Joe nursed the bottle of brandy watching as his friend slowly consumed the contents getting ever more drunk, his tongue ever more loose. The ploy wsa working quite nicely, “So you never told me what you and Duncan were doing in the hotel room when I walked in. You looked like a pair of spoiled kids.”
Methos sipped his drink, “Oh, that. It was nothing. We had been playing a game of twenty questions. You know – ‘most outlandish historical outfit’ or ‘most confusing cross-gender quickenning’ – he was bugging me, all his questions seemed to be about one particular period of my life that I dont care to revisit.”
“Sounds like you had something on your mind if there wasnt another story that would have answered his questions.”
“So what if there was?” Methos responded, annoyed, his words slurring a little with the drink, “Ive spent two thousand years in a bottle to escape that bloody prophesy.”
Joe grinned, “Some hokey shaman spooked you that bad?”
“Hokey shaman? For twenty eight centuries I have wanted to write him off as a fraud. But you know what? You dont do that to a friend. Hell, no-one deserves to die like he did. Do you ever wonder why we dont make attachments?”
Joe wasnt heartless, he knew when to stop pressing; Methos emotions were welling up into tears. Joe gave him space and waited until he composed himself. The silence hung in the air.
“Look, Im sorry. We dont have to talk about it.”
Methos turned on him, “Dont have to talk about it? Ive been not having to talk about it for twenty eight centuries dammit. It eats away inside me every time I hear quotes from his writing. It eats into me every time I have watched and seen his prophesies fulfilled. He was no fraud. Oh no. He had genuine insight. And that freak Judd? He’s no freak either, the bastard’s dug up the most compelling evidence to date on my past, and if Im not mistaken his current adventures will be irrefutable.”
Joe didnt know what to say especially with the abrupt context switch – some ancient prophet to Zechariah Judd? “Hey, Im sure it will be nothing. What did they do, bury a polaroid of you?”
Methos closed his eyes waiting for a moment or two before speaking, “No. Not a polaroid. A magic sword. My magic sword.”
Joe couldnt contain his laughter, “Magic sword?”
“Oh yes. It was alive and whispered to me. If he finds it who knows what he will hear?”
Joe was intrigued, “A genuine magic sword?”
“Yes! How many times to I have to say it. Duncan was asking me ‘your favourite sword’ and I dodged the issue back then, which was what started our little spat. I knew none of you would believe me.” Methos slowed down, enunciating each word carefully, “An – ordinary – sword – transformed – by – an – enchanter.”
He sighed. “None of this is going to make any sense at all, unless I tell you the story, is it? Alright. It all started in the spring of 720BC.
Mary’s disappearance didnt seem to have upset her enormous rottweiler dog. He rapidly made friends at the caffeteria tent and avoided the military. Three days into their visit Duncan found himself looking for Gabe and not seeing him in the camp at all. A few concerned questions dug up the reason – he’d taken off with one of the research teams making excavations at the haunted Wadi.
Duncan spent his time getting aquainted with the military personell to dig up information about the two missing soldiers. It was slow going, they had remained aloof from the main group, being late additions to the latest team that had flown in from the States. Finally Duncan hit pay-dirt: a vague comment from one soldier, more gossip than anything, suggested that he should pull night time guard duty and talk with Private William Bailey if he “wanted the juicy details”.
William, or Bill as everyone knew him, turned out to be a solid all-American boy. He stood a shade less than 6 feet tall, blond haired and blue eyed. It didnt take Duncan long to draw him out and get him talking – he’d landed a full-ride through Iowa State on a football scholarship, been mildly successful playing as quarterback. After graduation he was scoutng around for a job and it came down to either following his father into ministry or … well, the other options were running low. His uncle was a farmer but the idea of raising corn didnt appeal. He had joined the army for the opportunity to travel.
“See interesting places, meet interesting people … then kill them.” he joked.
“So, did you know the two UN soldiers who vanished?” Duncan asked.
“Sure, but they didnt disappear.” Bill said.
“They didnt? Where did they go to?”
Bill looked at Duncan, “Can you keep a secret?”
Duncan laughed, “My whole life is filled with them. Sure, I can keep a secret. I might even tell you one in return.”
Bill nodded, “OK. So Michelle and I were friends. More than that. The old guy – Art – was acting wierd like I was treading on his turf or something. It was wierd the guy was about three times her age and he acted wrong.”
Duncan frowned, “What do you mean wrong?”
“I dunno, its like he wasnt from around here.”
“None of us are.”
“No, you know what I mean. His mannerisms and the phrases he used seemed to be lifted out of a guidebook or something. They were too studied. He was amazingly jealous of Michelle and I – I saw some angry exchanges between them with hands waving my direction. I dont know why she even gave him the time of day. And the wierdest thing, she seemed to defer to him like he was deity come to earth.”
Duncan waited to see if the young private would volunteer anything else.
“Well, anyways, Michelle and I were more than friends. We had this connection, you know? The night before she and Art took off she and I were talking, pillow talk I guess, and she admitted that she didnt really work for the UN. She had secret orders or something and was being recalled.”
Duncan was glowing inside but maintained a composed exterior. He tried to make his face adopt a sad expression over Bill’s loss. “So she just took off?”
Duncan reached out a hand to give the young man a consoling touch on the shoulder and it hit him. It should have gone off far sooner than this. Only when his hand was a half inch away from Bill did the buzz begin. Duncan found his mind in a flat spin with ground approaching rapidly. This felt like the minor buzz of a pre-immortal! He’d felt diminished ever since being revived by the Chinaman but hadnt thought it as bad as this. Rather than look wierd he completed the consolation, grasping Bill by the shoulder tryng to balance emotional support with a manly enough gesture that wouldnt freak the boy out.
“I lost my fiancee a few years ago.”
“She left you?”
“No. She was shot in a botched mugging. Another friend of mine was never the same again after taking a bullet then too. They say that time is the best healer but I thought that alcohol ought to speed the process along for a while but its just a crutch. The pain waits until you’re sober before jumping on you again.”
“You sound like my Dad – good old fashioned Baptist preacher who doesnt smoke, drink or play cards on a Sunday. Full of conspiracy theories too. Kept speaking about international banks, government coverups and stuff.” Bill commented.
Duncan raised an eyebrow, “Oh? Ever hear the word ‘nosophoros’ in your travels?”
He figured at that moment he could have pushed Bill over with a light touch; the look of shock was plastered all over his face and body language.
“How … how did you hear of that?” He asked finally?
“Nosophoros was the name of the group that Michelle admitted to being a part of. She said that the big-shots back home had another assignent for them. She and Art vanished at the same time so I guess they were both part of the group.”
Duncan kept fishing, “So, what do you make of those two new UN guys – Conwel and Lancaster?”
Duncan smiled, “Well, if you hear anything, let me know. Im meant to be looking into the security of this dig and conspiracy theories aside, people like this worry me. Anyone with an agenda worries me.”
The rest of the night duty was uneventful. Duncan made a mental note to pull guard duty with Bill in about a week to see what he’d found out.
The spring of 720BC, Methos explained, had been fraught with danger.
“I was living in Israel at the time, for about 40 years if I remember rightly. Turbulent times. The Assyrian empire had been dormant for years on end then a psycho swept to power in a bloody military coup. Pul, the general of the Assyrian army, was ticked at the lack of expansion in the borders and took it upon himself to sweep aside the decadent regime that was in power. On assuming the throne he took the name Tiglath-Pileser III and started a series of wars. In reality, though I call them wars, they were pretty one sided. The Assrians were the 800-pound gorilla of the ancient-near-east … if an 800 pound gorilla comes to your house and stays for tea, which seat does he take? Where does he sit? Anywhere he freakin’ wants to. The Assyrians butcherd the small kingdoms that provided a buffer on the northern borders of Israel. Their goal was control of the trade-route between Egypt in the west and Babylon in the east. Israel was nothing to them, it was simply in the way.”
“They cut a bloody swath down the coast. As the northern kingdom feel I moved south with a band of refugees. I met a young lad, Ela-Jehu, during the southward flight. As I moved around the southern kingdom of Judah he came with me, he had nothing else to do, or anywhere else to go, and I liked the company. Word reached the King – Ahaz I think his name was – that the northern kingdom had fallen. Soldiers almost bashed my door down one night to summon me to the palace. Of course Ela-Jehu came with me. I think that was an eye-openner for him! He was used to the occasional rich farming family, especially in the north where the years of Jublilee were ignored and appropriated family wealth was never returned. The finery of the palace turned his eyes like saucers and for the duration of the visit he was mute with the spectacle of it all.”
“We were ushered into a room at about the same as this old guy. You know how people today think God is this old guy sitting on a cloud with a white beard? I think I met the guy who modelled for that stereotype. He was a shade over five feet tall, bald head and a big white beard. To be honest he looked like someone had taken his head and turned it upside down. He was a sweet old man and over the years that followed we became fast friends.”
“One of the king’s advisors nudged me and said that the old man was none other than the prophet Isaiah. He condemned previous alliances with Assyria, counselling the King to trust the God of his forefathers. At some point that God had asked the prophet to go around barefoot and naked for about three years as a sign, culminating in him givng a national level prophesy to explain the wierd behavior – a prediction that Egypt and Cush would fall by the sword to Assyria and be lead away in utter degredation by the empire. I watched it happen too, about twenty years later as the century turned over.”
“Isaiah was nothing like any seer I’d ever met before. He spoke with a warm humour and gradfatherly manner. He had some huge things to deliver but it seemed like he accepted the assignment with good grace and a humility that shone like the noonday sun. Other seers were charlatans for the most part, appealing to vague signs and portents in many volumes of books that they guarded with their lives. Their respective deities occasionaly visited them with the most horrifying effects – eyes rolled back in their heads, self mutilation, foaming at the mouth. The freaky ones spoke in wierd tongues and howled all night. Believe me, you dont want to camp near a group of travelling prophets. So there I was faced with Isaiah, this grandfatherly man with a quiet manner. He would walk in and eyes would turn to him based mostly on his accurate prophesies, though I am sure noone would have waited long to stone him if he’d ever got it wrong. He delivered a given prophesy in calm tones and in total command of his faculties. I found him to be a hugely calming influence and he played no small part in turning my life around from where it had been in the preceding centuries. Oh, and he cooked this fabulous goat stew – a family recipe that he took to his grave.”
“After King Ahaz had questioned us about the Assyrian invasion he turned to the old man and asked his aid. We were allowed to wait in the room and I swear the prophet could have told the king anything at all at that point in time. He had power in his grasp. The fool. He refused to speak on the matter until after he had fasted and sought the LORD for His word on the matter. I couldnt believe it. He passed on the power when he could have advanced himself.”
“We were all dismissed. We followed Isaiah out and I demanded to know what had just gone on. He was polite and firm, he never spoke without knowing that it had been the LORD who had given it to him -
Unless the LORD builds the house,
its builders labor in vain.
Unless the LORD watches over the city,
the watchmen stand guard in vain.
I was dumbfounded.”