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Fic: Olive branch

Summary: Methos recalls the death of his wife and family during the Crusades.

Rating: T for non-graphic violence and mature themes.

Thanks to: My beta readers, mackiedockie and dswdiane

Disclaimers: The concept of Immortality and the character of Methos are the property of Davis/Panzer Productions. No harm, no foul, no money changing hands.



Methos searched through the greenhouse for a house-warming gift. Joe's new apartment needed something to cheer it up. Perhaps a spider plant; surely not even Joe could kill one of those off. He paused, attracted by the gray-green foliage of a single olive sapling. Methos bent down and ran a practiced hand over the tiny, rough trunk, drawn into the memory of a past life.

Idra.

Idra stood at the end of a long trench lined with sun-warmed manure. She was a small woman, dark and plain-featured, with deft hands and an easy smile. Her arms were full of cuttings from the branches of their best producers. "Aaron!" she laughed, blowing a stray lock of hair away from her eyes, "are you going to help, or just stand there watching?"

Methos had gone to Iberia to help with the translations of several Greek and Arabic medical tracts into Hebrew and Latin. He had stayed for Idra. He married into the Cordovas, a local Sephardic family who owned a large olive grove. Methos had been content for seven years. Until they were destroyed. Not the trees. They were considered far too valuable. Just the family.

Aaron woke in a patch of grass coated with sticky blood, cool flesh pressed against him. He had fought, but a pruning knife was not his weapon of choice against twenty soldiers. Idra had taken a wound to the belly. It was a slow death. She'd had time to crawl to him while he lay dead. Idra was nestled up against his back as she always did in their marriage bed.

Nightmare flashes of running, searching for survivors in the grove, the sheds, the barn, the house. They were all dead. The Crusaders were as thorough as they were brutal.

Aaron carried Idra into their home and laid the family out around her. Idra, who had approached life with a woman's passion and a child's joy. Adam ben Isaiah, the patriarch who had welcomed a foreign scholar into the family. Leah, Idra's sister, had always wanted him to try out her new recipes. Caleb, her husband, had the body of a wrestler and a fondness for wine. Adam ben Caleb, nearly old enough for his Bar Mitzvah, had a quick mind and a gift for languages. Little Ester had loved to listen to his stories. David had sung with the voice of an angel. Issac had climbed and fallen out of almost every tree in the grove. Jacob, the babe-in-arms, had done nothing in this life to be remembered for, except being stomped to death. Six others, young and old.

The house was filled with the stench of fresh death; too many bodies in such a small space. The smell brought back instincts from an older time when he had revenged terror with terror, pain with pain, and blood with blood, until the original sin was forgotten and all that remained was Death. He could find a horse and ride after the column. He could pick them off a few at a time; teach them to fear the sacraments of gods more ancient and bloodthirsty than their Christ.

Aaron nearly rode after the Crusaders that night to show them the true face of Death. Nearly. But in his mind he saw Idra's eyes, wide in horror over what he planned. These people believed that the souls of the dead remained hovering above their bodies until they were properly buried. His vengeance could wait a day or two. And once their souls were at peace - then the soldiers would pay the price for their deaths.

Aaron had helped Idra bury her mother six years ago. He knew the dignities provided the dead under Judaic Law. Constant prayers, ritual washing, white shrouds, a grave at least six feet deep. It would not be easy.

Aaron lurched to his feet and found his way to the well in the deepening twilight. He carried a full bucket back to the house. Lighting candles against the darkness, Aaron found a piece of cloth, and squatted down beside his wife's body. Idra had always said she fell in love with him before she ever saw his face, just from the sound of his voice reading the Torah. So he crooned the simplest of children's prayers to Idra as he washed her face. He worked his way slowly across the room, ending with tiny Jacob, who had little face left to wash. Aaron knelt beside the infant's corpse, breathing hard as he draped a fresh cloth over Jacob's face.


Methos tasted the grief and rage fresh on his tongue as he knelt, hand clenched around the tiny tree.

If they had died from disease or accident, he would have washed their entire bodies and given them clean clothes. But the Law was clear: those that were killed because they were Jews were to be buried in their bloodstained clothes, as a testament to the sacrifice for their deity. He trembled, that even this outrage was foreseen and prepared for under their Law.

Aaron staggered out of the house to breath the clean air. The moon lit the path to the storage shed where he had buried his sword. It had seemed so safe here, far from any Immortals. What a fool he had been. Aaron groped past the tall earthenware jugs that held their finest pressings in the darkness of the shed. Finally he found the correct spot and dug until he felt the crosspiece, tightly wrapped in linen. It would require some cleaning, but the sword wouldn't leave his side until the Crusaders had paid their blood debt to him and the Cordovas. Aaron picked up a small jar of oil from the shelf on his way out of the shed. He would need it for the sword.

Once back in the house, Aaron gathered some supplies and sat at a table to begin cleaning his sword. The soft shushing of the file on the blade, once a comfort to him, now grated on his nerves. It seemed an offense against the stillness of the corpses around him. He returned the sword to its sheath. It could wait. He sat at the table for a moment. The flickering candlelight cast shadows that seemed to move at the edge of his vision.

Aaron lifted the lid from the jar of oil and sniffed the contents to make sure it hadn't gone rancid. The scent of it brought a faint smile to his face. The winter month when they milled and pressed the olives, that smell would permeate everyone and everything. A dim memory spurred him to action. Aaron anointed Idra's face with the aromatic oil, then all the others. This wasn't their tradition, but once it had been one of his. The silent dead seemed to approve.

There was one last step to preparing the bodies. They needed shrouds. He plundered the house looking for white linen. The tablecloth for Idra, sheets for the other adults, shifts for the children, a pillowcase for Jacob. He carefully laid the cloth under each body, and then pulled out Leah's sewing kit. A few dozen stitches secured each shroud into place. Idra would have laughed at the unevenness of his stitches. She loved to laugh. Exhaustion pulling at his limbs, Aaron lay down beside his wife to rest.

Aaron was denied even a moment's grace. He woke in the morning light, knowing exactly where he was and what had happened. Idra was dead, and today he would dig a grave for the Cordovas. He choked down a few mouthfuls of bread in the thick atmosphere of the house. Flies had begun to gather.

With a murmured explanation to Idra, Aaron went outside and selected a shovel from the tool shed. He marked out an area on the side of the grove away from the well, and began to dig. He and Caleb, the strong young men of the family, used to work the hardest tasks together. The ground here was rocky, and Caleb's joking suggestions for what they could do with all the rocks they dug out of the ground had become more and more ridiculous over the years. Aaron pushed himself hard, trusting Immortal healing to take care of blisters and pulled muscles. Here Jewish Law was pure common sense. You didn't leave the dead above ground for more than a day and a night, not in this climate. The sun was low in the western sky when he finished.

One by one he brought the Cordovas out to the grave. Idra and the children he carried, but the other adults he had to drag using a blanket. The past day and night had taxed his body's resources, and he fell several times. Finally the entire family was gathered together in the grave. Aaron began to say the Kaddish, as was required. Chanting, blessing, and praising His Name, Aaron felt like some alien creature. This prayer was for Mortals. Why call out for Him to raise the dead, when he himself had returned from death more times than he could count? Why beseech Him to rebuild the Temple, when he had seen the Temple in its days of glory? When the prayer was finally complete, Aaron searched his mind for words that would allow him to say goodbye. But all that he could find was the psalmist's lament. "Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow." Aaron filled in the grave one shovel full of dirt at a time, and then tore at his tunic, leaving a rip over his breast to show his grief.

It was finished. He had done his duty, shown respect to the dead. The other Jewish customs were about consoling the survivors. He was the only survivor, and he didn't need consoling. All he needed was to start riding after those Crusaders, before they found a ship to the Holy Land and escaped his vengeance.

It was a lie, and he knew it. Aaron stood alone by the mass grave. He had lost his rage. He felt … numb. Dumb. He felt as if he had buried his heart in that grave with his family. He felt like a walking corpse.

Aaron made his way slowly back to the house, stumbling when tree shadows concealed the irregular ground in the moonlight. He stopped for a bucket of water from the well on the way. Once there, he lit some candles and pulled his sword out. The dead were buried. There was nothing stopping him from continuing with his vengeance. But looking at the sword, he realized that there was nothing compelling him to follow the Crusaders, either. He left the sword lying there on the table. Tired but restless, he tried to clean up the house. There was blood everywhere. He should have buried it all with them, but there was too much. Too much blood in the house, too much in the barn, on the grass, even some of the olive trees had been stained by it. These lands were one great grave. Somewhat comforted by the thought, Aaron blew out the candles and sat motionless in the dark until sleep took him.

Aaron gasped awake in the deepest part of the night, heart pounding as he reached for Idra. No, no Idra. They were all dead.

He felt horribly trapped, sleeping all alone in this stinking house. By tradition, mourners sat shiva for 7 days in the home of the deceased. It was supposed to help. But this, this was terrible. He couldn't stand another moment.

Leaping to his feet, Aaron rushed outside. And then, panting in the cool night air, he realized his mistake. The house wasn't Idra's true home. No. The heart of the Cordovas was in the grove itself. Aaron stepped inside to grab a blanket from his bed, leaving the sword on the table. He walked into the center of the grove.

Aaron lay down on the grass, wrapped in his blanket. Shiva called for other mourners, to share your grief and your memories. The stars twinkled far above as the trees stood silent witness. It was enough. Aaron began to speak. He recalled telling little Ester and her brothers the Greek myths of the twelve constellations. He explained how he had shown promising young Adam a portion of Ptolemny's 'Almagast' and they had worked together to predict the next lunar eclipse. And Idra … the trees must know how many times when the house had seemed too crowded, they would lay together here under the stars. That was when he began to weep, for the first time.

For seven days Aaron stayed in the grove, remembering each of the Cordovas in turn. On the morning of the eighth day he was free. He washed, shaved, and dressed in clean clothes. Aaron considered his options. If he left now, it might still be possible to pursue the Crusaders. The idea had lost much of its appeal, but what else was there?

Aaron went back to the grove, to take his leave of the trees. He walked through it, touching each in turn. The row of young olive trees had grown to near chest-height. When he examined them closely, Aaron saw that their leaves were mottled and dry.

He and Idra had planted those trees with their own hands. They had nurtured them like the children they could never have. The trees were the result of five generations of work by the Cordova family on this land. The best olives are grown in poor soil, but the saplings needed a decade of care before they could produce. If he left now, they would wither and die. Olive trees took slow, careful work to grow, and only a moment to destroy. Just like Mortals.


Methos had stayed to mourn and tend the Cordova grove for nine months, until the refugees who had fled the Crusaders returned to the area. He placed the grove in their care. Their cries of thanks ringing in his ears, a man who was no longer Aaron Cordova walked north out of Iberia, a sword strapped to his side.

In all the years and all the lives since then, Methos had never forgotten Idra and her trees. And while he had killed for many reasons, it was never again for revenge. He ran a gentle thumb over one of the sapling's leaves, took a mindful breath to focus back in the present, and then stood up. What was he … ah, a spider plant for Joe, that's it.

Perhaps he would gift Joe with a few details about Idra for his journal. Not too much. Joe enjoyed ferreting out Methos's secrets. It wouldn't do to spoil his fun by just telling him the whole story. Maybe Joe would try to get him drunk again. That was always good for a night's entertainment.

Methos purchased the largest spider plant in the greenhouse and headed to Joe's, smiling at the thought of what the man would have to say about its impact on the décor of his bar.

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Comments

( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
adabsolutely
May. 10th, 2006 02:06 pm (UTC)
I enjoyed this very much. You painted a clear picture with your words, I could see it. Thanks for sharing.
keerawa
May. 11th, 2006 02:00 pm (UTC)
Dialogue comes easy to me, but I have to work at the descriptions. I'm so pleased to hear that they worjed well for you.
ithildyn
May. 12th, 2006 12:02 am (UTC)
You made it seem like it wasn't work, if you know what I mean :) It all flowed so well.

Descriptions are always my bugaboo, while I could write dialogue quite happily till the cows came home! So I doubly appreciate what you accomplished with this story.
unovis
May. 10th, 2006 02:17 pm (UTC)
Beautiful attention to detail here. It's very nicely paced, fitting for a story of mourning and a long memory. I love that he stayed behind to tend the olive grove. It's a nice use of flashback and that cursed brilliant memory Immortals seem to have.
keerawa
May. 11th, 2006 01:58 pm (UTC)
I have my betas to thank for much of that. Mackiedockie requested more details, and dswdiane suggested a major plot change that forced me to slow ... things ... down.
ithildyn
May. 10th, 2006 06:48 pm (UTC)
This was wonderful. I could see everything you described. Thanks so much for sharing it.
keerawa
May. 11th, 2006 02:01 pm (UTC)
Thank you for reading it. Your icon is very appropriate for this story!
ekaterinn
May. 10th, 2006 09:39 pm (UTC)
Oh, I quite liked this. I think Methos and Judaism actually go along pretty well, and this was just painful and beautiful enough to work. ^_^
keerawa
May. 11th, 2006 02:03 pm (UTC)
Methos and Judaism are like peanut butter and chocolate. Although I must say, his version of sitting shiva has quite a pagan feel to it.

Thank you.
ekaterinn
May. 11th, 2006 06:33 pm (UTC)
Pagan feel, yes. I see Methos as very connected to nature, attuned to the seasons and stars. *smiles*
amonitrate
May. 10th, 2006 11:51 pm (UTC)
ah, lovely. I like how he realized he didn't have to pursue revenge, even though it was his first impulse.
keerawa
May. 11th, 2006 02:06 pm (UTC)
Revenge was my first impulse too, as an author.

Then I found this while researching olive trees over at Wikipedia. "Why the olive branch came to symbolize peace remains something of a mystery. Speculative explanations tend to center around the idea that olive trees take a very long time to bear fruit. Thus the cultivation of olives is something that is generally impossible in time of war."

That's when the story really came together for me.
eveningblue
May. 11th, 2006 03:50 pm (UTC)
Oh, that is so interesting about olive trees! Isn't it fun when you're doing research and something just clicks to make you know where you're going in your story, something you didn't even know when you started? I love that.
amonitrate
May. 11th, 2006 05:51 pm (UTC)
oh I had missed that parallel. Very nice, makes me appreciate the story even more.
eveningblue
May. 11th, 2006 12:43 am (UTC)
Lovely story. Interesting that he chose not to chase the Crusaders. It provides Methos with a history that sort of parallels MacLeod's, in having his family wiped out by marauders. And I liked the ending, with him thinking of telling just a little bit of (but not all of) the story to Joe.

keerawa
May. 11th, 2006 02:13 pm (UTC)
It provides Methos with a history that sort of parallels MacLeod's, having his family wiped out by marauders
The connection with MacLeod hadn't occured to me, but yes, Mac lost his father to Kanwulf the Viking. Probably rather common among Immortals.

Methos lost his family twice, according to this story. Once thousands of years ago, when he pursued vengeance and became one of the Horsemen. And then again, less than a thousand years ago, when he made a different choice.

Methos and Joe do enjoy their little games. Out of curiousity, did you get a slashy vibe when Methos was discussing Joe?
eveningblue
May. 11th, 2006 03:52 pm (UTC)
Oh, I was thinking of Little Deer, but yes, his father too.

Hmmm, a slashy vibe, no. But then I'm not predisposed to thinking of Methos and Joe that way.
(Deleted comment)
keerawa
Oct. 12th, 2006 06:11 am (UTC)
Re: very lovely
Thank you for letting me know that you appreciated his story, kormantic.
asha_dreamweave
Apr. 23rd, 2007 03:16 am (UTC)
great. very touching.
keerawa
Apr. 23rd, 2007 03:59 am (UTC)
Thank you, Asha!
springwoof
Apr. 4th, 2008 02:06 am (UTC)
lovely. the story of how Methos gave up the revenge business....and I love the thoughtfulness of his friendship with Joe
keerawa
Apr. 6th, 2008 09:45 am (UTC)
Thank you, springwoof! Methos and Joe have an interesting relationship. I can see it as slash or gen, but either way, it MATTERS to both of them.
springwoof
Apr. 6th, 2008 01:16 pm (UTC)
I agree, although their relationship is strictly gen and platonic, as far as I'm concerned. (and one can have a deep and passionate friendship without sex being in any way involved.) I will *read* Joe/Methos slash, especially if it's an author I like, but I don't ever *believe* in it, if you know what I mean....
anya2112
Apr. 19th, 2008 04:44 am (UTC)
What a lovely touching story. It brought even 'more' depth to the "Methos" we've all come to love and admire.

....mind wanders to "A Walk In the Clouds"...sweet love story involving olive trees and family.....

Methos and Joe.....NO F--King way. These two men/characters...truly love each other as human beings. There is a level of trust, admiration, respect, and antagonism that exceeds "mire friendship" and crosses over to family..or 'Soul BROMANCES'!!!

keerawa
Apr. 19th, 2008 07:26 am (UTC)
Thank you, anya! I haven't seen 'A Walk in the Clouds' - should probably check it out. Methos and Joe are very important to each other. Family is a good way of putting it.
gryphonrhi
Feb. 11th, 2017 06:36 pm (UTC)
This is spectacular. I have no idea how I've missed it, but it's beautiful and I'm glad I got to read it. Thank you so much!
keerawa
Feb. 12th, 2017 11:18 pm (UTC)
Thank you, Rhi! 'Who wants to live forever' has always been the key question of Highlander, for me.
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )