Posted By: Ysanne
Thursday, 21 December 2000, at 3:03 a.m.

He walked along the narrow path to the clearing, to the place where he had laid the small fire earlier in the day. Kneeling on the frosty grass, he lit the parchment oak leaves and the brown pine needles under the kindling, and then fed the licks of flame with dry twigs. The smell wasnít quite the same as a peat fire, but he thought the light was the important thing. He remembered solstice fires burning on every hillside in the old days, continuing a tradition the Scots were long past believing.

He stood and watched the flames grow higher, his memories drifting through many years when fire had been the only light against the encompassing darkness of winter. Had Methos once built solstice fires, believing that they were responsible for calling the sun back from its sullen winter retreat? With what ritual of dance or song or sacrifice had his people pleaded with the sun, or demanded its return? The solitary fire-tender mused about the differences between the past and the present, and about those things that remained constant from one age to another.

In his experience guilt and grief remained the same no matter the century or the customs of the people that inhabited each short space of time. Although each generation defined its own reasons for guilt, the emotion felt the same to all those who suffered it. Grief, however, was an emotion so primitive that humankind had no private claim to it, but shared it with the higher animals. Grief had the power to kill and sometimes did, either slowly or in a burst of passion.

As he stared into the fire, Duncan MacLeod wondered which kind of grief had killed Connor. On that freezing rooftop there had been the passion-fueled clash of swords and the quick, sure stroke so ardently desired by his kinsman. But before that climactic night there must have been slow years of longing for the peace that comes with death, the end of all passion. Which had killed Connor MacLeod: Duncanís blade or his inability to comfort the man in his grief?

He sighed and rubbed his tired eyes, then crouched and reached to right a log that had rolled too far. Just then the fire snapped and an ember flew against his cheek, the quick sear of pain startling him out of his ruminations. The momentary discomfort reminded him of his own Immortality, both a blessing that healed his perfect body and a curse that sentenced him to being a helpless bystander as death claimed those around him.

Connorís death had been a forceful, painful reminder that living was a choice, even for Immortals. Connor had chosen death, trusting his ďtrue brotherĒ to be its instrument. Duncan, on the other hand, had always chosen life. Yes, there had been a few times when death had seemed so simple and sublime an escape that he had impulsively reached for it, but he had finally admitted to himself that he could have forced Methos to kill him after Richieís death, just as he could have found a way to allow OíRourke to behead him. But he didnít want to die. Given time, Duncan had always chosen life, even when it wounded him.

He considered whether more time would have allowed Connor to choose life as well. Connorís entering Sanctuary might have been a bid for time, but if so, it seemed that the ten-year respite had only weakened his desire to live. Duncan would never understand exactly what had driven his clansman to embrace death, but he felt that he had begun to accept the futility of despairing over his role in Connorís choice.

Rising smoothly to his feet, the dark-haired Scot began to smother the fire, taking time to make sure it was cold before leaving it. As he walked back to his cabin he glanced up at the black sky adorned with the glitter of Orion, starry weapons held high. Beloved of the goddess Diana yet killed by her hand, the Hunter now hunted the heavens forever. MacLeod paused, chilled hands curled in the pockets of his coat, gazing upward.

Love, grief, guilt, all unchanged since before recorded time. Standing in the ancient light of the solstice stars, Duncan acknowledged that there was one more absolute: hope. Whether it was simply part of his nature, or a mysterious result of being born at the time when winter began its annual surrender to spring, he had always lived with hope.

He took a deep breath of the snow-scented air, then another as he felt the heavy ache of his heart ease, freeing the stirrings of hope to move through him, opening him to life once more.



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