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Full Circle, Chapters 21-25

by Celedon


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Chapter 21

Outside of Rome

It was indeed beautiful here in the gently rolling hills that surrounded Rome, Greyson thought to himself as his eyes tracked the movement of a hawk who screamed as it dove for its’ prey. He smiled in satisfaction as he watched the brief struggle on the ground between captor and prey knowing full well what both the outcome and who the victor would be.

He paused and turned around to look behind him at the sprawling mass of men and horses the spread out across the landscape trudging forward, always forward at his behest. It gave him an exhilarated thrill to listen to their singing the battle songs of gods, of prior victories, of camaraderie and know that finally this was his army, his command and he was coming into his own without Darius around.

Frowning at the thought of him, he wondered how they were faring in Greece. The lines of communication were nearly non-existent between the two armies—each was working independently of the other but with the same goal in mind--Rome’s downfall, and Darius’ ascension to power. He looked away from his army to the golden horizon of the dawn that was breaking as he thought about it. It wasn’t that he didn’t want the power himself or the control or that he didn't mind always seemingly to be a step behind Darius. The fact was, was that Greyson was a realist.

Darius was the better of the two of them; he had the diplomatic skill necessary to manipulate others by words before deeds were necessary unlike Greyson who preferred action to words. He also was far more charismatic and a born leader and men without question followed him to do whatever his bidding—Greyson counted himself among those who would willingly give his life for him—if only he could die like others could.

In Greyson’s fantasies, he could see the two of them carrying on the old Roman empire and yet continuing to conquer and bring in more land, more plunder, more slaves, more of everything his heart could imagine. He also imagined that Darius would reign for a thousand years or more with his help. He had always seen himself as the second man, never wanting to be the head but work behind the scenes and in support of his father in any capacity that was needed.

It was true that they had their differences, but his faith and admiration of his teacher, now adopted father had never wavered. Even when it got him killed on occasion, he had always awakened with a sense of awe that it had happened again and that the person who had done the killing was also the person who he most wanted to emulate. And, in a perhaps twisted small way, be loved by in whatever way he could get it. He sighed deeply, shook his head and galloped forward as he topped the last mound and looked down upon the sprawling mass of the city of Rome.

His face twisted into a wry smile as he gazed down on the buildings and homes that had represented civilization for centuries, watching as people occasionally came in and out of the gates as they began their morning like other mornings unaware that the wolf was at their doorstep. ”And I am the wolf!” he shouted to the city below him in Latin, as he raised a sword above him to signal his army to halt in plain view of Roman sentries that were nestled in and around the hills.

This time, there would be no limit of a hundred men brought into Rome’s gates. This time, things were going to be quite different and the Romans would have to play by his rules and his way. There would be no other alternative. ”My way or die,” he softly said to the first of the signal fires that had finally sprung up at the sight of his army. ”There will be no alternative.”

Sparta

Methos’ finger drew a small map into the dried earth, then placed his fingertip upon the largest square. “This is the armory. I will need two of you to destroy it—burn it down.” His eyes swept over the fifteen men who encircled him then chose two. “You and you. This will be your goal. It’s guarded so be prepared for a fight.”

One of the men chosen craned his head down for a better look then spoke up. “How do you know it’s guarded?”

Methos smiled. “I’ve been here many times in my life for many different reasons. Trust me, it’s guarded.”

Another of the men pointed to the crude map. “What is this here and here?”

“Each of those represent guard posts along the wall; the circles are the ones by the gates. Those are the most important ones to take out because that is how we can get back out alive—if we are successful.” Again he scanned his men, a few who looked skeptical about the success of his plan.

“I’ve done this thousands of time, you have to trust me. We have the element of surprise on our hands—the entire city is sleeping, as is Rome’s army. This will be something to tell your grandchildren about and will be recorded in the songs or whatever you do to tell of heroes.” He rubbed his chin, nodded then stood.

His men looked less skeptical than before he noted as he scooped up a handful of ashes and began slathering it all over his nude body, changing the paleness of it to darkness. His men followed suit and the job was soon finished. He added a few strokes of charcoal to his face for good measure as his mind flashed images of Kronos at him. “Never again, “he whispered to the night air. “Never like that again.”

Turning towards his men, his eyebrows raised in a questioning look he asked, “Ready?” When they all nodded, he nodded also in affirmation. “Good, let’s go!”

 
Smoke

Intense heat.

Stilicho's nostrils curled at the smell of something burning as he bolted upwards from his bed where he had been sleeping. He wiped the trickle of sweat that seeped by his eyes and he shoved himself out of bed and to the tent flap.

Pulling it back, he caught his breath as he took in the vast orange glow the sky held over the city of Sparta and saw the flames within as they licked upwards to the stars. "My God!" he said in awe at the sight, despite having seen it several times over in the time he had been a soldier.

His army was in a state of confusion he saw, as he scanned around with his eyes for any sign of Constantine. Men ran about gathering weapons as they jostled about helter skelter in the melee as they tried to prepare themselves for whatever was to happen next.

The horses had been released by someone and were stampeding in a frightened state through the camp at the smell and sight of the fire. It was eerie to watch all of this; he was drawn out into the middle of it all by the nerve of the general on the Goth side. He couldn't help but to admire such a plan's audacity and skill in carrying it out under their nose--quite successfully it looked like.
Darius. He must be quite a man and was certainly a worthy opponent, he thought to himself. And the next time they encountered him, he would not underestimate him.

Constantine galloped up to him and threw himself off the horse, panting as he caught his breath. "They're gone." He gulped the cinder-laden air and stared at his co-commander, all the while thinking that this outcome would have been different had he been fully in charge. Glancing back at the burning city, he continued. "There's a steady stream of people who have escaped the inferno and are coming into camp begging for food and water as well as asking for our protection from the Goths."

Stilicho's eyes narrowed as he thought about the problems he faced. There wasn't enough for all the refugees in terms of food or water and they would certainly impede the army's chance of catching the barbarians in the morning. He shouted for his aide, hoping that he was somewhere close by. "Antoninius!"

He looked back at the other general knowing what he must be thinking since he would probably be thinking the same thing if he were in the same position. "They can stay here for the night but in the morning when the fires are out they must return to the city. We have no room for them or supplies. Antoninius!" He walked away, hands on hips as he thought it out. "How do you know they are gone?"

Constantine stayed silent for a moment as he tried to decide whether to tell him that he had ridden close enough to where the Goths had camped to feel the other Immortal's presence but had neither seen or felt him or if it were more than one, them. He had slowly paced his horse though the camp, noting the still glowing embers in the firepits, the turned up earth from where the horses had been tethered before being ridden away, the lack of any kind of tent or shelter anywhere.

Where had they gone to in the middle of the night? What direction? He had sighed then, knowing that the answers to his questions would have to wait until morning when the light of day would reveal what he wanted to know.

"I've seen it up close. They have moved everything but only the light of the new day will tell us more."

Stilicho's brow knitted together in anger. "You were there? What about the risk to you?"

"I never said I was there General," his voice dripping sarcasm as he said the title. "I said I was close and, if you recall, risk is part of being a soldier. It's a part of my job--and of yours."

Furious at the slight, Stilicho came up to him until they were eye to eye and stared at him before storming off back into his tent as Constantine looked on. His aide came up moments later and looked at the remaining general in confusion. "What am I needed for?"

Constantine looked over the man then ordered him to dispatch back to Rome a letter telling them that Sparta had been lost to the Goths and that they were to be in pursuit of them in the morning. "Do it now and be prepared to ride out in the morning. Understand?"

The aide nodded and left; Constantine surveyed the camp's confused state and shook his head. There was much to be done, and much to prepare for.

It was going to be a long night indeed.

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Chapter 22

Paris

The orange glow of the cigarette’s embers split the night for a moment before fading as the smoke from it was inhaled deeply then exhaled into the chilly night air. The man who smoked it was tall, blonde, and had an almost gaunt appearance about him. He leaned upon a lamppost that stood in a small park that was situated across from the small church that was St. Julien's watching the comings and goings of parishioners along the narrow streets and sidewalks that surrounded it.

The people scurried about as they left the last remaining Mass of the evening to head back to the warmth of their homes. They walked past the small bistros and news stands, past the small kiosk that rented skates for those who wished to use them during the day and the many other businesses that lined the streets surrounding the church. Many took no notice of the man who watched them with narrowed eyes and who flicked the cigarette butt down to the ground to join all of the rest that lay at his feet. Instead, they went straight past the park without even a glance at him.

The door of the church opened; a lone figure came out, dressed in the drab brown habit of a monk and took a look around at the weather before beginning to head back indoors. He paused for a moment as his eyes darted about as he tried to peer into the darkness, past the pools of light from the old lampposts and into the night. When he saw nothing he turned and went back inside.
Once inside he closed the door and stood silently with his back against it. He leaned his head against the wood as he closed his eyes while whispering one word, “Greyson.”
He was somewhere nearby, but where?

At the sight of the monk, the man who had been watching the church straightened while his posture stiffened. His eyes tracked every move the monk made and when the monk returned inside he laughed bitterly. He turned away from the church; his eyes watched the glittering lights of Paris by night while his face turned as cold and as brittle as his laughter.

He lit up another cigarette then he said, “Well, Father, I’ve finally come back to see you but you don’t seem to be in the mood for visitors.” He laughed again as he elegantly flicked the still lit cigarette away from him, shoved his hands in his pockets and walked away. “I will be back, old man. You can’t hide forever,” he whispered as he left. “Once I complete my business with the others, I’ll be back for you!”
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Rome

Once more the great Roman armies lined up in front of the walls of Rome to protect her from the barbaric horde and once more Greyson looked at them and laughed at the sight. Turning to his aide he said, “And now mighty Rome comes once more to beg for mercy from us.” His eyes shifted towards the cloud of dust that galloped towards them away from the gates of Rome and towards his army.

"So Rome had sent an emissary to negotiate with me," he thought as he watched the small band of men fast approaching. He shifted his weight and flung back his sleeves so that his hands would be free to fight if the need arose. Carefully he checked his weapons, adjusting them as needed for both comfort and accessibility before glancing once more at the men on horseback to check on their progress. He noted that they were close; he nudged his horse forwards to meet them with his aides on either side of him.

Gandor, his most trusted aide, rode on his left. He had ridden with both Darius and Greyson for years and had proven himself to be a trustworthy and loyal man who knew how to follow any command no matter what it might be. He glanced at Greyson noting the hardness in his features and knew that the Romans were certainly not going to be granted any mercy by his lord.

Crossing himself as well as making a sign against any evil that might befall them, he finally broke the silence that had gathered upon them. “Are we going to sack it?” he asked as one who knew he had the right to speak his mind around his lord and was respected by Greyson for it.

Greyson raised a hand; all three of them pulled to a stop as did the Romans who kept their distance. “Wait and see what happens, Gandor. It will be up to them.” He looked over the four men that Rome had sent out to talk with them, noting softly under his breath as he passed a glance over them one by one, ”Senator, soldier, soldier, priest.” He hawked and spat on the ground by the Senator then raised his eyes to meet the Roman’s own steady gaze. He smiled at him but the smile lacked any kind of warmth.

The man who Greyson had assessed correctly as being a senator spoke up after clearing his throat. “Why do you come to Rome’s gates?”

Greyson looked back at his swollen army of men before replying. “To feed ourselves, Senator. Why else?” His hand gripped the pommel of his sword; the senator’s eyes caught the movement and followed it with his eyes. Again the cold smile appeared on Greyson's face.

“You and your men are ordered to disband immediately by order of your emperor. You have broken ties with Rome. Rome however, is willing to forgive your killing of its citizens as well as this whole uprising if you disband.” The senator looked over the man who he was talking to, noting the unkempt hair, the filthiness of his clothes as if he had ridden some distance, the powerful arms, and the hawk-like face. He was disgusted to be near him and wished again that someone else had been chosen to try to negotiate with the barbarians.

Sneering, Greyson replied as he lifted his sword to throat level, “Disband? That’s hardly likely." He paused. "I tell you what you can go and do Senator whoever you are. You go tell the Emperor that the Goths do not take orders from him, nor do we accept Rome’s so-called generosity.” He glanced to his left and right at his aides then started to laugh, making the Romans uneasy. Turning to his aides, he translated from the Latin as to what had been said to him causing his aides to join in the laughter.

The Romans exchanged glances between themselves as the Goths continued to laugh. Suddenly without warning, Greyson rode up between them and slashed outwards with his sword at the senator’s exposed neck then rode off to peer at his handiwork as the senator’s head went sailing to one side.

For what seemed to be an eternity, the body sat on the horse’s back as dual fountains of blood spurted upwards from the severed arteries and veins in the neck as the last few heartbeats extinguished themselves. The sweet yet acrid smell of blood filled the air causing the horse to become wild-eyed in fright. One of the other Roman soldiers still in shock, grabbed onto its' reins to keep it from bolting. Slowly it toppled to the ground and lay in a pool of blood that slowly grew as it seeped from the body.

Greyson dismounted, walked over to the head, picked it up by the hair then stared at the now frozen expression on the senator’s face. He looked upwards at the remaining soldiers who had done nothing nor had raised a weapon when the man they swore to protect had been killed; they were in shock from the atrocity. Shielding his eyes, he walked over to Gandor and held out his hand.

Immediately, a slightly bowl-shaped wooden shield with metal bosses on it was handed to him and without looking, he unceremoniously plopped the head onto it before handing it over to the one soldier who seemed to be the most likely in charge now. “You tell Theodonius that he has twenty-four hours to either give me a reason not to burn Rome to the ground or his head will be upon a platter like this. Do you understand?”

The old soldier nodded and jutted his chin at the others to gather up the body. Once it had been slung over his horse, they rode off to tell the Emperor what the barbarian had said and of his ultimatum.

Greyson watched them depart before driving his sword into the ground, ever watchful of the mass of well-trained Legions that faced his own army. “Tonight we stay here. Give the orders.”

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Chapter 23

Greece

All throughout the long march south both armies played an intricate game of hide and go seek as one might see a child play. There was one big difference however: this was no game. People died during the skirmishes between both the Goths and Romans with death claiming both the innocent and the soldiers regardless of who they might be.

The weather was hot and getting hotter the further south they went; the terrain rough and hard on the horses. It was a good place to hide and attack an unsuspecting group of soldiers who had been sent out to scout ahead of the approaching army. Darius put the terrain to good use hiding his men in the mountains or lying in wait for the Romans to come through a small pass before attacking.

The skirmishes were often brief but violent as blood spilled into the small streams and men fought and died upon their commander’s orders. Often Darius defied the odds and slipped away from the grasp of Stilicho before suffering any great loss of men, equipment and horses much to the Roman’s chagrin.

Stilicho had given him a nickname: Snake. And to his mind Darius was just that, a snake that needed to be wiped out forever providing he could catch him and destroy his army. He sighed as he looked around the stark yet beautiful landscape of Greece and remembering other battles that had been fought here, other men who had died, other losses of other general’s reputations and lives when they failed to win a great victory for Rome. Where did they go this time? he wondered as he shielded his eyes with one hand to look off into the distance. And how long would it take them to find them again? What he needed was an edge, an advantage to make sure that Darius would not slip away ever again without his knowing about where they intended to go and what their plans were.

He paced to and from, hands clasped behind his back as he thought. He knew that he needed someone to infiltrate their army, someone who would pass as a Goth—preferably someone with the fair hair many of the Goths seemed to possess. “Constantine!” he bellowed. “Assemble the men. I want to inspect them.”

Constantine’s brow knitted together in anger at the order; his mouth thinned while his eyes shot a killing blow if such a thing had been possible towards his co-commander. He jerked around the reins and went to assemble the men as he was ordered to do.
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Alaric woke up, blinking and stared in the darkness towards his hand, which trembled violently. He rubbed at his eyes with his one good hand then sat up knowing what would be coming next. For some time he had experienced massive bouts of both dizziness and nausea that sickened him but in the time that they had been on the move towards Athens another symptom had arisen: seizures.

The tremors slowly crept up his arm as the muscles stiffened and cramped then followed across his shoulders until finally he fell to the earth and lay there as his body jerked violently in spasms and his eyes rolled back into his head so that only the whites showed. A small dribble of saliva dripped from one corner of his mouth and he grunted and uttered noises like a pig but he was unable to stop himself from doing it.

After a few minutes that seemed to have been stretched out into hours, his seizures slowed then ceased altogether and he lay gasping for breath. Never had he experienced such as one as this before and he hoped he never had to again. He shook his head to clear it but the dizziness and blurred vision remained with him.

Closing his eyes he reached out to feel around for the animal skin he used for a blanket and pulled it down upon him before curling up into a tight ball and drifting off to sleep. His last thoughts were bleary but he still knew of his goal: Athens.

And Athens was only a day's ride ahead--if they were lucky enough not to encounter Rome's armies one last time before reaching the city's gates. That thought lulled him into a deep slumber that might have mistakenly been seen as that might of a corpse if someone had seen him. And in it's own way, it would have been a true assessment.

He was slowly dying.
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Methos idly threw another pebble at the river then eyed his companion thoughtfully. “Don’t underestimate the Athenians, Darius. They are wily, highly intelligent and drive a hard bargain.” He skipped another stone across the water, silently counting the number of times it skimmed the surface before it sank underneath the waves.

“Sounds as if you know them well.” Darius replied as he glanced around him, ever wary of his surroundings and who might be coming up on him. He then looked at his lieutenant commander.

“Let’s say instead that I’ve had dealings with them before on a number of occasions. If you do not want to take the city—“

“I don’t.” Darius interjected flatly. “I’m looking for something more out of them.”

Methos frowned at the statement then turned to fully face the Goth general. “What?”

“The men are getting restless,” Darius began. “We have been on the march for months with little reward outside of a occasional small city’s meager resources.” He cleared his throat and continued. “Harvest time is soon approaching—and we will not be there for it. They miss their homes and families as well as those who have died alongside of them.” He solemnly looked at the other man. “What I want are the riches of Athens’ coffers. They have always been rich and powerful—“ Darius’ eyes glinted at the thought greedily while mentally tabulating up how much he might be able to receive from them if all went as he planned.

Methos snorted. “And very successful in war and defending herself against those who tried to take her. If you try to force them to give up anything they will fight you.”

“I will not force them unless they make me. I would like to think that they would give me what I want without any deaths on either side. If not, then we shall see who has the better army.” His face darkened ominously as he spoke the last words.

Methos knew that it wasn’t an idle threat but a very real idea and plan that would happen if Darius didn’t get his way. He walked away in deep thought. What could he get out of this, he wondered. And how could he prevent the city from being both ravaged and destroyed? He knew Athens intimately and had lived here on and off through the centuries. Once he had broken up with the Horsemen and had started over in a new life with a new identity, he had come to Athens. And it was here that he had continued his lifelong passion to learn everything he could possibly could. He wanted desperately to keep it intact and whole. Turning back to Darius, he silently nodded. “I speak Greek.”

Morning came and the whole of the Goth army was spread out in full sight of Athens, which caused a flurry of activities within the city-state’s Senate. One Senator paced in agitation as he spoke to his fellow Senators. “I tell you we should offer anything to them--anything!” He swept an arm in a wide arc as he continued. “Who among us has not heard of what has befallen Sparta or what happened at Corith? I say, give them whatever they ask of us so that they may leave us in peace!” He eyed all the men carefully to see if his words had swayed any of them to his side.

Nodding in satisfaction to himself, he smiled as he saw that at least some seemed to be tottering on the brink of siding with him on this very serious matter. It was a good sign.

Another elderly Senator stood and nodded at his colleagues. “You know me, and what I stand for, my dear brothers. I have fought in the wars long before many of you were born; I have the scars to prove it. I have seen both men and boys die fighting for what they believed in and I am willing to fight these barbarians again if need be. I say here in front of you all and say with a deep conviction, that we should call the army together and fight them on our own home grounds. I say that we should fight with every able-bodied man and boy we have to keep our homes and families alive and safe. I say that we should drive them back to where they came from and let Rome as well as the barbarians know that we Athenians will not tolerate marauders and murderers on our home territory. We should fight them, I say. Fight!“ He then sat to a smattering of applause from various members and nodded in acknowledgment.

One last Senator stood up and eyed each of the men he knew would be crucial to the vote on the issue before them. He slightly tilted his head at those he knew were on his side and smiled at others. “My friends, “ he began. “Rome’s armies cannot arrive in time to help us.” He dramatically held up a small scroll so that all could see it. “They have been unable to stop them so far—here’s proof!” Shaking the scroll, he threw it on the floor. “Rome has sent out her army to bring back these rebels, these miscreants, these barbarians into her sphere of influence once more! But they have been unable to put an end to the terror caused by their attacks!” He fairly spat out the words while his face reflected the contempt he felt for those who still wavered on the edge of decision. “I say give them what they ask for also. I also say to wait until we hear their demands and cede to them the items they want without another regret or without qualms if it will save us.” He grabbed at his robes and swung around on his heel then sat back down to more applause and back thumping.

A middle-aged man whose girth jiggled as he stood, walked into the center of the room and stamped a tall oaken staff three times on the floor making the room as still as the early morn. “We will now vote on the issue before us.”
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Four thousand  pounds of gold. Darius chortled to himself as he watched as the sparkling pile before him grew little by little before him. He glanced sideways at Alaric who also watched but who wore more and more the symptoms of the poisoning on his face and bearing. Soon…it had to be soon, Darius thought covertly as he saw the tiny tremors shaking at Alaric’s body and the quick flash of pain and embarrassment that slid over Alaric's face as he tried to control the shaking.

Alaric spoke up as the last remaining pieces were placed onto the pile. “We shall leave you in peace. But if you break your word, mark well the fact that we will come back and destroy Athens until there is nothing left standing!” His voice wavered a little but it still held the iron strength it had always had held. “Do you understand?” Darius glanced at Methos who translated it into the Greek and nodded.

The Greek who was overseeing the transfer of the ransom, then glanced at the translator as Methos added his own comment during the translation. “Consider yourself lucky this time.”

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Chapter 24

Rome

“What is it that they want? “ Theodonius said as he paced about the room while thinking out loud. “Gold? More land? Slaves?” He turned back to look at three of the most powerful men in the Roman Senate to discuss their options in regards to the Goths. His eyebrows raised in question and in anticipation of the answer.

“We don’t know,” the elder of the three spoke up. “The soldier who returned was one of those who accompanied Justininus. He brought back this—“ He swung up a leather satchel which thudded heavily on the table when it hit the marble surface.

Intrigued by the oddly shaped package, the Emperor slowly unwrapped the object then stepped back in horror when he saw the pallid head that confronted him. He gulped several times as his eyes stared at the object in both fascination and terror at the sight. ”Who did this?” he finally managed to choke out as he looked from one Senator to another.

“There was a message to go with this—thing,” the youngest of the Senators said as he completely ignored the question. He shifted himself about uncomfortably then walked over to cover the head back up. Coughing a little, he continued. “The Goth said that we had twenty-four hours to give him a reason to not destroy the city or else everything will be rubble.” He frowned, then looked at the others for support to say what else Greyson had told the soldier to say.

The elder senator spoke up once more. "There was one more thing he said.”

Theodonius shivered and shook his head to clear the thought of what he had just seen away from his mind. Making the sign of the cross in mid-air, he then glanced sharply up at the Senator. “Tell me, Julius, what?”

“That if you do not comply to his demands, your head too will be on a platter just as Justinius’ was when it was brought back to us.”

The Emperor’s eyes turned away from the Senator’s own; he walked over to look at the sprawling city below him from his window. With his back still turned away from them he said, “Call together all the members of the Senate even if they are on their deathbeds. I am convening an emergency meeting in two hours.” He turned back to face the three again. “And send someone back out to see just what he is demanding for the safety of Rome and its’ citizens.”
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Greyson yawned in the heat of the day and scratched at himself. He found himself thinking how nice a good Roman bath would feel right about now. He ran his hands through his golden hair, then unplaited his braids so his hair flew about in the wind that had blown up. For once he felt satisfied with how the way things were working out in his favor. He glanced upwards at the darkening skies then turned about as Gandor came up behind him and spoke his name. “What do you want?”

“Someone is approaching from Rome’s gates; they have a small contingent of soldiers to protect them from us.” Gandor smiled with irony. “Perhaps the king of the Romans has gotten your message.”

Greyson looked back towards the main road that led into Rome, shielding his eyes from the sun and watched the procession with disdain. “You can be sure that the Emperor has gotten my message and is making sure that no one else dies today by any Goth’s hand.” He laughed. “Just look at them! They’re probably so afraid of me and what I could do with them, that one look from me would probably loosen their bowels!” He glanced upwards at his lieutenant who laughed soundlessly with him and nodded.

“That may be so.” Gandor smiled once more as he envisioned such a thing happening.

Greyson then took a deep breath and slowly released it. His face formed into a frown as he replied, “Let me know when they are closer. In the meantime, find me the best men you can to ride out with me to meet them.” He pointed a finger at Gandor. “Make sure they look every bit the warrior they are and are impressive in their fighting skills. I think a kind of display is in order so that Rome understands we are not playing games. Understand?”

Once more his lieutenant nodded before turning around and heading back to camp to gather together the men required for Greyson’s needs. Greyson watched him go then turned his attention back to the men on horseback and the army that still protected Rome’s gates. How did one penetrate such a defense? he wondered. He walked back and forth, glancing every now and then at the other army as he pondered the situation while trying to remember what had worked before in similar situations in other places when he had been with Darius. Finally, a solution came to him. He grimly smiled before turning to go back to the camp to prepare himself for the arrival of visitors to his camp.

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Chapter 25

Paris

Runic stones clattered as they spilled from the upturned pouch onto the worn desktop as a finger probed them here and there in search of a stone with the right symbol on it. Darius was searching for the ones that would convey exactly what he was trying to say without allowing anyone who couldn’t read them to know what the meaning was. He picked up a piece and squinted at the etched symbol on it, nodded, then placed it off to one side onto a small pile already accumulated.

He grabbed a pen, quickly scratched out an address in a bold yet medieval style of handwriting on a large envelope and then laid that aside too. So much of what he had known and what he knew of no longer existed; it occasionally made his heart heavy at times at the thought of what had been and had been lost in the passage of time. But his faith kept him going as well as his belief in his duty to mankind. His vision of at least trying to bring about peace to the world by teaching those he felt would in turn teach others peace brought him a sense of satisfaction similar to what he experienced as a priest. And now, he was faced with someone from his past who had perhaps only one thing on his mind—his own death.

He sighed heavily as he located the last piece and swept all the rest back into the pouch once more. He then picked up the last runic stone to inspect it before closing a fist around it while his face turned into a frown as he thought about what Methos had said to him. Was Methos to be believed about what was happening to his students? he wondered silently to himself. Was Greyson indeed killing them to exact his vengeance upon him for something that he had had no control over centuries ago while in the midst of a Quickening?

He had no exact answers for his questions but knew intuitively that the man he had formerly called his son was indeed doing just that. He realized that Greyson was attempting to lure him off Holy Ground to take his head in any way possible and by killing his students off one by one, he might succeed in doing it yet. Darius stood, disrobed and looked towards the large wooden cross,  affixed to the wall beside his bed, genuflected, crossed himself then said a small prayer for Greyson before climbing into his bed and shutting off the light. His thoughts rolled about in turmoil as he lay there, one arm propped behind his head as once more he re-lived in his memories the bitterness of what had happened after Athens…
__________________________________________________

Northern Greece

The army had retreated away from Athens once the ransom had been paid by order of Alaric against Darius’ better judgement and protests but in the end he deferred while silently cursing his king all the while. The heavy burden of all the gold and other precious metals had slowed the army’s progress considerably and that was a fact that worried Darius. Somewhere, he knew, the Romans were still about and at some point in time they would catch up to them and a fierce battle would come from the encounter. What he didn’t know was when or where they would catch up to them at.

He swung about on his horse to watch the long, straggling line of men and horses that made up his army’s supply train, whistled at the sight and at the seemingly snail’s pace they kept. “Not good. Not good at all,” he muttered. His eyes swept around the landscape in search of any sign that they were being watched but saw nothing.

Methos watched with mild amusement as Darius began to realize how much he and his army were open to attack thanks to the supply train carrying the Athenian booty that had constantly caused them to lag behind. “Price one pays for being greedy, Darius.” His slight smile became wider when Darius shot him an irritated look that was meant to quiet him but he continued. “You should have foreseen it before you decided to ask for so much.”

Darius continued to stare at him with disgust and hatred. He hated him for telling an obvious truth and was disgusted with himself for not being more meticulous in his planning. “It was what Alaric asked for, not me. If I had had a choice, I would have sacked it.”
Methos’ eyes widened. “That’s not what you said before.” He kneed his horse forward and was followed by Darius’ own horse.

“I changed my mind once I saw how easy it would be to take her. Athens was ripe for the picking, like a fruit off a tree and I could have plucked her-“ His hand reached out to mime plucking a piece of fruit from a branch, “--easily.” He shifted his weight on the horse and looked northward. “Rome and all of her lands will be mine someday soon, mark my words.”

“Your arrogance about what you can accomplish will someday come back to haunt you. There are places that you have no idea about and people who will change your life without you even understanding why or how they did it.” Methos shot a final look at the other man then kicked his heels into his horse’s ribs and rode off.

In the next few weeks, the weather began to change as autumn began to arrive. The Goths became restless with longing to be home at harvest time as well as being with their families again. His aides kept Darius abreast of the army’s murmurs. Those who tried to desert to return home were harshly punished, often in front of the entire army to deter anyone else from trying such a thing.
_______________________________________________

Alaric’s condition began to deteriorate but still he rode northwards, proud of his accomplishments in the revolt, and determined to live long enough to get back to his home. He often wondered what had happened in Italy but his mind was unable to stay on one thought for long and the thought would pass. He was depending more and more on Darius to help him through the day as well as to bring him the wine with the special Roman spices at night to ease his mind and lull him to sleep.

With more and more frequency, seizures often would awaken him in the darkness; the periods of the waking dreamlike state he felt afterwards seemed to lengthen with each one. He found it harder after coming to afterwards, to orient himself as to where he was, who he was and what he was or had been doing in the last days, weeks, and months. He hated himself for being like he was and he very often took it out on those who surrounded him.

Often, a nagging thought kept coming back at him before it vanished that perhaps someone was trying to subtly assassinate him. He would frown at the thought, shake his head, and try to think who might want to do it. The list he came up with was long—nearly too long for him to even concentrate on before the names and faces faded away but one name and person always led the list: Darius. And, after going over the list with Darius’ name at the top of it in his head once again he always said, “I wonder?”
__________________________________________________

The Roman general looked far off to the horizon then slowly nodded. “They are going home. That is good news indeed.” He dusted off his hands then wiped the sweat from his brow. “I’d be a fool if I thought for one moment that we have heard the last of them though.“ He glanced upward from where he stood to his co-general then re-mounted.

“You’d be a fool to think that Alaric has gotten his fill of blood, fire and death too, Stilicho,” Constantine remarked dryly. “No Goth ever tires of that, so I’m told.”

“Well, now is the time to put a stop to the revolt once and for all. We have an opportunity now to end the madness—we know where they are going, we know that they aren’t able to travel very many hectares in a day’s march—all the tracks say that.” He bit his lower lip. “They must be trying to keep the supply train up with the army—which means that they have had to cut their pace back quite a bit since the supply train is probably loaded down with the goods they managed to get out of the Athenians.”

“If we can manage to find it, we can cut it off from the rest of the army and divide Alaric’s forces,” Constantine slowly said as one hand rubbed at the day-old stubble on his face. “If they do not have food or backup weaponry then by taking away their supplies should hurt them tremendously. It would make it harder for them to resist for any length of time.”

Stilicho slowly smiled in admiration at the other man. “You are worthy of your reputation indeed, Marcus. But not only do we want to hurt them, we want to make sure that their capability to wage another revolt or an all-out war is destroyed! It is fight and die on the battlefield—“

“’Or come home on your shields,’” Constantine quoted. “They must be close by, judging by the signs. I’ve already sent out someone to scout it out ahead and to meet with our man we sent into their camp to spy for us if we can find him.” He looked about and nodded. “Time to be going back home and harvest the crops and impregnate the women so that they have something to look forward to next spring.”

“It seems that we finally have agreed on something, dear General,” Stilicho replied then laughed as he held out a hand. “Shall we drink on it?”

Constantine warily looked at the outstretched hand then into Stilicho’s face but saw no guile within it. He reached out his own and firmly gripped it while his free hand slipped a small bodkin of wine from his satchel. Pulling the stopper out with his teeth then spitting it out, he raised it in a toast. “To getting things done.”

Stilicho’s face split into an even wider smile. “To going home at last.”



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