The dawning sun shone sleepily across a world which still had much to learn. The vast empty horizons stretched out in every direction, and the silence was consuming. One solitary figure crossed the eastern plains. He had seen nobody in days, but the lack of companionship did not bother him. He had been alone for what seemed an eternity.
Methos was a young man, or so his appearance suggested. His dark hair was straight and short, though ragged and unevenly cut. He came from a civilisation which was already nearing its conclusion; but Methos no longer thought of anywhere as home. It had been so long since he had settled anywhere, and he had no plans to end his self imposed exile. Immortality had its price, and it was paid in loneliness.
The first signs of civilisation were beginning to show themselves on the plain; marks which suggested that tents had recently been uprooted, and carried away on horseback. Methos considered changing direction, and avoiding the possibility of contact, but he was running low on food and water, and needed to get a new supply from somewhere. Starvation and thirst could not kill him, but he still wished to avoid them where he could. There was always the possibility that the people he met would turn out to be hostile, but an attack could hardly be fatal.
The sun rose higher into the sky, and Methos had been walking for quite some time before he saw the people he was following. A train of horses, travelling at walking pace, and loaded with belongings, was moving just up ahead. A few mounted riders formed a flank guard, but they paid little attention to Methos. Stragglers were not entirely uncommon with a caravan such as this, and since he was merely one man on his own, he could not pose much of a threat. Methos relaxed a little. It was easy to get lost in a crowd. Even though his clothes were different he should not find it hard to be absorbed here. It was better that way.
"You're new." The voice came from behind him, and Methos turned. Three men on horseback approached. The leader, a thickset man well past his youth, looked the stranger up and down, taking in the cotton and woollen clothing and the leather sandals.
"Er... yes." There seemed little point in saying much else. Methos glanced over the other two men. One was about the same age as the leader, or perhaps slightly younger. The third man was the same age as Methos; or, at least, the age that Methos appeared to be. He had the arrogance of a warrior, and the intelligent eyes of one who had the potential to be something more. He was also a pre-Immortal.
"You're looking for shelter I suppose."
Methos glanced back to the first man. "Yes. Yes I am I suppose."
"Fine." The man nudged his horse onwards, and was gone. The older of his two companions followed, leaving Methos looking up at the younger man who remained. He was dark and wiry, and his clothes, like those of all of his people, were made from animal skins. He swung down from his horse and watched Methos, his eyes cool and appraising. No man really knew what to think when he took the time to look into the eyes of the young man who in truth was ancient. His eyes spoke of old wisdom and experience, but also of the youth in which his body was eternally trapped.
"My name is Methos," Methos said, uncertain why he had decided to be so direct.
"Kronos," the other man told him. He made a rough gesture after the two men who had left. "That was Torias, our chieftain. My father." That explained the proud stance. "Where do you come from?"
"Oh... here and there."
"Your weapon is made of iron," Kronos observed. "The outlanders I've met say that iron isn't used in other regions."
This was true. "It was made locally," Methos replied. "During my last visit to these parts. I move around a lot." He decided to change the subject. "Do you often have strangers joining your caravan?" His watchful host shrugged.
"Last one was... four or five moons ago. He was a soothsayer."
"He was?" Methos had a lot of time for people who made predictions. They relied on knowledge which had been ancient long before he was born, and he could therefore only have respect for them. "And what did he say?" Kronos made a face.
"He didn't make any sense," he said gruffly. "He told me that I have to die before I can find out who I am." Methos smiled. His companion would understand one day.
"It takes a wise man to understand all that the seers tell us," he said gravely. "If it was a simple matter there would be no mystery."
"I suppose..." For a moment Methos considered approaching the matter from another angle. He wondered if some guiding force had directed him towards the caravan, in order to make sure that someone was present when this man experienced his first death. Somebody would have to help him with the superstitions of his people. Kronos, however, seemed to have already lost interest, and Methos had no real intention of raising the subject of immortality before it was completely necessary. He stroked absently at the neck of Kronos' horse. It had no saddle, but wore a bridle of twisted leather, decorated with small beads.
"Do you like them?" Kronos indicated one. "This is carved with wild faces to ward off disease."
"They're fascinating. What are they made from?"
"Teeth." Kronos indicated the larger beads. "These are from bears; these smaller ones are wolves' teeth. These ones here are human."
"Human?" Methos wondered if they had fallen out naturally, but somehow doubted that they had. "Who carves them?"
"My sister. She's a storyteller." Methos nodded. It made sense that such an important position would be filled by the chieftain's daughter. She would be an interesting person to talk to.
"Will I be able to meet her?" he asked. His companion shrugged.
"I imagine so. She's sure to speak tonight. We always have a gathering around the fire to hear a story or two, about the old battles." His eyes acquired a faraway look. "One day they'll tell stories about me, and how I led the others into battle. Died a glorious death perhaps."
And woke up a little later feeling very confused, Methos thought wryly. "A fine ambition," he said, remembering the last time that he had fought for his people; the adrenalin, the inner fire, the bloodlust. It had frightened him. Even then, long before he had discovered his immortality, he had not really been afraid for his life; more afraid of what he was capable of, and the knowledge that he could take so many lives so easily, whilst enjoying it so much. Later he had basked in glory as a returning hero. At the time, his ambition had been to lead a war party one day. Now he was not entirely sure if that was really where true glory lay. It would probably take him another long lifetime to decide for sure. An approaching horse interrupted their conversation, and both men turned. The second man from earlier - Torias' shadow - stared down at them, with impatient eyes.
"Kronos, your father awaits you at the head of the train," he said curtly. "Your place is with him, not talking with strangers."
"Yes Aran." As the other man left, Kronos scowled after him. "My uncle," he said. "He still treats me like a child. I'll see you later?"
"Yes, of course." Methos watched his new friend swing himself up onto his horse and ride swiftly away. It felt good to experience a sense of comradeship again, and so much better to know that the feeling was for another Immortal. There would not necessarily need to be any awkward partings, or sad endings. He had not realised how much he had missed having somebody to talk to. It had been years since he had really held a serious conversation with anyone. Not since Lara. She had been so understanding, so intelligent, so wonderful. They had spent so much of their time just walking together, talking about anything and everything. Then one day she had been attacked when she was coming to meet him. She had been dead long before he found her. Perhaps it was because he did not really have to face the possibility of his own death, that somehow he found it so hard to handle the deaths of his friends. Maybe he had been right after all, when he had decided to follow the caravan. An Immortal companion could be just what he needed to stop the loneliness from driving him insane.
They made a simple camp. A more permanent construction did not seem to be the style of these people. Methos helped to set up some of the tents. Torias had one, and there was another for the camp women and children. The men would sleep outside. In no time the large cooking fires were sending their flames leaping skyward, and Methos settled back to watch the dancing sparks, and to enjoy the smell of roasting meat. He could hear the chattering of children, and the deep voices of the men, the whinnying of horses.
"You can't go to sleep yet." It was Kronos, standing above him. Methos smiled, and stretched.
"Sorry. I haven't slept in a while."
"Walking by night too?" Kronos sat down beside Methos. "Are you running from something?"
"Not exactly." Methos wondered how to phrase it. "I've been looking for something."
"Oh." Kronos did not press the point, which was just as well. Methos was not sure how to explain that it was himself that he was searching for; for the meaning of immortality, for his own feelings on it, and for some way of coming to terms with the life of loneliness it seemed to have presented him with. There would be plenty of time in the future for Kronos to discover all that for himself.
"Have your people always been nomadic?" he asked. The transient life was one that he could sympathise with.
"Not always." Kronos drew patterns in the dusty ground with stone. "Sestia, my sister, could tell you more about it of course, but sometime ago we lived in a great city. My grandfather was an emperor. There was a rebellion, and his followers were cast out. He was killed. One day we'll take the city back."
"There aren't many of you."
"No..." Kronos frowned. "I remember the city, a little. My sister and I were very small when it fell. Our mother is buried there somewhere, so we have to go back eventually." He smiled. "My father says that only barbarians are nomads, but I rather like living like this. I must be a barbarian."
Remembering the human teeth which decorated the horse's bridle, Methos could have answered in the affirmative, but he merely smiled to himself. "I don't think I'm a barbarian," he said. "Although I'm sure I've been called worse."
"You? You're no barbarian." Kronos indicated the sword which hung at Methos' side. "That blade of yours. It's long and thin. That's not a barbarian's weapon."
"I could say the same of yours." Methos nodded at Kronos' own sword. The pre-Immortal smiled.
"It's more efficient," he said simply. "Quicker, more accurate. It's harder to use than an axe or a heavy sword, but once you've mastered it, you can do a lot more damage with one of these." Methos smiled wryly. The answer didn't surprise him. A warrior's life was all about killing, and finding more and more efficient ways to do it. It was a mentality that he could understand. At heart he was still a warrior, and although there were a lot of the old, violent, ways that he had tried to leave behind, he knew that he had not yet succeeded. Perhaps he never would, entirely.
"Perhaps we should test each other...?" Kronos, his eyes questioning, toyed with his sword, half drawing it from its sheath.
"I don't think so." There was no real risk of course. Even if he was injured, it was unlikely that anyone would get a chance to see the wounds heal; but Methos didn't feel like a fight. Not now, when he was feeling relaxed for the first time in ages, and not with a young man that he had not yet finished assessing. Kronos was a man of his time; ruthless. Fighting was a way of life for him, just as it was for Methos, but where as Methos did it for necessity, Kronos looked as though he enjoyed it. With him, a fight could get serious even if it was originally intended only to be in play.
"Whatever. It's your choice." Kronos stood up. "I have to go. I'm due on perimeter guard."
"Oh, right. I'll see you in the morning then." Methos was almost sorry as the other man walked away. He had been enjoying their conversation. It had been so long since he had allowed himself to become friendly with somebody, and yet now he was growing close to a complete stranger. He would have to be careful.
The evening lengthened into night. A small boy brought Methos some food, smiling shyly before he scuttled back to his playmates. Methos watched him go, a distant half-puzzled smile creeping across his face. For a brief second he thought he remembered himself at that age, standing on the riverbank with his father, learning to catch fish with his hands. It was so distant, so vague, that it seemed more like a half-remembered tale from somebody else's life, but that was just the tricks of his over-taxed memory. He remembered his father laughing when his first fish had leapt from his hands and vanished quickly downstream. It was hard, when the people that you cared about were so far away, and would one day be hidden forever in the darkness of the past. Being amongst these people, with their laughs and their loud voices, and the noisy, playing children, reminded him of so many places where he had lived, and been happy, before he had decided that he could no longer take the pain of repeated loss. To experience all of the happiness again made him wonder if he had really done the right thing when he had turned his back on companionship. Perhaps it was time that he once more found a place where he could belong.
Time passed, and the shouts of the children lessened, and then vanished altogether as they fell asleep. The adults began to congregate around the fires, and Methos saw a young woman, tall and vaguely copper coloured, rise to her feet. She wore a long dress, and her long hair was braided. Even without her obvious resemblance to Torias, Kronos' father, it was evident that she was somebody important. Methos watched her with interest. She had to be Sestia. In a soft, musical voice, she began to speak, weaving tales and speaking of legends so ancient that even Methos was hard put to imagine the days of their creation. She spoke of long forgotten magic, and the deeds of painted heroes who had wandered among fearsome beasts, armed with little but their bare hands. She seemed to be speaking to Methos alone, and he closed his eyes, concentrating on her voice, his head filled with images of evil wizards and giant monsters. He began to fall asleep.
"I don't usually have that effect on my audience." Methos awoke with a start, and looked up. The storytelling was over, and Sestia stood beside him. She was smiling, apparently amused by his fatigue. "Was I really that tiresome?"
"Tiresome? No! Not at all." Methos sat up quickly. "They were wonderful stories, really. I'm afraid I'm just a bit tired, that's all."
"A bit tired?" She laughed., and sat down beside him. "You look completely exhausted. Kronos says you've been walking for days."
"I have, yes. I have to get somewhere."
"You do?" She seemed surprised. "We never go anywhere. We walk, we travel; but we never arrive."
"I know. Kronos told me about your city. Do you really not know where it is?"
"Oh, we know where it is. We just... can't go there, that's all. We'd be cut to pieces long before we reached it." She smiled sadly. "And how about you? Where is it that you're in such a hurry to get to?"
"I - I'm trying to get home." He turned his head to stare into the nearest fire. "I left a long time ago, and now I'd like to go back and visit my father's grave, if I can find it. It's been so long since I was there."
"I see. I can understand that. I'd like to get the chance to visit my mother's grave." She looked questioning. "Where is your home?"
"Oh... That way." He chose a direction almost at random. It didn't matter where he pointed. He knew where his old home was, but he had no intention of going there. His words had been just wishes, given voice by his desire to make conversation. His father had been dead for so very, very long, and nobody could tell him now which grave was the right one.
"Oh. That means we're travelling in different directions." She seemed disappointed. "I was hoping that you'd stay with us for a while. Visitors bring stories that I've never heard before."
"I'm not planning on leaving just yet." He leaned back. "You want stories, do you?"
"Do you have any?" She was immediately eager. Stories were her life, her career, and there were few that were new to her. An unheard story would be priceless to such a woman.
"I know a few." He smiled suddenly. "Have you heard about the Immortals?"
"The Immortals. Legends tell of a group of men and women who can't die. They live forever, fighting each other to try to attain an ultimate goal; a mythical Prize that nobody understands the true meaning of. They can't grow old, and they have no families; just each other."
"That's sad." She shook her head." Nobody should be that alone. I'm glad it's just a story."
"Yes. So am I." He stared up at the skies, and she took his hand.
"You're alone, aren't you."
He glanced up at her, surprised by the openness in her face, and the gentle concern in her eyes.
"Alone? No, not completely. I have... memories. Many memories."
"You can't hold memories. They can't keep you warm at night, or talk to you to keep you company. You can't share a joke with a memory."
"No, you can't." He turned away. It was all happening all over again. A woman, thoughtful and kind; somebody he knew that he could, and perhaps already did, love. He thought of Lara, and before that of other women. Of Zeia, who had grown old; of Meri, who had fallen ill. The pain washed over him again, and he kept his head turned away, not wanting to look at Sestia. He could feel her eyes on him, and could feel her compassion. Why did this have to be so hard?
"It's not a good idea to keep it all inside you, Methos," she said finally. "You shouldn't hide it all away."
"I know." But no one else could possibly understand, except for another Immortal, and he rarely got a chance to speak to one of them. The world was so empty, and his kind were few and far between. When he did meet one, there was usually little opportunity for friendly conversation. Sestia smiled at his back.
"It's time to turn in," she said, her voice still gentle. "Methos... you're a stranger, and custom dictates that I should welcome you as a member of my family. If you need anything while you're here - anything at all - come to me. I'm always ready to listen."
"Thankyou." He turned back to watch her go, seeing her tall frame vanish into one of the tents. He wondered if there was a rule about falling in love with the sister of a fellow Immortal. Would it really be fair on her if she had to discover that she was going to grow old, whilst not only Methos, but also her brother, were capable of living forever? Kronos was not yet Immortal, but one day he would be. Sestia would have to face it all then. It was probably not fair for Methos to tell her any sooner than was necessary.
He stood up, and walked away from the fires, planning to stretch his legs before returning to sleep. Away from the warmth of the camp's centre, it was cold, and the darkness closed in around him. The vast skies, with their countless tiny lights, stretched out above him. Odd to think that they were the same skies he had always looked at. The world changed, and people came and went, but Methos and the stars remained the same.
In the distance he saw Kronos, patrolling the furthest borders of the camp, clearly recognisable by his horse, and by the sword that hung at his side. He considered going to talk with his new friend, but thought better of it. In his present melancholy mood he was no good to anybody, and certainly not to a young fighter without a care in the world.
"When do we make our move?" The words sounded very close, and Methos turned, wondering who was speaking. Several paces away, some rocks formed a natural barrier, and he wandered closer. A second voice spoke, and he recognised it as belonging to Aran, Kronos' uncle.
"Not yet. We wait a while longer. Reinforcements are on their way."
"When do we expect them?" The first voice spoke again, and Methos tried to get closer, interested now. This sounded like something that needed to be overheard.
"Soon. A few days at most. I'll tell you when. We kill Torias first, and then let the others decide if they're with him or us. His family will have to die of course."
"All of them?" A third voice joined in. "There'll be uproar if we kill Sestia, and it won't be easy to kill Kronos."
You can say that again, Methos thought grimly. He waited for the answer.
"Kronos isn't untouchable." Aran sounded as though he was smiling. "He may be the best warrior in the group, but anybody will fall with an unexpected arrow in the back. And as for Sestia... the people may complain, but they'll be quiet unless they want to go the same way." There were a few harsh laughs. Methos felt sick to the pit of his stomach. Aran was planning to murder his own family, as part of some plot that obviously had been developed some time previously.
"We've waited a long time for this, Aran. " A fourth voice entered the conversation, and Methos strained to hear. The man spoke quietly, as if he was more afraid than the others about being overheard. "It's been a long, long time since the city was overthrown. We should have made our move then, instead of allowing Torias to escape."
"They were confused times, Ronas." Aran's voice came again. "We killed the old man. I killed my own sister. It's not my fault that her husband got away with the children."
"Those children are the heirs to the city. Our master can't be safe while they're still alive." The fourth man evidently considered himself to be superior to Aran in some way, and was trying to assert his authority. "There are dissenters in the city who still speak of the emperor's descendants, and how they live out here, waiting for a chance to get back. Those stories have to be crushed."
"Don't worry." Aran, sounding impatient, cut in sharply. "You'll ride back to the city with Torias' head soon enough, if that's what you want. There won't be a fight if we catch them all by surprise."
"There better not be." Ronas was silent for a few moments. "We should kill Kronos before our friends arrive. If he's still alive when the attack gets underway, it'll be harder to gain control of the camp."
"That's no problem." One of the other men, silent for some time, spoke up. "I'll see to it that he's lost one day. Tomorrow perhaps, when we're riding out on the flank. We're often well out of sight of the main party. Kronos likes to go off on his own to practice with his weapons. He'll make an easy target."
"Good." There was a sudden sound, which Methos suspected was Ronas rising to his feet. "Then I think that concludes our business. We'd better return to the others before we're missed." Methos backed off quickly. He had no desire to be caught out now. As he faded into the blackness, he saw the shapes of the four men as they left their meeting place to return to the fires. He frowned, thinking hard. He knew Aran, and he knew the name of one other of the men, but he had no idea who the last two had been. It was not much to go on. All the same, he could hardly keep this to himself. He considered his best form of action. He was a stranger here, and his word would not be taken above that of the chieftain's brother; even thought they were only related by marriage and not by blood. Aran was probably a respected member of the group. Sestia and Kronos had both made friendly overtures towards Methos, and he knew that it would have to be one of them that he spoke to, but should it be the storyteller or the warrior? Kronos had already indicated that he disliked Aran, and Methos had judged him to be the inflammatory sort. Was it sensible to tell him, when his reaction would quite possibly be explosive? On the other hand, it made little sense to tell Sestia. She was respected, obviously, and people would believe her, but what could she herself do? Anyway, her life was not in any immediate danger. She was not to be killed until these mysterious reinforcements arrived. It was Kronos who was to be killed first. Methos was not too concerned over that. Better that the pre-Immortal should experience his first death whilst he was still in the prime of life, rather than when he was older, and less able to fight. All the same, Methos wanted to avoid a death. It would not only cause problems for Kronos, perhaps forcing him to leave his people, but if news of his death got around, the superstitions and fears would make it impossible for him to return and rally his people against Aran. Besides, if he was killed, it would mean that Aran had scored a victory, even if only a small one. Methos didn't want that.
He looked around. Kronos was still visible, having completed a full circuit of the camp. Glancing about to make sure that Aran and his followers had gone, Methos hurried across the camp. Kronos swung round to face him, his sword half drawn before he recognised his new friend.
"Methos! What's wrong? I thought you were tired."
"I was." It was funny how events could push sleep to the back of the mind. "Kronos, we have to talk."
"We do?" The pre-Immortal shrugged. "Fine. Go ahead."
"I was walking, over there." Methos made a rough gesture. "I heard something. People planning an attack. They mentioned reinforcements, and a plot to kill you and your family. I think it had something to do with the city that you spoke of."
Kronos frowned. "These people. Who were they?" he asked. He spoke with a guarded voice, and Methos realised that he was speaking to a sceptical audience.
"One of them was Aran," he said. "Another was called Ronas. I don't know about the other two. Their names weren't mentioned."
"Aran and Ronas?" Kronos' face darkened. "I thought you were a friend, Methos. Aran is my uncle, and Ronas is one of our most respected elders. He helped to deliver my sister and I." His frown deepened. "It was a difficult birth by all accounts. Sestia was born first, and they thought that I would die. I owed my life to Ronas before I was even born."
Methos lowered his eyes. It was faintly ironic that Kronos felt himself bound to this man for a debt that did not exist. He did not yet know about his true identity; could not possibly realise that he owed nothing to Ronas. Presumably, Sestia's younger brother had died that day, all those years ago, and Kronos had been left in his place. He owed his life to nobody.
"I'm sorry Kronos," he said, his voice soft. "I'm just telling you what I heard. I can't tell you why this man would suddenly turn against you, or why Aran would be involved... But I did hear him say that it concerned the city, and Aran is not what you think he is. He said that he killed his sister."
Kronos reacted suddenly; so suddenly that Methos had no time to move. With a speed worthy of an Immortal, the warrior drew his sword and swung it up, its tip pressing against Methos' neck.
"Aran is a fool," Kronos whispered, his voice cold and harsh. "He likes to pretend he's important. But he's my uncle, and you suggest that he murdered my mother?"
"Kronos... " Methos tried to back away, but Kronos merely stepped forward, in order to keep up the pressure on his prisoner's neck. "I'm just telling you what - "
"Shut up." There was disgust mingled with the anger in Kronos' voice. "I trusted you. You came here as a stranger and I tried to be your friend. I should kill you now."
"You won't do that."
"Won't I?" Kronos raised his eyebrows, and Methos saw the anger that shone in the pre-Immortal's eyes. Kronos would think nothing of killing a man - any man - who stood in his way, but Methos still believed that he was safe.
"No. It's custom to take a stranger in as a member of the family. You can't kill me; it would bring dishonour."
"Huh." Kronos stepped back, lowering his sword slightly. "What do I need honour for? I'm just a man with no home. A barbarian, remember? Go away, Methos, or I will kill you."
Methos sighed. He could appreciate the man's disbelief, and could understand his anger. He had been taken in as a guest, and now seemed to be defiling his hosts' hospitality. All the same, he had to get this message across somehow.
"Won't you at least hear me out?" he asked. "I know this must be difficult for you to accept, but it is the truth. I swear it. I don't lie, Kronos."
The icy eyes of the pre-Immortal burned into his, and for a second Methos saw indecision flicker through them. Then Kronos shook his head.
"Anything else, Methos. Anything else and I'd believe you. But Aran and Ronas? It doesn't make any sense. I once saw Aran almost die saving my father from being gored to death by a bull. You expect me to believe that all this time he's been an enemy of my family?" He shook his head. "I thought we could be friends. You look like a warrior, you stand like a warrior. Even your eyes shine like a warrior's. I had no idea you'd turn out to be this way." He sheathed his sword suddenly, as if no longer caring about the man who confronted him. "You'd better leave Methos. If you were any other man I'd kill you. I may still do it anyway." They stared at each other for a moment. Methos could see everything that he had once been, every thing that he still was, dancing in the strange flames that lit Kronos' eyes. Kronos couldn't kill him because they were too much alike, but all the same, there was no sense in pressing the issue. He considered going to speak to Sestia instead, but there seemed little point.
"Alright." He shook his head sadly. "I'll leave. I'm sorry that I couldn't be more help to you, Kronos, but you'll see in time that I was right." He turned to leave. Kronos said nothing more, and Methos left him far behind as he walked on into the night. He was thinking hard. Given what he knew, could he really turn his back on these people? The answer was no, of course. He was in love with Sestia, and he knew it only too well. He could not stay with her, because she was the mortal sister of a fellow Immortal, and he could hardly remain behind with her if Kronos felt compelled to leave once his destiny was revealed. But he could not let her die at the hands of her uncle; that would be against everything that he believed in.
He frowned into the darkness. He could wait, and watch, and try to help out when the reinforcements came. He could possibly find them, and stop them from ever meeting up with Aran and the others. Somehow, neither of those plans seemed feasible. He was Immortal, yes, but he was also alone. One man could not stop this. There was only one possible course of action. He had to wait for the attempt on Kronos' life. He would have to follow the caravan, and keep a watch on the pre-Immortal. If possible he would save him, but if not it was no real loss. Death wouldn't hurt Kronos. Methos could not just allow Aran's men to kill him, but if he could not stop them, he would not be too sorry. At least then, Kronos would understand.
Aran, the brother by marriage of Torias, lay down beside the fire to sleep. It had been a long day for him, and the discussions with Ronas always left him feeling drained. His day was drawing closer, though, and he gazed up into the sky, watching sparks from the flames leap about above him. Soon, Torias would be dead, and Aran could lead the remainder of these people back to the city that they had been forced to flee. He remembered that day. There had been fires and screaming, and many people had died. He had gone to help with the murder of Razan, the emperor, only to discover his own sister there, and had killed her himself. Later, the burial of his wife had been one of the things that Torias had demanded from the victors. In return he had agreed to leave the city with his children and his followers, and not to return. Aran and Ronas had been sent with him, as observers. Torias had always trusted them implicitly, but he would soon pay for that mistake.
Aran smiled, thinking about the day when he would kill Torias himself. The only reason he had been allowed to live this long was because to kill him would cause outrage among his people. Now, for the first time, Aran could be sure of quelling that anger. Back in the city, so many of the supporters of the old regime were dead. Soon Torias and his family would join them, and Aran could prove to his master that his family ties did not make him a security risk. Then he could ride back into the city with his head held high, and make a name for himself that would last for generations. He remembered how his sister had pleaded for her life, saw her horror struck face as she realised that he was going to kill her, and he smiled. To wield the power of life and death was Aran's greatest dream. People would do anything to avoid death; grant him any request. And when he killed them, when he looked into their eyes at the point of death, he knew that it was his hand that had taken their life away. When it came to it, the only thing that any man truly owned was his life, and the greatest power in the world was the power to take that life. Aran craved power. Soon it would be his.
Methos shifted his position awkwardly. He lay in the shadow of the rocks, watching Kronos shooting arrows into a makeshift target. It had been hard to keep the pre-Immortal in sight, and Methos cursed himself for not having tried to steal a horse. When he had finally caught up, he had been only too willing to lie in the rocks to recover; but now he was uncomfortable, and it was becoming unpleasantly hot. The rocks reflected the heat back at him, and he began to feel like the meat that had been roasting on the fire the previous night. Kronos, oblivious to the presence of his distant observer, was engrossed in his task, and Methos had to admit that he was good at it. He had already decided that it would be far better to be friends with Kronos than it would be to be his enemy.
Kronos sent one final arrow thudding into its target, and shouldered his bow. It was getting late, and soon the sun would be past its zenith. Garon, his friend, had asked him to meet him here, and yet there was still no sign of him.
"Come on Garon. I don't have all day." Kronos stared about. looking for some sign of the man he had grown up with. Living in such a small group tended to lead to close relationships being formed, and Kronos and Garon had been like brothers. It was unlike him to let Kronos down, even if it was just by failing to turn up to a meeting. Kronos had no way of knowing that there was another man, several hundred yards away, who was scanning the horizons with equal frustration, waiting for the latecomer to arrive.
Behind Kronos, a waterfall bubbled its way down a steep drop in the hillside, mingling with the water of a merry stream. Behind the rocks which framed this idyllic scene, a third man crouched. He was Garon, one of the two men whose names Methos had not heard during the previous night's conversation. He toyed with the bow in his hands, watching Kronos move about, just within effective range. Garon had volunteered for this task, but now, as he sat ready, he could not help thinking of the life that he had shared with the man he was planning to kill. The swimming, the fighting, the hunting. They had been like brothers; but this was war. He had to be ruthless. He stood up and raised his bow, an arrow already fitted against the string.
Methos, his discomfort becoming almost unbearable, was shifting his position restlessly, and almost failed to notice Garon rise from his hiding place. His jaw dropped open. He had been waiting for the assassin to arrive - how could he have failed to guess that the man might already be here, waiting for the best opportunity? He leapt to his feet.
"Kronos!" Hearing his name, Kronos turned and saw Methos emerge from the rocks to his right. He opened his mouth to speak, but realised that the stranger was running towards him.
"Get down!" Methos shouted the words desperately, suddenly anxious to prevent this unnecessary death, even though it would only be a temporary one.
"What-?" A sixth sense made Kronos turn, despite his confusion. He saw Garon, bow upraised, and immediately made the mistaken assumption that his fellow tribesman was preparing to kill Methos. He opened his mouth to call - to shout to his old friend, and tell him that this man was not a threat - when he realised that Garon was aiming at him, and not at Methos. He tried to speak, the disbelief over riding everything else that he could possibly have been expected to feel. He saw the arrow leave the bow, knew that there was no time to dodge aside, and looked deep into Garon's eyes. He saw only coldness.
Garon, who, like Kronos, had been trained in all forms of weaponry since the days when he could barely walk, had fitted a second arrow to his bow almost as soon as he fired the first. He had no idea where Methos had sprung from, but he was a witness, and could not be allowed to live. The second arrow flew on a course almost identical to its predecessor, and Methos saw it coming. There was little sense in trying to avoid it; he doubted that he could, and it was hardly necessary. It would satisfy Garon if he thought that Methos was dead too, and then he would be unsuspecting later. He saw Kronos fall, left with barely a second before he too succumbed to the bite of an arrow. A second was all that he needed to see the pain and the anger on the other man's face. It was the pain of betrayal, and the last thing that Methos felt before he collapsed was pity.
It was evening, and the first cold breeze was beginning to blow. Methos knocked the arrow aside and sat up, glad that the iron point had missed his heart. Being stabbed there really hurt. He pressed his hand against his chest and tried not to cough. There was always a temptation to clear his lungs when he returned to life, but to cough after a wounding like this one would be agony.
Kronos lay a few feet away, an arrow sticking out from his chest, where the tip was deeply embedded. Garon was a good shot, and he knew which were the best places to aim for. Methos pulled the arrow out and threw it aside. It might take some time for Kronos to come back to life; first deaths were often the longest. He contemplated building a fire, wondering how far away from here the caravan was camped, and decided to chance it. He never felt at his best when he had been dead for a while, and no doubt Kronos would be even more glad of the warmth when he recovered.
Methos built a fire in the rocks he had used as a hiding place, dragging Kronos there when the flames were well sized. He huddled close to them, waiting for the pain in his chest to fade away, and wondering when his companion would awaken. The flames made strange shadows dance on the rocks that surrounded him, and he tried to ignore their disturbing shapes. At his age it was surely time for him to stop being afraid of the dark.
Kronos awoke when the night was at its darkest. His eyes flickered open, and he blinked up at the sky, showing surprise, anger and then confusion as memory returned. He sat up suddenly, his eyes fading in and out of focus before they settled on Methos.
"You..." he said, his voice faint. "You saved my life."
"No I didn't." Methos threw some dry wood onto the fore, to ensure that the flames stayed at their brightest.
"But you must have. I mean - somebody did." Kronos frowned. "You called me. I know you did."
"Sit still." Methos stood up and circled the fire, sitting down beside Kronos. "I didn't save your life, and that man didn't miss you. I know this is going to be--"
"Garon." Kronos' eyes narrowed, and Methos saw darkness sweep across his companion's face. "He tried to kill me. He'll pay for that."
"Kronos... Listen to me please." Methos sympathised, but he had to say what needed to be said.
"There's no sense in trying to persuade me otherwise Methos." Kronos stood up, and then sat back down again, gripping his chest. "Ow!"
"It'll hurt for a while longer," Methos said, "but it'll soon heal."
"What'll heal?" Kronos looked at his hands, and saw the blood on them, and his eyes dropped to his chest. For the first time he saw the blood stained hole in his shirt, and he looked up at Methos in confusion. "Garon didn't miss..."
"No, he didn't."
"Then you - you must have--" Kronos stumbled to his feet again, backing away slightly as he drew his sword. "You must have performed some sort of magic. A wound like this isn't one to recover from."
"If you want to think of it as magic then go ahead, but it was yours, not mine." Methos smiled, hoping that he would look, and sound, encouraging and understanding. "Kronos, sit down, please. I have something to tell you."
"What?" Kronos sat down, his expression showing distrust. He kept his sword in his hand, and watched Methos carefully. The old Immortal heaved a short sigh.
"I didn't save your life," he said. "The arrow hit you in the chest, and you died, but it didn't kill you." Oh, well done Methos, he told himself sarcastically. That was comprehensive. Kronos, unsurprisingly, was looking confused. "What I mean is - you're not like other people."
"I'm... dead?" Kronos frowned. "Then you must be too."
"Not anymore. Look, just shut up and listen." Methos tried to find the best way to explain. "There are some people in the world who can't die, and you're one of them. Disease, hunger, battle wounds - they can't kill you. Any injury that you receive will heal, and if you die, you'll wake up again after a while." He tried to gauge Kronos' reaction. The new Immortal was looking lost, somewhere between scepticism and deep confusion. Methos sighed again, and drew his knife. There was one way to prove this which always worked. "Watch." He drew the knife across the palm of his hand, so that the blood glistened in the firelight. After a few seconds the wound healed. Methos glanced up into Kronos' face, looking hopeful.
"You're... a sorcerer?" Kronos asked. He sounded more as though he wanted it to be true then as if he believed it. Methos shook his head.
"No. Just an Immortal. And so are you." He threw the knife over. "Try it." Kronos picked up the dagger, and watched a drop of blood run down the blade. He gritted his teeth, and repeated Methos' demonstration, staring in transfixion at the cut as it opened on his hand. It healed quickly, and he looked back to Methos.
"I can't die?"
"It's not quite that simple," Methos told him. "There is one way. You can be beheaded, and that will kill you. There are other Immortals in the world, and they all want to be the only one. They'll try to take your head, but you have to take theirs first."
"Then why haven't you tried to kill me?"
"Because I--" Methos shrugged. "Because I like you maybe. And because it wouldn't be fair to kill you right now." He smiled. "You still don't believe me, do you? Not really."
"I - don't know what I believe." Kronos stared into the fire. "This morning I believed that Garon was my greatest friend. He was like a brother to me. Then this afternoon he tried to kill me."
"Did kill you." Their eyes met as Kronos raised his head, and the younger man didn't answer. Instead he asked a question.
"You were telling the truth, weren't you. About Aran and Ronas?"
"Yes, I was."
"I'm sorry. I should have believed you."
Methos tried to offer him a consoling smile. "You didn't know. The question now is what are we going to do about it?"
"Well you can't handle this on your own, can you?" Methos stood up. "And Immortals should stick together."
"I thought you said we were supposed to try to kill each other?"
"I said that others would try to kill you." Methos kicked at the edge of the fire. "One day there will be only one left, and he'll win the Prize - the power to rule the world the world in any way that he chooses. It's a game for fools though. I won't spend my life trying to kill the only family I have just to please some... celestial games master. If you have any sense you'll think the same."
"Are there many... Immortals?"
"No, not yet, but there will be. With time, there'll be more mortals, and that means that there'll be more Immortals too. It stands to reason. When there are many of us, that's when the battle for the Prize will begin in earnest."
"And you don't want this Prize?"
"Not really, no. You might understand one day Kronos, but the life of an Immortal is very lonely. You can only ever really share yourself with somebody who is the same; and if you're caught up in the fight for the Prize you're killing the only people you have a chance of being friends with. Immortals can't have children. They have no parents, no brothers or sisters; only adopted families who can never really know the truth about them."
"Are you saying that Sestia and Torias aren't my family?" Kronos sounded hurt, and Methos nodded sadly.
"I'm sorry Kronos. In as much as Torias is the man who raised you, yes he is your father. But he's no blood relation. Think about it. He and Sestia are much lighter then you. Do you remember your mother?"
"She was blonde..." The evidence was mounting, and Kronos felt his confusion begin to fade. He bore no resemblance to any member of his family, and he had seen the wound on his hand heal. He understood none of this, but he was willing to trust Methos. He had little choice. "Methos... If they aren't my real family, does that mean that I should just let Aran and Ronas get away with all of this?"
"That's up to you."
"I--" Kronos stood up, the pain in his chest gone. "I'm going to kill Garon. Maybe I'll kill the other two as well." He turned as if to leave.
"Wait!" Methos began to stamp out the fire. "I'm coming with you."
"You don't have to do that."
"Yes I do. I told you, you can't handle this alone. And anyway, I ... appreciate the company."
"It's up to you." Kronos threw him back his knife. "But you'd better be able to use that sword of yours."
"I can." Methos patted the hilt affectionately. It had been a long time since he had been involved in a fight. He had missed it, and it would feel good to be in the midst of a battle once again. Sometimes, when he had been alone for too long, and had thought too much, he began to feel almost as if there should be something else; some way of avoiding a fight, and trying not to kill people. It rarely lasted for long. What else was there in this great and empty world except to fight? It was what everybody did, and what they had always done. It was exciting, and it was exhilarating, and it was what his life was all about. Aran and Ronas would not live to regret their treachery.
Dawn came slowly. The sun lifted itself up from it's resting place, gazing peremptorily across a land inhabited by people who had no idea what it was, or where it went at night; a people who would not learn its secrets for countless hundreds of their lifetimes. It rose higher, secure in its mystery, proud in its position as a valued deity, and surveyed the scenes before it. A caravan of horsemen and wandering children walked across what would one day be Eastern Europe, roaming wild, untamed territories as they had done for so long. Their pace was easy and unhurried. They had no where to go, and there was no reason to travel at speed. They were relaxed and uncaring, and unaware of the events that were unfolding around them.
Methos, lying on a hillside, watched their progress as best he could. The apparent lax security of the caravan bothered him, but there was little that he could do about it now. He glanced back at Kronos, who had been silent for some time. The newly immortalised man was obviously locked into some sort of inner struggle, battling both with the recently discovered betrayal, and all of the confusion that went with that first, unsuspecting awakening from death. Methos remembered it well, even though it had all been so long ago for him.
"What do you reckon?" he asked. He received only silence for an answer. "Kronos?"
"Huh?" The other man looked up. "Sorry. I--" he shrugged. "I was thinking."
Methos laughed. "Well there's got to be a first time for everything. I asked what we should do next. These are your people after all."
"Are they?" Kronos smiled sadly. "I don't know Methos. I have no plans. I just want to kill." His voice had become fierce, and his hand tightened on the hilt of his sword. "I have to kill. I'm not intending to let Garon and the others get away with all of this."
"Of course." Methos stood up. "Garon should be easy. He'll be out riding on flank guard; and he thinks we're both dead."
"Maybe we are dead. Maybe this is a dream; or the Underworld."
"It's not a dream." Methos smiled at his companion. "A man can't dream the same dream for twenty lifetimes... But it might be the Underworld for all I know." He laughed. "I know I've done enough in my life to get sent there."
Kronos laughed too. "Twenty lifetimes... A man could have a lot of fun in all that time." His face sobered again. "And he could kill a lot of men. Come on."
They walked quickly down the hill. Kronos' horse was strong enough to carry them both at speed, but they wanted to save its strength for later. Handling their immediate enemies would not be hard, but they still had to ride against the reinforcements being sent to attack the caravan. The ground was sloped and uneven, and it slowed their progress, the rocks bouncing about their feet. The caravan was distant enough for them to have no worries about being seen. Kronos paid no attention to the train of horses moving about on the horizon. He was intent on his goal, his eyes focused only on the thought of Garon. Methos could see the darkness moving across the new Immortal's face, but he said nothing. Kronos was entitled to a little revenge, and if the truth be told, Methos was looking forward to helping him.
The sun drifted aimlessly above them as the day quietly progressed .Everything seemed so lazy and relaxed, but the two men were oblivious to the spirit of their surroundings. There was no reason for speech, and no time for hesitation. Their shadows were lengthening, and soon Garon would be safely back in the camp, where they could not easily kill him.
"There!" Kronos' voice was triumphant, his eyes suddenly bright and cold. Methos turned his head sharply. Ahead, clear tracks reached into the distance, snaking through the soft ground. More than one horse had passed this way, and they had been travelling together. "Four horses." Kronos sounded authoritative. "Not long ago."
"Are you sure?" Methos could see that four horses had been present, but he could not tell when they had been here.
"I'm sure." He frowned, and pointed at one set of prints. "See these marks? They were made by Garon's horse."
"How can you tell?" Methos leaned closer. He saw that the tracks indicated were a little different somehow, but he couldn't put his finger on it exactly.
"Here, look. The front hoof mark." Kronos' fingers circled the print. "This line here. A few years ago, Garon had a fall and his horse gashed its foot. That scar's been there ever since." He frowned suddenly, as a memory clouded his mind. The fall had come when he and Garon had been racing together on new and untrained horses. They had been faster than the wind, and they had laughed together as they raced across the land. Now Kronos was going to kill Garon. He wanted it to hurt more than it did; wanted to feel more than just anger and malice; but somehow there didn't seem to be anything else. He set his jaw and straightened up. "Come on, if you're coming."
The sun soared on, past its highest elevation and on towards its resting place beneath the horizon. The shadows lengthened, and the heat of the day began to give way to a cool breeze. Up ahead, the trees were closer together, forming a forest which stretched out into a green confusion. Here the path taken by the horses was clearer than before, an open space where the undergrowth had been cut away, or trampled underfoot. The two Immortals began to move with more care. Somehow the likelihood of coming face to face with their enemies seemed greater now.
"It'll be dark soon." Kronos glanced around. "There are legends about these woods."
"So?" Methos seemed amused. "We're immortal, remember?" His friend smiled.
"Sorry, I forgot." They walked along a little further. "Methos - are you sure about this?"
"I'm sure. Besides, I didn't think you were the type to scare easily."
"I'm not." Kronos narrowed his eyes in sudden anger. "But if I'm going to die it'll be at the hands of a warrior, not a demon. And I don't intend to die until I've killed Garon at least. The others too if possible."
"Demons can't kill you anymore than a man can." Methos glanced around. The woods were decidedly eerie in the growing dusk, and he was not prepared to belittle any suggestion that there might be demons here. It was the human demons that had to take his attention now, however, and he closed out all thought of twisted and misshapen shadows. They hurried onwards, eager to find their quarry before the darkness became complete.
"Quiet!" They had been walking for only a short time longer, when Methos heard something up ahead. The soft sound of distant and relaxed voices floated between the trees, mingled with a soft rustling which suggested the presence of horses. The two Immortals grinned at each other, smug triumph glinting in their eyes. Kronos pushed his horse's reins towards Methos.
"Stay here," he whispered. "I'm going to take a look ahead."
"Be careful." Methos wasn't sure about allowing his companion to go off alone; he had his own reasons for wanting the enemy to suffer, and he didn't like the idea of Kronos killing all four. Not only had Garon's arrow hurt, but Methos did not take kindly to men who plotted the deaths of those that he cared about. He didn't appreciate the image of Sestia lying dead at Aran's feet.
Up ahead, Kronos moved silently through the trees, the years of training allowing him to keep quiet, despite the thick undergrowth. The voice grew louder, and he slowed his progress, easing warily forward until he could see the four men that he was looking for. Ronas and Aran were clearly visible, and he could see Garon too, sitting with his back to a tree at the edge of the clearing. He slid his bow from his shoulder, moving slowly and smoothly, his eyes fixed on Garon's still form. Gently he drew an arrow from his belt and fitted it into the bow, drawing the string back until it was taut. He felt no emotion as he stood up, and his blue eyes carried no expression. None of the men sitting before him had even noticed him. A glimmer of satisfaction broke through the ice in his mind, and he let the arrow fly. It described a perfect curve through the still evening air, its tip catching the first light from the moon, and then it thudded into its target. Garon let out a startled cry, and slid sideways, the arrow sticking out of his chest. Kronos ducked aside to avoid being seen. He wondered dimly what he should be feeling right now, but there was no more remorse at Garon's treachery, no anger or hatred. There was just pride at a task well done, and the usual slight elation that came with a kill. Maybe it was the gradual acceptance that he himself was immortal, but somehow the lives of these people no longer seemed to matter any more than the lives of any other enemies that he had so far encountered in his life. How could they matter when they were so easy to kill? He heard a slight rustling beside him, and swung around, coming face to face with Methos. The suddenness of his presence caused something to burn inside of Kronos; a sudden flash of excitement and tension that put him even more on edge than he was already.
"Are you crazy?" he hissed. "They'll hear you!"
"I rather think that they already know we're here," Methos told him dryly. "Or will they think that Garon was killed by some arrow that just happened to be passing?" Kronos didn't reply. He led the way around the camp, ignoring the alarmed movement coming from within it. Methos could see that he was looking for a new angle from which to attack, and he drew his sword.
"This time we both go in," he said. Kronos smiled, but didn't answer. Instead he drew his own sword, before standing up. He had leapt forward into the camp before Methos was quite aware of what he was doing, and the older Immortal jumped to his feet to hurry after him. The three men in the camp, who had been looking for a place to in which they could shelter from further assault, swung around two face their two assailants.
"What-?" Aran stared at Kronos, his eyes wide with fear. "You're dead. I saw your body."
"I came back for revenge." Kronos smiled coldly. His uncle glanced over at Methos, and then towards Ronas, his face deathly pale.
"You won't be coming back this time." The fourth member of the group, a man named Rysos, drew his sword with a powerful arm. His weapon was large and heavy, just like the man who wielded it. Rysos moved deceptively quickly for a man his size, swinging the sword in an arc as he leapt forward, his eyes open wide with anger and excitement. Kronos stepped neatly aside, tripping the big man, and stabbing downwards with his own sword as he did so. Rysos fell forward, landing heavily, the point of Kronos' sword embedded in his neck. He gargled desperately for a moment, and then was dead. Kronos pulled his sword free and grinned back at Methos.
"Are you going to join in sometime today?" he asked airily. Methos smiled, and quickly advanced. Aran drew his sword to meet the old Immortal. His eyes still showed his fear, but the instinct for survival was stronger than the terror. Aran was still more than capable of giving a good account of himself in battle. He met Methos head on, their swords clashing loudly in the relative stillness of the forest. It was now almost completely dark, and only the dull glow of a neglected fire lit the clearing. Methos could see the sweat on his opponent's face as it caught the light, the blade of his sword red in the gleam of the embers. He smiled, his expression as cold as that of Kronos. Methos was going to enjoy killing Aran. He remembered how this man had spoken of killing his own sister, and again saw the threatened image of Sestia, dead amongst the tents of her people. He cut through with his sword, aware of the anger and hatred in Aran's eyes. This man enjoyed killing, but so did Methos, and the Immortal was willing to wager that he was far better at it than this treacherous nomad. Aran swung his sword smoothly in a sharp swipe that would have been fatal, had Methos not had so great a lifetime in which to hone his instincts to perfection. He might not be a great swordsman, but his sixth sense was second to none. He stepped back, meeting Aran's sword with his own, and then, with a speed that surprised him as much as it did Aran, he pulled his sword to one side and stabbed forward with it. The sword blade went straight into Aran's body, just below his heart, and the wounded man fell to his knees, his vision blurring. Methos pulled the sword out, and stared at Aran. The other man blinked up at him, trying to catch his breath, his forehead crinkled into a puzzled frown. He tried to speak, but the words didn't come; only unsteady gasps seemed able to make themselves heard. Methos pushed Aran, and the mortal tumbled over backwards, dead before he hit the ground.
Meanwhile, Kronos and Ronas had squared off, their swords seeming to play with each other before they met for the first time. Ronas was angry, but he was also scornful, convinced that Garon and Aran had been mistaken about Kronos' death. He did not believe that Torias' son had returned to life, for revenge or anything else. It wasn't possible.
"Just surrender, Kronos, and I might not kill you," he said, his voice carrying above the clashing of Methos' and Aran's swords. "Have you forgotten that your life is already mine? I saved you before you even set foot on this world."
"You saved nobody," Kronos told him, his own voice harsh. "You don't know who I am, Ronas, and you never will. I'm your darkest nightmare, and I wanted you to know that before I kill you."
"What?!" Ronas shook his head. "You're not making sense you fool. I saved you, and now your life is mine. I'll take it now."
"You'll take nothing." Kronos smiled, no humour visible in his eyes. "You own nothing. You are nothing. Just a fragile little man whose life is nearly at an end. This is my world, Ronas. It belongs to me and my friend over there. He showed who I am, showed me my true identity. Your life is nothing in comparison."
"Do you really think so?" Ronas sounded deeply scornful. "You? You're nothing but a man without a home. You've spent your life wandering with your family, without so much as a roof over your head. I've been promised my own kingdom. A city of marble, with statues of gold. Do you know what that means? Do you really think that you could ever be worth more than I am? Be of greater consequence than me?"
"I already am Ronas. I don't need to try." Kronos took a step forward, determined to end all of this talk, and fight for real. He still wasn't sure of all that Methos had told him, but he believed all that he understood. "I'm immortal. Indestructible. The world lied at my feet. You - all like you - people who die at the slightest provocation. You all fall before me and others like me. My people own this world, Ronas, not you. You're nothing."
"Really." Ronas also took a step forward. "Let's see how immortal you really are, Kronos. I think You've been out in the sun too long." He jabbed forward with his sword, aiming straight for his opponent's heart. Kronos didn't even blink, knocking the sword aside. Ronas' weapon flew from his hand and spun through the air. Its owner stared after it. It had been so long since he had been involved in a fight that he had failed to take into account the passage of time. Ronas was an old man now, and the hands that had once held a sword of legend were now barely strong enough to lift a weapon at all. He looked into Kronos' eyes, caught between fear and pride, unwilling to plead for his life and unable to defend it. What he saw amazed him. He had seen Kronos grow up, had watched him train, and had known him inside and out, or had believed that he had. Yet now, standing before him, he saw a warrior with the light of true power shining in his eyes. Where before there had been the pride and self assurance of a chieftain's son, there was now the strength and conviction that could only come from invincibility. Distantly he became aware that Methos and Aran had stopped fighting, and that Aran was dead. He glanced over towards the other Immortal, and saw the same light in his eyes. This was something greater than he could hope to understand, and he had no idea how he could have come to be caught up in the lives of such people as these. With a sudden yell, he threw himself forward onto Kronos' sword. Better to die by his own hand than leave himself at the mercy of two men whose very souls were unfathomable. Kronos staggered backwards from the force of Ronas' advance. He stared down at the old man, and watched as the body slid from the sword and fell to the ground, suddenly angry that he had not killed Ronas himself. Methos clapped him on the shoulder.
"Don't let him get to you," he said gently. "Come on now. We still have work to do."
"The reinforcements? Of course." Kronos wiped his sword on his shirt. "What are we waiting for then?"
"Nothing." Methos cleaned his own sword, before making for the four horses tethered nearby. He released them, swinging up onto one and chasing the other three away. They were sure to find their way home. "Go and get your horse - and that bow - and we'll see what we can find."
They rode together through the darkness, both sure that Ronas and his companions had been heading for a rendezvous with their allies. The going was difficult through the forest, but the darkness did not seem to bother their horses. They walked boldly forward as if they had trodden these uncertain paths every day of their lives.
"Ease up." Methos whispered the words to his horse, which was starting to pull ahead. "Kronos - do you feel something?"
"Feel? I--" Kronos was at a loss to explain the strange tension in the air. "There's something like... ice and fire."
"That's it. It's your instincts calling. It means there's another Immortal nearby." They rode on a little further. "Two of them, I'd say. Less than a hundred yards away." His voice was so low that Kronos could barely hear him. "They won't see us through these trees, but they'll have felt us."
"Then we stand here and fight." Kronos dismounted, and edged forward on foot. Through the barriers of plant growth he could see the flicker of a fire, and around it were ten men. Two of them stood slightly to one side, and seemed on edge, conferring in whispers.
"That's them." Methos, beside him, seemed to be in thought. "We can't take all ten at once; not with two of them being Immortals. We have to split them up first."
"No problem." Kronos fitted an arrow into his bow, preparing to shoot it towards the group.
"No, wait." Methos was thinking again. "Hold on a moment. I'll get the horses and work my way round. When I'm at the other side of the camp I'll drive them out into the clearing. You shoot then. They'll think they're surrounded."
In the small makeshift camp, the two Immortals who sat apart from their comrades were deep in earnest conversation. Their hackles had been raised by the presence of two others of their kind, but they were unwilling to say anything to their companions. It would raise awkward questions. They had been expecting to be met by the two double agents, Aran and Ronas, but progress had been slow, and the darkness had fallen before they had reached the rendezvous point. This failure to keep to schedule was unsettling enough, without the added concern posed by Immortals. They were considering slipping away from the others, in order to search out their fellows, when suddenly there was an eruption in the nearby undergrowth, and two horses broke from the trees, leaping nervously as the passed close to the fire. The eight men sitting beside it shouted in alarm, leaping away from the frantic hooves. As they began to head for the opposite side of the camp, the lead man collapsed in a heap on the ground, struck down by an arrow which seemed to have come from nowhere. Immediately the remaining seven men scattered, moving for the safety of the trees. After a second, their two Immortal comrades followed, deciding that they were probably a lot better off out of the open. The blundering mortals, their eyes conditioned to the bright light of their fire, were easy targets for Methos and Kronos, who despatched them quickly and cleanly. They were so easy to kill that it seemed almost unfair, but neither man gave much thought to the possibility that these were not the men that they had been looking for.
Kronos cut down his third victim, hearing a sound to his left as he did so. The peculiar sensation, which Methos had told him indicated the presence of Immortals, felt stronger now, but he paid no attention, moving towards this latest foe. The man moved with more caution than his predecessors, but Kronos, carried on a wave of triumph by his last few kills, swung his sword almost before he saw his target. The hapless victim ran straight into the blade, and his head fell from his shoulders. Kronos grinned down at the decapitated body, feeling satisfaction spread within him. There was a strange feeling in the air, though; a feeling that something was about to happen. A sensation of building tension was growing within him, and the skies seemed to be darkening. he shuddered. Tongues of blue flame licked at the blade of his sword, and he dropped it, stepping back involuntarily. It was no good. The skies seemed to split open as twisting strands of fire flowed from the body on the ground, wrapping themselves around Kronos' arms, his body and his legs, biting into him, and filling him with a whirl of conflicting emotions. Elation flooded his mind, whilst pain tore through his body, and he gasped, sinking to his knees. Suddenly his vision cleared and the flames were gone. It was over. He stayed where he was, kneeling on the ground, listening to the rustling which told him that Methos was busy about his own work. Suddenly the skies seemed to darken again, and more blue fire snaked around the trees at the opposite side of the clearing. They danced about through the branches, reaching high into the air and vanishing out of sight. Kronos watched, transfixed, until they had subsided. Seconds later, Methos staggered around the edge of the clearing. He looked down at Kronos, and grinned breathlessly.
"You too, hey?" he asked. Kronos stumbled to his feet, on unsteady legs.
"What in the name of - of - whatever you hold sacred was that?" he gasped. Methos laughed, filled with amusement and elation.
"That was a Quickening!" He threw his arms up. "Wasn't it wonderful?! That's what happens when you kill an Immortal."
"It was - It was--" Kronos grinned too. "It was incredible."
"You see? It's worth while being an Immortal." Methos made a wild grab at one of their horses, still uncertainly moving nearby. He felt almost high, his mind bright. The horse danced out of reach, and Kronos caught it instead, leaping onto its back. Methos did the same with the other animal, and they both leaned down to pick up their swords. They felt like over-excited children, inexplicably cheerful, and despite the darkness, and the closeness of the forest, they urged their horses forward at speed. The undergrowth crackled and splintered beneath the hooves of their mounts, as they beat their way through the forest, breaking out into the open as the sun began to edge into the sky. Methos stared into it.
"What now?" he asked.
"Home?" Kronos, cleaning his sword, did not look at Methos. The older Immortal shook his head.
"I'm sorry, Kronos. Garon will almost certainly have told them that you're dead. He'll probably have said that I killed you. And anyway, think about it. You'll never get old. You'll never change. They can't know about you, it wouldn't be safe. Imagine what would happen if we told everybody about ourselves? Their reactions..."
"I know." Kronos smiled sadly. "But we could ride against the city. Win my family a home at least."
"No. It's not that easy, and it's not our problem. They aren't your family, Kronos. That's the point. If you go back to them now you'll never leave, and then you'll end up watching them grow old and die. You've no idea how that makes you feel. Just to watch someone fade away, and be so helpless to stop it." He gave his friend an encouraging smile. "But come on. It's a big world. There's no reason why we shouldn't see all of it."
"Together, if that's what you want. Neither of us has a real family, but we do have each other."
"Brothers." Kronos grinned. "Unstoppable brothers. We can show the world a thing or two."
"You can say that again. You were right when you told Ronas that the world lies at our feet. It's ours to do what we want with. We can own it, shape it. Rule it even, if we feel like it." He felt wildly cheerful, spurred on by his sudden sense of comradeship. "We're invincible princes - of eternity! The key to the whole future of everything could lie within our swords."
"So - I suppose we just ride, until something presents itself." Kronos looked towards the rising sun, where the silhouette of the caravan was visible, moving onwards with the new day. Part of him wanted to ride to join it, but he would soon quell that instinct.
"That's right." Methos nudged his horse forward. "Come on, brother. Enough talk. It's time to make the world sit up and take notice!" And as the sun began to rise once more on an unsuspecting world, the two Immortals rode onwards into the dawn of the future.
Well there's not a lot really. Cotton was being woven in the Indus valley in 3000 BC, so I figure Methos might well have been wearing it. Iron was used in the Middle East in 2000 BC, but the process required for making it was difficult, so it didn't become popular for a long time. It was the logical material for a discerning warrior, though, because bronze was too soft to get a really good edge for effective weaponry. Human remains found from long before this era have bows and arrows, so they would probably have been in use then too.
PS - Oh brother. Can we spot the world's corniest line? Methos and Kronos can go and be invincible princes of eternity, and I'll go and hide in the corner. I knew it was a mistake reading one of the early ones again. :)