Richie spun in his seat and frowned scornfully
at the squabble which had just started two rows further back
between one of the girls, Jessie, and her boyfriend, Luke. They'd
been on the road for six hours with only one stop for fresh
air, and boredom was threatening the peace. The portable CD
player Richie had passed around the packed bus since the trip
began was merely an excuse for a release of tension.
"Look, Guys," he scolded evenly,
"I know we said three songs each, but Bohemian Rhapsody
is cheating. Lets say if you pick that one, you only get two
songs before you pass it on, okay?"
The grimace he received in response he decided
to take as an affirmative. The young man sighed as he took in
the sight from his front passenger seat position. The odds against
cabin fever setting in didn't look good. A couple of faces were
staring blankly out of the window at the endless interstate,
a few bright sparks were reading, but the rest just looked sourly
back at him, their mood frustrated. Except for the occasional
argument, there had not been a peep out of the motley crew since
the initial excitement of starting off had worn out an hour
into the drive. The radio in the truck was busted, and even
the selection of discs the youth had brought with him was wearing
thin. Richard Ryan only saw one solution he had left, his lip,
so he continued with the break in the silence.
"Is the art of conversation dead?"
he quipped lightly; there were a few harder looks, but not much
more of a return; he pressed on, "Okay, since you're all
intent on being mean and moody, I'll start. Does anyone know
if Mr Javecki's on the corner still sells candy out of the jar,
or is it all packaged now?"
"Jars," came the stiff reply from
the back, and Richie smiled to himself as he turned back to
face front - it was a start.
"Do you still get the drinks for the
bar from there?" the animated mouth protracted.
"Yeah," Jake piped up, giving
in to the interest, "did you used to have to collect them
"All the time," the young Immortal
laughed and winked at Kathleen in the rear view mirror. "Used
to volunteer for it, `cause there was always a chance old man
Javecki would be in, and he'd give us aniseed twists."
"That's kids' stuff," struck out
from a very young sounding voice, which, all the same, seemed
miffed that he'd missed out on such a gift.
"Tastes good though," someone
else laughed and there was the brush of a teasing hand ruffling
A short complaint followed, but settled
as more voices joined the conversation. Soon, the eloquent youth
just sat back and let the discussion continue behind without
him. The CD player was back in his lap as no one wanted to be
left out of the friendly banter, and he closed his eyes and
lost himself in the rock music; he would be taking over the
driver's seat soon, and he wanted a doze before that.
The drive was long, and at some points,
strained, but the stranger in the pack couldn't help but get
to know his troop rather well.
There was Mary and Martha, two unrelated
sixteen-year-olds, who had paired off together at an orphanage
where they'd grown up. They did most everything together, which
mainly consisted of bunking off from school and spending the
day at the Mall, from where Father Macey had often rounded them
up. They'd been coming to the centre for three years, initially
for the line the priest had spun them about the collection of
`talent' that could be found there. Since then, the man's influence
had reduced their absences from the local educational establishment,
and they'd become role models for a lot of the younger girls.
They were tall, and elegantly slender, with rocker style long
dark and blond hair respectively, and both were hoping to become
model/actresses. Personally, Richie thought that Mary would
make a good accountant the way she kept track of the pair's
money, and Martha had a wicked eye for art, which was shown
through the intricate pictures she had painted on the denim
jackets they both wore.
Jake was in the same grade as the would-be-sisters,
and had been trying to catch Martha's eye since the journey
began. He wasn't the oldest boy in the group, but he did seem
to be the unofficial spokesperson and leader for the street
band. His small group, which included the two girls, seemed
to be the `society' to whom to pay respect. He seemed to run
the show with as much fairness as a teenager could manage; he
was sometimes gruff and moody, sometimes friendly, but always
cool. He was a biker like the man he was fast coming to consider
a friend, and despite the punk image, had a soft soul which
could been seen through his eyes.
Randy, the elder boy's protege was fourteen,
but looked more like a twelve-year-old, due to his lack of stature
and a baby face. He was a wily fox, smart to a possibly worrying
potential, who was the genius behind many a scheme that the
group had discussed with their new confidant the night before.
Father Macey had been trying desperately for a year to make
him apply some of his natural brain to his school work, and
had made a little head way, but the boy could be disruptive
in class when he became bored at the `slow' pace. There were
tentative feeler out about seeing if he could jump a grade next
year, but the boy didn't really like the idea, it was too geeky.
Luke and Jessie were another pair, and the
oldest teenagers at seventeen going on the trip, although they
didn't always act that way. They'd been dating for almost a
month, a lifetime for the hot blooded street kids, and were,
at the moment, inseparable. The relationship was rowdy at times,
Richie had witnessed three arguments in his short time with
them, but they seemed to care about each other. There was no
doubt that they were sleeping together, but the two chaperones
had been warned to keep an eye out to make sure there was no
rumpy pumpy during the vacation. Somehow, the youth didn't consider
the prospect of stopping it altogether realistic, where there
was a will, there was a way, but any meetings would, at least
be clandestine and out of the experience of the younger adventurers.
There weren't many dark skinned kids at
the church centre, they tended to stick outside the Irish Roman
Catholic tradition that ran the hall, but Michael was one of
three young people who had chosen to frequent the place. At
fifteen, his polite, quiet manner and sharp good looks were
well liked among the elite, but he didn't join in with the gang
activities, only socialising with them at the community building.
He was one of the group who had actually brought some reading
material with him on the trip, but had joined in the conversation
with enthusiasm once it was in full swing. His physique was
trim and slender where a strong interest in athletics had left
him very fit. Richie had already arranged early morning runs
with him for the rest of the week.
Thomasita-Jemima-May, better known as Mimi
by her associates, could not be missed by anyone. She was short,
rotund and as lively as Kathleen. She always appeared to be
wearing too much make-up, and had gold jewellery hanging from
every available piece of flesh. A quick wit and good humour
made her, more often than not, the peacemaker on the ground
among the teenagers. If she could handle the situation, Father
Macey had instructed both escorts to leave her to it. She was
also the supplier of as many snacks as the bus load could eat,
and she enjoyed her food!
There was one body who didn't seem to fit
into the rag-tag cluster at first glance, but on closer inspection,
she was well respected. Emily was an uptown high school girl,
dressed in pressed jeans, an expensive jacket, her bobbed hair
held back by a rolled scarf. She was quiet, pretty, feminine
in a polite way, and at odds with every other image in the bus.
She was Kathleen's daughter, not that you'd know it to see them
together, and had accompanied her mother to the centre since
they'd arrived in the neighbourhood three years ago. She liked
the `rough crowd' as she called them, and surprisingly, they'd
accepted her as she was. She was popular with the other girls,
a source of advice and make-up when attracting the boys, whose
heads she unfailingly turned as she walked by. At fifteen, she
was friendly with Mimi, and they made an odd partnership when
it came to mediating in the lives of their comrades.
Four of the younger children stuck firmly
together: Jamie, Luke's younger brother; Pog, known so for his
collection of the discs; Peter, a dark-eyed, `reformed' pickpocket;
Biff, a young lady who, at twelve, insisted she wanted to be
a tomboy for the rest of her life. They were the youngest of
the elected representatives, and were obviously destined to
fill the maturing present gang's shoes. The previous evening,
they had hooked onto Richie as soon as he'd come back down from
the meeting with Father Macey, and were inherently curious about
everything. They'd done most of the questioning for anyone who
cared to know anything about the well-dressed stranger, and
had uncovered most of the youth's history that he was willing
to reveal on such a brief acquaintance. Biff was especially
interested in his connection to the dojo, and seemed to be developing
a crush on her blond, muscled idol.
Richie wasn't sure what to make of Kim,
a mainly silent, Korean girl who looked so delicate she might
break. She hadn't stayed long at the centre the night before,
and from the brief glances the young man gave her on the journey,
he couldn't gauge much. Sometimes her black eyes were hard,
hostile of the newcomer, who was trying to be friendly, at others,
mainly when she hadn't noticed his eyes on her, she seemed sad.
There had been a mumbled message to him from Jake, which had
mentioned a recent death in the family, the reason she'd been
chosen by her colleagues to go on the trip, but exactly who
had not been clear. She was the only child not to join in the
conversations that started and stopped every so often, and spent
most of her time looking out of the window. The youth hoped
the vacation would help her to heal and wondered if Naomi, with
her still recent bereavement, could help.
If a nickname of Ranger didn't give the
hint, then the last boy's clothing gave away the fact that he
was a cowboy nut. No one had had the heart not to vote for him
as his dream seemed to be coming true. He had turned up wearing
the boots, plus spurs, the chequered shirt, necktie and hat.
He was a city cowboy. He'd read books, watched all the westerns
on which he could lay hands, loved the music, but had never
set foot outside the town he lived in. He was looking forward
to his first contact with a horse and the `injun' Father Macey
had told him lived at the ranch. Richie wondered if either would
be pleased to see his overwhelming enthusiasm.
Last, but not least, Amber sat at the very
back of the bus, sultry and alluring to her male counterparts.
If Emily was the image of clean cut, then the young woman was
the epitome of the sex goddess. She was fourteen, but dressed
herself to hide her youth. Where Mimi's war paint was over the
top, hers was perfect, enough to tempt any man, however old.
She was supposed to be dating a twenty five year old crook,
who ran a gang up town, but he remained unnamed, and Richie
suspected he was fictional. There was an air of loneliness about
the girl which showed through her shield, and the story seemed
to be a way of impressing her fellows. However, all it did was
put her out of reach, as all the young men appeared to have
voted for her, but were too scared of her image to approach,
and the girls found her aloof. The young Immortal felt sorry
for the situation she'd created for herself, and had tried to
chat with her, but had decided it was best to leave her be when
the impression he cast to the others was that he fancied his
chances. Randy had scowled at him when he'd backed rapidly off,
and the unusual being considered that he might try and play
matchmaker in that embryonic relationship.
Overall, they weren't a bad bunch, and Richard
Ryan thought he could get along with them.
It was nearly dark by the time the bus came
close to its destination, and the ranch was a welcome sight
on the flat horizon. With the sun setting behind them, the shape
was murky up ahead on the long drive, but it was impressive
all the same. Richie had seen it in photos, but it seemed larger
in life. All made out of dark-stained wood, the main house was
a wide, single storey creation, one long window and several
smaller ones along its front blazing light out into the paddocks
around. There was another, plainer building attached by a covered
walk to the house, and two huge barns, one either side. That
was it in front of them for miles around, until the eye reached
dark hills in the distance.
The hairs on the back of the young Immortal's
neck prickled as he drove the final half mile up to the ranch;
there was an atmosphere in this place that spoke to his unnatural
being, an aura of peace and great power. He was silent amongst
a hubbub of excitement that was going on behind him as the youngsters
recognised their target. Their noise was at the back of his
mind as his weary mind focused on the sense of the wide open
valley. The actual buildings were largely irrelevant once he'd
taken them in, it was the land itself which touched his soul
and he knew this was holy ground, a haven for his kind.
The instinct confused him, it wasn't something that he felt
from most sacred sites, but the presence was so strong here
that the Eternal youth couldn't deny it.
The thunk as the door to the van was slid
open brought him back from the daze, and blinking, the young
man recognised five of the seven forms, who were watching them
draw up from the porch. Naomi's beautiful visage took the place
of the musings, and he smiled broadly as she waved. Bodies were
already piling out of the hot bus, and he swiftly followed them.
He was half expecting the missile, which came rapidly towards
him, and the shift in his soul which accompanied her. The familiar
pain and joy mixed in him once again as he swung the small figure
rapidly into his arms and spun round wildly.
"Hi, Sweetheart," he greeted warmly,
ruffling the curly head lovingly.
The wonderful smile of welcome he received
was angelic and excited all at once. There was a weariness in
her eyes, and she was dressed in her night clothes, but there
was also an intense pleasure at the arrival of her kin.
"Rich-ee," she giggled, wrapping
her one-time saviour in an energetic hug.
There was laughter from the group gathering
by the bus, not to mention the child herself as Richie followed
an old tradition he'd begun by accident, and hooked Annie efficiently
under his arm. She kicked and screamed superbly, but her efforts
were not meant in earnest, it had been too long since her favourite
adult Immortal had teased her, and she was enjoying his attention.
The young man glanced up at the porch, more
precisely, directly at his soul mate. His face was smiling as
he asked casually, "This belong to you?"
There was a vague shrug of response as the
divine creature joined in the play, and Annie yelled even louder
at the non-committal action. She was giggling craftily, and
the youth started as her small fingers found their way under
his jacket and began to dance through his thin shirt; he managed
to stay upright as her `attack' became stronger, and he caught
the slender figure of his darling begin to slink down the steps
towards them. Her movements were slow, and gave the young man
enough time to allow his little charge a good revenge, before
he righted her and offered peace, much to the amusement of his
companions. Penelope-Anne was sat securely on his hip by the
time he was stood straight once more, and faced his approaching
goddess. The last few steps were closed at surprising speed,
and with a small exclamation of delight, the Immortal found
himself engulfed in another embrace, which he returned whole-heartedly.
Naomi's relationship to him had been explained
on the way as one of the things all the kids wanted to know,
but there were a few murmurs from the crowd as they gathered
that there was probably more to the bond than the understatement
which Richie had given them. The youth barely heard them, the
warmth that was running through him at the long-overdue reunion
blocked out the rest of the world. By the time he pushed away
the intoxicating feel of his spiritual partner, there were five
more bodies standing just behind the heavenly woman.
"It's good to see you again,"
she breathed, her tone full of emotion as she held her hands
either side of his neck and took in his handsome features.
Feeling overwhelmed, the young man examined
every inch of the pale visage and deep eyes, and his words failed
him. He breathed deeply of even the scent of her being, and
revelled in the faint telling of her waiting Immortality. The
youth's cheeks coloured a little as a polite cough from behind
the god-sent woman finally drew the couple all the way apart.
Harry was smiling devilishly as the Immortal's attention was
laid on him, and he spoke deeply, "Save some of him for
The girl laughed gorgeously and turned to
the group, hooking her arm around her companion's waist. A quick
wave down three offered hands was a content greeting between
the reunited friends; all of the boys grinned in welcome, even
Garion, and then manners demanded some introductions.
Agatha was not difficult to deduce, she
was a tall, elegant woman who had died somewhere past the time
when women continue to reveal their age. Her hair was long and
white, held back in a sweeping bun fixed in place with stick
and leather. That was the only clue as to her maturity, her
face, although sun touched, was not lined and her grey eyes
held a fire which defied any years. She was stood straight,
her hands held in front of her like a Victorian lady, but her
clothes were modern and far from prim. There was a warm smile
of welcome on her features. Her companion was the same height
as the resplendent woman, and although his descent was so obviously
different, due to his long, dark straight hair and darker skin,
he fitted in beside her like a close friend should. The Native
American was dressed in similar, out door clothes to all of
the older residents, jeans, boots and front button shirts, but
there was also decorations of his ancestors around his neck
and wrists. His dark eyes were twinkling a salute.
"Richie, this is Agatha and Jon,"
The Immortal nodded respectfully and greeted
warmly, "Nice to meet you." He didn't offer a hand
as one was holding Annie in place, and the other he'd just wrapped
carefully around the slim waist of his dear one. Instead, he
turned the three of them round and displayed his motley crew.
"This is Kathleen..." the youth
ran down the list of names and waited for some type of response
to every one.
"Welcome to Heaven Sent," Agatha
purred, her voice deep and amicable. "I am Agatha Newly,
and this is my steward, Jon Buffalo-Sky. If you'll follow us,
we'll show you where to drop off your things in the bunk house,
and then there's a warm supper waiting in the dining room."
That brought a rumble of approval from the
The bunk house was the building down the
walkway, and was divided into two rooms plus single sex shower
and bathrooms; each room was lined with ten beds and cupboards
similar to a military hut, but had a softer feel due to the
heavy beams which criss-crossed the roof space, and the warm
glow of the lights. Each new arrival grabbed a bed and left
their bags for sorting out later, and within ten minutes, everyone
was sat around a long oak table in the room which belonged to
the single large window at the front of the house. There was
a magnificent view of the ranch gates and the town lights miles
away across the flat terrain, but everyone was more interested
in the display that was on the table. Richie stood at the door
to the supper room, holding a dozing toddler and watching the
animated scene which began as soon as Agatha and her resident
helpers began to dish out a thick, appetising stew. Naomi stayed
by Agatha until she was sure that she wasn't needed, and then
"She's so tired," the girl whispered,
wiping a curl from the smooth brow with affection, "but
she insisted on staying awake until you arrived."
"Lets put her to bed," her companion
suggested, rocking the small form a little as she shifted in
More than a few of the eaters noticed the
young couple leave with their charge, and smiles were exchanged.
Annie didn't stir as she was tucked into
her bed in a room she shared with Naomi. Her peace captivated
both her carers as they perched on the edge of the bed and watched
her a while. There was nothing on the young face save for the
ghost of a smile as she dreamt contentedly, and her calm sent
a wave of radiance through Richie's soul. The months of separation
had faded his memory of the dear creature, but only minutes
with her had brought back all his feeling. His blessed curse,
held Immortal in the body of an innocent, and he loved her without
reservation. He'd even missed the pain and anger that sat permanently
in the back of his mind when he thought about her Eternal immaturity.
The little girl who held two centuries of simplicity inside
her made him smile as he absently smoothed her covers.
"You must be hungry," Naomi's
sweet tones brought him gently from his daze as she laid a palm
on his shoulder.
"Mm," he murmured, feeling the
sleep he needed catch up with him for a moment as his thoughts
came back, "it's been burgers and candy bars for two days."
"Come on, or there'll be none left,"
her voice smiled as she stood to lead the way.
One last moment of protective wonder, and
then the Immortal leant over and laid a good night kiss on the
untouched forehead. He breathed in deeply as he stood and stretched
aching legs, pulling back his wits from the drifting that tiredness
was inclining him to.
"Looks like we shouldn't keep you away
from your bed much longer either," the slight female observed
with a wry grin, and holding out a hand, nodded towards the
Despite his weariness, Richie was still
sat at the table with Kathleen, Agatha, Jon and Naomi two hours
later, hovering over a cup of black coffee. The Immortals and
their allies were in fact waiting for the rotund lady to retire
to her bed, but would never have said anything. Half an hour
of inane chatter had gone by, and it appeared that now their
patience was at last going to be rewarded. The bright woman
drained the last of her cup, and slamming it down heartily,
admitted, "Well, I think it's time to join the sleeping
beauties down the way. Goodnight, people."
Friendly dismissals came from all direction
in a manner they hoped wasn't too obvious, and with a grin,
the large creature was gone. As soon as she was out of ear shot
and visual range, the youngest Immortal pushed his cup out of
the way and slid his head onto the table.
"At last," he muttered, without
malice, "I thought she'd never go."
"It still strikes me how resilient
Mortals are considering their non- renewable condition,"
Agatha disclosed, irony in her speech.
"That woman has more stamina than an
ox," the young man continued in some amazement. "She
spent most of today at the wheel."
A gentle laugh went around the group, and
Ryan lifted his attention once more. There was an easy smile
on the elder woman's lips as she finally asked, "How's
"He's well," Richie nodded enthusiastically
with a smile. "Trying to make a running concern of the
dojo and failing as usual, but then he's not bothered. I think
teaching is becoming more and more interesting for him. The
Gathering around us has been peaceful for a couple of months,
so we're just taking life easy at the moment."
Agatha snorted and countered with mock scorn,
"Naomi tells me that the reason she couldn't reach you
in the week is that you've been training up in the mountains."
The youth shrugged and answered smoothly,
"That is Mac's idea of the easy life, and well it
keeps me fit. I think his bug is infecting me, I've already
arranged a run with Michael and a spar with the wooden swords
I brought with me with Harry for first thing tomorrow. I must
be going mad!"
There was no real concern in the young man's
voice, and he was looking forward to the exercise to stretch
limbs which had been cramped in a vehicle for two days.
"There's a path up the valley that's
good for a jog, and the secluded gully where you and Harry can
practise without being disturbed that he told you about is at
the end of it," Jon entered the conversation helpfully,
"and you will not need protection unless you cross the
boundary line at the hills."
"Is that how far the holy ground stretches?"
there was incredulity in the youth's manner, but somehow he
didn't doubt the statement as the feeling of immense power still
hung around him.
"This whole valley is an Indian meeting
ground that Jon's people believe was blessed by the spirits
at the dawn of time," Naomi explained, her face showing
that she too felt the presence.
"When the white man began to steal
the land from the Indians, the tribe gave this place to me,"
Agatha continued, "because they knew I could hold it for
them for as long as they needed. They never took the place back
from me, but I still am host to tribal gatherings about once
every generation. Jon here is the look out for his people, waiting
until he sees the signs to call another meeting, and he doubles
as my watcher; he wasn't pleased when Duncan told me about our
nosy Mortals and I spotted the tattoo on his wrist."
The Native American made a face and returned
pragmatically, "My family had been keeping our eyes on
her for generations without any interference, then this MacLeod
tells her and for three weeks all hell breaks lose. I was sleeping
in the bunk house for a month after that."
"Well, reporting my comings and goings
to a secret society without my knowledge," his companion
sounded almost like she was cursing, and she slapped the man
in the manner of close friends.
It was well known among locals that as well
as steward, Jon was also a lover, and the meaning drifted across
to their guest. He raised an eyebrow and grinned at Naomi as
the pair continued to banter about the old issue...
...The discussion continued for another
half an hour as Richie filled in any more news about the Highlander
that his hosts wanted to hear. Then his exhaustion begged a
respite until at least the following morning, and he retired