men understood what I was. They'd seen the aftermaths of beheadings. Now I was dimly aware that the ones nearest me were scurrying to a safe distance.
Just in time.
The storm that tore into me flung me to my knees. In an instant my body was afire, my mind exploding. Incomprehensible sights, sounds, and impressions piled one on another, beating me into the ground. Above the tumult, I heard myself scream.
Then the torrent abated. The Quickening seemed to shape itself in recognition of my limited capacity. I sensed a fleeting regret, an apology for having hurt me.
I sensed something else.
And then, with gut-wrenching certainty, I knew. I saw what should have been obvious all along...if I had not, unconsciously, rejected it as impossible.
I had just killed a man who loved and revered me.
But that made no sense. I'd never seen him before!
True, my fame had spread far and wide. I was the idol of countless men who'd never laid eyes on me. But I'd won renown as a warrior. I was the antithesis of everything Ludovic stood for.
As I lay there, stunned, a thought took form in my mind. His thought, not mine. Gentle and insistent.
"Marcellus is safe."
My immediate response was, "Of course Marcellus is safe!"
How could he not be? I'd left him with retainers who loved him almost as much as I did, who'd lay down their lives to protect him...
And then realization slammed into me.
There was no way this holy man should have known about Marcellus.
Over the years, I'd met only a few Immortals who understood that we can, infrequently, father children. And my son's existence was a closely guarded secret. A bittersweet one: an old enemy had made him Immortal at the age of two, trapping him forever in a body that would never mature. His mind, too, was that of a baby.
Could Ludovic have learned about him from a Quickening?
Impossible! From what I'd heard, the man hadn't taken a Quickening for centuries. If ever.
As I clutched frantically at possible explanations, Ludovic spoke in my mind again.
"I'm not sure whether history can be changed. But in the reality I know, your little one is still alive and happy, cared for by people who love him, millions of years in the future."
Millions of years in the future???
I gave up on reason, opened my mind...and let the truth pour in.
What little I could grasp of it.
Ludovic was a man displaced in time. Most of his incredibly long life had been spent in the future, not the past. He had borne many names, walked on many worlds. Taken the Quickenings of powerful sorcerers, but resisted the temptation to become what they were.
He'd lived to see humans almost stop killing each other.
Perfection, it seems, will always elude us. In the far future, he and a few others learned of a monstrous crime against children, and risked their lives to set it right. They succeeded...but as a consequence, the man now called Ludovic was hurled back through time.
He could have lived out his days in bitterness, grieving for all he'd lost. Instead, he embraced the past as a new planet to be explored.
Despite his attempts to avoid critical turning points, he found himself destined to shape ancient history.
To receive the Cup of the Last Supper from the hands of Joseph of Arimathea.
To die before he was born.
And finally, unbelievably, to become the teacher of a man who'd taught him.
I spared Paris. After I'd disbanded my army, I took Ludovic's place as the city's guardian. And despite the belief in some quarters that I was "possessed"--transformed by a Light Quickening into a mere vehicle for another man's spirit--those decisions truly were mine.
No one has ever understood my relationship with Ludovic. A part of him does live on within me; but there's no question of his controlling me.
He never even tried to convert me.
Rather, I was changed--changed utterly--by what I sensed from him. What I always sense from him: love, peace, and an all-encompassing joy.
Whenever I've berated myself for taking his head--wished desperately that we could have lived through the centuries as friends--he has reached out to comfort me. He believes our encounter at the gates of Paris was dictated by unalterable destiny.
"Conscience, courage, and hard necessity."
One thing this bearer of many names explained long ago: in his youth, he learned something of Ludovic from me. Clearly, I took care not to tell him too much.
Transported to the past, he never formed a plan to become Ludovic. He would have rejected that idea as blasphemous. But he had no choice. Unfolding events brought him to the inescapable conclusion that he was Ludovic.
Usually, my mentor and friend is behind a kind of door in my mind. I can open and close that door at will during my waking hours. He also visits me in dreams, and I'm always aware of their source.
Recently, though, he’s pulled away...
I've always known this day would come.
But few details. Not the date or even the century.
Ludovic told me a little at a time. Guided me in dreams, urged me to do certain things without revealing the reason. I suspect that more than once, I saved the life of the man who would become his father.
How long I've waited, how passionately I've prayed, to see his face again!
One detail I did know. He promised that on this day of days, he would use his long-buried sorcerer's power to send me a sign. Part of the eternal enigma of cause and effect: "I will make it happen, because I know I did make it happen."
He never told me what the sign would be, only that I would recognize it.
Today is the day.
And now, at last, I sense another Immortal.
I fight to control the racing of my heart.
Struggling through the snow, bent under the weight of the wounded man he carries, he stiffens as he senses me.
He wears, as I anticipated, a British uniform.
I pretend not to notice him until I brush against him.
He looks up...and suddenly, after all these centuries, I understand why Ludovic shaved his beard. He wanted the face I'd see now to be exactly the one I remembered.
The face I've seen in a thousand dreams.
Tense, wary, the young man who thinks himself an old man says, "I'm Duncan MacLeod of the Clan MacLeod."
The name is the one I expected to hear.
Burdened as he is, he has already moved instinctively to draw his sword. As I did, long ago.
I tell him, "I am Darius." Then I glance at the sword and say, "You won't need that."
No, Duncan, I'm no threat to you now.
I WILL kill you. But you'll let me do it.
And that will be millions of years in your future.
A thousand years in my past.
We work together to help that wounded man. As we do, I begin, gently, to educate Duncan in the futility of war.
At one point I ask him to fill a tin cup with snow. And as he brings it to me, I recall another cup that passed from his hands to mine.
The Cup of the Last Supper.
As others call it, the Holy Grail.
Even now, it resides in my saddlebag. But I've found my Grail today.
Historians will devote books to the Battle of Waterloo. None will record this meeting of a warrior and priest whose bond is the strangest ever known.
Nor will they note the sign Ludovic gave me.
The snow that fell in June.
Author's Note: The other stories of mine that tie in directly with this one--in various ways--are "Absolutely Not," "A Present With a Past," "Somewhere Else," "Survivor," and "Miles to Go." More are planned!
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