”What?” Greyson screamed in outrage at the Senator who blandly smiled at him. “Rome will give me what I want now, or I shall take her and leave nothing but rubble in my path!” One hand gripped the pommel of his sword; his palm itched in want to use it on the pompous Roman who sat astride horseback across from him.
The Senator glanced at the centurions who surrounded him and his small delegation. “You will take what Rome offers you. And what we offer you most magnanimously is --nothing. Rome does not frighten easily, my dear man nor do we do business with rebels and traitors to the Empire.” He paused as his eyes scoured the surrounding area then flicked them back to stare disdainfully at the Goth. “Go home. Rome has nothing for you.”
Instantly in a flash of movement, Greyson’s hand flew upwards. A clattering of many thousand shields being raised as well as the sound of swords sliding from their leather sheaths. One side of his mouth curled upwards. “Then it is your choice to die, Roman.”
He began to wave his troops ahead but held a hand up to hold them off when the Roman replied, “Don’t even think of it.”
Greyson’s eyes narrowed as he slowly revolved his head about the area, noting the Roman troops that had come from out of the hills and now surrounded them. He swore loudly at the situation and swung his attention back to the delegation. He kicked his horse in the ribs and jostled his way beside the Roman unmindful of the swords that pricked at him and barred his way further into their midst.
One hand swiftly reached upwards, gathering both cloth and flesh in an iron tight hold; he drew the Roman closer to him until all he could see of him was his dark eyes. In a cold voice he threatened, “You will live to regret your actions today, little man. I shall personally gut you like an animal the next time we meet.” He pulled back, looked disdainfully at the soldiers’ weapons aimed at him, the brusquely pushed them to one side. “I am not finished here until there is nothing left to say that this place and you ever existed!” He roughly pulled his horse about, leaving his short cloak swinging in the breeze behind him as he galloped towards his own line of men.
He quickly conferred with his lieutenants who had surrounded his with shields outwards in order to protect him from any sudden attack. Quickly, he explained the situation glaring over at his shoulder at the Romans who had turned to go home then went back to getting consul as to what to do. “There are two things we can do—we can fight them with the chances of losing high and the loss of our men high too or we can walk away to fight another day,” one older man advised him. “If we fight—“ The thought was interrupted by the sound from the Roman delegation’s horses as they rode away back into the safety of the gates to the city.
Greyson’s face clouded over in rage as he wheeled about to watch them
go. His eyes became darker while his lips thinned out in his anger. ”I
shall split you open and drag you through the streets of Rome by your intestines
after we return,” he violently whispered, his voice raw with the hatred
that filled him. He glanced around to see that the Roman army was still
holding their position and he shook his head in frustration and rage. Once
more he glanced up at the gates of Rome and spoke loudly a promise so all
could hear him. “We shall be back before ten years pass. And we shall not
forget what happened here on this day. We shall never forget!”
“You gave them nothing? Are you mad? “ Theodonius threw his hands up in the air. “Am I not the emperor here? Do I not rule this empire any longer?” He raged at the Senator who had just returned from dealing with the Goths, while pacing in agitation, one hand pulling at his chin. Glancing over at the Senator he quirked an eyebrow upwards. “What did they do?”
“I don’t know and I don’t care, Emperor. The Senate has decided that we should show them Rome’s strength rather than her weakness. We do not tolerate rebels and we should not tolerate demands from traitors to the Empire.”
Frowning, the Emperor turned back towards the window and saw in his mind Rome in flames and blood running in the streets. Scores of bodies littered the streets and he could almost smell the stench of death in the air. He shivered at the thoughts then turned back to the Senator. “I have come to a decision—the Senate is dissolved as of now. Only my word and only I rule this Empire. No one crosses me and I will not tolerate this break with my wishes!” His voice now only carried a hint of his anger that he felt at the betrayal from the Senate; he had regained his self-control. “You may leave.”
The Senator bowed out of the room but before he had reached the door the emperor spoke up one last time. “They will be the destruction of us all, Senator. And you will be the person who is to blame for it. Go!” He waved him out and then turned back to the window, haunted once more with the images he couldn’t shake that he soon he would be seeing the fall of the city and empire he loved.
Darius tossed fitfully in his sleep. He dreamt of things he did not understand, nor did he know where he was in the dream. He dreamt of a large building built in a style he was unfamiliar with; it had large arched ceilings of a type that he could not identify. Towards the front of the room where he stood hung a large wooden cross like what the Christian factions used to symbolize their god.
Rows upon rows of what he grasped were chairs were lined up neatly and candles glowed in ordered niches in the walls as well as small tables. He saw himself walking towards the front of the room, kneel, and made an unknown sign in mid-air in front of himself.
He rolled over as he frowned in his sleep—he had never knelt to any man or to any god and to see himself do so disturbed him greatly. It was odd; he felt as if he were an outsider looking in at another world because he had an awareness that what he was seeing was a dream yet it held the dimensions of reality. He could easy see and hear everything going on in the dream. In some ways, he felt like an intruder.
The figure that was he himself turned and smiled benevolently at him. “You have always been with me, chiding me, allowing me to move on, to see what needs to be done and how much still needs to be done before we can achieve peace.”
The words chilled him to the bone and he shivered. What was he seeing before him? Hoarsely he whispered, “Who are you?”
“You know who I am.” The figure began walking towards him, which made him retreat a step backward. “You don’t know who you are though. Not yet. But you will.”
His eyes widened in horror for just a second then he composed himself once more. “I know that I am dreaming and that all of this is not real!”
The figure laughed softly as he swiveled an arm to show off the room. “Oh, it’s real all right. As real as you and I are. Its time has yet to come.”
Darius swore loudly at that statement then in a few short strides grabbed hold of the simple, brown robes the figure wore but let go instantly when he found he could actually feel the robe’s rough texture. “Where am I?” he cried out as he shot upright on his cot and opened his eyes. “Where?”
He blinked a few times as he oriented himself to his location then dug the heels of his hands into his eyes. Swinging his legs around, he leaned his elbows heavily on his knees while hanging his head. He turned his head about as he heard heavy footsteps running in the direction of his tent, then took in the sight of the soldiers who burst in.
“General, are you all right? We heard you call out!” one of the soldiers breathlessly exclaimed as he searched the tent for any signs of intruders.
Darius stood and went over to light a small torch from the bronze brazier that was in one corner of the tent placing it in one of the wooden pylons that was used to support its' outer covering. He then turned and waved them off. “I’m fine. Just a dream. Go back to your watch.” They glanced at one another but then curtly nodded and left, leaving him alone while allowing him to heave a big sigh of relief at their departure. The dream disturbed him because it had seemed so real and because it was if he was seeing shades of things yet to come. Once again he shivered at the thought of it before summarily forcing himself to dismiss it as being just that—a dream, a nightmare if you would want to describe it as such.
He pulled back the tent flap and looked out upon the slowly brightening sky. Dawn was fast approaching and soon the entire army would be on the move again. Running his hands through his tangled hair he glanced over to where the supply train lay encamped and guarded. ”If we could just make better time!” he thought to himself, knowing full well that the danger the slow progression towards Greyson’s army was bringing them. He poured out some cold water and sloshed it rapidly over his face, then wiped it dry. A tumultuous cry rang outside his tent; he looked outside to see what the commotion was.
A group of soldiers were headed toward Alaric’s tent with a man trussed up being drugged between them. “Lord, we have a prisoner!” one of the soldiers shouted out and soon Alaric himself appeared at his doorway, a deeply set scowl on his face.
Alaric took in with one glance the man and the soldiers as one eyebrow shot upwards in a form of query. “What has happened here? Why is this man bound like he is?” He glanced from one man to another as he waited for an answer.
“He is a traitor, Lord. We caught him down by the riverside speaking in a foreign tongue to another man—a stranger who is not of us!” the leader of the group which held the prisoner replied.
Darius’ face darkened in rage and he swiftly made his way towards the king’s tent. “You found him?” he asked the spokesman for the group?
“I found him.”
Darius turned at the sound of Methos’ voice. “Who was he with then?”
Methos smirked, obviously bemused. “They were speaking in Latin if that gives you any clue.” He laconically walked over to the man who was bound and grabbed him by the hair, pulling his head upwards so he could look him in the eyes. “You should have been more careful who you play games with, my friend. You talk to yourself in Latin without knowing that you are when you are trying to decide just what move to make next.” He dropped the prisoner’s head and walked away towards Darius, noting the fire that burned in the Goth general’s eyes. It certainly seemed an appropriate time to leave and strike out on his own once more and see what there was to see and learn. Alaric’s voice sharply brought him back to the present away from his thoughts and plans when he ordered the man to be brought inside his tent.
Once inside Alaric's tent, the man stood bound and naked in front of both Alaric and Darius who both sat dispassionately staring at him. Flies buzzed about the tent's interior, and the scent of fear permeated the air.
The guards threw the man roughly to his knees where he kept his eyes averted, and said in a voice quivering with fear, "O Exalted Alaric, I beg you, spare me my life! There has been a mistake made, I have always been you most loyal servant!"
One of the soldier’s lips curled upwards while his foot connected with the prisoner's mid-section. "Liar! How dare you speak those words to the king?" Again he swung his foot back to kick him but a motion from Darius stilled his action.
Methos bent down and whispered in the king's ear. "Honey makes enemies believe in your justness, but harsh words, will be forever remembered in the dead of night and will fester like an open wound." He glanced upwards and caught the livid look that Darius shot at him and slowly smirked, making the dimples about his mouth deepen and his eyes glitter with suppressed mirth.
Darius made no movement to acknowledge that he had heard what had been said but he spoke up and said in a threatening tone of voice to Methos, "In good time, my friend. Things are not as they seem." He cleared his throat. "A mistake has been made?" His voice became deeper, and as cold as the iron of their blades on a winter's morn. "You betrayed me, and imperiled the army. I will not stand for disloyalty, do you understand? Never!" His eyes caught Alaric's for a moment, then Methos' own eyes.
Alaric watched Darius with narrowed eyes as he scrutinized him closely. ”He could be assassinating you right now, and you would never know it.” a small voice told him inside his head. ”See how he wields the power that is yours so easily as if you were not here!” another voice spoke up. His mouth grew taunt with the thought; he made a decision then to have someone become the taster of his food and wines in case Darius was trying to poison him or kill him in another fashion. Perhaps he would begin to feel better too if he stopped drinking the special concoction Darius gave him nightly. His mind began to waver once more and his thoughts began to wander about as his grasp of concentration on the events slipped away due to the effects he suffered from Darius’ special mixture of herbs and spices he used to mull the wine and gave Alaric nightly.
Methos imperceptibly shook his head, as his mouth drew tight as he watched Alaric slip away into another realm of being. Alaric was no saint; he was practically a tyrant at times but he was an extraordinary leader of men. He wasn’t called Alaric the Great for nothing.
With Darius though, one never knew exactly what his reaction would be from one moment to the next. Darius wavered secretly to himself between what he knew he must do and what Methos had advised the king. Heaving a sigh, his fingers played through the coils of his beard as his balanced the pros and cons. Finally, the general spoke up loudly in order to be heard over the man's sobs and protestations of his innocence. "Disembowel him and feed his entrails to the dogs, then take him to the highest hill and let the vultures have at him." He pushed himself upwards, sweeping past both his advisor and king, uncaring and unmindful of the sharp scream of agony that came from behind him as his orders were carried out.
One of Darius’ most trusted commanders, Ethelric, smiled with a triumphant smugness at Methos, raising one eyebrow as he did so. He too turned and walked away following in Darius' footsteps, causing Methos' immediately to ball his fists up as his eyes flashed fire. "It's not about winning or losing. It's about what you want for posterity."
Ethelric paused, looking back over his shoulder at Methos. "It's always
about winning or losing." He turned and continued on his way.
The corded veins stood out from Greyson’s neck as he lifted his sword high up in the air and shouted once more, ”Loose!” Instantaneously, a wall of fire lifted into position and arced away towards the Roman line of defense which stood it’s ground in stoic silence as the arrows hit their apex before hurtling downwards at them.
Others replaced them as the front line stepped back and let the next row behind them come to the front. All milled around the big pots of burning pitch as they dipped their arrows swiftly then returned to their positions once more.
”Again!” he screamed at them, his throat raw. It had been hours since their first attack upon the gates of Rome but the attack had had no ill effects upon the city. It was still as cold and untouched pretty much as it had been earlier in the day except for the few fires that raged from the burning shafts of the arrows the Goths rained down upon the Roman legions and the wooden structures which instantly had become dry kindling. Once the flaming arrows hit them, they instantly lit into a red-hot inferno.
Beads of sweat trickled down his face into his eyes; he absently wiped them away as his eyes shifted over towards the unmoving legions that lay between him and victory which to Greyson meant the destruction of Rome. They had appeared it seemed out of nowhere, yet he knew from his years spent with Darius here that there never was any great distance for the most part between Rome and her armies. He glanced back again at his army, raising his sword again as a signal to his generals to advance.
In simultaneous unison, both the foot soldiers, cavalry, and archers advanced, slowly at first, then as the gap closed, they began to both canter and jog. A shrill war cry ripped through the air, followed by the roar of the Roman's as they too advanced before breaking into a run towards their opponents. Their shield wall still maintained its continuity; Greyson couldn't detect any trace of breakage in it that could be used against them.
Whatever would happen would happen but he was not willing to go through the public humiliation he had before when he had returned home to Alaric with his army. He didn't want to be shamed again in his father's eyes, or have to answer to him once more as to what his actions had led to. Murmuring under his breath he said, "Never again." He roughly kicked his horse in the ribs and rode headlong into the battle that had now become fully realized.
Once more the cries of the men on both sides clashed together as well as the din of grating metal and wood. Both seem to clamor for attention at the same time but what caught Greyson's attention most were the great arcs of spewing blood around him as vital arteries and veins were severed on the men all about him. He slashed and thrust his way forward slowly before glancing back over his shoulder at his archers; with a swift glance he locked his eyes onto one of his sub-commanders he then made a sharp nod.
He smiled grimly in satisfaction as he saw the rapid notching of arrows down the wall of archers, then watched them fly and fall indiscriminately upon the men who fought below them and listened to the agonized screams of the men as the arrows hit their marks. Again and again the arrows flew while the cavalry from both sides crashed and wheeled about while trying to gain the advantage.
The air smelled of sweat and of both urine and loosened bowels from both man and beast. The ground ran with small rivulets of blood that followed the downward course of the earth falling finally into the Tiber river that flowed nearby and turning the waters pale crimson. Already the flies had gathered en masse about the now bloating bodies both on land and in the water; they fed off them and laid their eggs into the gaping wounds of the dead and wounded. A thunderous shaking of the ground caused Greyson to sharply turn his head towards Rome; he sucked in a breath as he saw even more reinforcements heading his way for his opponents' army. "By the gods!" he snarled in fury at the sight. He whipped his head back around to search for his lieutenants but in the miasma of bodies that were struggling to get the advantage as well as the lowering visibility from all the dust in the air, he could not fine nary a one.
A lance came at him from one side and he deftly knocked it away but felt the chilling vibration and heard the shearing of his blade as it shattered right before the haft. Glancing about him rapidly, he took into account all those about him who had seen what had happened and heard the shriek of the metal as it sheered off and swallowed hard. The circle of men had begun to close about him; all of them were Roman wearing a look that he didn't care for one bit.
Backing his mount up a few steps he then kicked it hard in its' rib cage and braced himself as the horse leapt up, over and through the approaching men. As it went over them it shrilly screamed in agony as one man who had the foresight to fall to one knee lifted up his spear. It embedded itself into the horse's soft belly and ripped it wide open from one end to the other; its entrails pushed themselves through the opening and onto the ground while blood spewed everywhere. It fell roughly on its' knees instantly throwing Greyson violently to the ground. A sharp crack was heard as he hit; then he lay still, one leg twisted at an awkward angle to the rest of his body.
The Roman soldiers tightened their circle and readied themselves for the final blow. A reward had been offered to the man or men who could prove that the Goth commander was indeed dead by their commanders and they meant to get their proof. Greyson had been described in detail to the entire army and it was worth getting a reward for something that was going to be relatively simple to accomplish. A roar accompanying by the unmistakable heavy vibration of approaching horses caused them to glance backwards.
A wild vision of long, pale hair flying loose and bodies clad in animal skins loomed at them as three screaming men on horseback hacked and slashed their way through them to get to their commander, still on the ground but was groggily shaking his head. One rider reached out and pulled his commander onto his horse and rode off while the others dealt death to those who had tried to take his life. No one would take the Goth commander away to his grave on this day that much was sure and woe be to those who tried.
Once the soldier who had rescued Greyson had made it out of the fray he headed to a small knoll that sat quietly near the battle. He gingerly slid Greyson off his horse; Greyson solemnly looked at him for a moment as he felt the bones start to mend again. He gasped in pain as he was sat on the ground a little too roughly for his liking. The crackling of the bones caused the other man to gaze in wonder at Greyson then away as the chilling gray of his commander's eyes made him shiver.
"Get out of hear and don't you ever tell a soul what you have seen or heard today. Otherwise, I'll cut out your heart and eat it in front of you while you live those pitiful last moments of your life, understand?" Greyson's voice was icy in tone and flat in inflection. It was both threatening yet menacing at the same time and he meant every word he had just spoken. The soldier rapidly stood and prepared to mount up when he heard his commander say, "Leave the horse." He then curtly nodded, grabbed his weapons and walked back towards the battle.
Greyson watched him walk away then scanned what little of the battle he could with his eyes and knew that he would have to retreat but this time he would take all the men he could with him. The sun would soon set and the battle would be over for the day. Once it had set his army could slip away in the dead of night to lick its' wounds elsewhere so that they couldn't be found again by the legions.
A final snap of bones completely healed together caused him to grimace in pain momentarily. He glanced about then calmly walked over and vaulted upwards on the mount and galloped headlong into the battle again but this time one word came ripping from his mouth. "Retreat!! Retreat!!" Cursing, he then said, "May all the Romans rot in hell for all eternity!" he thought as he watched his army slowly retracing its' steps backward towards their original positions. "May they rot in hell!"
Running a weary hand over his grime encrusted face, Darius glanced about warily as the first part of the army began entering the narrow pass ahead of him. It forced the foot soldiers to tighten the ranks to span with only fifteen men abreast so narrow was the opening. Having been this way before on the way to Athens, Darius knew only too well the hazards of entering such a tight spot. The walls of the pass had offered shelter to him and his men before as well as a distinct advantage when a portion of reinforcements of the Romans happened to try and get through it but found only death and slavery at the hands of the Goths.
He glanced over to his right as he passed a still freshly dug mound of earth he knew held most of the Romans who had met their deaths here and sighed. Such a waste of good men yet a necessary one if he was to achieve his goal of a vast empire that stretched from the Caspian Sea to the western shores of Gaul. He turned to look behind him at the lagging tail end of his army and the supply train that seemed to get further and further behind every day which forced the rest of the army to pause until it could catch up to them again.
From one side of him, he heard the gallop of an approaching horse; he turned his attention towards both man and beast then silently swore as he recognized his king. Here was a man who by all rights should have been on the brink of death by now and had been up until a few weeks ago until he had knocked the goblet that held the poisonous concoction out of Darius’ own hand, vowing to never drink it again. Since that time, he had held fast to his vow to Darius and had begun to recover both his strength and lucidity. Each day was like a new one; he wondered in the silence of his tent just how much time had elapsed since the first sip of the wine Darius had offered so very long ago after he had returned from the northern borders at his command. He knew that somehow the years had slipped by him and that he had aged tremendously but how many he wasn’t sure of.
Alaric pulled hard back on the reins and settled his horse into a canter that matched Darius’ own pace. Neither said much to one another but both kept their distance from one another well out of reach from a sword’s blow or a thrusted dagger aimed for the heart. After a few moment of silence he glanced over at his general, noting the wariness he wore about him like a mantle. “Darius.”
Darius ignored him as he continued to scan the ridges and walls of the pass—soon they too would be entering it. Once inside there would be little chance of escape if the Romans decided to break their own rules of battle and fight as the Goths had years earlier against them from the ridges and crevices that littered the area inside the pass.
”Darius.” Alaric said more forcefully which made the Goth general turn his face towards him at last. “How long have we been fighting Rome? How long has it been since we have seen our homes?”
Darius’ eyes crinkled at the corner as he smiled. “How long do you calculate it to have been, my lord?” He glanced upwards as some rubble slid down one wall towards them and making the horses shy away from it. He quickly brought it under control and glanced ahead, an uneasy queasiness thrumming through him setting off danger signals in his head. His eyes slid over to meet Alaric’s own confused ones. “Seven years we have been fighting Rome. Seven years of what they call a revolt. Seven years of blood, sweat, and triumph for our army.”
Alaric’s eyes widened then became shuttered as he composed himself after hearing Darius’ words. Under his breath he muttered, “That long?”
Suddenly from both front and back of them both men and horses screamed in terror as a hailstorm of arrows blacked the sky overhead while men attacked the supply train by surrounding it and neatly dividing it off from the rest of Alaric’s army. Alaric swung his horse around to watch helplessly the supply train became overrun and the men slaughtered before his eyes. He listened to Darius screaming commands to both his commanders and to the men ahead of them as Romans poured out from seemingly every crevice in the rock face itself and mercilessly attacked the Goths.
”Attack! Fall into formation!” Darius screamed to both ends of the armies as he wheeled his mount from one side to the other while giving commands to both. He watched with mounting horror as the men who had been caught in the pass fell where they stood from the arrows which flew to their marks in a deadly accuracy. They put up a tremendous fight but the odds were in the Romans favor this time as well as having the advantage of the cover. He continued to scream for his men, exhorting them to hold their ground, to stand strong against the enemy but as he was doing so he knew that it was a lost cause. In order to save the army or what was left of it the best thing to do would be to retreat to since the Romans were steadily herding them all into the tight mountainous pass ahead of them, much to Darius’ chagrin.
Amid the chaos and confusion, Alaric broke away from Darius’ side and rode through the ranks of both armies, shielding himself from the arrows that still fell from the sky with his studded round shield. Again and again, he parried and thrust his way through the bloody throng as he spied his goal ahead of him—the standard of Rome flying high overhead two figures on horseback. He knew from past experience that the figures were more likely than not the commanders of the Roman forces; he had every intention of destroying at least one of them even at the cost of his own life if in doing so he could save his army. More than once he was cut and sliced by those he rode through; the blood flowing from his wounds made him look all the more fierce as well as a man to whom death meant nothing.
Swinging his eyes toward the golden torque wearing man who approached them, Constantine rode apart from his co-commander, watchful and wary of the now screaming Goth. He glanced over at Stilicho who had ridden apart from the standard to consult with the other sub- commanders as to the troop’s positions all over the rocky pass and was gathering casualty information. He lifted his sword up and charged the Goth unmindful of the threat of death or injury to him. From all sides a sudden swarm of men surrounded him to protect him but he kicked out at them, cursing and berating the men for impeding his charge at the Goth. A pathway opened before him through the men and he proceeded onwards his mind mentally noting the torque surrounding the man’s neck and the richness of his armament.
His eyes flew wide as he realized that here before him was the king of the people he was duty sworn to bring back to Rome as he whispered, ”Alaric!” Moments later a shower of sparks sprayed through the air as both Goth and Roman swords connected with a bone jarring impact only to have them withdrawn and then both slicing through the air at one another again.
The coldness of hatred for their respective enemy burned in both sets of eyes as they slowly circled one another on horseback, swords drawn. With a swift dart inside Constantine struck the first blow causing the Goth to become enraged and strike back though his blow wasn't as effective as he would have liked it to be. Alaric screamed at Constantine and struck again and was rewarded by the feel of the sword sinking into flesh.
The Roman moved out of reach and looked up and away as he felt the sharp sensation of an immortal nearby. His eyes darted about before settling on a hooded and cloaked figure on horseback complete with sword drawn coming straight at him. He dropped back a few paces and waited while still keeping a wary eye on the Goth who sat on horseback but was also watching the approaching rider.
A long shafted arrow arced downwards unseen by the three; it found its' mark in Alaric's chest. The impact knocked him backward over the horse's rump as blood gushed from his mouth. Reaching up he weakly tried to dislodge it but found the world spinning far too fast for him and the light around him seemed to be failing.
The hooded rider pulled up sharply on the reins and leapt off his horse to Alaric's side. He pushed the hood away from his face then turned towards the Roman who was prepared to strike at him. "Hello, Marcus,” he said with a smirk then looked at the man on the ground before him. Gingerly he picked him up and assessed the arrow's path as he tried to decide if it had hit any vital organs.
He had seen enough killings to know if indeed someone would die or not and had participated in the bloody gore of disposing of the bodies during his time with the Horsemen. He had even taken one or two with him away from camp and had performed a crude form of dissection on them in hopes to learn what lay hidden inside a man's body. Once done, he had returned to camp with his arms bloodied to his elbows but with a better idea of what lay within a body stored in his mind.
Nodding to himself he reached over and snapped the shaft of the arrow before jerking it back outwards along the path it had entered the Goth's body. His hand pressed firmly on the wound to staunch the flow of blood even as he watched his old friend who now was leading the Romans.
Constantine meanwhile was taken aback at seeing the man before him for
it had been some time since they had last met--at least a century or two.
Dropping his sword, he knelt beside his friend and took over stanching
the blood listening all the while to Methos' line of reasoning.
"I swore an oath, Cassius, to bring the Goths back to Rome's sphere of influence. And I intend to do that!" The Roman frowned at his friend then looked at the wounded man in his arms. "He belongs to me now. He's my prisoner and he will go back to Rome with me."
Methos paused for a moment then his face turned cold. "Sorry, don't think so this time. You're already slaughtering them--just look around you!" With that he smashed a fist into Marcus's jaw and picked up Alaric in his arms. A quick, sharp whistle brought his horse to his side and he flung the king over the horse's back then leapt on and galloped off.
The general of the mighty Roman army rubbed at his jaw while shaking
his head and watched them retreat into the distance towards the mountains.
Ruefully, he shook his head as he mounted his horse and rode back towards
the standard shouting orders along the way. "Let no man stay standing!"
he screamed at the top of his lungs to his men. "No mercy shall be given!”
In a little cleft in the valley’s walls, Methos gnawed at a piece of sinew until it broke in half as he watched Alaric’s ragged breathing. He’d seen death thousands of times and had been the cause of many of those who he had seen die yet, the sight of it as it happened still fascinated him. Almost casually, his eyes flicked over Alaric’s pale features, the slowly turning blue lips, the sheen of perspiration shining through the layers of dirt, soot, and blood which covered the king. If something weren’t done quickly, he’d die for sure.
He dug into his belt and removed a small bone needle, squinted as he threaded it with the thin line of sinew and then glanced down at the king once more. One arm wrapped itself around the king and then lifted him upward to finally be propped against his knee. Placing the needle between his lips, he tore Alaric’s tunic open wider where the arrow had lodged and re-examined the wound. The bleeding had stopped for now but he knew that it was only a temporary thing; any sudden movement would cause it to begin again. “This might hurt a little bit so don’t move, understand?” he whispered to the king.
Alaric weakly whispered in reply, "Why?”
Frowning as he jabbed the needle into the flesh of one side of the wound and pulling it tightly up against the other side, he again inserted the needle again into that piece of flesh and methodically closed off the gaping hole. One brow quirked upwards as he steadily replied, “Why did I save you? Call it a selfish reason. Darius wants you out of the way in any manner he can get that accomplished.” He paused as the king cried out in pain. “That hurt? Good. It means that you’re still here as I wish it.”
Licking his now dry lips while his eye fiercely burned into Methos’ face, Alaric hoarsely replied, “What do you get out of this? What do you want from me?” He coughed and a small line of blood and spittle slipped from his lips that fell down his chin. He reached up to wipe it away but his arm fell back to the ground midway to his face, too weak to complete the action.
Bending his lips close to Alaric’s ear, Methos whispered conspiratorially,
“I want you to live and defeat Darius in his plans. I want you to not attack
Rome, to not listen to Darius when he tells you of his grand scheme to
have it fall into your hands all so easily. I want you to be strong and
wary of him, be aware of consequences wrought by your actions.” He bit
the sinew in half once more close to the crude knot he had made in the
stitches. “Don’t move, you’re not done yet.”
Standing once that had been accomplished he brushed himself off, wiping his bloodstained hands on his tunic. "I'll let someone know you're alive and where to find you." He turned back to his mount, removed a bag of water and tossed it at his patient as well as an old, dried hunk of cheese. "You'll need that."
"You're not leaving me here are you?" Alaric forcefully said as his eyes darted about then came to rest upon Methos' own. When the other man said nothing, he straightened himself as best as possible before the pain shot through him, causing him to gasp at the intensity of it, one hand grasping the wound. "Where are you going?"
"Away. I'm sick of all of this fighting and manipulations behind each other's backs." Methos squatted so that he came eye to eye with the Goth. "Remember what I said, O King," he said ominously. Should I hear of plans for Rome's destruction, I will find you and kill you, providing Darius hasn't done that deed himself before I get to you." A deathly pause fell between them as both summed up the will of the other to see how serious the other was in their determination.
Finally after a few moments, a bird squawked nearby and broke the silence
as it flew off.
Finally Alaric’s head fell against the rock, his strength spent. He
closed his eyes into a deep sleep, dreaming fitfully of being drug through
the streets of Rome in chains while being jeered by the crowd on his way
to his execution...
Greyson glanced at the mountains that lay ahead of both him and his army and sighed. It still was so far to get back to their homeland and to both their families and homes. After seven years away, they were finally returning back to the life of a farmer for many and back to the deadly silent greeting of the throng when they see their men no longer strong or as many as there had been prior to their departure all those years ago. The thought of it made him shudder.
He shifted around to look at the remains of his army, feeling once more the silent rage and shame he felt when he thought about his army’s defeat by only a handful of actual soldiers and the good citizens of Rome. How would the army ever recover from this, he wondered silently to himself. Would they ever recover from it?
The thunder of approaching hooves broke his thoughts; he glanced over to see one of his lieutenants fast approached then rein in to fall in line with his own horse’s pace. “What news?” he calmly asked his face impassive. “What do you have for me?”
“We seem to have lost the Romans at last, Lord.” The man who spoke looked haggard as they all did, yet still carried himself as a true soldier might—with a dignity and pride in one’s self as well as a fervent belief that the cause they served was a just one. “We can now go home in peace to our families.”
Greyson snorted. “Peace? Is that what you want? I would have thought a man of your ilk to long for the glory and the blood of war!” He thought for a moment then spat out the word, “Peace?” as if were an unclean thing on his tongue. “If my father were to have heard you—“
The old soldier just shook his head at the unspoken thought. “If your father were with us, we wouldn’t have been defeated at the Roman gates. If your father had been with us, we would not have to hide like common criminals who have escaped from Rome’s grasp as we are doing now!” He turned his hardened gaze upon his general, knowing what might happen to him for speaking the truth.
Greyson’s hand tightly gripped his dagger’s hilt while his voice turned deathly cold. “My father might be dead for all we know of him! And we were sure to have won but the fates turned against us. If my father had been there, there was no guarantee that we could have won. But he wasn’t there, I was! And I alone am responsible for this. Not you, not him. I am.” He turned his eyes to meet the soldier’s; the soldier gasped in surprise as Greyson’s dagger embedded itself up to its end in the soft flesh of his diaphragm until it found it's mark in his heart. He jerked it back out and wiped the blade on the man’s tunic.
Slowly the old soldier slid off his horse, blood spewing from the wound and hit the ground with a heavy sound. The acrid smell of blood shied his horse away from the body; it ran in the opposite direction of the two. Greyson never looked back at the lump of human that lay crumpled on the ground nor looked around to see if anyone had seen the murder. There were more important things to think of such as making sure they get through the mountains before the first snows or whether they would have enough supplies to get them home.
One thought had persisted foremost in his thoughts the entire time since
the debacle at Rome though. Where was his father and was he, in fact, alive?
The wind brought with it a promise of rain. Darius scanned the dark
skies overhead, noting the omens in the clouds and nodded almost imperceptibly
to himself. The time had come. With a jerk of his head, a soldier on horseback
came up to him, listened carefully to what was whispered softly to him
by his commander, then rode off towards the lines once more.
Upon hearing the sound of approaching horses, he wheeled about to face the remnants of his once proud army. He eyes glazed over at the ranks of the wounded who stood supported by their brethren soldiers and his ears picked up the low rumbling that began as a whisper that soon built itself into a crescendo as the army called out, ”Darius, Darius, Darius, Darius!”
His heart swelled with pride at the sound, proud of the men who stood before him, defeated yet still strong in their belief that they would ultimately persevere. He raised his arms in acknowledgment of the cry kneeing his mount. He raced down then back up the line of men riding appearing as much like a god and as a man. As he passed by, another roar went up and shields were beat upon by swords. Finally at dead center of the lines with the wind whipping at him and his men, he paused a moment before saying what he knew he must say but his heart had told him to not say.
Taking a deep breath he began, "Men! I am proud of you all!" A roar went up again at his words and he gestured the men to silence. He renewed his efforts to be heard over the wind. "We have fought a good fight but now it is time for us to go home. Rome is out there, waiting for us--somewhere like a wolf stalking its' prey but we will not be Rome's prey this day!" He flashed a brilliant smile at the army and rode down the line a short distance to ensure that all of the men heard him. "We must decide on how we are going to live our lives, right here and right now. Winter is coming soon; I can feel it in the air, can you not?" He frowned a bit for dramatic effect then continued. "It causes me grief to tell you news that our great and mighty king, Alaric, has perished in the valley which we have left behind us now as have many of your brothers." As expected, a long series of exclamations and lamentations were heard from the men and once more, he gestured them to silence. "We must honor him though we do not have his body to bury with honors as befits a king. But first, I tell you something that I have decided to be the best for all of you and a sorrow for me."
One man stepped forward. "What is it that sorrows you, great one?"
Darius took a deep breath and held it for a moment before releasing it slowly. He looked at the man and held onto his gaze steadily while replying, "We must leave a part of you behind us. The wounded will stay here, those who are able to travel will go with me." He glanced upwards and swept his blue eyes over the men from one end of the line to the next. Speaking up louder so all could clearly hear him he said, "It is for the best. The able bodied men will form the basis of our new army while the wounded are given time to heal then make themselves ready to fight once more." He jabbed an arm skywards as a deep peal of thunder rolled overhead. "I will not forget you, this I promise!" He waited until the men quieted on their own once more. "I will be back for you--you will know of my coming and heed my call, will you not?"
As one, the men shouted, "We will!" A lone voice rang out over all the rest, "Anything for you, Darius. Anything you ask of us we will give."
The voice brought tears to his eyes for a moment and he nodded in satisfaction.
It had been said, it would be done. All was well; now he was the true leader
of the Goths. "Very well then," he shouted in reply. "Those who wish to
stay behind to care for those most badly wounded, can. The rest, follow
me. We are losing time and the wolf is out there searching for us." he
snapped his arm in a smart salute to his men then turned to go as more
Finally both rider, passenger and horse drew up by Darius' own mount.
The man who rode behind the soldier weakly lifted his pain wracked head
and glared at Darius. "Leaving without me, Darius?" Alaric icily said to
his general. "I think not!"
In the Carpathian Mountains
The light snow swirled around the army as it fell silently from the sky, muffling any sound within the valley they were passing through. Greyson was thankful that for the most part they had had good weather once they had reached the mountains and had found the forests and glens still well stocked with game to provide them with plenty of food to eat. ”One more valley and we will be home where it is warm by the fire, and cold in the Council’s hearts,” he thought to himself as he eyed the high peaks, which surrounded him. Sighing once more, he shifted about on his horse as he tried to stretch out his weary muscles. He shook his head; his face became a frown as he looked upon the ragged and struggling men who stretched out behind him in a wayward line.
Shaking his head, he glanced up at the sun as he estimated the hours
of daylight left to him. He nodded to himself. There would be just enough
daylight for them to reach their homes at last.
Erik galloped over, saluted his commander and waited for whatever was to be said.
“Do you recognize where we are?” Greyson asked as he glanced around at the craggy snow capped peaks. “Home.” He directed his sharp eyes back at the soldier who rode beside him.
Erik surveyed the area and nodded. “Yes, it is home. It is good to be back after so many years away. I had almost forgotten how beautiful it was here,” he said almost wistfully. He paused as he realized the tone of voice he had just used, glanced at Greyson to see if he reacted ill towards him but saw nothing only a blank unseeing face before him. “Shall I tell the men?”
His commander nodded silently but then cleared his throat and quietly said, “Is my father alive do you think?” He sharply glanced at the man and brusquely said, “Never mind that I said that. Rally the men; have them get into formation. We are an army and we shall enter the gates of out homes as such, not as defeated women but as tried and true men, do you understand?”
The other man nodded and waited to see if there were more instructions, which indeed there were.
“Let the word be spread among the men that they shall sup with their
families tonight and sleep with their women,” Greyson said as he kicked
his horse and rode ahead so that he could be alone.
So deep in his thoughts was he that he lost all track of the time as he mindlessly led his mount ever onwards towards the gates of home. He heard the men beginning to break out in song as they neared the gates of Alaric’s capital and the sinking sun in the sky registered on his brain but he made no acknowledgment of any of it. His thoughts lay on what to say to the Great Council when the time came after they saw what was left of the army that had been entrusted to him by Darius.
Shortly, the long, mournful sounds of the long, curved lur horns broke through his thoughts as it announced the approach of the army and he held up a hand to stop their advance. Much to his satisfaction, the men immediately quieted as they held their ground although the mere sight of their homes ahead made even the best of soldiers wanting to move ahead to see their hearths once more and hold their families and loved ones in their arms again. Swinging his mount around, the commander of this Gothic army cantered down the lines then returned back up it as he surveyed the men who had made up his army. He smiled coldly as he had always been wont to do, nodding every now and then as he waited for a sign that this indeed would bring about something better for all of them.
When no sign came that seemingly could be taken as an omen in their favor, he scowled and turned away back to the walls of the city. Riding slowly he approached alone, his cloak thrown away from his tunic with his face bare. His eyes noted the wariness of the soldiers who manned the towers that controlled access to the gates of what some could call a fortress while others would call it a city.
A sentry called out from above him, "What business have you here stranger, and why do you bring such a large amount of men with you?" The sentry was pushed to one side as an elderly man peered down at him then looked out over the men who stood in formation, ever quiet and watchful of what was transpiring before their eyes.
Soon, five more men of various ages joined the elderly man who hacked up a gob of phlegm and spat it out over the side of the city walls. Each man in turn looked over the army that was spread out in front of the gates and each gave Greyson a close inspection, occasionally whispering to one another.
Greyson grew impatient with the elders and had noted the archers who had begun to line the walls with bows drawn. He shouted out to the men who peered so cautiously at him and his men. "Are not Goths welcome in their own homes anymore? Are we to wait till the rising of the sun or do you plan to try and kill us where we stand?" His horse stomped impatiently and nodding its head which got a pat on the neck to quiet it from Greyson.
"Again, who are you and why do you come here?" one of the younger of the men shouted back at him.
Greyson's mouth tightened as he felt his temper begin to rise at the impertinence of the man for not recognizing him for who he was. With knuckles turned white from his fists balled up tightly on the reins, he replied in a barely controlled voice, "These men are your men who have come home from the war with Rome." He glanced back over his shoulder at the men then looked back at the man who had challenged him. "I am--" His words got interrupted by the eldest of the men who finally spoke up so he could be heard over all the others.
"Greyson..." the elder said to him sternly. "You are Greyson, true,
but where are Darius and Alaric?"
Others like Darius, would stay, take confession and celebrate Mass as
well as officiate over weddings and funerals. Since Darius had been with
the order and the church the longest, he was recognized as being the senior
of the brothers. He ran the church with grace, with tolerance for all,
with an always-peaceful demeanor. He was well known to bless those who
he called the members of his parish with his familiar, “Peace be with you,“
and the church members knew he meant every word and lived it too. He was
indeed a man of peace.
In the small sidewalk café near the newsstand that was just down the narrow street, Greyson closed his eyes and listened to the tolling of the bells calling people to Mass, all over Paris. He tilted his head to one side as he heard the great bells of Notre Dame ring out, singing their music as they had for centuries then opened his eyes as the bells of St. Julien’s follow suit ringing clear and sweet on the air.
Not a muscle twitched in his face to reveal his emotions; the only motion
he made was to check his watch for the time. The bells were on time every
day since he had started timing them, knowing full well what the different
functions and times of the church indicated. Glancing up, he saw a man
in a dark suit approaching, and waved his hand at the empty chair at the
Instantly, the man produced and flicked a lighter open, waiting patiently as his employer leaned his head over to light his cigarette. He replaced it in his pocket as Greyson pulled away from him once he had closed it and waited for the other man to speak.
Smoke curled about in the air as Greyson exhaled and then it swiftly disappeared. He glanced about then rested his iron cold eyes on the man across from him causing him to fidget. "I hate Paris," he said disdainfully. "Too many churches and far too many memories for one lifetime." Casually, he flicked ashes on the ground then continued. "Did you locate the man I asked you to find?"
Nodding, the man replied, "Yes, he was at where we had been told he would be. I followed him and he lead me back to his home."
"How far from here is it?" Again, Greyson took a long, slow drag on the cigarette before exhaling it always watching the man before him.
"Not far." The man was very uneasy in his employer’s presence; there was something eerie about him but try as he might, he couldn't place his finger on exactly what it was that made him so. He shifted in his chair, and glanced up at a waiter who had come to refilled Greyson's coffee cup. "Cafe`, s'il vous plait."
Greyson held up a hand as the waiter began to leave to get the coffee for the gentlemen who had just ordered. "Non," he said in a calm voice but one filled with quiet authority, waved the attendant off and then slightly frowned. "You won't have time for that now. I want you to follow your assignment, and learn every intimate detail you can about him. I want to know absolutely everything I can. Once you can give me a complete and detailed report on him, report back to me. I'll take it from there and you will be out of the picture for good." He turned his head to look down the street towards St. Julien's; his mouth slightly tilted upwards at the corners as he contemplated what lay ahead.
The other man scraped back his chair along the cement and stood as he curtly acknowledged his instructions with a sharp movement of his head then walked off leaving Greyson alone once more.
Once he was out of earshot, Greyson began to laugh mirthlessly with
an icy cast to his laughter as he made his plans for the ultimate vengeance
he could possibly devise against one man.
|The Book of Darius
(This page last updated 02/22/2003)