An Immortal Christmas Story
By Patrick Miano
It is the evening of Christmas Eve, 2001, in New York City. Marcus Remus, the oldest living Immortal next to Methos walks down the dark and deserted streets of an upscale Manhattan residential neighborhood with gifts for his mortal girlfriend and her daughter. He does not feel the cold nor pay much attention to his surroundings. His mind is with the woman and child, two blocks away.
Julie, he thinks, is a really nice young woman, and her little girl, Chloe, is a doll. It’s going to be hard to break it off after New Year’s Day. But Julie is hinting about “something permanent”, and Chloe keeps saying she wishes I were her daddy. If I were mortal, I wouldn’t be stupid like that jerk that walked out on them so he could “find himself.” That excuse went stale 25 years ago. But I’m not mortal, and they need someone who’ll grow old with them. He remembers his past wives, mortal and Immortal, but he has had none since the fall of Rome, and he never will again.
The “buzz”, the sensation of another Immortal nearby, comes quick and strong. He gently puts down the gifts on the steps of a nearby townhouse and turns to face the latest of thousands of opponents. It is a man, young looking and tall, though a little shorter than him. He is dark and bearded, and his clothes suggest he is not from the United States.
“I am Mark Remo, once Marcus Remus of the 1st Legion of Caesar”, Mark announces. “I do not seek your head. Do you seek mine?”
“I am Derek Newbern, and I do seek your head, Roman”. The accent is English. The young man draws his sword from under a long, black raincoat. It’s a classic British cavalry sword. Marcus guesses it is more likely a family heirloom than his own, original sword. He draws his Iberis short sword, and judges his opponent by his reactions. He is apparently well trained, but not too experienced.
“How many heads have you taken, Newbern?”
“Four, but I’m not afraid of you.” His eyes betray him. He masks his fear with bravado, but he is not the fool he acts like. The two swordsmen begin to circle each other. It is late, dark, and cold, and no one will come by.
“I hope your teacher was good”, Marcus says.
“She’s the best,” the youth growls, “and you won’t hurt her any more.” He starts feinting towards Marcus. The style is unmistakable.
“So, you’re a student of Alex Raven. A lover too, I guess. It’s not like her to send somebody else to do her killing. Does she even know you’re here, you lovesick mook?” A quick thrust and pullback, then Newbern jumps back, holding his sword out sideways. He is not without ability, but this’ll be quick, the poor cibone.
“No, she doesn’t’, Newbern replies. “She’s never going to have peace until you’re dead, you bloody butcher. I love her too much to see her lose her head to scum like you.”
Marcus shakes his head. “I’ve heard that before, and I’ll hear it again. It’s her choice, not mine. But you won’t listen. They never do. What makes you blockheads think you’ll succeed when she’s failed for 2,000 years?”
“Derek, no!” The woman’s voice is strong, and authoritative. It is an order, not a plea. Marcus knows it’s her without even looking up. “Get away from him; you’re not ready for an opponent like him. This is between him and me!”
Newbern shakes his head. “It is forbidden to interfere, Alex. You’re too blinded by hate. You can’t think straight when you fight him. Someday he’ll grow tired of playing with you and kill you.”
Marcus stops circling and lowers his sword. “I’ve been sick and tired of her for nearly 2,000 years you jerk! Why don’t both of you go home? Alex, can’t you ever stop collecting these freaking morons with the “Sir Galahad” Complex?
“Shut up, you Roman scum! You killed my father and brother, and my betrothed. You laid waste to Cumbria. You had the entire world, why-“
“Will you knock that off?” Marcus shouts. “You’ve been beating that dead horse for over two millennia. Your men attacked me, and I was a soldier. Your freaking family was just another lousy bunch of barbarian warlords who didn’t want to deal, them and their stupid Celtic pride! Rome did what empires did. It couldn’t afford exceptions. But that’s all over. It’s been over for 3 dozen lifetimes.”
The tears come, as they always do. Her hatred has been a part of her for so long, Marcus thinks, she couldn’t give it up if she wanted to.
“It will never be over for me, you Roman dog!” She means it.
“That’s the problem, you dumb broad!” Marcus shouts, his eyes heavenward. “I stopped being Roman 1600 years ago. I’m American now, and have been for a long time. Let it go, and this stupid kid won’t have to die.”
“Damn you!” His eyes burning with rage, Newbern blindly charges Remus. It’s a foolish move, born of passion, and easily countered. At the last second, Marcus shifts to the side. To his surprise, Newbern stops himself in time and dodges away from the former centurion. He stands up and tries for a grand slash, but Marcus ducks and thrusts, slashing him in the side. The young Englishman has skill as well as guts, Marcus thinks.
Newbern moves in, but he is not used to wounds, and it slows him. Marcus twists close to him and grabs his sword hand in a grip the Englishman can’t break. He tries to punch Marcus, who ducks down and drives his Iberis into his opponent’s mid-section. He twists to the right and pulls it out. Newbern’s eyes turn vacant, and then roll upward as he slumps to the ground. He won’t revive soon.
Alex Raven screams in protest. “No! Marcus, kill him and I swear you’ll never know a day of peace until the day I kill you! He’s not your enemy.”
“You’ve said that before, Alex. I’m still here”. He wipes his blade on Newbern’s jacket, but never takes his eyes off her. “Blast it, you witch! I saved you from a Nazi guillotine in 1944. I’ve defeated you in a dozen duels, and spared you every time, but you still keep coming. When are you going to learn? This is your vendetta, not mine!”
“Oh, you are so noble”, she replies. “How you smirked when you carried me over your shoulder bound and gagged like a cow for slaughter, and dumped me in that American plane that took me to Britain. You only saved me because the Americans paid you.”
“If I’d untied you, you would have just tried to kill me again. I was doing my job as a soldier. I always have. I was doing it at Cumbria!”
Alex throws off her own jacket and draws her sword, her face contorted with hate. “Liar! Murderer! You’ve toyed with me enough. This time it ends.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Marcus replies. “You won’t have it any other way.” For two thousand years, he has hoped to avoid this moment. Now, it seems as though it is inevitable.
The sensation comes to them simultaneously. It is familiar; unique among all the “buzzes” Immortals feel when one of them approaches. They look to the side, and see the tall, hulking figure of a man approach them.
“Stop this, both of you. Now!” The accent is unmistakably Italian, and Marcus knows who it is even before the face is revealed in the light of a street lamp. “Have you no respect for God? Not even now?”
“Your God, Roman” Alex shouts in defiance. “The gods I worshipped died long ago. Another thing we have to thank Rome for.”
“Stay out of this, Cassius. This is her idea!” Marcus knows why Cassius Polonius is here. He had almost forgotten he told Julie his “cousin” from Italy would be joining them for dinner. He has known the gentle warrior for over 2,000 years, and their friendship has endured. His amiable smile and kind ways continue to belie his fighting ability. A very long time ago, Cassius showed promise as one of Rome’s finest engineers. But he was mortal then. It was before his head was crushed under the foot of a Carthaginian war elephant driven by Methos himself. Now his mind is almost childlike, but his heart is good, and that has sustained him.
Cassius, his hands in the pockets of his overcoat, steps between them. He looks sadly at each of them, and shakes his head. “Please, no killing. Not now. Alex, we fought the Nazis together. We helped save many Jews, as did Marcus. You and I, we meant something to each other once.” Alex Raven looks down at the ground and shakes her head.
He turns to Marcus. “Papa, remember the promise we both made? Two times a year, Christmas and Easter, we no kill anybody. Always, we keep that promise.” Marcus stares at Cassius in surprise. His former student does not call him that very often, unless his heart is troubled. He looks in his eyes, and he sees pain.
Cassius turns to Alex, and answers the unasked question he sees in her eyes.” I was a starving orphan in the streets of Rome. My mortal family had all died in a plague. Even then, Marcus was a centurion. He found me, raised me as his own. He fed me, trained me, taught me, and even had me educated. He never beat me, unlike my mortal father. To me, he was my true “Papa”. Even when I disgraced him at Cannae, and ran like a coward, he stood by me. After that, my mind, it was not right, but he took care of me until I could take care of myself. He told me what I was, and trained me to survive. Until then, I had thought he did not grow old because the gods of Rome favored him. I learned different.”
Alex is not moved. “What is the point of this drivel? Do you think it will save him?”
“Maybe,” replies Cassius, “it will save you.” He resumes his story. “More than 200 years later, we were serving together in Judea. Herod, the local king had ordered all male infants to be slain. We were under orders to cooperate with his men. To even think of killing babies, it made us both sick.”
“But like good Romans, you followed orders, right?” She stares at them both, her disgust obvious.
“Wrong!” Marcus replies angrily. “It was some stupid prophecy as far as we knew; a ridiculous local superstition. We wanted no part of it. We avoided any place where there might even be a baby. But then, we were on duty in Bethlehem. We were at an inn, sharing a jug of wine when we saw two young kids come in. The girl was no more than 16-17, pretty; the boy had a beard, but he wasn’t much older. She was big, and we figured she was due any day if not any minute. There was no more room, so the innkeeper said they could stay in the manger. We decided to mind our own business. “
Cassius takes over the story. “Maybe two, three hours later, the boy came back in. He asked the innkeeper’s wife to come help. His wife, she was ready. Later, the lady came back, all excited. Such a baby, she said, such a beautiful little boy. Her husband, he told her to be quiet and pointed at us. Marcus got up and left, not saying anything. I tried to stop him, but he pushed me away.”
“I followed him to the manger, and we found them. They looked up at us. They were not afraid. I no could understand that. The baby, he was beautiful. The light from the stars seemed to shine on him. I turned to Marcus. I said, ‘Marcus, please no. He’s a baby.’ Marcus just stared at the baby. Then he took some coins from his purse, and dropped them in front of the boy. I did the same. He walked away, without a word. I stayed; I don’t know why. But I told the mother not to fear; we no kill her baby. She blessed me.
Marcus came back with the blanket from his bed and some food. He gave it to them. Then we went back inside. We left the next morning.”
Marcus Remus continues. “When we reported in to our commander, Marcus Constantine, he asked us if we had done anything. I was a centurion, so I didn’t lie to my CO. I told him I wasn’t no stinking baby killer. He smiled, and said he wasn’t either. That was the end of it, or so we all thought”
Alex cannot restrain her curiosity. “It was he?”
“Yeah, it was him,” Marcus replies. A lot of things happened after that. Over thirty years later, we finally realized what it all meant. But that’s something I don’t talk about it.” Marcus turns to look at Newbern, who has still not revived. “Take your boyfriend and go, Alex. I don’t want to do this. Not now. Not here.”
Cassius moves closer to Alex, ignoring her tightening grip on her sword. “This city has seen enough death this year. There is too much sorrow, too many tears. For centuries, you have involved yourself in the mortal fight for justice, a good thing. Why waste your life on this? This vendetta, it is as stupid and meaningless as the ‘Game’. Even I see that, and I am not smart like you or Marcus. For one night, both of you, don’t fight. Per favore, is that so much to ask?”
Alex Raven closes her eyes and clenches her teeth, tears roll down her eyes. Marcus knows her answer. Still, he does not lift his sword. Let it be her decision he thinks.
“Yes! It is too much!” She raises her sword over her head in blind rage. Before even Marcus can see it, Cassius’ fist lashes out and hits her in the jaw. She crumples to the ground like a rag doll. He catches her, and picks her up gently in his arms.
Marcus puts his sword away, shaking his head. “She’ll never give up. Never. I don’t know why I didn’t behead her 2,000 years ago.”
Cassius smiles. “You know why, Papa. Go to your dinner. I will take care of Alex and her friend. Since Christmas seems to mean nothing to either of them, they will spend it where they no can ruin it for everybody else. Le sfacciate. They are more stupid than me.”
Marcus puts his hand on Cassius’ shoulder. “Cassius, in some ways, you’re smarter than any of us. You had a brilliant mind once. You were going to build things no one ever imagined. I’m sorry I didn’t keep you closer to me. You didn’t know what you were then. You were scared. You weren’t the only one who ran that day. I should have killed that dirtball Methos for what he did to you.”
“That would not make me smart, Papa. It would only make you like her. Besides, it was my fault. I was a vigliacco, a coward.”
Marcus looks at the unconscious form of Alex Raven. Without the pain and hate running through her, she is quite lovely. He strokes her long, brown hair. “Like I said, you’re not so dumb, and you were never a coward.”
Cassius ignores the remark. “Tell Julie I will be late for dinner, and please start without me. This won’t take long. She is a good woman, Marcus. She and her little girl love you very much, I think.”
“I know, Cassius. But it can’t come to anything. I have to tell her. Just not tonight.” Marcus picks up the gifts he left on the steps, walking around Derek Newbern. “He’ll start reviving any second. You better hurry.”
“Okay, Papa. She’s probably going to come to pretty soon too. I got a car parked around the corner. That’s a miracle for this city. I go put her in the trunk. You go now, yes?” The period of relative lucidity is starting to fade. It always does, Marcus thinks sadly. Over the centuries, Cassius has been his son, his brother, his comrade, his student, his partner, his friend, and everything else two straight men can be to each other. Through it all, the gentle giant has kept his basic goodness. Perhaps the child they spared so long ago still spares him. They have seen so many religions come and go; yet Cassius, like Duncan MacLeod, still holds on to his faith. He is at peace with himself, and Marcus envies him that. No wonder Ceirdwyn loves him. She has married several mortals over the centuries, but she always comes back to him. Even now, she’s visiting the family of the last one, the poor guy who was murdered several years ago. But she’ll be back for New Year’s Eve. Like Duncan and Amanda, they always seem to find each other.
“Yes, I better go too. See you later, Cassius. Merry Christmas, Son.” He has not called Cassius that in a very long time. It seemed strange since they are both forever 29 years old. Somehow, it seems right tonight.
Cassius smiled broadly. “Merry Christmas to you also, Papa.” He steadies Alex Raven in his arms, and disappears with her around the corner.
Marcus smiles at Newbern, still sprawled out on the street. “Merry Christmas to you too, buddy.” He hurries off down the street, not wanting to be late.
Happy Holidays to all of you, my friends. No matter what your faith, or even if you have none, may the spirit of this season transcend our differences, and bring us together. I have my Christmas gift. Tomorrow, my son comes home for the holidays from the air force. He’ll be going back all to soon, but we’ll all be together for a few days, and I’m grateful for that. I sincerely hope you all have something to be grateful for.