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Full Circle, Chapters 16-20

by Celedon


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Chapter 16

Darius rode slowly through the milling soldiers, noting with a keen eye the wounded who limped around or those bandaged and recuperating from their wounds. His face and eyes darkened as he softly counted to himself the number of brigades and with in each the number of platoons--there was a distinct discrepancy in the numbers from when he had left to now.

"There's been a fight and it looks like we were on the losing end," he remarked almost casually to Methos as his eyes flicked from one man's face to another then glanced at his new advisor. He yanked the reins and rode through his men.

They parted for him like the sea parted when a ship glided through it, hands outstretched towards him in need of reassurance and comfort. He took great pains to stop every now and then to speak to his men individually, offering words of courage and praise for their bravery as the story of the battle came tumbling from lips. He didn't let on that he was furious with what had happened under Greyson's command. Instead, he smiled and commended them for a battle well fought.

"You can't change things, Darius. It's done. We knew they were out there--remember?" Methos remarked as he carefully watched Darius maintain his air of confidence, knowing how much he was probably masking.

Darius stooped down to ask one man, "Where's Baldur?" as he studiously ignored Methos' comment. His face clouded over when the man replied.

"Dead--we left him behind when we retreated to here." The man backed away as he saw
Darius angrily clench his fists until the knuckles were bloodless and white. "You left him? And all the others?"

"Yes General, on Commander Greyson's orders." He turned and fled.

Darius kicked his horse into a canter having heard enough to know that Greyson needed to be spoken to and dealt with promptly. No man should have been left behind--it was not what Greyson had been taught as a soldier. Not a man would have been left behind had it been Darius in command.

He threw himself off the horse as soon as he arrived at Alaric's lodgings, unclasping his cloak and throwing it at a shocked guard at his appearance in the city. "Hold this till I return."

Methos followed him slowly, waiting and watching for the comeuppance he was sure Greyson was going to get from Darius. He had made a promise--so seeing Greyson brought down in public was going to be a pleasant experience indeed. "But promises are made to be broken," a small voice told him and he smiled to himself at it.

Darius slammed his way into the Great Hall where Alaric was still questioning Greyson on the numbers of the Hun invaders but paused at the doorway when the doors noisily banged against the walls making the chamber reverberated with the sound.

"Greyson!" Darius called out, unmindful of the gasps and fingers pointing at him as all turned to see the man who had been essentially exiled seven years before into Rome's service.

Greyson collected his thoughts and composure, knowing that Darius had been at the encampment and probably knew all about the debacle with the Huns. He slowly turned to face his father, soaking up the power of Darius' presence. "You already know, don't you?" he softly whispered.

Darius said nothing but strode swiftly into the room, noting that Alaric was physically restraining Aelsgaarth so that she did not rush at him. She had let loose her secret then, he realized and for this she would have to die. If not by his hand, then allow Alaric to do it for him. It was a simple matter to resolve--one only needed to evoke the right forms of manipulation upon Alaric.

Again Greyson repeated, "You know, don't you?"

"You left seasoned warriors to die? How could you do that?" Darius finally answered, then glanced at Alaric. He made a half-bow towards his king. "Greetings, my liege." He then turned his attention back to his son. "Answer me!"

Methos watched with great amusement as Greyson strove to come up with an adequate reason for leaving his men to die at the hands of the Huns, but in the end failed to say a word in his defense. "Such a man as this one could lead you all to ruin, Darius," he remarked from the back of the hall where he stood arms crossed on his chest as he leaned on the doorframe. He laughed to himself as he heard Greyson suck in air through clenched teeth when he saw him standing there.

"Quiet!" Alaric roared. "We will retire to my chambers to make ourselves reacquainted with one another. This is not something for public display, understand?" He clapped his hands and shooed all out then stood, grabbing Aelsgaarth tightly about the wrist. "You know the way Darius. Go there now--I shall be with you momentarily."

Darius, Greyson and the stranger left the room. Alaric turned to Aelsgaarth, cupping her face gently in the palm of one hand. "Darius has returned, it appears. Did I not promise you this?" When she nodded he continued. "I love you, you know." He cupped his other hand around the other side of her face, tilting her forehead towards his lips and then kissed her as if in blessing.

As she began to reply, "I kno-" her voice turned into a scream as Alaric drove a dagger up to its' hilt into her breast.

She dropped heavily to the floor as Alaric followed her descent, kneeling and holding her body close to him as the life flowed from it. "So sorry my love, but I do not share with no one." He paused as the life flickered in her eyes a last time then extinguished itself. "Especially not Darius."

Daruis paused in mid-step then shrugged and continued on when he heard Aelsgaarth's scream. He wouldn't have to contend with her betrayal now at all, only with Greyson and Alaric. And it hadn't been he was assured by his own volition either but by his ruler's.
It was one less problem to deal with.

Greyson followed at Darius' heels as he was led to Alaric's private chambers, very aware of Methos who keep up with them stride for stride. He silently cursed what had apparently had occurred in the time since their departure until now whatever it was.

He had noted Methos’ air of equality as he strode by his side and then Darius stopped abruptly and turned upon him, quietly furious.

"Don't ever do what you did again, my son. My men depend on me for leadership, for everything in their lives, do you understand? I taught you better to care for them--not to lead them to slaughter as you apparently have done! They are mortal yes, but even then you must realize that your immortality doesn't put you above them or make you better than them." He took a deep breath before continuing. "You were as they are once, remember? You were dead and then you revived unknowing what had happened until I took you in and explained to you what you were. I taught you everything you know and yet time and time again, you disappoint me when you are asked to lead the men."

He swung a fist, backhanding Greyson across the mouth knocking him to the ground. "How many more chances must I give you to show me that you understand? How many more chances must I give you before you prove to me that you understand the responsibilities I place upon you?" he bellowed.

Greyson wiped the back of his hand across his mouth and drew it away to look at the blood upon it. Immediately, he jumped to his feet, sword drawn and pointing to Darius' neck. "Don't ever hit me again, Father, or you will force me to do something I will perhaps regret later!" His face burned in shame and the heat of his temper.

Methos slowly backed away as he watched the two of them, a slight smile playing around his mouth. "Just do it--kill one another, both of you!" he thought and then melted away into the shadows to take full pleasure in his freedom. "Saves me the trouble since I've worked towards this all along--divide and conquer."

Darius stared at Greyson, never batting an eye as the metal as the metal pricked at his throat's base. "So tell me what happened." He waited and watched warily as slowly Greyson's attitude changed; one could see the emotions flicker across his face. "He's going to have to learn to mask his facial expressions better," he noted to himself and decided to use it as another lesson to be learned by his son another day.

Greyson blinked, lowering his sword as his countenance changed from one of fury to one of a commander reporting to his general. "We were attacked unexpectedly by the Huns. Not one of the outposts detected their being anywhere in the vicinity; we were outnumbered, out maneuvered--" He paused as his eyes searched the distance as he remembered the battle before continuing. "We almost had them--I almost had a victory in my hands Father." His hands came up and curled in upon themselves as if he were grasping something. "A gap was forced into their lines and we poured through it attacking, taking full and advantage of the situation."

Darius scowled, knowing what was going to be said next and proceeded towards Alaric's private chambers. "Then what happened?"

"Their line recovered and closed itself as if sewn together, trapping all of our forces who were inside of their lines. It was a slaughter; I ordered a retreat and the Huns followed us for days, deeper and deeper into our territories." He shook his head. "I didn't know what else to do. As for leaving the wounded and others behind, there wasn't a chance of survival for the remaining army had we tried to save them."

"What the Huns did was and is an old tactic--it's been used for a century or two, perhaps longer. One hopes that you learned a lesson in this, my son. But I would have tried to at least save those who might have had a chance of survival. The loss of Baldur is a great blow to our cause."

He stopped and looked at his son then reached out and pushed him gently away towards the hall that led off to his right. "Go see to them men, disband them to their homes and loved ones. It's been a long time since they were here last. It will do them good. Warn them though, that this is only temporary and to expect them to come back to the encampment in a fortnight's time. Understand?"

Greyson nodded but refused to leave as he stood his ground. "I want to stay with you though. Only the stars knows what Alaric will do to you now that you have returned."

Darius' eyes shone with a softness that was rarely seen by anyone as he responded, "I have faith that he will come to see things from my point of view. I have no fear of him. He is my problem, not yours. Go and do as I have ordered."

Greyson began to protest but a quick raising of Darius' hand quelled anything he was going to say and reluctantly he turned and left down the hallway.

Darius watched him go then turned his attention to where Methos had disappeared. "Methos?" he said aloud but got no answer. "Methos?" he repeated and then turned towards the sound of footsteps heading his way.

"I expected you to already be waiting for me in my chambers, General," Alaric said as his form emerged from the shadows.

"Perhaps there are so many memories here that I became lost it them. You have changed things in the time I've been gone; it makes it a challenge to find myself around." Darius smiled insincerely and glanced at his ruler as they walked side by side the short distance left to his chambers.

Time had not necessarily been kind to Alaric, as his face was lined about his eyes and mouth, and large streaks of gray wove through his hair. Aelsgaarth's blood soaked his tunic front and he absently touched it now and then. Despite the changes in him physically, he still emanated power and control but to Darius, it meant nothing.

They entered and immediately Darius went to pour glasses of mead for them, keeping his back facing Alaric so that Alaric could not see what actions Darius' hands were performing. "This room brings even more memories back, Alaric. Do you remember our last encounter here?" He carefully opened a small vial and carefully tapped out a few grains of a powder into the beaker meant for Alaric. He swished the contents around watching the color of the mead changed for a fraction of a second then return to normal.

"I do," Alaric replied. "I have thought often of it the last seven years, old friend." He cocked his head to one side as he watched Darius arms move about yet was unable to see exactly what he was doing. "Just what are you doing there, Darius?"

Darius glanced over his shoulder and threw a smile at the other man. "This is something I picked up while in Rome when I met the Roman Emperor. These are rare spices that bring out the best of a drink." He tapped a few last granules into the drink and stirred it with his finger. Poison often will bring out the best of someone when they know they haven't long to live, he thought to himself as a smile creased his features. Or the worst, depending if I were to tell him or not about it.  He turned and handed his ruler his cup, raising his own in a toast. "I take it then that you have decided in favor of revolution." His pale green eyes glittered in anticipation of Alaric's first sip of the vile concoction he had constructed.

In the seven years of his absence, he had become a very apt student with the old healer. When he had learned all he could from her, he had her killed. In this moment in time, this would be a test of sorts of his training at her hands. Not enough of the poison to kill, but enough to weaken a man slowly and cause his body to fail little by little and allow the victim's mind to be easily controlled.
Once that occurred, it would be Darius himself ruling the Goths behind Alaric's seeming leadership. He would be making the decisions and then upon Alaric's death taking over and pushing the Goth empire which stretched from the Dneipper River and Ural Mountains now past the current Danube River boundaries to the ocean to the west that he had heard about. The empire as well as the power that he dreamt about and craved would then be his at last.

Alaric returned the toast, silently marveling at Darius' unchanged visage. "I was wrong to send you away, Darius. For that, I apologize. I was wrong." He brought the cup to his lips then pulled it away before taking a first sip. "Revolt against Rome--it's a tricky thing to do. But--" He took a sip then raised it high. "I have utter faith that we will get Rome on her knees before us completely this time. May the Christo guide us." He took a longer drink, draining the beaker, then smacking his lips in appreciation of the taste. "Very good, these herbs. More!"

Darius genuinely smiled as he saw Alaric finish off the drink as he sipped his own. "To the revolt and to the start of something better for the empire!" he toasted before continuing. "So glad you liked your drink, my liege. So very glad."

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Chapter 17

Darius shifted, placing his hands upon his knees and stood to walk away from the voice in the darkness. His mind was troubled. He hadn't thought of the years in great detail of when he had led his armies for some time and knew that whatever happened a millenium and a half ago was a different life and personage than what he was now. He turned back towards the voice after what seemed to be minutes of silence. "This old soldier thinks that sometimes the past is best left alone."

Methos snorted as he scoffed, "You know better than that Darius! What we are now comes from what we were. Times change, people change but what the past was and is a part of an immortal's history. Your history and life as well as my own! We are history!"
He paused and straightened himself, noting that Darius also seemed more alert as the thrum of another Immortal approaching the church was shared by the two of them. His time-honed instinct for survival rang a warning within him; he knew that he would have to leave now! He was too easy a target for someone and it had been a long time since he had fought for his life as well his head.  He slid his eyes to the two possible entrances to the chapel as he continued. "He will kill you, you know." Making his way to the front entrance, his hand poised over the handle, he paused then changed directions and headed to the side door.

"Who will kill me?" Darius asked as he heard the familiar creak of the side door opening and craned his head in the direction hoping to see at last the man who had come to call after centuries of being a myth.

Holding the door open a crack, Methos simply said, "Greyson."

"He would have to get me to leave Holy Ground to do that. I'm needed here; I don't fight anymore." Darius frowned.

Methos nodded. "Greyson is killing your students one by one, haven't you heard?" His eyes became wide as he realized he had tarried too long already the other immortal was almost there; he could tell from the strength of the sensation how close he was and without another word slipped out into the night and disappeared.

Darius heard the soft thud of the door's closing and the felt the fading of Methos' own presence. His visitor had stirred up more emotions as well as bringing the turmoil of memories that had laid dormant for nearly a millenium and a half. He closed his eyes and was instantly transported back to the sounds of nearly twenty thousand soldiers calling out his name on a hot summer plain in Greece in the year 392 CSE.

Darius! Darius! Darius!

Oh, the memories Methos had stirred up!

Regaining his composure, he looked back towards the front entrance as it opened and then closed. A parishioner, fairly young by Immortal standards, had come to confession and Darius nodded his head at him. "Good evening."

"Ev'nin' Brother Darius. Y'all ready fer my confession?" The young man spoke with a distinct drawl the bespoke of his being American from the southern states if Darius wasn't mistaken.

"I won't be taking your confession tonight, Harrison. Brother Paul will. I have some things that need to be done."

Harrison looked about in disappointment and frowned. "Does he know?"

"No, but you'll be in good hands. Trust me." He smiled warmly at the other man. "Let me go and get him."

Harrison nodded rather reluctantly and watched Darius go. "Betcha tha' there priest knows every blamed one of us, I reckon," he softly said to himself.  Brother Paul came out after a moment followed closely by Darius. Both Brother Paul and Harrison entered the confessional on their separate sides as Darius looked after them.

He heaved a resigned sigh of relief. He needed some time alone tonight. Pausing at the front of the alter he knelt, crossed himself and said a small prayer for his peace of mind then went back into his room at the side of the chapel in the small rectory.

"Darius! Darius! Darius!"

He sat heavily down at his chess table and looked over the game that he was currently playing against himself. He picked up the King and looked it over, lost in thought. "Darius! Darius! Darius!" twenty thousand voices rang out from his memory.

First Corinth, mighty Corinth had fallen to the Goth armies led by Alaric. Corinth whose riches were plundered while the city burned and its' women raped.
Darius dropped the king and covered his face with his hands as if to block out the memories that were as sharp as the day they had become a memory. He could still smell the acrid smoke, see the bodies and blood in Corinth's streets, still felt the warmth of the women who struggled beneath him as he raped them and heard their cries as well as the cries of the children.

"Forgive me," he hoarsely whispered to those who had died over a thousand years ago.

Next, once Corinth had been dealt with, came Sparta.

Darius sat straighter and nodded to himself. "Sparta was harder to capture," he said to himself as he relived it. "We had to lay siege to it--it took time from us and gave it to Rome." His armies had used a "scorched earth" policy in the areas surrounding the cities, laying waste to farms and villas taking what was needed prior to destroying everything from them to feed his armies. There had been a heated discussion between Alaric and himself as to whether or not the army should be split or not so as to attack Rome herself while continuing their attack on Greece. Alaric had wanted it, Darius did not using the explanation that it would weaken their position as well as the army should Rome's armies find the Goth army. Ultimately, Alaric won and the army was split.

"It was a foolish thing to do, Alaric. A foolish thing to do." Darius angrily said as a fist slammed down on the table upsetting the pieces and ruining the game. "Rome found us and the chase began in earnest with no one able to tell just who was pursuing who."

Rome

Theodonius' voice droned on. "Marcus Constantine, I think you already know, Flavius Stilicho, do you not?" He moved his bulk so that he could reach the bowl of grapes easier on the table as he watched each general eye one another warily.

"Only by reputation, my Emperor. My duties have kept me occupied in Egypt as you know." Constantine tilted his head in acknowledgment of the other general's military skills while he shook his head mentally at the choice of who was to lead the expedition to bring the Goths back into Rome's fold once more and end the rebellion in whatever fashion one needed to.

Stilicho slowly walked over and held out his hand to Constantine. "Welcome back, dear General. I have heard much about you--your reputation precedes you in many ways. How is Egypt?"

Constantine frowned. "We are wasting time here!" he angrily thought as he took Stilicho's forearm in a tight grip and shook it while Stilicho returned the favor. "Egypt is best left to the Egyptians, general." He half-bowed to his ruler. "In my opinion, of course."
Theodonius frowned. "Of course." He plucked a carefully chosen grape from its' stem, popped it in his mouth then continued. "We must move swiftly in order to stem the rebellion before it spreads to the other provinces. Rome must survive intact at all costs! You leave tonight--reinforcements will be forthcoming and you have permission to take whatever men you need by my command from the countryside to serve in the army in whatever capacity that is needed. I have written a proclamation to that capacity."

Both men glanced at one another, then nodded their assent on the matter. "And the supplies?" Stilicho inquired.

"Being assembled as we speak--normal rations of course. Anything else, you get from the land, understood? Our coffers are not as large as it once has been." The emperor silently eyed the men knowing full well that he could provide the army with more than the basic rations but instead preferred to use the money there for his own devices.

"Understood, my lord," Constantine said then turned to go. "May I have your leave to ready my men for the journey?" He waited and saluted once Theodonius waved him and Stilicho out of the chambers.

Once outside, they both stopped; all time stood still as they each thought of how to reach an agreement as to how the power was to be divided among them even though they both knew that ultimately Stilicho would have the final say.

Constantine cleared his throat. "I'll assemble the men, you go and see to the boats. My sources tell me they are at Sparta and have surrounded it."

One eyebrow quirked upwards on Stilicho's face. "You dare tell me what to do? Remember who has the Emperor's faith and trust, Marcus Constantine. Remember it and mark it well!" His voice carried the tone of a veiled threat; he meant every word and every nuance in it.

Coldly, Constantine turned on his heel and strode away. Given the situation at hand, it was more important that Rome be whole again than to argue with the man. He had an army to run and run it he would--his way.

Stilicho watched him as he walked away, narrowing his eyes as he did so. "That man will need watching, " he whispered under his breath. "Most definitely..."

Outside of the walls of Sparta

The runner came through the tent door without pausing and fell to Alaric's feet, his breaths coming in labored gasps. "An army is approaching from the east, my lord."
Alaric paused what he was doing in consternation and roughly pulled the boy to his feet. "Repeat what you just said, boy."

The boy, who was no more than perhaps 13 or 14 years of age, shook in trepidation of what might happen should he displease the king but his duty won out over his fear and he repeated, "An army, lord."

Color flooded the king's face and he threw the boy back to the ground then in two quick strides, pulled open the tent flap to gaze at the horizon. "Where--which direction?"

The boy grabbed a cup off a low table and gulped down the contents. "From the east." He drew the back of his arm across his mouth to wipe it. "I was told to tell you that it is a large contingent--chariots, cavalry, thousands of foot soldiers."

Alaric turned about; his vision swam and his head felt as if someone were crushing it. He placed his hands on both sides of his temples, wincing as he did so. "That many?"
He shook his head to clear the fogginess of his thoughts but it remained and he found it difficult to collect his thoughts. Someone needed to know this--but who? He thought hard on the subject for a few silent minutes as he mutely went through his staff's names--those he could remember before finally remembering who was needed now.
But the man's name eluded him. He could see the face--but didn't know the name. The name. What was his name? Finally, he brightened. Darius! That was it--Darius, his general. He smiled in triumphant glee then stopped as the headache seemed to get worse after all the thinking he had done. He sank to his knees and cried out. "Darius! Someone get me Darius--he can fix this accursed headache!" His head sank to the floor of the tent where it stayed as a man went in search of the general.

One of the sergeant at arms noticed that the boy still awaited the king's command. He gently pulled the boy to one side as the king moaned in agony in the background. "Go eat and rest, boy. You're going to need it."

The boy started to protest but found a finger pressed to his lips. "Get going--he won't notice you're gone."
The boy rushed out leaving the sergeant at arms alone with the king. He shook his head in sympathy and pity as he looked at him then moved aside as Darius pushed past him into the tent.
He glanced at the soldier, then back at the king. "What happened?" he asked but he already knew what was happening. It's the poison, he silently noted with a sense of satisfaction. It's finally taking its toll on him. He went over and knelt by the king, pulled him over on his back to examine him then smugly smiled as one last thought entered his mind.

"At last, my empire is almost a reality! At last!" he silently gloated.

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Chapter 18

Italy

Greyson sat apart from his army, his horse slowly picking his way through the now demolished and ravaged village, and its' villagers either killed or rounded up until he gave the orders that determined their fate. His eyes glanced at the bodies that lay upon the ground in a jumbled pile, an occasional woman or child mixed in with the men and boys that had died.

Smoke rose skywards from the burning wreckage of houses that had once stood proudly around a small square. On one end of town a sheep and goat pen stood; but instead of holding animals, it held the remaining women and children and it was to the pen that he directed his horse.

Soldiers scurried about their duties pausing to give a quick salute as he passed; some still were seen fighting those who continued to resist between the alleys and streets. One could hear the fighting better than one could see it but it nevertheless was evident that this battle was still not quite over with.

His horse carried him around the perimeter of the pen; he eyed the wailing and sobbing women with a jaundiced eye. Ignoring the pleas for mercy from the prisoners, his attention was drawn to a young woman who sat impassively in a corner of the pen, nursing a child from her full, ripe breast rocking the child as she did so. She intrigued him; for all the commotion that was going on around her, she seemed to have a quiet sort of dignity and calm.

One of the guards came up to him, saluted, and then asked what the next order was in regards to the prisoners. Instantly, one side of his mouth curled upwards in a cruel half grin then replied as his eyes shifted from one prisoner’s face to another, “Kill them all when I leave the area but leave one alive so that Rome shall know who did this.” He stretched out his arm and pointed at the woman in the corner. “Bring her to me. Now!”
She was brought to him immediately and he bent down from his horse to cup her chin in his hand, turning her face this way and that to get a better look at her. The child in her arms began to stir then cry, drawing Greyson’s attention to it. His eyes flew from the child to the woman, then back to the child. He softly smiled at the baby as he touched its’ cheek gently.

His face turned towards the soldier who held the woman in place. “Bring her to my tent,” he ordered in Goth, then glanced at the woman and spoke in his native Latin that he had spoken when he had been younger and mortal. “No need to fear me, lady. You shall live as your child shall.” He gave her a half smile, and in a flash of movement, scooped the child out of her arms and into his own and galloped away.

Once he was out of range of hearing the mother’s pleas for her child as well as the screams of the women and children as the soldiers slaughtered them, he stopped the horse and tended to the child who wailed loudly and fiercely for its mother. He clucked his tongue at the boy, hushing it in a quiet tone in Latin while rocking it into a quiet calm.  He soon had boy gazing solemnly at his face, while one hand clutched at his long, thick braids that swung with each movement of the horse as he made his way towards a lone spot that looked south.

When he arrived, he picked the child up so that he was eye to eye with him then turned the child around to face southward. “Look upon this world, little one,” Greyson half whispered to the child. “All that you know, all that was before now will soon be gone.” He turned the child back towards him. “Look at me.” His voice rose in volume as he continued, “I am the destroyer of it all!”

The child began to wail loudly at the pronouncement.

Greece

Metal clashed upon metal, making it sound as if it were a chorus of voices, each voice competing for attention in the deadly battle of life or death on the plain. The cacophony of noise along with the frightened whinnies of the horses reverberated in the hills that surrounded the armies, making Alaric wince in pain.

His head hurt as did his sword arm; he lifted and slashed repeatedly at those unlucky souls who came close to him in the fray so that perhaps they could take his life then have bragging rights as to who slew the barbarian's leader when all had gathered around the campfire at night. Objects swam before his eyes and he shook his head to clear his double vision.

Clouds of dust rolled skywards as men fell to hand-to-hand combat. Soon the lines on both sides were so intermingled that it was hard to distinguish who was fighting for whom until one looked closely at the differences in garb between the men. The salty smell of sweat, fear and blood that had been spilled upon the ground stung the nostrils of every man, but no one seemed to care. They were too busy trying to stay alive.

Constantine took another swipe over his face with his arm to rid himself of the sweat that kept creeping over his face from the heat and closeness of marauding bodies which formed a tight circle around him for his protection from the encroaching barbarians. His eyes swung left and right as his searched for sign of his co-general but with all the fighting going on around him he was unable to locate him. "Stilicho!" he bellowed but the sound was swallowed within all the other sounds of the battle.

The men who encircled him wavered and began to fall back into a tighter circle around him as the Goths surged forward until they finally broke through the line. Instantly, he was besieged by Goth soldiers and he retreated backwards in his chariot but found that it hampered his movement.  Jumping out, he slashed and parried his way across the field until at last he managed to wrap his hand through the mane of a horse running loose and vaulted upwards on its' back.

At the unfamiliar weight, the horse reared skywards; he held on tightly with both knees and tight grip, taking advantage for a brief moment to take a look around to see how the battle went. Much to his disappointment, there was no apparent victory for Rome that he could see in that split second before the horse fell back to the ground.  He pulled at the horse's mane and guided it away from the fighting as he hacked, thrust and parried his way through the throng until he felt the familiar prickling of his skin that signaled the presence of another Immortal nearby. No matter where he looked, he could not find the source of the sensation he was feeling.

Darius stopped in mid-motion as he too felt the sensation that crept through him while at the same time surrounded him in an aura of anticipation of the challenge that was sure to come. He pushed away the Roman soldier who continued to try and stab him while his eyes tried to seek out where the other immortal might be. With a swift blow, he dispatched the soldier to the Underworld.

Swinging his head to and fro, and try as he might, he was unable to pinpoint the location of where the other was. His face became a snarling mask in his disappointment and anticipation of the challenge that was not to be asked for and accepted on this day. He roughly kicked his mount in the ribs as he swung around and rode away. "By all the gods!" he swore loudly as he shook his sword in mid-air.
 

Methos sat high up on a hillside in a grove of olive trees, calmly choosing olives off the branch he held. Every once in a while, his eyes drifted down to where the fight which spread out below him; he studied with a practiced objectivity both the strengths and weaknesses of the opposing armies. He shook his head as he saw the forces rally then fall back--first the Roman army, then the Goths.

Popping an olive into his waiting mouth, he slowly lowered himself and stretched his long, lean body out along the ground. As he chewed it occurred to him that Darius would want a full accounting as to where he was during the battle. One side of his mouth quirked upwards, showing the deep dimple within his cheek as he thought about their agreement.

He had agreed to ride alongside of Darius--but not risk his life. His life and head were too precious; he wasn't about to put himself at risk for a trivial fight as this. Instead, he would wait and see how this fight came off before deciding about joining in. His eyelids drooped heavily in the heat and he waved off a fly that buzzed about his face before sitting back upright to observe more of the happenings below him.

The hours drug slowly by as the sun rode across the sky marking the time's passage and he drove his sword deeply onto the ground to create a makeshift sundial to mark the passage of the time. Mentally he ticked off the numbers of the Roman legions versus the Goths, during which his mind registered the sounds of the heavy fighting. The information he collected would come in handy for bartering with Darius as well as Alaric for things he wanted. A slow smile spread over his lips as he thought about what he might ask for this time.

All was well, he thought to himself. All was well.

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Chapter 19

Darius shook his head to clear the memories away then turned his head to stare at the lit candles which burned softly in his bedroom. He preferred the candlelight to the harshness of electrical lighting even though the electrical lighting was a far better improvement than the light given off by any fire or candle's gleam. It reminded him of his youth as well as his long lifetime; it was what he had grown up with and had used as the only means of light at night for centuries.

He sighed deeply then stood up and walked over to the bed. Slipping his habit off over his head, he tossed it to one side, then bent down to remove his shoes. The soft light gleamed upon his body; it still showed signs of the strength of the man despite the centuries of pacifism and not picking up a sword to fight another.

He stood and stretched as he worked out the kinks in his muscles before going over to the wall beside his bed, running his fingertips along the stonework and masonry until he felt a stone move. Bending down, he blew on the crack that held the stone in place as he worked both hands and fingers against it, removing the plaster and mortar that had held it in place for centuries. It was harder to remove than what he remembered it ever having been before--he grinned to himself. "Of course it was going to be harder--it hadn't been bothered in centuries; there's never been a need for it to be disturbed," he chided himself.

Until now, that is.

The stone moved apart from the others. Darius pushed in and it ground across the other stonework occasionally catching itself on it. Soon, a distinct gap was showing in the wall; he pulled the stone outwards into his hands where it fell with a heavy plop. Reaching into the opening in the wall he felt around for a moment until he felt the cloth enshrouded object he was searching for and withdrew it into the light.

The cloth crumbled away at his touch and he gently laid the long object on his bed, then reached over to grab a candle for better lighting. His eyes looked upwards at the ceiling light and he nodded to himself that he needed the better lighting of electricity rather than the dim candlelight. He flipped on the overhead light, blew out the candle and carefully unwrapped the object.

Inside the cloth was an ancient sword, short and squat in design, similar to Roman blades but it was definitely not Roman in origin. The grip and pommel were intricately engraved and wrapped in gold wire that was made into elaborate animal figures and depictions of gods and men.

Darius ran a hand upon the grip as he fingered the design, then followed the blade upwards to its' tip with his fingers. He curled he fingers into a fist and brought his hand back, his face showing near disgust at the thought of even picking it up.

Greyson had been a good swordsman when he trained him--how much better had he become now? He felt that perhaps just in case Greyson should show and want his head, he should at least be prepared. He reached down and slipped the sword into his hands, swinging it in an arc to get the feel of it again.

It felt--it felt--unnatural! To be even considering using it went against everything that Darius had been for centuries and taught others too. It would bring him down to the level of savagery that he now was beyond, and the thought of him fighting another sickened him.

He glanced it over a final time, replaced the fragile cloth over it again and returned it to its' hidden niche in the wall. He then replaced the stone; the wall looked as it had before without a trace of what was hidden inside or that the wall had been disturbed. No one would have ever thought that the wall held something very precious and rare and that was how he wanted it.

What should he do about Greyson?

"Perhaps," he said out loud to the walls, "the question should be what can I do?"

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Chapter 20

Night fell; the great bonfires were lit in both opposing camps.  The wounded were gathered off the battlefield then tended to, the men ate and drank their fill of their spare rations as they spoke in hushed tones of what had transpired on the battlefield today and what was to transpire tomorrow in the same bloodstained place. Alaric and Darius stood hunched over a map which lay on a low table. Several torches about the tent they were in lit the interior while throwing wildly dancing shadows on the floor and walls.

Alaric's finger traced a line on the chart then looked upwards at Darius. "Athens?" he asked to which Darius nodded in answer.

"Athens. We have not lost Sparta, my--" He paused, nearly choking on the next word, "lord. We still have the element of surprise on our side." Darius began to pace but stopped to look up as a hand drew back the tent entrance and Methos entered. "Where have you been?" he roughly asked.

Methos glanced from one to the other before replying, "Out about the camp. How else does one find things out?" He moved over and tore off a hunk of bread, never bowing to Alaric or showing any deference to him or his position. He then sliced off some pungent cheese and began to eat, unmindful of both sets of eyes on him.

Alaric rubbed at his temples again. He was tired, and felt weakened by the effort of the day yet they still had to try and find a way through the Roman legions that lay between themselves and Sparta's gates.

Methos' continued insolence was a constant irritation to him, one that he would not tolerate for much longer. But for now he felt too ill to do anything about it. He rubbed at his temples then sat down heavily. "About Sparta--" he began. "How do we get through their lines?"
Darius' clear eyes glittered in the torchlight as he noted Alaric's visible signs of weakness. "We slip past them."

Methos paused his eating then looked directly at Darius. "Brilliant!"

Darius grinned and shrugged then looked back at the map.

"Explain to me how you intend to do that, Darius!" Alaric demanded. "What, are we going to turn invisible and vanish into thin air?"

Darius loudly laughed at the thought, then turned to his king. "We are at that--but not before we leave Rome something to remember us by." He smiled and rubbed his hands together. "Methos, collect a few men together, have them strip themselves and carry only the barest minimum of weapons."

Methos smiled and the shadows caught themselves in his dimples. "And then gather ashes and cover themselves, of course."

Darius nodded and glanced back at Alaric. "What we are going to do is something that will leave them talking for many years. A handful of men shall scale Sparta's walls when the moon--" he looked upwards at where the sky would be if he could see it. "When the moon is under cover of the clouds. Then they shall burn Sparta down from within and throw open her gates."

Alaric's eyes grew wide as he finally understood the implications of the action. "And this will create a massive diversion so that the army can slip away."

"That's correct." Methos interjected. "There is one slight flaw in the reasoning though. Should it rain, we will be in a very bad situation indeed."

"There have been worse situations that my men have gone through and won, Methos," Darius said with an edge to his voice. "This is no different to them. They will obey and do whatever I--"

Alaric angrily interrupted him. "You? It is my army, my men!"

"They follow me. And they do as I command," Darius calmly stated the facts to his king. "You lead us, true. But I command them." He shifted his eyes to Methos. "Go prepare the men."

Methos laconically stood and stretched then slowly walked past Alaric. "Watch him, Alaric. He'll kill you," he whispered to him as he went by.

Darius eyed him suspiciously as he left. "He'll need to be watched more carefully and I don't trust him," he thought to himself. "He could prove to be my undoing yet!"  And Methos wasn't worth the risk, Darius had decided. No one was going to ruin his dreams of an empire.

Especially not a former slave.



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(This page last updated 02/22/2003)