ACROSS THE EASTERN PLAINS
The moon sank slowly, its last dying light illuminating the shapes of four powerful horses walking slowly across the plains. They were tired, for they had been ridden all night, and their once proud heads hung low. As the great golden orb that marked the daytime began to rise above the horizon, the man on the lead horse held up his hand.
"We've ridden far enough," he announced, leaping to the ground without waiting for his companions to agree. "Much longer and the horses will give up."
"And so will my back." A second man, whose head was marked with black tattoos, climbed down more slowly than the first. "I say we make camp here."
"Fine." Gazing down at the pair on the ground, a third man rubbed his eyes with tired hands. "I could certainly do with a rest. Whose turn is it to find food?"
"Yours." The first man grinned up at the third, his eyes glinting teasingly. "Silas caught us a deer yesterday, and I got us all those fish the day before."
"And I caught that silk trader the day before that." The second man smiled easily, pleased with the memory; although considerably more so than his companions. "It's your turn, Methos."
"Fine." The third man slid to the ground, pulling his sword from its sheath as he did so. "Any requests?"
"Something edible." The first man tugged off his armoured tunic and threw it onto the ground at his horse's feet, before heading off in search of firewood. "Just don't get lost."
"Very funny, brother." The third man, Methos, removed his own armoured jerkin and dropped it next to his companion's. Beneath the simple armour he was dressed entirely in white, with a loose white tunic and equally loose trousers which tucked into soft leather boots. He looked more like one of the traders he enjoyed killing, than like a dangerous thief and a murderer. "Have the fire going when I get back."
"Sure." The first man, who had already wandered almost out of earshot, raised his hand in a gesture of farewell, returning to the others a short time later with an armful of wood. He threw it onto the ground and gestured at the fourth member of the party, a tall, powerfully built man with a surprisingly gentle face.
"Light the fire, Silas," he ordered. Silas jumped to the task, eager as ever to please his leader. Kronos rarely turned his anger against his three brothers, and it was therefore not fear which led the big Immortal to do the smaller man's bidding.
"Methos will be hours." Scowling up at the stars, the second man lay on his back. "I'm hungry."
"Then go and catch your own food, Caspian." Kronos kicked the man's feet with an easy gesture of his own superiority. "Just don't bother coming back here with it." Caspian glared up at him, but he took the hint and went to help Silas light the fire. Before his days with the Horsemen Caspian had been a feared thief, if not a particularly successful one, and he had taken orders from no one. There were days when he missed that arrangement; but he would never have openly challenged the authority of either Kronos or Methos. He was well aware that the only way he could hope to beat either of them was through trickery, which was not likely to work. He knew well enough, also, that to challenge one was to face the other; and the pair were more than likely willing to break the Rules of Immortality in order to defend each other. Caspian contented himself with thinking unpleasant thoughts about Kronos as he bent to his task. He knew that thinking was as far as he would ever get to a rebellion. If nothing else, life with the Four Horsemen was too good to risk losing just through bad temper.
The fire was soon a blaze, its flames flickering and reaching high up into the lightening sky. Silas gave a mighty yawn and threw himself down beside the fire, stretching his feet out to warm them. It had been a long night's ride, and he was more than ready for the meal and the sleep that he felt he had earned. No doubt Kronos and Methos would have refreshed themselves long before either he or Caspian considered themselves to be finished with sleep; and they would be moving on again, heading once more for the goods train that would soon be crossing the harsh land up ahead. There were times when he doubted that the pair were truly human. Even so, whatever hardships he suffered, he was even less likely to rebel than was Caspian. The Horsemen needed each other, and whatever their differences, they were united in their desire to be strong.
"Methos?" Rising to his feet with a fluidity that belied his fatigue, Kronos drew his sword, staring past the bright fire which dimmed his sight. Beside him the sleepy Caspian stirred, reaching for his own weapon, but trusting in the other Immortal's skill to keep him safe. The buzz of another's presence had reached them both at the same time. Silas also stood up, staring at the horse which was now visible.
"It's not Methos," he said brightly, looking to Kronos with an eager eye. "Who saw him first, Kronos?"
"Does it matter?" Striding forward, Kronos met the horse with a suspicious glare. A cloaked and hooded figure stared down at him, looking past the warrior's face to the sword he held in his hand. There were few Immortals in that new and dusty land, and they gave each other a wide berth. It was rare indeed for one of their kind to come to them.
"Who are you?" Demanding the newcomer's name in a forceful tone, Kronos grabbed the Immortal by the arm. There was a second's silence.
"My name is Keara." The voice was female, and in the same instant the figure swung down from its horse, pushing back the hood. A woman, tall and with a strong frame, smiled at the threesome. "I saw your fire. Would you mind if I stayed here a while? My horse is tired."
"We don't welcome strangers." Pushing the woman aside, Kronos hesitated, then sheathed his sword. He was confident that he could draw it again quickly enough, should this woman suddenly turn out to be a threat.
"Then I won't be a stranger." She walked over to the fire, sitting down beside it. "I told you my name. Suppose you tell me yours?"
"I'm Silas." Smiling down at the woman with his usual affability, Silas held out a hand for her to shake. He grinned at Kronos, who chose to ignore the display of friendship. Trust did not come easily to him, especially amongst others of his kind. Keara looked across at the third member of the group. He lay near her, his grin one of vague contempt, mingled with desire. There was something about him that scared her.
"I'm Caspian." Even his voice was cold and unpleasant. She looked towards the other man instead, trying not to think of Caspian. The final member of the three was still standing up, staring down at her with an expression that hovered between indifference and a challenge. She decided that she liked his bright eyes, even though they were accompanied by a cruel smile. He had the look of a man that she could do business with.
"How about you?" she asked, taking care to insult his authority with her careless tone. Something in his eyes flashed.
"My name is Kronos," he told her, sitting down on the other side of the flames. There was something about this woman that he liked, although he was determined not to let her see it. Liking somebody was a weakness, and weaknesses existed to be exploited, preferably by him. She smiled at him, nodding slowly.
"Kronos. Then I was right." She glanced about. "Shouldn't there be four of you?"
"Should there?" He toyed with his sword hilt, his eyes never leaving her face. "If you've warmed yourself, perhaps you'd like to be moving on."
"Oh I don't think so. Not yet." Her light smile became a broad grin. "I've been looking for you for a long time. I'm not ready to leave."
"You've been looking for us?" There was curiosity in Silas' eyes, and she glanced across at him. He was a likeable man, she decided, with a ready grin, and happy, contented eyes; and yet she knew him now, and knew what he was capable of. It was an interesting conflict of character.
"Yes." She smiled back, deciding that it would be easy to win this big Immortal over. "I've heard of you, and I wanted to ask for your assistance."
Caspian began to laugh.
"Assistance?" His laugh was sneering and insulting, with little real humour, although the answering smile of Kronos was filled with amusement. "We assist no one, except to their graves."
"Well I think you'll be happy to help me." She leaned back, resting against a heavy sack that lay behind her. It felt soft, and she wondered what was in it. "There's a train due through this country soon. The biggest trading caravan you've ever seen. I've been wanting to attack it, but I can't do that on my own."
"Then we'll take it." Kronos spoke softly, staring at her with eyes filled with arrogance. "We don't need your help."
"Yes you do." She smiled at his self assurance. "The bigger the train, the better it's guarded. But I know a man who has promised to help from the inside, once I've given him the signal."
"Trickery?" Something in Kronos' face showed momentary interest; then he shrugged. "We don't need trickery. We fight. We kill." There was a cold simplicity about his words which amused her. She got the impression that this was a man who cared little for life's complications, and never saw the consequences of his actions. He lived for the moment, and she liked that a lot.
"You'll need trickery this time." She grinned suddenly. "Where's the other one? I'd heard that he is the brains of this operation."
There was a silence, and she saw dark shadows dance across the face of the man sitting opposite her. She grinned again, enjoying goading him. It was a game that could be dangerous, but that only made it more fun. She was about to speak further, when the buzz of another Immortal came to them. She reached instinctively for her sword, and watched as Kronos rose to his feet again. He did not draw his weapon, but instead wandered a short distance from the flames. Now that the light was almost complete, the shape of a man was clearly visible, walking towards them. He carried a long stick, from which dangled an assortment of birds and small, furry animals. His stride was long and confident, and it slowed as he neared the camp.
"Brother." Acknowledging Kronos with a nod, Methos walked closer to the fire, his hard eyes staring at Keara. "We have a guest," he observed, an ambiguous edge to his voice.
"Her name is Keara," Silas offered obligingly.
"Is it." Throwing down the collection of dead animals, Methos nodded to the big Immortal to set about preparing a meal. Keara stared up at him, sensing something different about this new Immortal. There was nothing simple about him, as there was about Kronos. The same light of fierce intelligence burned in the eyes of both of them; the same challenge, the same love of action; and yet in this man there was something different. Something that suggested it would be difficult to know where one stood with him. Something strange.
"You must be Methos." She smiled, liking the reaction she got with her comment. It was no more than a shadow that passed fleetingly across his eyes, but it showed that she had caught him off guard. "I came to offer you a deal, but your friends seem to think that you don't need me."
"They were right." He threw himself down beside the fire and looked towards Kronos, cutting Keara out completely. "I saw the train while I was out, brother. We were right to keep up the speed these last few days and nights. We'll be able to intercept it just where we planned."
"Excellent." Kronos grinned broadly. "We can take them as the sun reaches its highest point tomorrow."
"Yes. If we wait until they enter the valley over yonder, the light will be in their eyes when we attack them. We can come at them from behind and have them in ribbons before they know what's happened." Methos smiled lazily, stretching his booted feet out towards the fire. The movement made him turn slightly, and he looked straight at Keara. "You still here?"
"I'm still here." She smiled, her eyes filled with teasing as she looked past him towards Kronos. "You need me."
"Do we." He turned away again, looking back to Kronos. "Why do we need her, brother?"
"Maybe she sings well." Kronos stood, heading to where Silas' large horse grazed nearby. There were several skin bags dangling from leather straps about its neck, and he cut one loose before wandering back to the fire. Methos took the skin, tearing the rough hewn lid from it, and tipping the bag back to pour its contents down his throat. He coughed at its sudden strength, and handed the bag back to Kronos who drank likewise. Keara saw bright red liquid flow from the bag, and wondered what train the skins had come from. It hardly mattered to her of course, if these men wanted to kill mortals to steal their wares. In this land there were few people who truly cared for each other, whether they were mortal or immortal. Life meant little anywhere in the world, especially beyond the bounds of permanent civilisation.
"I don't sing," she said, standing up suddenly. "I don't play music and I don't tell stories." She pulled the wineskin from his hands, surprised that he offered no resistance, and poured some of the liquid into her mouth. It was stronger than she had been expecting, although she did not allow that to show. It tasted better than most that she had drunk before, and she wondered again where it had come from.
"Then what do you do?" Kronos asked. She grinned at him.
"I take heads, and I rob merchants, and I race my horse for money." She pulled a small money pouch from inside her cloak, and threw it at him. "My payment, for the wine." He glanced inside, his eyebrows raising as he saw the gold coins inside.
"I like this woman, Methos," he said brightly, and took the wineskin back from her for another drink. Methos smiled, throwing the coins to Caspian, before seizing back the alcohol himself.
"Then as a special favour to you, dear brother, I shan't kill her." He laughed, and reached for one of the half cooked lumps of meat beside the fire. "Maybe she can even help us tomorrow."
"And if you like the way I fight?" she asked, staring down at him with an open challenge in her eyes. Methos remained silent, but Kronos answered for him, their eyes showing that their minds were in agreement.
"Then we can see about this plan of yours. The one we need your help with." The four men laughed together at these words, and she allowed herself a small smile in answer. They would see, soon enough, that they were not invincible, and that they needed her help. Ignoring them she stretched out before the flames and closed her eyes, listening to their chatter and increasingly drunken laughter as they ate together, and prepared for sleep. She was not hungry, and ignored their offers of food. She was only interested in offers from one of them, and he kept strangely quiet, seated beside Methos on the other side of the fire. She felt his eyes on her from time to time, but she kept her own closed. Only when the last sounds of their talk had died away did she sit up.
They were asleep, all four of them, although she was willing to bet all manner of riches that they would awaken immediately, if she tried to do anything against them. Her eyes scanned them all, passing over Caspian, and his cold, vicious features; over Silas, sprawled in an ungainly heap, with an empty wineskin at his feet. She lingered for a moment on Methos, watching the shadows of the flames dance across his oddly smooth face. He did not have the face of a killer, and that interested her. She could sense that he was a powerful Immortal, who was no doubt already old. Finally her eyes came to rest on Kronos. She swept her gaze across the compact muscles and the slight frown which remained on his face even in sleep. There was a harshness about his features that should have been unpleasant, and yet somehow was not. She smiled, and was still smiling as she pulled a small, round disk of highly polished metal from inside her cloak. She held it up towards the sun, making the metal flash brilliantly for several seconds. When she lowered the disk, she turned her eyes towards the mountains, and saw another flash in answer to hers.
The warmest time of the day was already past before Silas and Caspian stirred, raising sleep-thickened heads towards the sounds of swordplay. Methos and Kronos, tired of resting, were battling together nearby, each set in fierce concentration against the other. They fought stripped to the waist, and Keara, sitting nearby, held Kronos' black leather tunic in a clear display of favouritism that neither man seemed to have noticed. Caspian noticed it, and he glowered. He would have liked the chance to have taken Keara for himself, and that chance was thrown to the winds if the feelings she clearly had for Kronos were in any way mutual. He scowled, standing up and tearing a chunk of cold and almost burnt meat from the selection still hanging by the dying fire. Kronos might still give him the woman yet, if she proved to be useless against the goods train tomorrow.
Throwing down his sword in a gesture of fatigue, Methos held up his hands to slow Kronos' advance. The younger Immortal grinned, throwing his own sword down beside his brothers so that the weapons clattered together.
"A race?" he asked, still eager for action. Methos smiled back, his eyes flashing with fire.
"A race." Throwing himself at Kronos without warning, he knocked his comrade aside, leaping past him onto the nearest horse. His eyes flashing with the fury of the competition, Kronos hurled himself after Methos, tearing him from the horse's back. The pair rolled together across the ground until they were almost in the glowing remains of the fire, then they each dragged himself free of the other and they ran for their horses. The animals reared up, shaking their hooves in the air as the men dashed for them, leaping forward in sudden eagerness for the race, their manes waving in the breeze as they started to run. Perfectly matched, they galloped across the ground, their hooves thundering on the loose, dry ground.
The pair returned together some time later, their wet hair showing that they had found some water nearby. Their horses wandered back to the other animals, whilst Methos and Kronos went to the embers of the fire for something to eat. Their competition was over, but there was no trace of bitterness in either man's eyes. Keara got the impression that their bouts were in fun alone, despite their apparent sincerity, and this intrigued her. There was much about these four men that caught her attention. She almost felt herself longing to be accepted amongst them. She stood up, handing Kronos his tunic. He took it with an easy grin, as if he already took her presence for granted, and pulled it on, changing in that one motion from a young, carefree warrior into a battle hardened Horseman. She saw the change in his eyes, as if the touch of the black leather, with its battle scars, reminded him suddenly of who and what he was. Immediately she was gone from his mind.
"We should scout the ground before tomorrow." Pulling on his own tunic, Methos gestured to Silas and Caspian to mount up. "Leave everything here for now, and we'll come back here when it gets dark. I want to know every inch of this ground before the raid." The foursome were mounted in seconds, and Keara stood alone on the ground in sudden indecision. Kronos rode past her, heading off to take the lead, and he glanced down at her as he went by. He smiled for a brief, revealing second and she smiled back, then went to get her own horse. Together the five of them rode for the valley.
Noon came all too slowly the next day. Methos and Kronos were gone when the others awoke that morning, and they did not return until it was nearly time for the raid. Their hands and clothes were streaked with blood, showing that they had met with some resistance. Kronos flung himself from his horse, laughing as he showed Silas some prize of war that Keara could not see.
"Stragglers," the dark Immortal announced with glee. "Fifteen of them, a long way behind the others. They were easy."
"Too easy. There's no challenge in men who ask to be killed." Dismounting, Methos began cleaning his sword on some strips of material torn from an old animal hide. "That last one practically threw himself on your sword."
"You mean my sword threw itself at him." Kronos grinned at this boast, enjoying the glory of the moment. An unscheduled assault was almost always more fun than a planned one. It was when the battle was unexpected that there was the most excitement, and he found his blood being pumped faster and more powerfully around his body. He took a quick drink from a wineskin before mounting up again, and in passing he threw some small object at Keara. She caught it by reflex, and looked down at it in surprise. It seemed to be a brooch, made of gold and decorated with some other metal. The designs carved onto it showed that it had been made by a culture that worshipped the sun.
"It's beautiful," she told him, but he had already ridden on, the moment either forgotten or put aside. She climbed onto her own horse, eager to be off.
"Keep close. We ride as a unit." Methos took the lead, riding off towards the valley where the train would be arriving at any moment. Kronos rode second, his sword already drawn. At some time that Keara had been unaware of, the foursome had painted their faces, and she saw the battle paint that they had become famous for. She saw the complex, stylish black designs on the faces of Silas, Caspian and Kronos, and the simple broad stroke of blue favoured by Methos, and she felt a burst of excitement. These men were feared across the whole of the known world, and she was to ride into battle with them. It was an honour of sorts, and she was determined to acquit herself well. She needed their trust.
"There. Isn't that one of the greatest sights on Earth?" So accustomed had she become to his silence, Keara almost did not respond to Kronos' words. She smiled across at him, watching the look of barely concealed delight on his face as he gazed down at the goods train. Some fifty men were making their way across the valley floor, some riding, some walking, some leading pack mules. She smiled.
"It's nothing compared to the train I was telling you about."
"Show us you're not just a talker and we'll see about your train later." He grinned suddenly, his eyes flashing with surprising emotion. "A lot of people are going to die today."
"Do you care?" Surprised by his words, she stared at him in amazement. He grinned at her, and lights danced within him, mixing fire with fun.
"Not a bit." He laughed, and turned his horse around to face the natural pathway that would lead them down the mountainside. He raised his arm, his sword catching the rays of the sun as it moved into its highest place.
"Ride!" His voice echoed across the mountaintops, but the men of the train below showed no sign of having heard. The Four Horsemen and their guest galloped forward as one, their horses slipping and sliding on the slope, but never once losing their footing. The animals were as fierce and determined as their riders, and their eyes glowed with similar fire.
They reached level ground as the train passed them, presenting its badly guarded rear to the attackers. With a howl of glee, Methos and Kronos led the assault, riding forward with a sudden increase of pace that left the other three behind. In moments they were upon the train, riding into their midst with broad sword strokes and hacking, cutting gestures that maimed rather than killed. Keara saw their strategy immediately; to destroy what they could, and to minimise the chances of resistance, and then to return later to clean up the survivors. Seeing the ferocity of their initial attack, she doubted that there would be many who survived it, and as she joined in she copied those tactics. Her sword cut a red swathe through the traders that came her way. She looked into the eyes of one man as he died, and she grinned at him. He had gone very pale, his eyes seeming to bulge in surprise and fear; then his face had gone blank in death. She had seen that blank look many times in her life, and it seemed that her own great enjoyment of the moment was shared by her new companions. The Four Horsemen rode with a fury that she had never seen before; and nobody was left alive. Even with the resilience of a small group of resistance that they encountered, soon the train was still and quiet. Everyone was dead.
Hurling themselves from their horses in excited, careless delight, Methos and Kronos raced each other for the first wagon, tearing it apart in their enthusiasm. It proved to be filled with ale barrels, and Methos attacked one with his sword, cracking the wooden bands that held it together. A waterfall of brown liquid fountained from the side of the barrel, and the pair fought each other to get to it, both as wet from its stickiness as from the blood that covered their skin. They laughed as they drank, pushing at each other like a pair of children.
Silas and Caspian, no less high-spirited, rode to the next wagon and slashed it open. Silas' powerful battleaxe cut through the wood of the wagon as easily as through the cloth that covered it. Beneath they found bales of cloth, and some clothes already made. Silas held up a long dress, modelling it for the others to see.
"It's good stuff," Caspian announced, feeling the material with an expert touch. "I'd say silk. There's some cotton here too. That usually sells well in these parts."
"We'll find someone to buy it." Shaking his head so that drops of ale flew from the long strands of his hair, Methos joined the pair, glancing through the material with little interest. Clothes had never been a favourite of his. "If they won't buy it we'll kill them. Somebody will get the message eventually." They all laughed.
"Hey, look at this." Having already turned his attention to the third wagon, Kronos held something up. It was obviously heavy, and was yellow in colour. "Gold. Right Methos?" He made as if to throw the bar at his companion, and grinned when his brother flinched away. "Take a look."
Methos climbed up beside him. "Nice," he murmured, running his eyes over the find. "There are thirty or forty bars here. Maybe more." He laughed. "That'll buy us a drink or two, right brother?"
"Right." Laughing, they jumped down from the wagon and began to collect up the horses and pack mules that had survived the attack. It was a jubilant bunch that rode back to the Horsemen's camp later that day, and despite their exhaustion they built a huge fire, drinking their ale and throwing relics of the day's battle into the flames.
"Here's one." Struggling to remain standing upright, his face now a smeared mess of blood, dirt and smudged war paint, Methos held a severed arm above his head. "It was still holding onto the reins of that big black horse we found." A chorus of drunken giggles answered him, and he hurled it into the fire amidst roars of approval and drunken glee. "Who's next?"
"My turn." Caspian tried, and failed, to make it his feet, and Kronos and Silas went to his aid, hindering rather than helping him. He made it eventually, wobbling uncertainly for several moments, before he drew his sword and waved it in the air.
"I say we throw her in." Pointing the sword at Keara, he took a step forward, the sword's tip wavering about near her throat. She tried to draw her own weapon, but the blade of his pressed against her skin, and she froze.
"Yes!" Delighted by this suggestion, Silas staggered to his friend's assistance, waving his battleaxe about above his head. Methos frowned, his muddled mind trying to recall some reason why he had wanted to keep the woman alive. It had something to do with another goods train, but his drunken brain could not quite grasp the memory. He choked back a laugh, and looked at Kronos. Maybe his brother would remember.
Kronos, the drunken stupor gone from his mind in a flash, stood alone by the flames of the fire, his black leather tunic catching the light of the flames in a way that made it appear almost as though the fire was within him, and as if he were about to be consumed by the blaze. He drew his sword, his pale eyes alive with anger and yet his face coldly expressionless. He stepped forward, his sword knocking Caspian's aside with such force that the other Immortal's weapon spun through the air, landing in the fire. Kronos pressed his sword against Caspian's neck, staring deep into the other man's eyes with a look that he had used to great effect since choosing his current way of life. Caspian stared back, seeing cold rage, and also seeing his own terrified face reflected in his leader's eyes.
"Leave her alone." Kronos' voice was a cold whisper, tinged with icy menace. "If you kill her, I'll kill you. Understand?"
"I--" Caspian tried to turn his head to look at Methos, seeking assistance from the one man alive who was capable of controlling Kronos' fire. "I won't--"
"Good." Pushing his comrade aside, Kronos sheathed his sword, and seemed to forget the incident immediately. He caught up a loose branch in order to hook Caspian's weapon from out of the fire, and handed it back to his friend. Then he returned to his place beside Methos, reaching once more for the ale. "We drink to the Brotherhood," he announced, and Methos echoed his toast.
"To the Brotherhood." The slur had gone from his voice, and there was a warning tone there that the others could not help but notice. They returned for their drinking horns, and Keara, still alive with tension and hostility, saw the fight flow from the four men. The moment's anger had gone, and four had once more become one. Sensing that she would be in no more danger tonight, she closed her eyes, trying to relax until the sounds of partying had faded, and she heard the violent snoring of Silas and Caspian.
"Thankyou." Recognising the soft footfalls nearby as Kronos, she opened her eyes to look up at him. He stared down at her, as if uncertain what she was talking about; then he shrugged and turned away.
"We need you," he told her simply. "Methos says that we ride against this train of yours as soon as we can."
"I'll take you there tomorrow." She smiled at him, but he had already turned away. As she turned away herself, to stretch back down to sleep, she saw something lying beside her on the ground. It was a bracelet, made to match the brooch he had given her earlier. A smile danced its way across her face, and she closed her eyes, curling her fingers around the hilt of her sword as she slept.
The hot sun of midday shone down on five figures riding hard across the dusty, rocky landscape of a country devoid of the signs of civilisation. A gentle, almost imperceptible wind blew a fine coating of sand over everything, and Caspian sneezed violently, making his horse prance about in surprise.
"What are we doing here?" Trying to brush the sand from his hair, he spat it from his mouth, raising his voice to show his general anger towards all things that were alive. Methos glanced back at him, his expression one of faint amusement.
"We're looking for the goods train," he said, speaking slowly and clearly as if to a child. Silas laughed briefly, earning a fierce glare from Caspian.
"But that's her goods train." There was a trace of rebellion in Caspian's voice. "What do we need her for anyway?"
"To show us where it is." There was real amusement in Kronos' voice. Caspian scowled at the other Immortal's back. He knew why Kronos, at least, wanted to keep Keara around, and it angered him that none of the others seemed to have noticed that yet.
"What's so special about this train?" he asked, his tone now sullen. Up ahead, Keara turned back to them, pointing with a strong, steady hand.
"That," she said, her voice loud and authoritative. They all turned to look, and in the distance, trailing its way across the plain, they saw the long dust cloud of a wagon train. Even at this unrevealing distance, they could see that the train was huge, with many, heavily-laden wagons rumbling their way along the rocky, uneven ground. Kronos and Methos looked at each other, their eyes shining in shared joy.
"Riches," Methos whispered, his voice hoarse. Keara glanced across at him, and nodded.
"More than you're ever likely to have seen," she told him with certainty. "You can't begin to imagine what's down there, Methos."
"I'm glad to hear it." He cocked his head on one side, listening to the sounds that came faintly to them through the hot, almost still air. "There are a lot of riders."
"But they'll be dealt with." She smiled brightly, filled with a sudden eagerness to get this underway. "All that I have to do is speak to my friend in the train, and he'll drug the food and the ale that he gives to the men. Then they'll be asleep or dead by the time we come riding up."
"And what share does your friend expect?" Methos asked. She shrugged.
"He's not that close a friend. You can do what you like with him once he's served his purpose." Her teasing smile reached Kronos. "Unless you'd like to keep him along."
"For food or firewood?" Smirking back at her, Kronos dismounted and headed for a natural shelter of rocks nearby, already thinking of the night's camp. "Go ahead. Speak to your friend. But if you don't come back, we won't be able to come after you."
"I understand." She turned her horse's head away and galloped after the train, vanishing quickly into the growing heat haze.
"I don't trust her," Caspian announced, aware that he was risking Kronos' wrath in speaking that way. He was surprised when the other Immortal grinned at him.
"Neither do I," he said, the smile making his eyes burn. "It's fun, isn't it."
"Provided things work out our way." Methos threw himself down on the hot ground beside the rocks, and closed his eyes. Kronos shrugged.
"Things always work out our way." He sat down beside Methos and produced a wineskin from somewhere. "Here. Have a drink."
"What are we drinking to?" Methos asked, taking the skin. Kronos grinned.
"To mistrust," he said happily. "And to things working out our way."
"Sounds good to me." Methos took a long drink, then handed the skin back to Kronos. Nearby Caspian looked down at them, seeing the familiar carelessness on both their faces. Neither man ever seemed to worry about anything. He frowned and turned his head to look after Keara. Something was wrong somewhere, he was sure of it.
The train was dead and still, the horses wandering in confusion at the sudden lack of activity. Men lay sprawled about on the ground, others lying on their wagons, their eyes closed and their faces upturned to the sun. The Horsemen looked down on the scene of deathly silence from a high slope that allowed them a fine view of all that passed beneath them.
"Your friend did a good job," Methos told Keara. She smiled.
"Someone down there is sure to be awake. There's always someone who doesn't eat, and they'll be suspicious by now."
"I wouldn't have expected anything else." Turning to the others Methos pointed to the centre of the train, where the most wagons were, and where the most slumped figures lay together.
"We should take the middle first," he told them. "Then split up and work our way to the ends. Kill everybody, before they wake up."
"And watch out for the ones who might still be awake." Kronos drew his sword, raising it above his head to show that the time for talk was done with. "Ride!"
Their horses leapt forward, and they galloped together for the train, their hair streaming in the wind. Keara felt a momentary burst of excitement, reminiscent of the last raid, and she heard her own voice added to the wild yells of the Horsemen. It was a wild kind of excitement that gripped her now, and made her suddenly eager for blood. Even so she was left behind as the four men reached the train, and began their bloody work with an energy that was unsurpassable.
With a loud yell, Silas hacked through the covering of the nearest wagon, tearing the heavy material aside in his anxiety to see what was in the wagon. Twenty men stared back at him, swords in their hands, shields held up to protect themselves from his heavy blows. He hesitated, surprised to have uncovered them, and turned to Caspian to call his attention to the find. At the same moment there was a yell from a nearby wagon, and another twenty men erupted from within it, answered by yells from around the entire train. Once silent horses reared up in panic, and the slumped men who lay about on the ground leapt to their feet in sudden wakefulness, joining their comrades.
"We're surrounded!" Looking about in sudden panic, Methos saw men in every direction, swords and axes glinting in the sunlight. He bared his teeth, angry at the trap, and realising how easily they had been led into it. He thought of Keara, and his eyes burned with sudden ferocity.
"Attack!" Leaping forward, Kronos reacted with a suddenness that surprised his brother. Methos brushed his anger aside in an instant, in his desire to join his comrade in battle. They tore through the first line of men with relative ease, before sheer force of numbers overwhelmed them. Struggling violently, they were hauled to the ground and held down by unarguable odds.
"Let me go!" Silas, struggling nearby against his own foes, was pulled upright and dragged over to his comrades, joined almost immediately by Caspian. A glitter of terrifying ice shone in Caspian's eyes, and he alone amongst the Horsemen did not struggle. Even the usually calm Methos was wild with fury, and the men holding him were having a hard time keeping him under control.
"That was almost too easy." Riding up on a large, black horse, a man dressed in a fur-lined cloak stared down at the four men. They could see fear in his face, and recognised the fact that he was trying to seem fearless in front of his men. Alone he would never have dared to face even one of the Horsemen. "You walked right into our trap."
"Keara." Kronos spoke the single word through a throat constricted by rage, not to mention a large arm that was hooked about it. The man on horseback smiled down at him, enjoying the feeling of superiority that his high seat gave him. He ignored the struggling prisoner and turned instead to one of the other men from the train.
"How many did we lose?" he asked.
"Fourteen, Karus," the man told him.
"Fourteen." Karus, the man on the horse, glared down at the Horsemen, his fear suddenly increased by the realisation that they had managed to kill fourteen men almost in the blink of an eye. He had reckoned on losing no more than five, and had been prepared for no more than that. He knew that his men expected something from him in repayment for the loss of their men, but he was suddenly too afraid of these four men to risk any of his original plans. He stared down at Kronos, the smallest of the Horsemen, and assessed him as therefore the least dangerous. With a heavy kick to the chest, he knocked the Immortal to the ground, and laughed as the smaller man struggled to his feet again, fists clenched in ill-concealed fury.
With a burst of rage that he could not contain, Kronos hurled himself at the man on the horse, his fists striking with impressive accuracy, despite the anger that had almost blinded him. Karus felt his attacker's strength, and realised in that one second that he had misjudged badly. This small man, with his somewhat disproportionate strength, was as wild as the animals Karus had seen in cages in big cities. His black leather trousers and tunic provided no finger hold for Karus to get a grip, and he felt his hold on consciousness begin to slip as the whirlwind at his throat fought to kill him. He looked up into fierce eyes that were lit from within, and he felt a fear greater than any he had ever known.
With a sudden flurry of activity and a roar of rage from Kronos, a group of men finally succeeded in dragging the Horseman from their leader and pulling him away. Gasping for breath, Karus was unable to stand at first, then stumbled up wiping blood from his lips. There was a biting pain in his side, and his chest felt as though it were about to cave in. He stared at the Horseman, once more held tightly, and stood back. He wanted revenge for an attack that had cost him dearly, in terms of pride if nothing else; but he was suddenly too afraid to approach the man again. He had never before seen a man so wild and furious. In a sudden panic he swept his eyes over the other three prisoners, desperate to make sure that they were not about to tear free, and finish what their comrade had started. He saw empty rage on Silas' face, unspeakable ferocity in the eyes of Caspian, and something in the face of Methos that mirrored closely that which he had seen in Kronos. These two, he now sensed, were the ones to be afraid of. They were the ones that would turn their minds as well as their anger against him. He shivered suddenly despite the heat, and glanced over at his lieutenants. Keara was among them, trying to keep out of sight, and he smiled at her. She was a prize he had been after for sometime, and now he hoped to get the chance to win her for himself. He put a swagger into his walk as he prowled up and down the line of prisoners and their tattered and tired collection of guards.
"The Four Horsemen," he said proudly, holding his head at an angle that he hoped spoke of pride, and not too much of his injured neck. "Like lambs to the slaughter." He moved close to Methos, trusting that the grip of his guards would be strong enough, and smiled. "You'll look good, being taken back to my city with chains around your necks. We'll show everybody that there's nothing to be feared from you. You're not gods, or demons. You're just men."
"Don't bet on it." His voice cold, Methos smiled back at Karus, and his eyes glowed with something that chilled the mortal to the bone. "You'll die last, Karus, when we're free. We'll tie you to a stake and set fire to you. You'll burn slowly, and the last thing you hear will be your own screams, begging for mercy, or for an end to it all." A heavy blow from one of his guards made the Immortal sag, but he managed to keep his eyes on Karus. "There's no way to escape it, Karus. Even if you free us now, we'll still kill you. Even if you give us all the gold in the world, you're still a dead man. Even if you kill us, we'll still be back to get you."
Karus stepped back, unable to tear his eyes away from the coldness that burned at the centre of the other man' eyes. He opened his mouth to speak, but could find no words that seemed fitting. Instead he turned away, forcing his head to break free from the hypnotic gaze that seemed to hold it. Somehow he felt sure that even when these men were in chains, he would feel no safer. He could not relax until he saw them safely back to the city, and the cages which awaited them there. Even then, he was not sure that he would be able to breathe freely again. He thought about killing them, and as if hearing his thoughts, Keara appeared beside him. Her long hair brushed against his face, and he felt his thoughts struggling to break free from the fear that held them. Keara was enough to distract him from anything. Her appearance was enough to cause all four of the prisoners to cease their struggles.
"Forget them, Karus," she told him, leaning close to speak to him in the way that she knew he liked. "They've got gold and silk back at their camp. Enough to keep the city fed for several years. Or to keep you very comfortable for a long time." She smiled at him, and he felt himself smiling back. He still wanted to kill these men, but perhaps it could wait, after all.
"You're dead too, Keara." Kronos managed to speak in a voice that was oddly indifferent, and yet carried more menace than the words that Methos had just spoken. Still determined to exert his authority, Karus took a step towards Kronos, making as if to strike him, but Keara interceded.
"No Karus." She spoke the words softly, and with an odd sensuousness. "Leave him."
"Why? The plan was to sell them back at the city. Nobody will buy men like these." Karus grinned. "But this gold you speak of will make the trip worthwhile, and we can kill these four now."
"No." There was a sudden harsh sound to her voice, which quickly vanished as she pressed against him to speak further. "We can take them back with us just like we planned. If you're worried about having to take care of them, don't bother. Give them to me."
"You?" He laughed. "You couldn't look after them." His eyes glittered as he glared at Kronos. "Even the little one managed to shake off five of my men."
"They'll be safe enough chained up." She smiled at him and he smiled back, unable to refuse her, then nodded and took her hand.
"Okay. If you want them they're yours. You can decide for yourself what to do with them when we get back to the city." He smirked. "But don't get too attached to them. You'll soon find out there's nothing that can be done with men like these. You'll have to kill them sooner or later."
"Maybe." She shrugged and began to lead him away towards the wagons and the horses, resisting the temptation to look back at the Horsemen. Right now she was not altogether sure what emotion it was that was currently making her heart race.
The moon shone down clear and cold from the empty black sky, and the wagon train was silent in sleep. Keara moved smoothly through the maze of carts and sleeping guards, taking care to wake no one. She carried a flaming branch from the fire in her hand, and it lit the faces of the Horsemen as she reached them. They were awake, chained to the side of a wagon, their war paint and armour gone. Somehow they looked no less fearsome as ordinary men.
"Kronos." She smiled at him, sitting beside him, and resting the torch on the ground. Its flames were warm and pleasant, for the night was as cold as the moonlight.
"If you're looking for forgiveness, you won't find it." His voice was soft, for he had no desire to wake the sleeping guards. All four of the prisoners had suffered enough that day, from men eager to prove their strength and courage by taunting the famed and feared Horsemen. Wounds healed quickly, but that did not make them any the less painful or annoying.
"Horsemen never forgive, and never show mercy." She smiled, knowing the words. She had heard them many times, from the terrified traders who were almost too afraid to begin the trek across these wild lands, for fear of who they might encounter. The problem with the Horsemen was that they didn't restrict themselves to just these lands. Their attacks had been reported across much of the known world, and they were reputed to have been engaged in those attacks for hundreds of years. The explanation for that was clear to her, but to the mortals it had served to give the Horsemen a truly impressive reputation.
"Don't mock." Kronos narrowed his eyes, glaring at her. "We will get free, don't doubt it."
"I don't, not really." She smiled at him, enjoying the anger on his face. "Look, Kronos, I'm sorry okay? Just remember that if it wasn't for me, Karus would have killed you."
"That was the plan," Methos interjected, his tone scathing. "He would have killed us, they would have left our bodies for the birds, and we could have revived and gone after you."
"Oh." She nodded. "Except that these people always kill by beheading. Aside from that it was a good plan…" She grinned at the pair, ignoring Silas and Caspian, who were doing their best to ignore her. "Look, I set out to capture you, I don't deny that. Can you blame me? It's the ultimate challenge for goodness sakes. Me, leading the Four Horsemen into a trap." She leaned back, smiling at the foursome and at their joint glower. "I didn't expect to get to like you all so much, that's all." She flashed Kronos an amiable grin, cocking her head on one side to look at him. "Go on, say you love me really."
He glared at her a moment more, then grinned back, suddenly unable to stop himself. Beside him Methos sighed.
"Oh right, so we're friends again now are we?" He shook his head. "You're a sucker for a stupid grin, brother."
"Only when it comes from the right person." Kronos shifted position slightly to bring himself closer to Keara. "I don't suppose you've got the keys on you, have you?"
"Sorry. Karus has them. He didn't trust anybody else." She smiled. "I could persuade him to give them to me…"
"Forget it." Kronos glanced over at Silas. "Silas could break these chains before you could call for help. We'll be out of here yet."
"He can, huh? Then why hasn't he?" She smiled, holding up her hand to forestall another temper loss. "Relax, Kronos. I'll get you out when we reach the city. If you think you can hold out that long."
"Why should we trust you?" Suddenly swinging around to face her, Caspian did not bother to keep his voice low. "You led us into a trap, and now you're looking for forgiveness, and acting as if nothing had happened. It's not going to work."
"Shut up, Caspian." His voice an icy hiss, Methos fired a harsh glare at his comrade. "Use your brain for once."
"I'm using my brain more than you two are. Kronos hasn't thought of anything except this woman since she appeared the other day, and you're not thinking at all."
"Shut up, Caspian." Methos turned towards the other man, but was stilled by the sudden sound of approaching footsteps. A guard had appeared as if from nowhere, and he stormed towards them, his face showing surprise and then anger at the presence of Keara. He clearly suspected something, and turned away to call for help.
With a sudden movement that seemed to be nothing but a blur, Kronos caught the man around the legs with his chained arms and dragged him to the ground. In an instant his hold had changed so that he gripped the guard by the neck. Beside him Methos reacted with similar speed, pulling the man's dagger from his belt and sliding it into his neck. The guard struggled for a moment, blood bursting from the wound in his throat with each heartbeat, soaking the pair who held him tightly to prevent him from calling out to the others in his dying moments. Finally his struggles ceased.
"Now would you kindly stay quiet!" Throwing the body aside without further thought for it, Methos rounded on Caspian again, holding the newly acquired dagger inches from his companion's face. Caspian backed down, slumping against the wagon in a mute sulk. Methos relaxed again, turning his glare onto Keara.
"Get rid of the body," he ordered gruffly. She nodded in understanding, although the blood which now covered the ground would be a clear indication that something had happened. She picked the body up, throwing it over her shoulder, and paused to look back at the foursome.
"I really am sorry," she said, surprised to find that she genuinely meant it. She was equally surprised to see both Methos and Kronos smile back at her. Perhaps it was the carefree attitude they both had towards life, or maybe it was just that they enjoyed a challenge, but either way they seemed prepared to trust her again. She grinned at this realisation, wondering how far the trust went. She certainly didn't trust them at all. All the same, it would be interesting to see exactly where this relationship went next.
Behind her, Methos and Kronos relaxed back against the wagon, neither of them understanding the smiles that they could not restrain. Caspian shook his head, frustrated and insulted by his treatment. Methos turning a knife against him had been one step too many.
"What is going on here?" he hissed, taking the earlier hint and keeping his voice quiet. "She led us into a trap!" He rattled the chains around his wrists, the identical metal bracelets around his ankles sending out an answering jingle. "This is all because of her." He fingered the metal collar around his neck, which weighed him down with its weight. "It might be said that she is not good news."
"She's dangerous alright." Kronos grinned, fingering his own collar. Its presence angered him, and yet somehow the thought of Keara kept his fury under control.
"You're crazy. She led us into one trap, she can lead us into another. She can't be trusted. I say when we break out, we kill her."
"No." Methos shook his head. "Kronos likes her. She stays alive."
"You're mad." Caspian slumped back down again, at a loss as to how he could get his point across. "She knows what we are. She knows how to kill us. We're not safe so long as she's alive."
"Yeah…" Methos leaned back, somehow managing to look relaxed and comfortable despite the chains. He had, thought Caspian, a remarkable talent for making himself at home. "Exciting, isn't it?"
The procession that marched into the city of Eres five days later was a long and extraordinary one. At its head rode Karus, as high in the air as he could feasibly be on horseback, smiling down at the less important men who walked below him. Behind him were the wagons in which the warriors rode, their job done. They were looking forward to the celebrations that were to come. There would be reason to celebrate, now that traders no longer had to fear the Four Horsemen.
At the back of the parade, accompanied by excited, eager children from Eres, came the Horsemen themselves, still chained and still angry. Keara rode behind them, watching over them with an eagle eye. Her horse had already accidentally trampled a guard who had tried to exercise a little too much control over the prisoners, and although it was tempting to allow them to do what they wanted to Caspian, she was prepared to defend the foursome as far as she was able. She saw a stone thrown by a child whistle past Silas, and come within a hair's breadth of striking Methos, and she winced. She was glad she was not that boy, for if Methos saw him when the time came to escape, his end would probably not be too swift.
The group moved onwards past the city walls and into the centre of the settlement, where the market square was bedecked with ribbons to welcome the victorious party home. A old, robed man who was undoubtedly the headman, watched with detached interest as the four prisoners were thrown into the four metal cages which stood on a raised wooden dais in the centre of the square. He stood in front of them, staring at the four men inside and smiling to himself. Caspian growled at him, and the Horsemen laughed as the headman backed away in sudden fear.
"Congratulations, Karus." Turning away from the prisoners, the headman smiled at the expedition leader. Karus nodded regally.
"Thankyou Merus. It was nothing, really."
"I'm sure." The older man turned back to glance at the Horsemen. "And unscathed too. I really am impressed. I had expected you to lose at least one of them. Maybe more."
"I confess that so had I, but they have proved to be extraordinarily difficult to damage." Karus shrugged. "You can try yourself later, if you like."
"Perhaps I shall. I've invited a good many people here to see this." Merus laughed shortly. "Some of the richest traders I could find. Once they know that this area is safe again, they'll all want to bring their trains through here. Eres will become one of the richest cities in the world."
"Wait." Keara stepped forward, her eyes narrowing. "You can't do anything to them. They're mine."
"Yours?" Merus smiled at her, his tone slightly patronising. "What claim do you have to them?"
"Without me they'd never have been caught. Karus told me that I could have them."
"Ah." Merus smiled again, nodding slowly. "Promises made outside the city walls have no legal validity, child. These men belong to the people of Eres, and we shall deal with them as we see fit. He strolled back to the cages, staring at the foursome within. "Perhaps a public disembowelling. There hasn't been one of them for a long time." He shook his head. "No, too simple. Well never mind, I'll think of something." He leant against the bars of Caspian's cage. "Maybe I'll have them cut into pieces, or flogged to death. Or maybe I'll hold an auction. I'm sure somebody somewhere would be happy to find a way of dealing with them."
"Then sell them to me. I'll give you whatever you want for them." Keara glanced over the Four Horsemen, beginning to wish that she had found some way to free them whilst they were still out on the plains. Merus raised his eyebrows.
"Anybody would think you had an interest in their well-being, my dear." He shook his head. "No, I think we'll hold an auction. I'm sure that Karus here would like the chance of owning a Horseman, and I know that my eldest son would. I feel sure that we can expect some delightfully imaginative deaths in the days to come."
"At least sell me the little one." Keara's eyes met those of Kronos, and she willed him to appreciate that this latest turn of events was not her fault. Karus snapped his eyes over towards the cage, seeing the look on Keara's face, and seeing something else on the face of the Horseman in question. He shook his head.
"No. He and I have unfinished business. You'll have to bid against me for the little one." He grinned. "And I have rather a lot of gold, remember?"
"Only because I got it for you." She turned away in disgust, thinking hard. She would have to make her move quickly, that much was sure. Soon her four allies would either be dead, or too mad to be bothered with keeping her alive. If they escaped without her help, she was almost certain to die along with everybody else in the city. She walked away without looking back at the cages, and headed towards the house that she had made her own. There were things there that might be of use.
Night came quickly. The Four Horsemen were dragged from their cages as soon as the moon was up, and they stood on the dais, staring down at the massed citizens of Eres. Flaming torches lit up the edges of the market place, casting dancing shadows about the ground and lending an air of mystery to the gathering. Methos scanned the upturned faces for Keara, but could see her nowhere. That worried him. He had no desire to meet whatever end these people had planned for him without at least taking some of them with him. If Keara did not come up with the promised escape route, he would feel obliged to kill her, too, before he let these people take his head.
"What do we do, Methos?" Kronos stood beside his comrade, staring about at the people of Eres, and throwing evil glares at random. Methos shrugged.
"I have no idea, brother. I was rather hoping you might have thought of something."
"Great." The younger Immortal scowled, hurling a particularly nasty glower at a woman who stood nearby, and causing her to scurry away with her face in her apron. "We're the Four Horsemen. We shouldn't even be here. What happened to being invincible; to being unstoppable? We're supposed to be Death, not dead."
"I'm working on it." Methos glanced about. "They won't kill us immediately. Maybe not for days."
"One day or three, I don't care. I want to get out of here now." Something in the market square beneath them caught Kronos' eyes, and he frowned. "Say brother. Three rows back, almost directly in front of us."
"What-?" Methos looked where indicated, and saw the figure of a woman in the crowd. It was unmistakably Keara, although she was too far away for them to be able to feel her.
"You think she's got a plan, brother?" Straining his eyes to see her through the imperfect light, Kronos caught a glimpse of a bow in her hands. Sudden excitement flowed through him. As he watched, she began to edge towards one of the torches, fixed to the wall nearby.
"Be ready to make a move." Without taking his eyes from Keara, Methos moved sideways, sidling into place beside the headman. Merus, who was launching into a speech, glanced across at him in fear, and found the Horseman grinning at him with a look of wide-eyed innocence.
"Public disembowelling," Methos said, keeping his voice so quiet that even the others standing on the dais could not hear him.
"I beg your pardon?" Looking about in concern, and wondering exactly what his guards were doing, Merus took a step away from the madman. Methos grinned at him, managing the extraordinary feat of looking both sweetly innocent and wildly unpleasant.
"I said, public disembowelling." He slid his hand inside his tunic, and in the blink of an eye he drew the knife he had taken from the guard on the wagon train, the first night of his captivity. Merus tried to back away, but Methos was too quick for him, and with a sharp upwards blow of the knife he cut the headman's stomach open. A cry went up from the onlookers, and at the same time Keara released her arrow. Lit by the torch, it flamed across the dais, sticking into the wooden planking and setting it alight in moments.
"Go!" Leaping forward with a sudden energy, Methos tore the sword from the hands of the nearest guard, and beheaded the man in one stroke. He sensed rather than saw that Kronos had made a similar move. Silas was slower, but Caspian reacted with lightning speed, running three men through on one sword blade, and abandoning the weapon in one smooth, speedy motion. The three men collapsed together, lying in a heap with the sword still through them. Caspian whirled a second sword above his head, shouting battle cries in a curious mixture of tongues and dialects.
In the market place, the people of Eres ran from the burning dais, shouting at each other, and fighting for the nearest exits in a blind panic. Kronos leaned into the seething mass of people, and caught Keara's wrists as she fought against the tide to reach him. He dragged her up onto the dais, and without words he took the bow and arrows from her. He fitted one arrow into the bow, and almost casually lit it in the fire burning beside him. Taking careful aim, he fired, and the arrow flew straight to the wooden archway that marked the nearest exit from the marketplace. In seconds it was ablaze, and the citizens turned around, trampling each other in their desire to get to the next closest archway. Again Kronos' arrow beat them to it, and then a third time, until finally the people of Eres were trapped in a circle of flames, screaming and shouting at each other in their fear.
"Noisy, brother. But nicely effective." Methos glanced over at Keara. "Any idea how we get out of here?"
"Up." She pointed, to where the flags of Eres fluttered above their heads. "Climb the poles. From there we can climb long the supporting ropes and get onto the roofs of the buildings, and we can follow them along to the city walls. I've had the stable people hitch a team of horses to Karus' wagon, so that we can take it with us. The gold is still in there, and so are your swords. Probably the keys to those chains too."
"Jolly good." With a mighty leap, Methos caught hold of the nearest flag pole, and began to climb. He saw the people of Eres surge forward, seeing the possible escape route and determined to get to it. Kronos sent a flaming arrow into their midst, then swung up one of the poles himself. Beneath him he saw Caspian make a fast escape, with Keara not far behind. Only Silas hesitated. He seemed to be looking at something in the crowd. He made a grab for it, hacking others aside in his excitement, then caught up a figure under one arm, and began his own, ungainly climb up a flagpole. The others waited for him, eager and impatient.
"What was all that about?" Rounding on Silas in disbelief, Methos had to shield his eyes to see him in the dark, against the backdrop of so many fierce flames.
"Probably saw some puppies." Caspian turned away, beginning the awkward climb across the rooftops. Silas pushed his prize towards Methos and Kronos, who caught it in surprise, and grinned at each other. Karus cowered in their arms, staring about in speechless fear.
"Well well well." Smiling at the terrified mortal, Methos held him at arm's length and studied him closely. There was something deeply fascinating about the fear in the man's eyes. Something absorbing and exciting. "Hello Karus."
"I'll give you anything." Karus stared from Methos to Kronos, and then looked back down towards his fellow city-dwellers. He would almost prefer to be thrown back to join them in a fiery end, rather than being taken away by these men, for them to do whatever it was that they were planning.
"There's nothing that could possibly save you." Methos pushed him ahead, and then looked back down into the marketplace. Several of the mortals were trying to climb the flagpoles, struggling to overcome the exhaustion lack of oxygen had thrown over them. He grinned, allowing them to see him above them, and ignoring the few stray arrows some more enterprising man below was sending his way. Grinning at them all, he sliced through the supporting rope which helped keep the nearest flagpole upright. Immediately it began to droop, dragging the other one, joined to it by a banner, down into the flames. A scream rose up from somewhere, and Methos wandered closer to the other flagpole, which was now leaning close to the roof where he stood. He held out his sword for the men on the pole to see, and fluttered his lashes in an absurd gesture of childish innocence. With one, powerful swing of the sword, he cut the second support rope, and gave the pole a hard shove to help it on its way. It toppled down into the raging flames, moving almost in slow motion. A long, drawn-out cry followed it down.
"When you've quite finished playing, brother." It was Kronos, appearing at his side. Methos grinned across at him, and they set off together across the rooftops, leaping the streets between houses with ease. In no time they were at the city walls, and found Keara and the others waiting for them there, with Karus' wagon beside them.
"The guards are never going to open the gates," Kronos observed. Methos nodded.
"You three get the wagon moving. Be ready to go through the gates the minute they open. I'm not sure how long it'll be before somebody makes it out of that marketplace."
"There won't be enough to stop us." All the same, Caspian climbed up onto the driving board, lending Keara an unexpected hand up. Silas clambered up beside them, grabbing the reins in readiness. Kronos and Methos threw Karus up, then turned to go. Keara reached out suddenly, and caught the smaller of the two by the arm.
"Hurry back," she whispered, and kissed him. He grinned.
"I'll bring you a souvenir." In an instant he was gone, swinging up onto the city walls after Methos. They disappeared into the night.
Running fast along the wall, Methos and Kronos encountered only token resistance amongst the few guards that they met. Most had gone to try to do something about the fire in the marketplace, which gave the two Immortals added reason to hurry. Soon someone would be sure to escape and sound the alarm, and then there would be a lot of angry, vengeance-hungry mortals coming after them. The pair reached the gate, and found six men guarding it, their swords drawn.
"Do me a favour, and surrender." Methos took a step towards the nearest guard, who grinned in amusement. He evidently did not consider a chained man to be much of a threat.
"Methos…" Sighing, Kronos came forward. "We don't want them to surrender. I haven't killed anyone in… oh… must be moments."
"Yeah, I guess you're right." With a sudden yell, the pair leaped forward, slashing at random with their swords. The six guards put up a good display of resistance, but even though they outnumbered the two Immortals three to one, they were no match for the more experienced swordsmen. Methos cut one man in half across the waist with a particularly powerful blow, and stared down at the two halves in surprise. One half still seemed to be alive, and was gasping at him in pain.
"Hey, nice shot, brother." Finishing with his own three men in typically practical style, Kronos joined his companion in gazing at the two halves of the still living guard. "That's actually rather interesting."
"Yeah, I was rather pleased with it myself." They crouched down beside the guard, to get a better look at him as he lay there, gasping hoarsely. "He's still conscious."
"So he is." Kronos cocked his head on one side, staring down at the man with an almost comical expression on his face. "Should we take him with us?"
"No. He'll die in a minute or two." Methos straightened up. "Come on, brother. We have to get these gates open. The fire is spreading."
"Sure." They hurried to the wheel which operated the gate, and together they spun it around. Immediately they heard the sounds of the horses as they dashed forwards, urged on by the three Immortals in the wagon. Methos and Kronos waited until the wagon was beneath them, then jumped from the walls, landing roughly, and hanging on for dear life as the horses dragged the bouncing contraption over the uneven ground. The pair swung dangerously, clinging to the sides of the wagon until they were far away from Eres; then Silas slowed the wagon and the five Immortals turned to look back at the city they had left behind them.
"Do you suppose anybody is still alive back there?" Caspian asked. Kronos looked grim as he clambered up onto the roof of the wagon, where he could be sure of a more comfortable ride.
"I hope so," he said grimly. "They can spread the word that nobody can stop us." He stood up, wobbling slightly as Silas started the wagon off again, but still managing to keep his feet. His eyes lingered on the flaming city. Evidently the fire was no longer constrained in the marketplace. "We're here to stay!" he shouted back at the fire, then Methos dragged him down into an untidy heap on the wagon top, laughing at his friend's indignant fury. They wrestled there together, neither caring about falling. What did it matter? They could be crushed beneath the wheels of the cart, and they would still live to fight another day without lasting injuries. They were the Horsemen, and they were invincible once again.
They left Karus hanging upside down, still alive, for the wolves to finish, and headed far out across the plains to find new hunting grounds. There were trading routes that the Horsemen had not attacked for a very long time, and it was long past due that those people be reminded of whose world it was that they lived in. Now that four had become five, there were new routines to be settled into, but it came more easily than Keara had expected. Caspian left her alone, although he clearly did not entirely approve, and Silas was generally too wrapped up in looking after the horses, and the other animals that he adopted from time to time. He barely seemed to notice Keara's presence. The immortal woman discovered, too, that she was somewhat honoured, for Methos and Kronos generally shared all, including women. For some reason, that didn't apply to her, and she came to realise that it was because she had earned their respect. She fought like one of them, and killed with the same ruthlessness, and she shared their view of the world. That won her certain privileges. All the same, there was something missing, and it tugged at her, even though she was not entirely sure what it was. It came to her one day, when she was finally able to get Kronos on his own for a while, after the others had gone to sleep. They sat together by a small lake, watching the fish that were attracted to the surface by the light of their torch.
"Kronos?" she asked him. He glanced towards her but did not answer. "Are you happy?"
"Happy?" He frowned, as though he had never considered the question before. "How could I not be? I have all the power a man could ask for. The whole world fears me."
"True…" She lay back, looking up at the stars. "Don't you ever want anything more?"
"Such as me. Just me. No Methos, no Silas, no Caspian. Just me."
"I've got that now, haven't I?" He frowned at her, honestly puzzled, and she sighed.
"That's not quite what I mean. I mean all the time. Just you and me. It's not as if we need the others."
"We do." He stood up suddenly, and she reached for his wrist, catching it.
"You may not need the others, but I do." He gripped her hand, pulling her roughly to her feet. "I'm a Horseman, Keara. Live with it." He began to turn away, but she kept hold of his wrist.
"They won't always be here, Kronos. Someday someone will take their heads. Then what?"
"Nobody will take their heads. We're the Horsemen, We're invincible." He stared into her eyes. "You don't have to put up with it."
"Then you don't want me around?" Surprised, she took a step back. He grinned.
"Of course I want you around. But if you can't live with the Horsemen, you can't live with me. It's as simple as that." He shrugged. "I'd miss you, but I'd get over it."
"I see." She gave him a wry smile. "It's nice to know where I stand."
"Of course." He turned away. "I'll see you later, Keara. I said I'd scout ahead tonight. There's a train that Methos is expecting past here soon."
"Oh, well if Methos is expecting it…" She let go of him and turned away. He frowned at her back, then turned to his horse and swung up onto it, turning it about and heading away from the lake. Keara watched him go, a faint smile on her face. Now that the nights had become warmer he had taken to wearing a sleeveless tunic, made from black leather, and a pair of broad silver bracelets that she had stolen from a rich merchant shone brightly on his wrists. It surprised her to realise just how genuine her feelings towards him were. At first she had thought it was all part of some game, but now she found that she really did love him, and she had really meant her words. She wanted to be alone with him, and to no longer be a part of this band of brothers who never truly seemed to give themselves to anyone who was not one of them; as she could never be. She had come to hate the delight that showed in Kronos' eyes when he was with his three fellow Horsemen. She hated to see the strong bond between him and Methos. She had even come to hate the gentle light that shone in his eyes when he spoke to Silas. He never spoke to her that way, even though she could see that her feelings for him were mutual. If she could only get him away from the others... She glanced back towards the camp, where a fire burned brightly. Methos and Caspian were sprawled on the ground beside the fire, fast asleep, and Silas was far away. He had discovered a she-wolf with a litter of young, and had taken to watching it at night time, to see the cubs grow. She could kill Methos and Caspian without Kronos or Silas knowing, and then she could go after Silas, and take his head long before Kronos returned. He need never even know that she was responsible. She fingered her sword hilt, looking towards the sleeping men. She had liked them once, particularly Methos. She had grown to like them even more in the time that they had spent together since escaping from Eres. Three full moons had been and gone since then, and they had had many good times together; but the truth was that she liked Kronos even more, and she wanted him to herself. It wasn't fair that she should have to share him with three other men, who all seemed to have a greater claim to his loyalty than she did. Her hands tightened on her sword hilt, and she began to edge forwards towards the camp.
Methos lay on his back, closest to the fire, looking deeply innocent in sleep. She smiled at his face, and at the illusion of goodness it presented to the world. She had once seen him kill a whole family by forcing them into their wagon and setting it alight; not that she liked him any the less for such actions. He did not look like a Horseman in sleep. He looked almost like a child. In sleep there was nothing invincible about him, nothing brave and unconquerable. She raised her sword above her head, and did not have time to notice the suddenness with which he opened his eyes, and stabbed upwards with his sword. She gazed at it, sticking out of her chest, and gasped soundlessly. It was impossible. He had been asleep. There was no way that he could have known what she was about to do… As she fell to the ground, she looked up into his eyes, and saw the lights that burned there. Maybe the mortals were right, she thought painfully, as consciousness left her. Maybe there was more to the Horsemen's invincibility than just their immortality. She thought, as her eyes closed, that she saw him smile. He looked so innocent. Then she no longer thought at all.
Kronos rode back into camp as the night came to its end. He dismounted, seeing his three comrades sitting together by the dying fire, and he sensed that something was wrong. He approached them, concerned.
"Methos," he said in greeting. "How goes it, brother?"
"Not well." Methos turned to face him, and nodded at Keara sitting on the ground nearby. "We have problems."
Kronos glanced across at Keara, and her words from the previous night came back to him. Sixth sense told him what she had tried to do, and he sighed, not needing to be told.
"Let me talk to her." He crossed over to her, and looked down at her. They hadn't even taken her sword, and she looked as though nothing had happened. He took her hand.
"Come with me." She nodded, and they walked away, past the camp, past the lake, until they were far away from the others.
"Are you going to believe them without even asking me what happened?" she demanded of him, as soon as he stopped walking. He stared at her.
"Would you tell me anything different?" He shook his head, turning away. "How could you, Keara? They're my brothers."
"They're just Immortals. There are plenty more in the world. I thought I meant more to you than--"
"You mean more to me than nothing." He rounded on her angrily. "Do you honestly believe that you could ever mean more to me than them? That we could ever be better together than the Four Horsemen are?" He drew his sword, and she flinched away instinctively.
"Are you going to kill me?" she asked. He stared back at her.
"What do you think?" Instead of using the sword, he turned away again. "I was having fun. Why couldn't you have left it the way it was?"
"Because I love you!" She rounded on him with surprising intensity, striking out with two powerful blows that caught him by surprise and knocked him off his feet. He grinned up at her, amused by her actions.
"Yeah, I know." He shrugged. "What can I say? I'm irresistible."
She stared down at him and laughed, unable to prevent herself, then hauled him to his feet.
"You're crazy," she told him softly, and he nodded, kissing her briefly.
"Yeah. So what." He held her at arm's length, gazing into her eyes, and she saw the lights which burned there. She had been stupid ever to think that he could truly be hers.
"Make it quick, Kronos," she whispered, and he smiled at her, then pushed her away and swung his sword.
Despite the distance, Methos and the others saw the Quickening, and the oldest of the Horsemen sent the other two away before Kronos returned. The dark Immortal walked slowly into camp, cleaning his sword blade as he went. Methos met him, gripping the other man's arm in greeting.
"Okay, brother?" he asked. Kronos stared into his eyes, and nodded.
"Why shouldn't I be?"
"No reason." Methos shrugged, and they walked together back to the fire. "But I know that you loved her."
"So what." Kronos threw himself down on the ground and grabbed at a wineskin. "There's more to life than love."
"True." Methos leaned back, waiting for Kronos to finish drinking before he took the skin. "There's death, and blood, and violence, and torture."
"And power, and fear, and battles." Kronos smiled sadly. "She was pretty special, mind."
"Yeah." Methos nodded. Kronos sighed, and took the skin back for another drink.
"But she couldn't replace you."
"Nobody could replace the Horsemen, brother. We're something special." Methos lay back. "I am sorry, though, that it didn't work out."
"Yeah, so am I, I guess." Kronos shrugged. "Still, the Quickening was good. Did you see it?"
"I saw it." Methos smirked. "It's nice to know that success hasn't gone to your head, brother. You still have your priorities right."
"Sure. She was pretty, brother, but she didn't have your brains, or Silas' strength, or Caspian's…"
"…Extraordinary cooking ability?" Methos finished. They both laughed.
"Something like that." Kronos yawned. It had been a long night, and he was tired. "Wake me when the train comes, brother."
"Sure." Methos took the skin, draining it dry and throwing it aside. His eyes lingered on Kronos for a moment, and he saw that the silver bracelets Keara had given to him were gone. He had already put her aside; the whole episode was forgotten. He grinned, and reached for another wineskin. Maybe they would miss her. Maybe they would even pause to be sorry that she was gone. Strictly speaking, her death had not been entirely necessary, but it did tidy things up nicely. He didn't need to ask Kronos why she was dead. Some words didn't need to be spoken. Pulling the stopper from the wineskin, he leaned back against a bale of cloth stolen from some train that he no longer remembered, and took a long drink of strong, red wine. Beside him Kronos stirred, thinking pleasant thoughts as he lay on the verge of sleep. It was good to be four again. It was good to know that nothing could come between them. He closed his eyes and began to plan the next raid, putting all thoughts of Keara from his mind. She no longer had any significance to him. It was the Four Horsemen that were important. Everything else would fall into flames beneath their feet.