It was a time before many civilisations even began to count the passage of the years. In later times it would be known as 696 BC, but the Christian calendar was still many centuries in the future. In Rome, Numa Pompilus, in the twentieth year of his reign as king, presided over a legend which had yet to be fully built. Rome was only fifty years old, and its great destiny was still little more than a dream. In Egypt, the twenty-fifth dynasty had not long begun, whilst in Babylon the ninth dynasty was well underway. Of the Seven Great Wonders Of The World, only one, the Great Pyramid, had as yet been realised; even the Hanging Gardens Of Babylon were not to be built for another hundred years.
The Mediterranean Sea was the blue jewel at the heart of the civilised world. Almost entirely self-contained, and bordered by some of the greatest cities of the age, it represented, to many, the limits of all that was known. Few would ever travel beyond it, and most feared the unknown terrors that lay past its horizons. Only the brave and foolhardy were prepared to risk sea serpents and other mighty beasts in order to explore new frontiers.
In his youth, Soter had been a fisherman, and he had done well for himself, sailing the quiet waters day after day. Now, in his later years, he liked to walk along the beach and gaze out to sea, remembering his youth, and his wife, and how they had used to swim together in the moonlight, beneath the vast and bewildering skies.
It was on one of his regular walks that Soter, alone in his thoughts, came upon the wreckage of a small boat, washed in by the tide. The pieces floated innocently in the surf, and the old fisherman scanned the waves with worried eyes. If there were any survivors they would have to be found quickly. It was all too easy to drown when exhaustion took over, and it became too much of an effort to stay alive. He quickened his pace, moving down the shore to higher ground, where he hoped he could get a better view of the surrounding area. Cupping his hands around his mouth he called loudly, hoping that anyone who might be in need of assistance would answer, and let him know where they were. Instead of a shout, a low moan reached his ears, coming from close by. He hurried towards the sound, and there, lying amongst the rocks, were two men. He knelt beside them, ignoring the water which soaked the hem of his robe.
"Hello?" he said, his voice gentle. "Can you hear me?" The nearest figure groaned again, and then coughed, and Soter turned him over gently. Two bright and intelligent eyes blinked up at him, scanning his face and seeming momentarily puzzled.
"What - ?" A frown chased across the man's face, and then, slowly, he sat up.
"Gently, gently." Soter allowed the man to move at his own pace. "You've been shipwrecked. There's no hurry."
"My friend..." the man glanced around, and saw the other man lying near by. He leaned over and shook him, and an answering groan confirmed that his companion was alive. Soter went to him and helped him to sit up, before perching himself on a rock to regard his twin find with both curiosity and concern.
"Are you alright?" he asked. The two men looked at each other, and then back at him.
"We're fine, thankyou." As if to prove the truth in his statement, the first man stood up, and the second followed suit. They were, Soter could see, young men in excellent physical condition, tanned and dark. Both wore short tunics and carried swords. The first man, slightly taller than his companion, and with an air of quiet authority, stepped forward.
"My name is Adieus," he said. "My friend is Conon. We... seem to be at a disadvantage."
Soter smiled at this understatement. "It would appear so," he agreed. "My name is Soter. I live not far from here. It would be my pleasure to give you shelter for the night."
"Thankyou. If it's not an inconvenience..." Soter shook his head.
"Not at all. My daughters and I so rarely have company these days." The ageing fisherman stood up. "Please - follow me." He began to walk away across the beach. Behind him the two castaways exchanged cheerful glances.
"Daughters..." the shorter one said, his eyebrows raised in interest. "We seem to have landed on our feet again, Adieus."
"Perhaps." The taller man smiled broadly. "At least we seem to have reached Greece."
"Not quite as planned." His companion gestured at some of the wreckage. "I'd have liked to have arrived with a little more style." Adieus laughed.
"We're lucky to have escaped with our heads," he told his friend. "Things were pretty close back there."
"But not close enough." Conon had an air of arrogance about him. It matched his warrior's stance, and complimented the grace of his confederate. "It takes more than a few Egyptians to stop us."
"A few? " Adieus was amused. "Give or take six hundred. If I didn't know better I'd think they were angry with us." They quickened their pace to draw alongside Soter, and the old man smiled at them.
"How many of you were there?" he asked. "We should get a party together to look for survivors."
"There were only the two of us," Adieus smiled back. "But thankyou for your concern."
"It's no more than common courtesy." Soter began to lead the way up a stony path. Ordinarily he would not have invited two complete strangers to his house, shipwreck or no, but there was something different about these two. He liked the proud tilt of their heads and the strong sense of confidence, and he liked their eyes. It was not often that two young men looked at him with eyes that made him feel young. It was not easy to define, but there was something there; something which suggested at mystery and strength. If eyes were truly the windows to the soul, Soter thought, these two young men really were remarkable. He had to know more about them. "Here. It's not much, but I'm thankful to the gods for it all the same."
They had reached a small white house, alone on the headland. No other buildings were in evidence there. Flowers grew around it, suggesting that one of the residents was a keen gardener. It was clear that, at the height of the day, the place would be a blaze of colour.
"It's beautiful." Adieus swept it with his eyes, recalling another house, not far from here, some three centuries previously, and for a moment he envied his friend Conon for his ability it turn himself off, and avoid getting too close to mortals.
"Thankyou." Soter opened the door wide, and entered, calling out as he did so. "My dears? I'm home, and I have some guests." He beckoned to Adieus and Conon to join him inside, just as two young women arrived from another part of the house. They were twins, Adieus could tell, but not identical. One was a fraction taller, and with a suggestion of gold in her hair. They were both beautiful. "My daughters." Soter would have had to have been blind not to have seen the effect that they had had on his guests, and he felt a glow of pride. He gestured at the taller one first. "This is Celia, and Etera."
"We're very pleased to meet you," Adieus said, his eyes confirming that he spoke the truth.
"These are my guests," Soter continued. "They've been shipwrecked, although they don't seem to be too badly off for it. This is Adieus, and Conon." He frowned. "Where are you from?"
"Greece," Adieus told him. It was not a direct lie. They had been from Greece, in another lifetime, and it was no longer possible to say where they were really from. Civilisations fell after a thousand years or so, and their names no longer meant anything to the people who remained behind.
"We're here for the Games," Conon added.
"The Games!" Etera spoke up, sounding delighted. "That's wonderful. Father they must stay - just think of the honour it would bring to have victors from the Olympiad here with us."
Soter seemed just as enthusiastic. "The Olympiad," he said, with some reverence. "Well you do look as though you should be competing." He looked questioning. "Do you have anywhere to stay?"
"No, not yet." Adieus smiled. "But we can't dream of imposing on you. The Games aren't for another... six weeks?"
"Six weeks," confirmed Soter. "But you wouldn't be imposing. We'd love to have you here. We were planning to go to the Olympiad anyway, and now you've given us the perfect excuse. But tell me - are you planning to compete in the pentathlon, or the boxing?"
"Father, not now." Celia spoke for the first time. "They're soaking wet. Let them get dry, and we'll have something to eat."
"Yes, yes, of course. Silly of me. I'll build a fire." Soter looked faintly embarrassed. "Imagine it! Competitors from the Games, here in my house!" Adieus and Conon exchanged amused glances. If this was a sample of Greek hospitality, it would be very welcome indeed.
In the darkness of the living room, Adieus and Conon lay on the floor. They had been left alone in the room when the others had gone to bed, and in the soft glow from the embers of the fire, the whole room seemed to bask in the faint warmth of relaxation.
"Methos?" Conon called softly.
"Adieus," came the correcting reply. "What is it?"
"Are you asleep?"
Methos voiced his response with obvious sarcasm. "Yes. Deeply." A faint laugh answered him. "Why?"
"Oh nothing." Conon - known in times long past as Kronos - folded his hands behind his head. "Don't you think that Etera is beautiful?"
So that was it. "I suppose so. Although I think I prefer Celia." He got another laugh in reply.
Methos sighed. "You have a one track mind Conon."
"No I don't." His friend turned, and the red light of the fire danced in his bright eyes, giving him a faintly demonic appearance. "I also think about taking heads."
"Yes, I'd noticed." There was a short silence. "Do you think we have a chance at the Olympiad?"
"Seriously?" Kronos smiled into the darkness. "We can't lose, can we. Six weeks from now we could be winning every event."
"Not every event. We're not entering them all." Methos let out a long, contented sigh. Somehow things always seemed to work out for them. A few weeks ago they had been fighting desperately for their lives in Egypt, threatened with death by beheading for grave robbery. In reality they had done no such thing of course, but Methos still wore the bracelet given to him centuries previously by the Pharaoh Khyan. It had been a close call when somebody had recognised it as being of Egyptian design, and virtually a thousand years old.
"Perhaps we can stay here for a while," he mused. "We'll be local heroes if we do well, and it would be nice to settle for a time... What do you think?" There was no answer. "Conon? Kronos?" Methos peered through the darkness. His friend was fast asleep. "Typical..." He stared at the ceiling. "I suppose the young do need their sleep..." It was a test to make sure that his companion was really sleeping. Methos was the elder by a thousand years, and he liked to remind the younger man of that every so often. No response was forthcoming, and the old man closed his eyes in anticipation of the morning. He wanted to begin training in earnest for the Olympiad, to be sure that he was in with a chance; and he also needed his sleep for other reasons. After all, Celia was a very attractive girl.
The days went by in a sweet and sun-drenched procession. Soter was content for his daughters to spend as much time as they wished with their guests, and the four of them spent much of their time on the beach. In the mornings they swam, or Methos and Kronos wrestled, and in the afternoon they practised for the pentathlon. Later in the day, and long into the dusk, the two Immortals fought with their swords. There was no sword event in the Olympiad, but to let their skills slip could one day be fatal. Celia and Etera watched them, sometimes worried at the apparent violence of these training sessions, but at the end of the day there never seemed to be any serious damage done; in fact neither combatant ever had the slightest scratch.
It was on one such day when the two Immortals were practising individually - Methos for the long jump and Kronos for the javelin - when they were approached by a group of young men. Celia, sitting watching Methos, stood up quickly.
"Oh dear," she said, keeping her voice low.
"What's wrong?" Wiping the sweat from his eyes, Methos looked up. He had just beaten his personal best, and the interruption was not what he wanted right now.
"Over there." She tried not to point. "They're locals, all in training for the Olympiad. I don't like them."
Methos looked towards the approaching quartet. A ripple of heat shivered its way down his spine. Two of them were Immortals. He began to turn towards Kronos, but found him already approaching. He had felt the intrusion too, and held his sword in his hand. It was still sheathed, but the threat was implicit.
"Good day." The leading member of the group, who was not immortal, smiled at Methos and his friends. He was either unaware of the identity of the two men, or he was astute enough to keep quiet about it. "My name is Melius. May I present my companions, Pagondas, Brasidas and Nicias."
"Good day," Methos returned, with guarded civility. "My name is Adieus. This is Conon. You know the ladies?"
"Yes." Melius smiled at them both. "I hear you're intending to compete in the Games?"
"That's right." Methos, who had taken his sword belt off in order to train properly, was beginning to wish that he had picked it up, as Kronos had his, before the group had approached. To do so now would seem unnecessarily belligerent, but the presence of the two Immortals was making him very uneasy. Melius nodded.
"I see. I don't want to interrupt your training, so I'm sure you'll be hearing from us again some other time. Perhaps we can practice together one day?"
"Why not now?" There was a direct challenge in Kronos' voice. Melius looked over at him, as if seeing him for the first time.
"Why not?" he echoed agreeably. "What will it be? Discus? A race perhaps?"
"Wrestling." Kronos was looking past Melius towards the two new Immortals, Brasidas and Pagondas.
"Fine." Brasidas stepped forward. "If you'll put the sword down."
"By all means." Kronos threw down his weapon. Meanwhile Pagondas had stepped up towards Methos. Neither man spoke, the challenge hanging clearly in the air. Methos groaned inwardly. Kronos was always ready for a fight, but he would personally have preferred to avoid a confrontation, especially when it seemed that Pagondas and Brasidas had not been too desperate for battle. Either way, it was too late now. The four Immortals stripped to the waist and split into two pairs. They were more or less evenly matched for size, and all of them were of roughly the same build; slight and lithe rather than powerful. Celia and Etera backed away together looking concerned. Although they had watched Methos and Kronos wrestle together nearly every day, somehow it seemed different now. There was a clear element of animosity present, and it was almost as if, somehow, the four men knew each other in some way.
Brasidas and Kronos fell on each other immediately, whilst Methos and Pagondas circled warily. Methos tried to gauge his opponent's weight before he made the first move. He liked to be able to retain some sort of an edge, and soon discovered that he was lighter on his feet than the other Immortal. He dodged easily when Pagondas tried to make a move on him, and with his long practised skill he had soon fallen into a routine, using holds and throws that Pagondas clearly had not see before. Kronos, meanwhile, was relying almost entirely on strength and speed, moving something like a greased eel, and seeming to be in two places at once. Brasidas was obviously at a disadvantage.
"Hold it." Melius stepped forward, just as Methos had floored Pagondas for the second time. "Stop." The four men cane to a halt, looking towards him.
"What's wrong?" Kronos growled.
"Nothing. We just have to be somewhere else." Melius waved an arm at Pagondas and Brasidas. The two Immortals climbed wearily to their feet. Although Melius was a mortal, he seemed to be in charge, and Methos wondered at that. He decided to keep quiet for the time being.
"The game goes to us I think, Adieus," Kronos' face wore a smirk that was both triumphant and scornful.
"For now." Brasidas stared at him with eyes that were positively aflame. "We'll settle this some other time."
"My pleasure." Kronos sounded faintly mocking. "Fists or swords?"
"Fists I think; for now. Swords wouldn't be sporting would they? Not until after the Olympiad at any rate."
"Gentlemen, gentlemen." Melius looked from one to the other. "Not now. There is a time and a place." He picked up the tunics of his two friends, and threw them each one. "Get dressed. We have other concerns for the moment."
Methos and Kronos watched the four men depart, waiting until they were out of sight before they picked up their own tunics to get dressed.
"What do you think?" Kronos asked. Methos shrugged.
"I think this means that we have a fight waiting after the Games," he said curtly. "I just hope they were serious about waiting until then." Kronos strapped his sword belt back on, and drew the blade, turning it over in his hands.
"So what if they weren't?" he asked. "We can handle them."
"You - you can't fight them." It was Celia. "In the ring at the Games is one thing, but not swords."
"Why not?" Methos, cursing himself for having forgotten that the women were still present, could have thought of lots of reasons not to fight the other two Immortals, but he wanted to hear it from Celia.
"Because they're well known locally. Melius is a merchant, and Pagondas is his younger brother. Nicias and Brasidas are both the sons of highly respected academics."
"Really?" Methos was intrigued. In that case Pagondas and Brasidas could not have been Immortals for very long. He wondered how much they knew about themselves, and whether they were fully aware of the situation. Kronos sheathed his sword and shrugged.
"Merchants and academics have to take their chances along with everybody else," he said bluntly. "All's fair in the Game." Only Methos knew that he wasn't speaking of the Olympiad.
"Why did you call us away?" Brasidas was angry. "A little more time and we could have won."
"No you couldn't. Don't be a fool." Melius turned to face him. "You may be immortal Brasidas, but that doesn't make you infallible. They were winning."
"They were Immortals too," Pagondas told him. Melius raised an eyebrow.
"Really? Well that doesn't change anything. You can handle them later. In the meantime I'm more interested in the Olympiad."
"Why?" Nicias' voice was filled with defeat. "We've been watching them for weeks. Now we've tested them for real, and we know that we can't beat them. They're going to win."
"Not necessarily." Melius had acquired the look of a hunting hawk. "We could kill them, but that might look a little suspicious. Too many people around here know about them, and know that they're entering the Games. Our best bet is to persuade them either to lose, or to pull out altogether."
"How?" Pagondas asked. His brother - or, at least, the man that he had always thought of as his brother - smiled at him.
"That's easy." he said. "Our friends back there have a weak point. They're staying with that old fool Soter, and if I'm not very much mistaken, there's something going on between them and his daughters." He favoured his companions with a thin, unpleasant smile. "All we have to do is... remove Soter's daughters temporarily, and our friends back there will do anything we tell them to do. Then later on, after the Games, when we've won, you two can take their heads."
"And the women?" Nicias asked. Melius' smile grew broader.
"We'll worry about that after the Games," he said dismissively, although the expression in his eyes hinted that he had already planned exactly what was going to happen to Soter's daughters. "In the meantime, let's just think about how we're going to get a hold of them."
"That shouldn't be too difficult," Pagondas told him. "Wait a while. It's a warm night. They won't want to go to bed early, not with two suitors to think about. We'll pick them up on the beach later tonight; or I'll give you my own head, Brasidas."
The stars were beginning to draw their eternal patterns in the sky when Methos and Kronos decided to end their training session. Etera and Celia, who had been waiting nearby, were relieved. The fight had lasted far longer than usual, and had been more violent. As the two Immortals sheathed their weapons, each acquired a young maiden, apparently attached to the sword arm. Methos smiled at Celia.
"I'm sorry," he said. "We've been keeping you waiting."
"It's alright." She smiled back. "If you think it's necessary..."
"It is." He took a deep breath, and ran a hand through his sweat soaked hair. "Now I think I'm for a swim."
"Me too." Celia glanced slyly at her sister. "There's that cove along the shore aways, isn't there Etera - you were planning to swim there."
"Yes I was..." Etera glanced up at Kronos. "But it's dark, and father doesn't like me to swim alone at night."
Methos laughed. "She's got you Conon, he said in amusement. "Better make sure you never meet her on a battlefield."
Kronos shrugged as his would be swimming partner began to lead him away across the beach. He didn't seem to be offering much resistance. Left alone, Methos and Celia went to sit on the rocks closest to the sea. The surf washed around their feet, and Methos filled his hands with water, pouring it over his head and neck. Of all the coastlines he had ever visited - and there were many - the Mediterranean remained his favourite. Perhaps it reminded him of home, but he wasn't entirely sure that he remembered where that had originally been. He had been an Immortal for so very much longer than he had ever been just a normal man, that his old life seemed as little more than a dream. He had lived the lives of so many of his aliases that he was beginning to suspect that Methos himself no longer existed. Only Kronos seemed to remember who he had been, and he had never known him as a real man.
"What are you thinking about?" Celia asked him.
"Oh... nothing much. The Games and - and other things."
"You're going to win," she told him, her voice confident.
"Oh it's not a compliment." She smiled. "You see, you have to win. Father has told everybody that you're going to." Methos laughed.
"Well in that case I don't suppose I can fail," he said. "Your father is a good man. I like him."
"He likes you. I think he'd have liked to have had sons." The Immortal smiled into the night. The idea of being Soter's son amused him. He was old enough to be one of the fisherman's most distant ancestors; the kind that had no hope of ever being remembered; buried in Time and forgotten by all save the wind... He was getting morbid again. Just recently he had been thinking a lot about life as an Immortal. Perhaps it was time to settle again, but whenever he stayed somewhere he wound up breaking his heart. Certain people became close friends, and then - in the blink of an eye, at least to him - they had grown old and faded away. He could not even hope to retain some small part of them, because as an Immortal he could never have a real family. He could do nothing at all to quell the loneliness, save keep moving with Kronos; keep hoping that one day the loneliness would leave them alone, or that they would become immune. He had thought that Kronos was already oblivious to the pain of futile love, but seeing him now with Etera he wasn't so sure.
"We'd be happy to have you stay on, you know. After the Games." Celia's voice called him back from his thoughts once again.
"Yes, I know. And I'd really like to stay." I'm just not sure that I can handle watching you die. He tried to smile, casting his thoughts away from the uncertain future. Perhaps he should be thinking more about the Games, and about Pagondas and Brasidas, than about what might happen sixty years from now.
"Good." She held his arm tightly, and pressed up close beside him. "Are you and Conon brothers?"
"More or less." He stroked her hair absently. "We're actually not related at all, but we've been through so much together... And I suppose in a way we are brothers." Technically all Immortals belonged to the same family. He seemed to remember somebody explaining that to him, a long time ago - a thousand years before he had met Kronos. "We've been together about as long as we care to remember."
"That's nice. Everybody should have somebody they're close to. Which of you is the oldest?"
"Me." By about a millennium. There was a sly laugh.
"And how old are you?"
That was a tough one. It wouldn't do to say that he couldn't remember. "Thirty three," he said, as a rough guess.
"That'll do." They both laughed, and stood up, wandering through the surf with their sandals in their hands. It was a quiet night, and they could hear the waves washing the coast clean all along the shore. From somewhere up above them a single light glowed - Soter's house. The old man was probably waiting for them to finish before he went out for his evening's walk. That made something jump in Methos' mind.
"I promised your father that I'd take in some firewood," he said. "Celia - would you mind? I shan't be long, but I'd like to do it before he does."
"Of course. You go ahead. I'm going to look for some shell fish." She pointed a little way along the coast. "I'll be over there."
"Fine." Methos ran off, up the path to the house. Left alone, Celia strolled along, headed for the place that she had indicated. There were plenty of rocks there, and an overhang from the cliffs prevented her from being seen from the house. She began to look for a stick to use, when suddenly a heavy hand descended as if from nowhere, and caught her around the throat. She tried to scream but there was a hand clamped firmly over her mouth. Caught in a tight grip, Celia struggled but could barely move, the fear overwhelming her as she tried to get away. She hardly recognised the shrill, whimpering sounds as being of her own making.
"Just keep quiet," a hoarse voice whispered in her ear. It sounded like Pagondas. Too scared to resist, she was dragged away along the beach.
Etera's cove was a perfect place to swim, and after an hour trying not to win their races by too big a margin, Kronos strode out of the surf and stretched, gazing up at the night sky. He had seen the constellations from more places than Etera would ever know existed. He towelled himself dry with his tunic, and then slipped it on. Etera emerged from the sea a second later, and watched him strap on his sword belt.
"Do you really need that?" she asked. She didn't sound as though she was complaining. Kronos frowned. He could not begin to tell her how important it was to him, and not just because his life could depend on it one day. When nothing could kill you save the stroke of another sword; when your life did not even depend on food and water, but only on a sharp blade and your own skill in wielding it, it was not difficult to allow the sword to become the centre of your life. Kronos had been a warrior long before he had discovered that he was immortal, and he could not remember a time when he had not been familiar with the feel of a weapon in his hands. Sometimes the desire to fight was so strong that it almost didn't matter who the opponent was.
"Yes," he said, in answer to her question. "It's... part of me." She looked faintly exasperated.
"You should be a soldier," she told him.
"I was once." And probably will be again, in some other lifetime.
"You do surprise me." She had been swimming in an under tunic, and pulled her dress back on over the top. It was too warm to worry about being wet. "Come on," she said. "Over by the rocks. I want to show you something." She led the way over to the cliff, where the world seemed veiled in shadows. "Here - look." Kronos bent down to see what she was pointing at. Carved into the stone at the base of the cliff were two names - Celia and Etera. The letters were crudely formed.
"One day the cliff will fall down and cover it up," she said. "But we wanted to do it anyway. Put your name there too Conon." He stared at the names, for a moment confused by both the futility of the gesture, and his own sudden desire to be a part of it. He knelt, and with the point of his sword, added his current name to the list.
"Do you suppose someone will see it one day, and wonder who we were?" Etera asked. Kronos paused in sheathing his sword to look up at her. She looked very young, but he knew of age only as an illusion. It would not be right to tell her that this piece of cliff would soon be worn away.
"Someone will see it," he said, standing up. Perhaps one day he would come back this way himself. Even though he would no longer be able to read their names, he would remember. He took her hands and smiled at her, suddenly wishing that he could feel the slight heat in the air which would indicate that Etera was a pre-Immortal. There was nothing, however, and he began to realise that the feelings he had been trying for so long to avoid had finally caught up with him. Everything seemed confused, and ordinarily his sixth sense would have told him that something was wrong long before he saw the fear register in Etera's eyes. He started to turn, but it was too late. Something heavy connected with his head, and the world went black.
Melius stared down at the unconscious Immortal. "Okay Brasidas," he called. With Kronos now unable to detect him, the other Immortal sauntered out of the rocks, and smiled at Etera.
"You were going to be my wife when we were children, Etera," he said accusingly. "And now you fall for the first stranger that comes along."
"I only liked you before I found out what sort of a man you are." Etera's eyes burned with hatred. She wanted to run to Kronos, but didn't want to give these two men the satisfaction of seeing her fear. "I don't want anything to do with you now."
"Hard luck." Brasidas reached out and caught her arm. "You're going to be spending rather a lot of time with me from now on," and without even blinking, he struck her across the face. She collapsed unconscious onto the ground, and Brasidas stepped over her, drawing his sword. Melius could see what he was intending to do.
"No," he said firmly.
"Why not?" Brasidas had only ever taken one head; that of the obliging man who had once stopped to explain who and what the Immortals were, when Brasidas had experienced his first death. Seeing no reason to leave one more obstacle in the way of his one day reaching the Prize, Brasidas had killed him immediately. He remembered the power of the Quickening, and he wanted another one.
"Why? Think about it. For months we've told everybody that we're going to be the best at the Olympiad. Now these people come, and everybody knows that they can beat us. How will it look if one of them is suddenly killed? Even if we're not taken into custody, we'll never be able to hold our heads up around here again."
Brasidas scowled, then he smiled, and picked up a flat rock. There was no sense in taking chances after all. He smashed the makeshift weapon against Kronos' head several times, then picked up Etera, throwing her over his shoulder.
"Come on," he said. "We'd best hurry."
"Hurry?" Melius stared down at the blood soaked Immortal. "You've half killed him."
Brasidas rolled his eyes. "I could smash his skull and he'd still be coming after us in a few hours. Now come on." He began to walk away down the beach. After a second, Melius followed.
Carrying the last of the firewood into the house, Methos caught sight of Soter watching him, and turned around.
"You shouldn't be up here." the fisherman chided him." There's somebody down on the beach who would rather like your company." Methos laughed.
"She's had me all day, and anyway I promised you." He began to stack the wood. He wanted to tell Soter how much he was coming to love Celia, and how he wanted to stay here, but that was not a decision to make on the spur of the moment, and certainly not without consulting Kronos. He wasn't even sure yet if Soter would be able to accept the truth which would one day have to come out. They heard footsteps on the path outside, and both men turned, wondering which of the three missing members of the extended household was approaching. The door opened, and Kronos staggered in, barely able to see through the blood which came from a head wound.
"By the gods!" Soter caught him as he stumbled, and with Methos' help, guided him to a chair. Methos glanced his friend over. He could see that a gash on Kronos' head was already beginning to heal, but he was going to be dizzy for a while. He didn't look as though it had killed him.
"Methos..." Looking up, Kronos tried to form the words which wouldn't quite come as he wanted them to. "Etera - I don't know. I didn't feel them, but I'm not sure. She's gone Adieus."
"Okay. Take it easy." The jumbled sentences just about made sense, to Methos at least. Somebody had taken Etera, and whoever it was hadn't been immortal. Somehow he still wasn't ruling out Pagondas and Brasidas though - they did have two mortal accomplices after all. A sudden thought struck him. "Celia!" He ran for door and down to the beach. Everything was deserted, and he knew immediately that she was not there. He looked for her anyway, running along the shoreline to where he had last seen her, calling her name. There was no answer. All he found were her sandals, lying amongst the rocks. There was no sign of a struggle, but what kind of a fight could she have hoped to put up if she had been taken by surprise? With a heavy heart he returned to the house. Soter looked up at him, his eyes showing his deep fear.
"She's gone," Methos told him. "I'm sorry Soter. Somebody has taken them both."
"Taken them - but why?" The old fisherman was shaking. Beside him, Kronos was starting to feel more like himself.
"They said we'd hear from them again," he told Methos.
"I know." Methos shook his head. "What could they hope to accomplish though? I mean - if they wanted to fight us they only needed to deliver a challenge. Why take the girls?"
"You know who's taken them. Don't you?" Soter looked from one to the other, his voice desperate. "Where are they? Tell me."
"We don't know," Methos said, his voice soothing. "Not for sure. Whoever has them is sure to tell us what they want before much longer. We'll just have to be patient until then."
"Patient?" Kronos stood up. He still wasn't quite seeing straight, but that was the least of his concerns. "I'm not going to sit here and -"
"Yes you are." Methos pushed him back down again. "We can't do anything until we know what's going on. Be sensible Conon. What can we possibly hope to achieve by running off into goodness knows what without any preparation? The girls have been taken for a reason, and until we know what that is we can't do anything. We might end up putting them at even greater risk." He wandered to the door, and stared out into the night, his expression one of mute anger. If those four men had hurt Celia - or Etera either for that matter - nothing in the world would stop him from taking their heads; even those of Nicias and Melius. There could be no room for distinguishing between mortal and Immortal when the lives of his friends were in danger. "They'll be in touch soon."
"You hope." Kronos had seen a lot of women carried off for no reason that was obvious to those left behind. He had taken several himself, in the wilder days, before he had let Methos lead him away.
"They'll be in touch," Methos repeated softly. But he wished he could be sure.
The night crawled by. Soter sat by the fire, gazing into the leaping flames and seeing who knew what hidden within them. Kronos had finally succumbed to the light headedness he had been trying to resist, and had fallen asleep. He had washed the blood from his head, and the wound had all but healed. Fortunately Soter was too preoccupied to notice. Methos paced the floor, trying to form rough plans. All four of the men that he believed responsible were local, but they wouldn't be able to hide the girls at their own homes - that would hardly be sensible. He had no idea where to start looking.
It was at dawn that a soft knock came at the door. Soter stood immediately, and watched as Methos went to open it. A small boy stood in the entrance, holding a scroll. He looked nervous, and pushed the scroll at Methos, running away before he could be interrogated.
"What does it say?" Soter asked, sounding desperate.
"Hold on..." Methos unrolled the scroll and read through it quickly, then he closed his eyes.
"What is it?" Awake and alert, Kronos stood up.
"It's from them." Methos told him. "We're supposed to leave. They say that if we go to the Olympiad next week, they'll kill the girls, but if we leave now, and they don't see us at the Games, they'll let them both go."
"You mean this is all to stop you from competing?" Soter was stunned. "But that's ridiculous. It just doesn't make any sense."
Methos shrugged. "Some people will do anything to win," he said blankly, and sat down on the nearest chair.
"So what do we do?" Kronos asked. He had no illusions about Melius and the others, and had no faith that they would prove true to their word and release the girls. Methos stared at him in silence for a moment.
"They're planning to compete at the Olympiad," he said. "Right?"
"Well then. Unless they've hired somebody - and somehow I doubt that they have - they'll have to have the girls with them at Olympia." He stood up. "Come on Conon, we're leaving."
"Leaving? But you can't." Soter sounded very old. Methos felt for him, but he could see no alternative course of action. Cynicism was a fact of life when you were more than two thousand years old, and he trusted the enemy no more than did Kronos.
"I'm sorry Soter, but we have to. We'll travel to Olympia and wait there. When it's time for the Games we'll find the girls. It won't be too difficult. We'll soon get them back to you."
"And then we can compete," Kronos said, with false cheer.
Soter looked at them both, indecisive and afraid. Finally he nodded.
"Alright," he said quietly. "But when the Games begin, I'm going to be in Olympia too. I'm not going to stay out of this completely; I can't do that."
"Fine. Just try to stay out of sight as much as possible." Methos looked over at Kronos. "Come on," he said. "We have a lot of walking to do."
Neither man spoke much on the journey to Olympia. It took several days, but they did not waste their breath with idle talk along the way. Methos was thinking about Celia, and remembering the other women that he had loved in his life. The first... there had been a first, long ago. She had been tall, and her name had sung to him, but he did not want to think of it now. The memories of her conjured up images of streams and flowers and the long-lost world that they had shared. That had been before he had discovered what he was, and he had blanked out most of the memories of that time, especially the memories of her. There were distant whispers, but nothing more. He thought he recalled a moonlight walk, talking of sweet nothings, and listening to the cries of wild animals. He had told her that he never wanted to be parted from her, but how many times had he told women that, in countless different countries throughout so many different lifetimes? None of them had stayed with him for long, and eventually so many of his relationships had ended the same way; with an ageless young man cradling the head of a dying old woman as Time played its cruel tricks once again. Methos had long ago come to accept that he might live forever, but he could only hope that one day the woman who would catch his attention and capture his heart would turn out to be immortal too. He thought back again to the day when he had buried the first wife he had taken as an Immortal. He had lived alone with her, isolated from the whole world, so that nobody else would know what he was. She had given up everything to be with him, and to live in solitude, but it had all been for nothing. He had lain by her grave for days, feeling the grief and rage building up inside him, until finally he had stood up and screamed his fury out at the world, at the Creator, at Time itself. He had sworn never to fall in love again, and had wandered off into the world. His vow had come to nothing of course. There were so many women that had meant so much, and now there was another. Was it the way that Celia stood, or the way that she looked him, the way that the light caught her hair? Was it the way she spoke his name, or the way that she held his hand, or was it just the way that she had been that last night together on the beach, when she had wandered off alone to look for shellfish? He could only hope that he would be able to hold her once more; even if it would only be to lose her again when Time finally caught up with them. He thought of the four men who had stolen her from him, and his jaw tightened. Experience and learning was giving him a natural dislike for bloodshed, but if something caught at his anger, he could be as violent as Kronos. He had proved it in the past, and he would prove it again.
**********"Methos?" They had been camped outside Olympia for several days, practising their sword play as a matter of routine, but now it was the day before the Games and they were trying to relax.
"I don't care what you do with Pagondas, but Brasidas is mine."
"I'll try and remember that." They were sitting on the side of a small hill, looking towards Olympia, and planning their next move. This evening they had to begin looking for their targets, if they wanted any chance of rescuing the girls before the Games began. He kicked at a pebble, and watched it roll down the hill, bouncing onto the dirt road. "Conon... my name is Adieus here."
"Why?" Kronos stood up and began to walk about, playing with his sword, spinning it in his hands. "Who cares what we call ourselves? Nobody here knows that Methos and Kronos should have been dead centuries ago. Nobody cares. And anyway, there's no one to hear."
"It's good practice," Methos told him. "We can't take any chances Conon."
"Well I'm sick of it. I'm tired of having to hide who I am, what I am. I'm not ashamed. I have a good name, and I'm fed up with hiding behind aliases."
"No." The Immortal leapt up onto some rocks and cupped his hands around his mouth. "My name is Kronos!" he shouted, listening to the words echo around him.
"Better now?" Methos asked him. "Con... It's not about being ashamed, or about hiding. It's about survival that's all. I'm not ashamed to be who I am. I was born in a civilisation that was well advanced while most of the rest of the world was still living in caves. Do you think I could be ashamed of that?" He banged his chest. "In here I'm Methos, and I always will be, but to the rest of the world I have to be someone else. It's not just for my own good, but it's to protect the people around me. The mortals mustn't know about us; mustn't even begin to suspect, unless we're sure that we can trust them. Otherwise we can never be free. They would never leave us alone."
Kronos frowned. He could see the sense in this, but all the same, he wasn't entirely convinced. Methos could sympathise. He was beginning to realise how important it was to have someone, other than him, that knew who he was, and where he was from. It would be all too easy to become just another transient Immortal, moving from life to life and name to name, in waiting for the Gathering. Some small part of him had to remain Methos, no matter what others called him. When love and friendship were so often just flashes - like momentary glimpses through a window - identity was a true constant.
"I'm sorry." Kronos sat down, and began to play with his sword again, testing the blade.
"It's okay." Methos smiled at him, to prove that there was no anger. He sometimes needed to feel those sudden bursts of temper which were so much a part of the character of his friend. He was learning more and more to control his own emotions, and to keep the anger from surfacing. Kronos was lit by an inner fire which burned unchecked, and Methos liked to borrow some of that fire occasionally. He had frightened himself in the past, with the sheer strength of his own internal flames, so he had tried to quell them. Kronos helped to make sure that they didn't burn too low, although there was probably no real danger of that. To the outside world Methos appeared as a quiet and gentle man, who could never be a threat to anybody; but he knew differently.
"It's getting late," Kronos told him.
"I know. We find them tonight. If possible we end it by morning." Methos stood up. "We'll stick together. There are four of them."
"Maybe. But two of them are immortal, remember? If you've just taken a Quickening you're an easy target."
"Fair point." Kronos jumped to his feet and sheathed his sword. "Let's go, old man." Methos raised an eyebrow.
"Old man? Thanks Conon."
"Don't mention it. It suits you."
"Fine. You lead the way then junior."
They made good time, reaching Olympia before it was completely dark. The gates were shut at dusk, but it was easy to gain entrance to the city simply by scaling the walls. They dropped down inside, and looked around, wondering if Olympia operated a curfew. A few silent forms shuffled around the streets, so probably not. Methos approached one - a boy of about fifteen. The young man watched him with a mixture of fear and threat, and Methos held out a handful of coins. "We're looking for some people," he said. "Can you help us?"
"If they're here I've seen them." The boy reached for the coins, but Methos pulled back.
"Not yet," he said. "We're looking for four men, travelling with two women. Have you seen them?" The boy stared back at him.
"I've seen them. They arrived today. The women wanted to be somewhere else. They didn't like the men. The men are here for the Games. One was in charge, two others were very confident." He looked vaguely scornful. "They were full of themselves. The fourth was weak. He was quite big, but... he was weak in other ways."
"That's them." Methos gave him the coins. "Where are they?" The boys looked down at the money in his hands. He had never seen so much gold at one time.
"For this much I'll take you there." The coins vanished into a pouch at his belt. "Come on," and he took off down the nearest side street. The two Immortals found it hard to keep up as he ran down the twisting alleys that were his home. Finally they reached a small house, dark and silent.
"Here," the boy said. "I brought them here. They wanted somewhere quiet."
"Thankyou," Methos said in answer. "You'd best leave." He didn't want the boy to be in any danger. There was sure to be a fight; and any unnecessary witnesses would be a threat.
"My pleasure. If you ever need a guide, just ask for Metheus." The boy ran off. Kronos watched him go, and Methos noticed.
"Remembering when you were that age?" he whispered.
"No." Kronos smiled. "But I was trying to." He looked the house over. "Looks like there's only one entrance."
"Certainly does. Shall we?" They crept closer, moving up to stand one on either side of the door. Methos tried the handle, and the door opened a crack. Slowly and silently he opened it more, then they both slipped inside. There was no sound.
"They're not here," Kronos whispered.
"One of the mortals might be." They moved further into the house, opening interior doors, and looking into the various rooms. Finally they reached one door that was locked. There were bolts on the outside, and Methos drew them back cautiously, then opened the door. Inside, sitting close together in the darkness, were Celia and Etera. They looked up as the door opened, their faces showing fear, then recognition, then finally relief.
"Adieus..." Celia got to her feet and ran to him, whilst Kronos went to Etera and helped her up. There was a bruise on one cheek, and Kronos' face darkened. He didn't mention the injury, but instead looked to Methos.
"We'd better be leaving," he said. "They could be back any time now."
"Yes." They hurried out, locking the door of the girls' room in the hope that their escape would not be noticed immediately. Outside, the streets were still quiet and empty, and Kronos led the way back to the square where they had met Metheus. The boy was there again.
"You found your friends then," he said. "Did you kill the men?"
"Not yet." Methos took out some more coins. "There's another man, Metheus. An old man named Soter. Have you seen him?"
"Yes. He arrived a few hours ago. He's staying at a guest house not far from here. Why?"
"Take these two women to him, understand? And do it quietly. If you see the four man we spoke of earlier, hide until they're gone. They mustn't see the women."
"Alright." The boy took the coins, and put them with the first ones, then he bowed to the women. "This way," he said. The sisters, confused by the sudden speed of events, turned to their rescuers, but the two Immortals gestured that they should leave. Obeying automatically, they hurried after Metheus.
"Now what?" Kronos asked. Methos shrugged.
"We go back to the camp I suppose," he said. "Tomorrow we'll compete in the Games just as we planned. Melius and the others are sure to be there. They'll have told everybody in the city that they're going to win, and they won't dare to pull out now. We'll handle them afterwards." His friend nodded.
"Makes sense," he conceded. "But remember - Brasidas is mine."
"Fine. Just as long as you remember that Pagondas is mine." Methos smiled grimly, imagining the scene when their enemies discovered that Celia and Etera were gone. They would almost certainly suspect that it was Methos and Kronos who were responsible, but they would be able to do nothing about it. They would not meet until the Games, and then there would be no opportunity to fight. Methos was determined that he would beat them. Let them experience defeat first, and the humiliation of realising that all of their boasting had been for nothing. Then they would die.
The day of the twenty-third Olympiad dawned bright and clear, and the streets of Olympia were lined with athletes and spectators heading for the arena. Amongst them were Methos and Kronos, and also Soter and his daughters. They were determined to attend the event, and see what was going to happen. Both Immortals kept alert, watching for their enemies, but in the crowds they could see nothing. Their was no buzz to suggest the presence of other Immortals.
The Games began with the usual brief ceremony. The ranks of bare-footed athletes waited in tense expectation. Some performed simple exercises, others tried to relax. Methos and Kronos scanned the lines of competitors, trying to spot Melius and the others. Finally Kronos nudged Methos.
"Look," he hissed. "Nicias."
"I've got him. Then the others can't be far off." Methos looked up at the spectators, and spotted Soter and the girls. They looked safe enough in the crowds, and he could see nobody near them who might prove dangerous. "We'd best try and forget about them for now." He grinned. "You do realise that I'm going to have to beat you Conon?"
"You are?" Kronos raised his eyebrows. "Says who?"
"Says me." Methos grinned. "We may be partners old friend; but this is the Olympiad. As far as the winner is concerned, 'There can be only One'."
"Well I'm sorry old man, but it's not likely to be you. You're way too old to win the Games."
"I am? And what about you?" Kronos' only answer was a grin. Methos would have spoken further, but a great shout prevented him; the Games were about to begin.
The pentathlon was the most popular of the two events. Each athlete was greeted with cheers, which rose or fell according to his performance. It was clear from the start that most of the athletes were not in the same league as the small group which was soon dominating the action. Nicias, nervous and unconfident, was soon left behind, but as the Games progressed Melius and his two Immortal friends soon became visible. Kronos and Brasidas found themselves alongside each other during the javelin competition, but neither man spoke. The temptation to skewer each other was hard enough to resist, without adding words to increase the friction. Methos took great pleasure in beating Melius during the two hundred yard sprint. It had been a close thing, and Melius was no doubt right to suspect that his victory would have been certain without the competition from the Immortals; but for Methos it was a great success. He would treasure the expression of frustration and anger on Melius' face for some time to come.
There was little opportunity for Methos and Kronos to talk together during the action. For a brief moment during the long jump they found themselves within speaking distance, but it was not the time or the place to discuss their affairs with Pagondas and Brasidas. Soter, Celia and Etera were still visible in the audience, and the two Immortals concentrated more and more on the competition, and less and less on their previous concerns. The finals were soon upon them, and there was no longer time to consider their enemies. They would have to wait.
Methos won the long jump, but his amused triumph over Kronos was short lived, for his friend soon won the javelin, and then the wrestling. Methos equalised by winning the two hundred yards, but their friendly competition was halted when another man, Corius of Athens, won the discus. The two Immortals congratulated each other jubilantly, as they took the first real opportunity that they had had to relax with each other.
"Where are the others?" Methos asked, as he and Kronos lay together by the track, staring up at the cloudless sky.
"Soter and the girls?" Kronos asked.
"No. Melius and his friends."
"I don't know. Maybe they're taking part in the boxing."
"I don't think so." Methos sat up, trying to spot the four other men. There was no sign of them. He glanced over the auditorium, but could see nobody at all that he recognised, not even Soter. A sudden cold fear ran through him. He jumped to his feet. "Get up."
"Get up. Celia and the others. They've gone."
"What?!" Kronos leapt to his feet and scanned the spectators. It was true. "But how -?"
"Never mind how. Come on." Methos took off towards the exit. Outside the arena the streets seemed deserted. Everyone in Olympia was at the Games. The two men hurried down the roads, aiming roughly for the house where their enemies had been staying. They were rounding the first corner when they found Soter. He was half-conscious, lying in the street. Methos knelt beside him and he blinked up out of confused eyes.
"Adieus - please. My daughters. They went that way." He pointed shakily, and Methos nodded.
"Okay. We'll be back as soon as we can. Take it easy."
"Don't worry." Soter didn't look as though he could have moved if he tried. He waved the two men on their way, and they increased their speed. A few more corners and up ahead they could see the four men and their prisoners.
"Perfect." Methos and Kronos spread out, and the other four turned to face them.
"Take the girls," Melius hissed at his two Immortal confederates. "Nicias and I will hold these two off."
"Right." Pagondas and Brasidas hurried on through the streets, each dragging one of the women.
"Damn." Methos didn't like this turn of events, but it wasn't too much of a set back. He drew his sword and advanced on Melius. Nicias, staring from one to the other of the Immortals, made as if to draw his own sword, then suddenly took off, running down the street. Kronos followed him, easily keeping him in sight. The terrified mortal made a dash for an alleyway, and scrambled over a wall, trying to throw off his pursuer.
Scaling the wall easily, Kronos watched Nicias running desperately away, and decided to remain on his current level. It was easier to keep his target in sight from above. Running across the rooftops was easy. Nicias, not thinking to look up, could see no sign of pursuit, and began to slow down, breathing easier, and thinking that he had lost Kronos. He slowed to a halt, and took a deep breath, starting to laugh.
"You're not as good as you think you are, Immortal," he said scornfully, to the city at large.
"Oh yeah?" Launching himself from the rooftop, Kronos threw himself onto Nicias. The landing was heavy and painful, though more so for Nicias who was beneath him. The triumphant Immortal dragged him to his feet, but the man was limp and silent. Kronos shook him, but to no avail. The impact had broken Nicias' neck.
"Damn." Kronos let him go, and the body slumped to the ground. "I wanted to have some fun with you first." He thought back to the others. "But I suppose there are still your friends to deal with." And he started to head back to the place where he had left Methos.
Meanwhile, Methos and Melius had circled each other briefly, swords at the ready. Always ready to fight fair, Methos had decided to allow Melius to set the tone of the combat. If he was willing to play by the rules then all was well and good, but if he decided to play dirty, Methos was more than prepared for that too. He knew every trick in the book and more besides. Whilst his sword play could not compete with that of Kronos, he was more than capable of dealing with most mortals; and when it came to dirty tricks he was a master. Innocent as he might have looked, Methos was not a man to trifle with. He was certainly not a man to cross.
Their swords connected with enough force to jolt both men's arms, so that they felt the vibration right up to the shoulder. Methos knocked aside the blow, and they clashed again. Melius was not a skilled swordsman, but he was not one to underestimate. Methos swung his sword, trying to cut across his opponent's body. It was a good way to score points against an Immortal, which made it even more effective against a normal man. Melius dodged back, his own sword slicing at Methos' elbow. He felt the blood run down his arm, but ignored it. It would heal. Instead he looked inside himself. He had spent so long trying to be calm and in control, but he had been feared across several continents once. He felt the old red haze run through him, dancing in front of his eyes, and felt the joy of pure adrenalin running through his veins. Blocking Melius' next blow, he cut low, and knocked his opponent's sword from his hand. Melius stared down at it, then at Methos, backing away with his hands held out from his sides. Methos watched him for a second, then beheaded him in a sudden smooth movement. The dead body collapsed to the ground, and the Immortal stared down at it, his eyes fierce, but his expression cold. He felt no remorse. Pausing only to wipe his sword on Melius' tunic, he hurried on, looking for the others.
A second later, Kronos came around the corner. He saw the headless remains of Melius, and for a second was afraid, before he saw the head itself. There was a clear trail in the dust which told him which way his friend had gone, and he hurried on after. His pace was not as fast as he would have liked, which bothered him. Nicias had obviously not broken his fall well enough.
Up ahead, Methos easily caught up with the other two Immortals. Their progress was slowed by Celia and Etera, who fought them at every turn. As Methos approached, however, Pagondas and Brasidas pushed their prisoners away, and drew their swords. Methos bettered his grip on his own weapon.
"You know the rules," he said. "Only one at a time."
"Of course." Pagondas stepped forward. "It'll only take one of us."
"Maybe." Methos turned quickly to the girls. "Run," he said firmly.
"But -" Celia began, but Methos was not intending for them to witness any of this.
"I said get out of here," he snapped, and both women saw the look in his eyes. It frightened them, and they hurried away. Methos turned his attention back to Pagondas. "Shall we?"
They met with a clashing of blades that could be heard for some distance. Neither man was concerned with style, and their blows rang out in quick succession. His arm had healed fully of course, and Methos was determined not to repeat the injury. He was trying hard to make plans, but they remained incomplete; it was too hard to think right now. He knew that if he disabled Pagondas, the Immortal would be recovered by the time thathe could similarly wound Brasidas. The only real answer would be to behead his opponents, ending the fight immediately; but he didn't like that idea. He did not trust Brasidas not to take advantage of his being otherwise engaged with a Quickening. Even the newest and weakest Immortal had some power to give, and it was always enough to cause no small amount of pain with the pleasure. Any Quickening would leave him temporarily helpless.
Methos knocked aside a sudden thrust at the last possible moment, only too aware that Brasidas was manoeuvring himself behind him. Either he was intending to attack from the rear, or he was preparing to move in for the kill if his friend lost. Feinting to the right, Methos dodged quickly, twisting around so that Pagondas wavered off balance. Methos cut through with his sword, intending to disable the Immortal so that he could deal with Brasidas, but Pagondas, unsteady and tired from the day's unusually strenuous exertions, stumbled forward slightly, and his unprotected neck came forward into the flight path of Methos' sword. He tried to pull back, but it was to no avail. The fearsome weapon cut straight through the blockage as though it were no more than a young tree sapling, and Pagondas' head rolled across the dusty ground.
Methos gripped his sword hilt and tried to focus on Brasidas, but it was no use. A wind was tearing through him, and his eyes failed to work. He felt rather than saw the explosive lights that sparked around him, and before the Quickening was over he had sunk to his knees. Disorientation prevented him from getting up, even though he saw Brasidas' shadow behind him, raising its sword. It struck him that he might be able to see the shadow of his own head as it fell... The blade raised, and just as it was starting to descend, the shadow of Kronos came from nowhere, and Brasidas' head fell to the floor. The young Immortal would never know what had hit him.
As the second Quickening cleared, Methos climbed to his feet. "What kept you?" he gasped, beginning to feel the effects of the pentathlon, not to mention two difficult battles.
"Sorry." Kronos cleaned his sword and Methos', which lay on the ground. "I think I broke my ribs."
"Oh, is that all. They'll heal." Methos took back his sword and sheathed it, already turning to go back to Soter. He froze. Celia and Etera were standing together in the street, looking terrified. They had obviously witnessed the Immortals' deaths. "Oh no..."
"What - what happened?" Celia's eyes were wide with horror and shock. "That lightning. By the gods, Adieus - What are you?"
The two old men exchanged concerned glances. This was not what they had wanted. The fear that was all too visible, and the disbelief, were indicative of the fact that neither girl was ready to hear the truth. Maybe it was due to the strain of their captivity, or perhaps it was because they had just seen two men die, let alone the dual Quickening. Either way it was all too clear that Celia and Etera could not be told what had really happened; and if they didn't know the truth, Methos and Kronos couldn't stay with them.
"I'm sorry," Methos said, his voice little more than a whisper. "You weren't meant to see that."
"You're - spirits - gods -" Etera began, but both Immortals shook their heads.
"No. We're not gods." It was almost tempting to claim that they were; it would be so much easier. Given that immortality was the sole true qualification for being a Greek deity, perhaps they were gods; but Methos could not live for long with that kind of deception. "We're just men."
"You're not human," Celia said ."You lied to us."
"No. We didn't lie." The pain was almost too much to bear. "I love you Celia. I love you more than - more than any one else alive. But - but you shouldn't have seen all of this."
"We could... forget we did?" Etera sounded small and hopeful, but it couldn't work that way. Kronos took her hands.
"We have to leave," he said. "I'm sorry."
Why? Because they lived on the road, because they could only truly share each other's companionship, because the road didn't fade away and grow old with Time; because of a thousand things connected with pain and love and the ultimate futility of everything that they came to care for. And because the true knowledge of what they were could only be safe in certain hands.
"Because that's the way it has to be," he said haltingly, longing suddenly for the old life, when he had not had to care for anyone save his three comrades, as they had raced together across the world. Death and destruction were so much easier to handle than the pain of separation and loss.
Celia bowed her head at Kronos' words, and looked up at Methos, her eyes full of confusion. "You're leaving... now?" she asked. Methos nodded, all his plans for a triumphant return with his love to her home town abandoned. It would have been wonderful to have arrived on the crest of a glory wave; but they had not even waited to discover which of them had won the pentathlon over-all. Maybe some other time they would come back. There were sure to be other Olympiads, and probably other women cheering from the spectators' ring.
Etera held Kronos' hands tightly, thinking back over their days together on the beach. She had been meaning to ask him about the necklace he wore, with its complex design; now she would never find out what it meant. Odd to think about that now. Gently he pulled away, and Methos, trying not to think too much, stepped away from Celia. There was no point in spinning this out.
"Goodbye," he whispered, not trusting himself to speak any louder. Celia smiled sadly at him, echoing his farewell in a voice which came close to breaking his heart. And then, slowly, the two Immortals turned and left, walking on around the corner and out of sight. The road was waiting for them.
It was growing dark, and the two Immortals carried on together on the journey that they had begun so long ago. Neither spoke for some time, caught up as they were in thoughts of what they had left behind. Kronos finally broke the silence.
"I think - I mean - I know what you said, but I left Conon behind back there. I'd like to just be Kronos for a while."
Methos stared at the ground. "Do you think we did the right thing?"
"What else could we have done? You saw their faces. They could never have accepted it, if we'd told them the truth. They couldn't have faced up to our life." He sighed. "But I'm going to miss her Methos."
"Well you've got me."
Kronos gave him an appraising look. "Yeah. You're not bad." He frowned. "But you're legs aren't as nice as Etera's."
"Well I won't offer to swap." They walked on a little longer. "I guess it's your turn to choose where we go next."
"Good. In that case let's look for a war. There must be one going on somewhere. I could do with the practice."
Methos rolled his eyes. "Kronos, I swear you are the most violent, bloodthirsty degenerate that I have ever-"
"Save it." Kronos gave him a sidelong glance. "Flattery will get you nowhere. I still think Etera's got better legs."
"Oh well. It was worth a try." They turned their heads towards the sunset and continued on their way. It was not the last time that they would have to leave people behind, but if nothing else they would always have each other, and that, at least, would dull the pain a little. In the meantime they could rest in the knowledge that the next adventure was never far ahead. And with that thought to strengthen them, the two friends wandered on together through the centuries.
(I think this about covers every thing)
25th Egyptian dynasty - 715-656 BC
9th Babylonian dynasty - 732-626 BC
Rome was built in 753 BC, Numa Pompilus became king in 716 BC. (Rome didn't become a republic until 509 BC).
The Great Pyramid was built in around 2500 BC by the Pharaoh Khufu (AKA Cheops) and the Hanging Gardens Of Babylon were built in 575 BC on the orders of Nebuchadnezzar.
The Pharaoh Khyan ruled sometime between 1786 and 1600 BC, the exact dates are unclear.
The Mediterranean was not, strictly speaking, the true centre of the civilised world, since the civilisations of the East were considerably more advanced, to say nothing of those in South America, but the Mediterranean people didn't really know that at the time.
The 23rd Olympiad was held in Olympia in 696 BC. That year boxing was introduced as a new event, joining the pentathlon (200 yard sprint, javelin, discus, wrestling and long jump). I have no idea who won the individual events. I also have no idea if the athletes competed in bare feet, but the overwhelming support which seems to exist in cyberspace for the old man's feet seemed to be too powerful a force to ignore, so I thought some gratuitous foot nudity (ooh er) might be appreciated.
All exciting stuff (!). You know, everytime I read this I cringe. Somebody challenged me to give Kronos a romance, and I'm beginning to wish I'd turned it down. Ugh.