By Ginjer Buchanan
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WARNER BOOKS EDITION
Copyright © 1999 by Warner Books, Inc.
All rights reserved.
"Highlander" is a protected trademark of Gaumont Television. © 1994 by Gaumont Television & © Davis Pauzer Productions, Inc. 1985.
Aspect is a registered trademark of Warner Books, Inc.
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First eBook Edition: March, 1999
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ALSO IN THE HIGHLANDER SERIES
HIGHLANDER: THE ELEMENT OF FIRE
HIGHLANDER: SCOTLAND THE BRAVE
HIGHLANDER: MEASURE OF A MAN
HIGHLANDER: THE PATH
HIGHLANDER: SHADOW OF OBSESSION
HIGHLANDER: THE CAPTIVE Soul
HIGHLANDER: THE COMPLETE WATCHER'S GUIDE
Betsy Mitchell, my editor, for not laughing when I called and asked if I could pitch a Highlander novel.
John Douglas, my "other editor," for transcribing a large part of the beginning of this book, and for his patience as I nattered on (and on) about Immortals.
Donna Lettow and Gillian Horvath, for the obvious—inspiration, information, and support. And for the not-so-obvious—proving to me that you're never too old to make new friends.
Bill Panzer, for wanting to know what was going to happen next.
David Abramowitz and all of the writers who helped create the character of Hugh Fitzcairn.
And, of course, Roger Daltrey, for bringing Fitz gloriously to life. From him, I get the story. …
Amanda was wearing white. She fairly gleamed in the soft candlelight cast from the wall sconces on either side of the ornate vanity where she sat, obviously admiring herself in the oval mirror. A sight to give a man pause, even one who had known her for over two hundred fifty years. Duncan watched her for a minute, then gave voice to his question.
Amanda met his eyes in the mirror as he walked across the room to stand behind her. She was not surprised to see him, of course. None of their kind could ever take another unaware. She smiled, a mere quirk of her lips.
"Hmm," she murmured. "Snow-white."
Duncan knew better, but could not resist.
"Like a virg—"
Before another syllable could leave his lips, Amanda swiveled on her seat, her skirts spread about her, her dark eyes narrowed. One slender finger stabbed out, poking him not-at-all gently just above the waist of his trousers.
"For your information, Mr. MacLeod, a merchant had a run of bad luck at the tables last week, and I now own a warehouse full of the finest silks that San Francisco has ever seen. Silks of colors that you are not capable of imagining. I intend to have at least one dress made from every single color. And, while we are discussing clothing, you"—she paused, sliding the finger higher—"could very much use a new waistcoat. There's one brocade I quite liked, dark brown and gold shot through with metallic thread, that would look splendid on your manly form. I could have my dressmaker take measurements. Or"—she smiled up at him through her lashes—"I could do it myself—later."
Duncan caught her hand and raised her fingertips to his lips. "As always, I bow to your fashion sense." He inclined his head and kissed the finger that had assaulted him.
Amanda laughed then and turned back to the mirror, to the rapt contemplation of her own image. It was Duncan's opinion, formed over a very long time, that Amanda's very favorite thing to look at was Amanda.
"Duncan dearest"—that was Amanda's helpless-little-me voice—"could you be a sweet and bring me my necklace? It's in the case on the bed."
Duncan crossed to the ornate mahogany bed. Until very recently, another of their kind had slept there. This hotel suite had been home to the Immortal named Kit O'Brady. He'd lived here, close by the drinking and gambling establishment that he owned. It had been called the Double Eagle. Then, like the silk merchant, Kit O'Brady had had a run of bad luck when gambling with Amanda. He'd lost everything to her. The Double Eagle became the Queen of Spades, by decree of the new owner. And Kit O'Brady had been forced to move to rather less expensive quarters. Amanda had taken over his rooms with great glee.
Kit kept coming around to the Queen of Spades, playing small-stakes poker, losing regularly. He was convinced that his run of bad luck wouldn't end until Amanda returned his lucky coin—the very one for which the saloon had been named. But he was not about to beg for it.
As Duncan found the flat gold velvet box, he smiled. The hotel room might have been Kit's, but Duncan doubted that the bed had been covered in peach-satin sheets with a matching quilted coverlet edged in white lace when he had spent his nights in it.
He returned to Amanda's throne of mirrors and placed the case on the vanity. Once more, then, he stood behind her, closer now, so that the rough material of his evening coat nearly touched the generous portion of her back that the dress revealed.
Amanda opened the jewel case and, almost reverently, took out the necklace within. She held it at her throat, signaling to Duncan that he should take the two ends and fasten the clasp. He did so, and they both stared for a moment at the glory that circled Amanda's lovely neck.
The necklace was an intricate riot of gold filigree set with an almost impossible number of diamonds. None was large, but there were a lot of them, Amanda smiled at her reflection and donned the matching earrings, delicate traceries of gold set with even more diamonds, that dangled to her shoulders. She finished and arranged her hair over them, just so.
He brushed the back of his hand over one of the earrings.
"Don't tell me. A diamond merchant had a run of bad luck at the tables."
"A gift," Amanda replied, sweetly, "from an admirer."
Possibly, Duncan thought. And possibly not. He had been spending the nights in his own bed, alone, the last little while. Amanda might think that a rival—real or imagined—would renew his ardor.
She rose gracefully, arranged her skirts around her, extended her arms out to her sides, and turned slowly in front of him.
The dress was magnificent, and so was the woman wearing it.
"Aye!" He had to admit it. "There is indeed much about you to admire."
He offered her his arm. Time only for a light supper, then Amanda had to be at work, charming the wealthy patrons of her opulent saloon.
Duncan was caught now, by the glitter of gold, of diamonds, and of snow-white brocade. Tonight the odds were with Amanda. He thought he might well visit this room, and Kit O'Brady's ornate bed, once again.
Hours passed, pleasantly enough. Duncan was not much of a gambler, so although the Queen of Spades was busy as usual, he contented himself with drinking Amanda's fine brandy and smoking one or two of the very expensive cigars she kept for preferred customers. He paid, of course. They had had a huge row over that. Amanda had so wanted to be indulgent, but Duncan's "no" had been delivered with some force, and she had demurred. So now he ran a tab, and settled it scrupulously on a regular basis.
At the moment, he was standing directly outside the saloon, finishing one of those very cigars. The night was chill and damp, as it often was in this city by the Bay. Duncan stared intently into the darkness. You couldn't see the ocean, but Duncan knew it was there. And tonight he almost thought he could smell it, maybe even hear it. He was a Scotsman, a Highlander to the bone. He would never love the sea as did some he had met in his wanderings. But he knew that a swift ship with the right winds could take a man to places beyond the reach of horse or camel or donkey, or any beast that walked on land.
He sighed without realizing it, threw his cold cigar into the gutter, and returned to watch the mortals hover around the icy flame that was Amanda this evening. Duncan suspected that one particular gentleman, who sported a ruby stickpin that looked like glass but wasn't—judging from the attention he had been receiving from Amanda for the past two hours—was also about to have a run of bad luck.
As he settled at the bar, propping himself with one elbow, he idly wondered how often and how much Amanda cheated at cards. She swore, for instance, that the poker game with Kit had been straight. Duncan wasn't convinced. He was in the midst of a case-by-case consideration, when the feeling came over him.
He glanced first at Amanda. She paused for a second and laid her cards on the table. Her hand went reflexively to her throat as she sought Duncan with her eyes.
Another Immortal was near, perhaps even already in the room.
Kit? He'd not been around for a week or so. Or perhaps Alec Hill? Duncan had been trying for months to get his friend to leave his house, to leave off his futile efforts to conjure the spirit of his dead wife. Alec was unkempt, weak from lack of food, and near-incoherent from lack of sleep. Yet Duncan would not give up on him, had been to see him as recently as yesterday. Had he gotten through to Alec at last, and convinced him to live his life once more among the living?
But his moment of hope faded as a young man, a stranger, appeared in the arched entryway to the Queen of Spades. He had been, Duncan guessed, anywhere from twenty to twenty-five when he died the first death. Dark-haired, blue-eyed, a handsome open face, with a nose just a tad too big, too—what was the word?—aquiline, like the profiles on Roman coins. On the short side, but strongly built. He looked like he would handle his sword with some force. His straight hair was fashionably cut and his clothes were well-made, but seemed somehow ill fitting.
No, Duncan thought, as he looked more closely. It wasn't the cut of the clothes. However old the stranger was as an Immortal—and Duncan had long ago learned for himself the truth of what Connor had told him, that there was no way to tell—this young man was simply not used to large, brilliantly lit rooms, redolent with the various scents of expensive men and women.
Duncan nodded imperceptibly at Amanda and started toward the stranger. If he was here to give a Challenge—well, it would be a shame for the lady to have to soil her snow-white gown.
Danny O'Donal stopped just inside the entrance of the Queen of Spades. His teacher had said that they would meet here. A saloon he had said, called the Queen of Spades. And this must be that place, for wasn't that the name on the fancy sign outside? Danny had been in saloons before, of course. But here there were no spittoons, nor sawdust on the floor. Instead, there were white roses everywhere, in vases of the finest glass. And a bar of dark wood polished so that you could see yourself near as well in it as in the mirror behind. The walls were red, velvet he thought, and he'd never seen the like of the golden lamps hanging above, like upside-down trees they were, with candles blazing at the end of every branch. And who was the beautiful lady in the painting above the polished bar? Not naked, like some such paintings Danny had seen, but wearing a dress as dark as her hair and eyes, cut just low enough that the soft place between her pearly white breasts could be glimpsed. Danny was transfixed, assaulted by the sights and sounds and smells of this saloon, this Queen of Spades. Indeed, he near forgot to attend to that feeling his teacher had told him meant that another one of their kind was around. But the feeling was strong, and he reluctantly turned his gaze from the painting and connected it to a tall, handsome man who had just left the bar and was heading toward him. For a second, he felt a flutter of fear. But his teacher had said that the Immortals who would be at this saloon were friends, and could be trusted. So Danny stood his ground as the man approached.
The man stopped in front of him.
"Duncan MacLeod …" he said. His eyes were cold, cautious, "… of the Clan MacLeod."
Danny swallowed. "Daniel Patrick O'Donal of—uhh—the city of New York?"
The man was about to speak again when his eyes grew even colder. Danny felt it, too. Another Immortal. He thought—he hoped—he knew who.
He'd half turned as a clatter of footsteps sounded from the stairs to the foyer below. A familiar figure strode in, a full smile on his face, his mop of curly hair damp from the night mist.
Danny grinned hugely in relief, and from behind him, he heard Duncan MacLeod exclaim:
"Fitzcairn, ye worthless piece of British offal. What in blazes are ye doing here?"
"She was blond. Golden blond with the softest, downiest …" Hugh Fitzcairn noticed that Amanda had paused at the top of the staircase and was glaring back at him. She had been not at all pleased to have her plans for the night interrupted by their arrival, and had made that clear to him, if not to his young companion. Ah, it was a good thing that heads did not roll with a look, or the simple wishing of it! He chuckled. "Well, Danny, let's just say I was in a position to know how blond. 'Twas the wench we met in Versailles who had hair like autumn leaves, MacLeod."
The three men sat in a dim comer of the Queen of Spades, at a table littered with empty glasses, empty bottles of brandy and champagne, and a heavy brass ashtray holding the stubs of Duncan's cigars.
Filthy things, Fitz thought, as he drew on his pipe. It was one he'd had now for almost a hundred years, and he felt it was almost properly broken in.
A door slammed below. Duncan flinched slightly. Danny, who had spent several hours almost speechless in the actual presence of "the lady in the painting," raised his head at the sound. Fitz grinned.
"A thing of beauty. A joy forever."
"If you think so," Duncan said, draining his glass, "then why have you never turned your eyes her way?"
"Don't you recall, laddie, you asked me that once, long ago?" Fitz leaned back in his chair and blew out a stream of aromatic smoke. "We were drinking in a wayside inn that was hardly more than a sty. Somewhere near Heidelberg, it was, and though the ale was swill, we were much less discriminating then. It went down hard, but we managed to consume a vast quantity." He paused. "I don't quite remember how the subject of the fair Amanda came up—"
"Well, I don't remember any of it," Duncan interrupted. "It may be I'm getting forgetful in my old age. Tell me again. In the past three hundred fifty years, I've been witness to your wooing of all manner of women, from scullery maids to at least one princess I could name. So why not the fair Amanda?"
Fitz smiled, and leaned forward across the table. He nodded toward Danny. "Listen, my boy, and learn. A man must have standards in his life. Mortals have only so much time to find things out." He tapped a champagne bottle with the stem of his pipe, then a bottle of brandy. "Do I like wine, or spirits? Do I"—he tilted back and examined the crotch of his pants—"dress right or left? Do I prefer my women"—he leaned in again—"with some flesh on their bones, or as slender as lily stalks?
"However, those of us gifted with Immortality can, over the span of our years, refine our standards to the pure, clear essentials. I"—he pointed his pipe at Duncan, and used it to sketch lines in the air—"have three requirements in a woman. That she be beautiful"—a stroke of the pipe—"mortal"—a second—"and compliant." A third.
"Amanda is for certain beautiful, Hugh," Danny said, looking toward the painting above the bar.
"Ah, but one out of three just won't do," Fitzcairn replied.
MacLeod shook his head. "It's all coming back to me. The inn. The ale. The pain the next morning. Yes, I have heard this before. I remember it now. And"—he rose from his chair—"I also remember a time or two when you have compromised those refined standards."
"Sometimes, Highlander," Fitz responded with great assumed dignity, "I am presented with occasions to which I must arise."
Duncan laughed. "And someday, Englishman, some stubborn, plain Immortal lass will hold your heart at sword's point. I can but hope that I'll be there to see it."
"We're going to live forever, Duncan MacLeod, so you may well see that, and much else besides. But even if you live to be the One, you'll not see the day come when I risk heart or head with the lady in white." As he spoke, Fitz gestured toward the stairs.
MacLeod laughed again. Danny, after asking the whereabouts of the jakes, excused himself to make use of it. He paused on the way out to steal another long look at the portrait above the bar.
After he left, MacLeod poured more champagne for the two of them. Danny's glass sat, still half-full. Duncan hesitated.
"The lad's not much of a drinker, at least not these days," Fitz said.
"You've known him long, then?" MacLeod asked.
Well, Fitz thought, there was a long and a short answer to that question. And since the hour was late, he'd give out the short.
"We met in New Orleans about five years past. I was visiting a friend in an—establishment, in a part of the city where the gentry seldom go." He drank a swallow of the champagne. "I had a drop or two—though nothing as fine as this—and I got into a rather violent disagreement with another patron of the place. A much larger patron."
"One of us?"
"No, the brute carried no sword. But he did carry a nasty short club, studded with nails. And I was by way of getting the worst of it when Danny stepped in. He was working at the place as what a colorful fellow I met in Philadelphia called hired muscle." He paused, noting a fleeting look on MacLeod's face.
"Make no mistake, Highlander. The lad is on the small side, but he is strong and quick. He kept his head for quite a few years, pretty much on his own. Taught himself to use a sword, practiced by himself, faced a few Challenges. And I've taught him a thing or three since we met."
"Head-butting?" Duncan asked, innocently.
Fitz ignored him. "As I was saying, Danny put himself between the large fellow and me, at some risk to his own person."
"But he must have known what you are—that you weren't really in any grave danger."
"Of death, not. Of damage, oh my yes! So he stopped the fight, and got me back to my lodging. And lost his job over it, since the large gentleman was a regular customer, and I was not. And his bed, which was in the establishment." Fitz shrugged. "I owed him then, a meal at least. And a few lessons, to add some finesse to his swordwork. And a bit of advice about improving his position in the world."
"So you've been traveling together then—what—five years, you said?"
Fitz nodded. For tonight at least, he hoped that MacLeod would settle for the basics. For Fitz, man of words that he was, was not certain that he could find the exact words to tell his friend how he surprised himself when he had realized that he had—with no intention to do so—become Danny O'Donal's teacher.
Danny's return saved him the need to give the Highlander further details. Duncan then left himself, to attend to his own needs. The young Immortal did not immediately rejoin Fitzcairn. He roamed the room, running his fingers over polished wood, green felt, and brass railings. The place was spotless except for their table, cleaned after closing every night by instructions of the owner.
"When shall you ask him, Hugh?" the young man questioned. "Are you still thinking he'll agree? I'd wonder at that. To my mind, this seems a good place to be."
Fitz shifted in his chair; his pipe was out again. He found a match in his vest pocket, carefully played the flame over the bowl, and drew in deeply, as the tobacco glowed once more.
Of course Danny would think that the Queen of Spades was a good place to be. A lot of men, mortal or not, would find little to object to in living in a thriving city. Living well, judging by Duncan's clothes and the thickness of the stack of banknotes in his money clip, living with a woman as beautiful and successful and wealthy as Amanda.
But Duncan MacLeod was Hugh Fitzcairn's oldest friend, and Immortals measured friendships in centuries. Fitz knew that the Immortality that he savored for all the possibilities that it offered him—an attitude he was attempting to share with young Danny O'Donal—sometimes weighed on Duncan. The Highlander was prone to introspective musings, periods when his sense of honor and duty drained his life of joy.
Hugh Fitzcairn was an honorable man, as honorable as any Englishman ever born could be, Duncan would say. And if he took on a responsibility, he fulfilled it. But for him, Immortality was not about the Game, though he had fought and taken heads when he had to. Hugh did want to live forever—but he didn't actually expect to.
No, Fitzcairn thought, as fragrant smoke curled from his pipe, for him Immortality was an adventure. The extra time that he and his kind were given was to be used, was to be filled with new experiences, with exploring all the places on the earth that a simple English boy—called Hugh by the farmer's wife who found him in a rock-strewn field—would never have known existed, had he not died, struck down by a jealous husband, his body dumped into a storm-swollen river where he drowned, water filling his aching lungs, as darkness closed around him. Until, who knew how long after, far downstream, he sputtered back to life, and was pulled from the waters by a member of the King's Guard named Henry Fitzmartin. So he lived again, lived to become—to learn to become—the Immortal Hugh Fitzcairn.
Over the last few hours, Fitz had watched MacLeod closely, and listened to the words beneath the words. The Highlander was feeling restless. He was thinking too much. About his friend Alec Hill. About a woman named Sarah he'd known before he came to San Francisco. Something had happened between them that MacLeod wasn't easy with. He was thinking about his relationship with Amanda and his life here with her. It was as plain as could be. As his oldest friend, it was his obligation to save Duncan from himself. The man was in desperate need of a change, of a new experience, of—an adventure. Hugh Fitzcairn, at your service! he thought.
"Danny, boy, fetch a fresh lamp. The light is almost gone. And MacLeod"—he called to his friend, who had just reentered the saloon—"come here now. I've something to show you."
Danny brought the lamp, and Fitz cleared a space on the table, moving the brass ashtray and several glasses aside. The three men sat once more, as Fitz reached into the inside breast pocket of the jacket that hung on the chair behind him. He drew out a small leather pouch. Opening the drawstrings, he spilled the contents into the empty space before them.
Duncan whistled softly. "All that glitters …" he said.
"Actually, laddie, it is gold in this case." Fitz fleetingly thought of the two illiterate swordsmen they had been when they first met. Now they could quote one of Will Shakespeare's plays with ease.
The five nuggets, each about the size of the last joint in a man's thumb, did actually glitter in the light of the fresh lamp.
Fitz nudged one to the side with his pipe stem. "This is for our passage. We'd take ship from here to Seattle, and then another from there to Alaska."
"And this for lodging, and such, when we arrive. There are hotels there, I've heard, as fancy as any in this city. And places where a man can find entertainment, of all shapes and sizes."
A third and fourth.
"These for outfitting, gear. Food. A guide, I would think. There'll be those already there who will know what we need."
"And the last"—he picked up the nugget and held it between his thumb and forefinger—"for luck. One—what is it the kiddies say at birthdays?—one to grow on. There's many more like this there, just lying around, there for the taking, I've heard."
Duncan sat silent. Fitz watched him closely. Danny fidgeted, reached out to touch one of the nuggets, and drew back, as though it were somehow dangerous to handle.
Finally, the Highlander began fumbling at his watch pocket.
"MacLeod, ye thickheaded Scot," Fitz grumbled, "it's not the time to check the time." He tossed the fifth nugget back on the table.
"That would be two to grow on," Duncan stated as he withdrew a sixth nugget and tossed it on the table.
Danny gasped in surprise, as Fitzcairn, blue eyes sparkling, threw his head back and laughed aloud.
"A gift from the lady in white?" he guessed.
Duncan smiled. "After the Excelsior docked, this place was packed with men just come down from the north, with their suitcases full of gold. More than a few nuggets were gambled away that night. Amanda gave this one to me to work into a watch fob. But I guess it will be put to a different use now."
"So, you'll join us then, Highlander?"
"I'm thinking that I might regret this after a cup or two of coffee, but, yes, I'll join you."
Fitzcairn whooped with delight. He rose, grabbed a half-full bottle of champagne, long since gone flat, and a glass.
"Bring glasses, lads, and follow me."
Duncan and Danny trailed after the capering figure who, golden curls flying, danced across the Queen of Spades, down the stairs, and out the front door.
The sky was not yet light, but that gray that comes before the glow of the dawn. Fitz took a minute to get his bearings, then filled their glasses to overflowing, laughing as Duncan stepped back to save his boots from a splash of warm champagne.
Fitz positioned them and raised his glass for a toast in—he hoped—the right direction.
"North," he cried, "to Alaska."
The next morning had brought a second thought or two. But Fitz went about booking their passage to Seattle while Duncan considered how best to broach the matter with Amanda.
The moment seemed right a few nights later, as they lay together in Amanda's bed, tangled in peach satin. But before he could turn the subject, a knock on the door summoned them to the disaster that ended Amanda's newfound pleasure in her identity as mistress of the Queen of Spades.
The saloon had burned down, reduced to blackened, smoldering ruins. Amanda wandered through the devastation, raging at fate—and at Kit, whom she somehow held responsible. Duncan had rarely seen her so distressed. His first instinct was to change plans and stay with her in San Francisco.
Then Fitz stepped in. He told Amanda what they were about, reminding her of the fortunes that had come off the Excelsior. At first she raged anew at Duncan for thinking of leaving her. But her rage turned quickly to cold calculation. Finally, she bade him go—with the promise that he would share any fortune he might find equally with her.
- On Sale
- Mar 1, 1999
- Page Count
- 240 pages
- Grand Central Publishing