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Full Circle, Chapters 31-35

by Celedon


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Chapter 31

Snow fell in fat globules silently muffling all sound in the mountains that surrounded Darius and the remains of his army. Winter had set in early this year in the passes that had been free of any sign of it only a few days prior to their passing. The men hunched over in their rough cloaks, mustaches and beards ice tipped while fingers and toes became blue from the bitter cold. Not a sound was heard from the men as they passed in silent rows in front of Darius. Except for the crunching of the ice-encrusted snow underfoot, one could have sworn that there were, in looking at the army, an army of apparitions parading ever onwards.

Darius frowned drawing his brows even tighter together as he himself shivered from the cold did. He silently cursed their passing through the mountains as he glanced at the iron gray of the clouds overhead and the sheer whiteness of the landscape all around him. The snow marred all normal landmarks to find their way home so for the last two days they seemed to have been going in a circle but he had good men who could scout out their destination in any weather good or bad. He considered himself fortunate to have them.

Up ahead, Alaric rubbed at the knotted scar that ached constantly from the cold, reminding him continually of his promise to the slave to not destroy Rome. He rotated his shoulder around as his fingers traced over the ridges of flesh that had grown over the sinew stitches Methos has mended him with and winced. No one had thought to remove the stitches nor had anyone the knowledge to do so and it made the king once again wonder about his supposed savior. Who was he, anyway? And where did this knowledge he had of healing using a needle and sinew come from? His eyes flicked about as he watched the men pass alongside of him. He wasn’t like them that much was certain, he told himself, but just exactly what he was like Alaric couldn’t truly say. Again his thoughts trailed back to the conversation he had had with him regarding Darius.

"He will try to kill you any way he can, Alaric.”

Alaric coughed uncomfortably at the memory of those words then tried hard to remember what had occurred in the past seven years. It still remained a blur as if a haze had enshrouded all memories of that time period and nothing he did would ever recover them.

“You must stay alive and stop him from destroying Rome and all she stands for.”

His eyes turned hard and brittle as he heard the next words again while his mouth thinned in anger for the insolence of the slave who had threatened the king.

“If you do not stop him, I will find you and kill you—providing Darius doesn’t do it first.”

Alaric's knuckles turned white as he gripped at his reins and he snorted his disdain for the threat. ”How dare he say such a thing to me?” he hoarsely whispered out loud as he roughly kicked his mount forward towards one of the scouts he had spotted. As soon as he rode up the scout bowed in deference to his king. “How much further to home are we?”

The scout looked about then craned himself backward to watch the men who crawled in ragged procession behind them. His eyes scanned the skies in search of a good answer that would pacify the king yet be an honest answer. For a few more moments, he remained silent as he thought how best to word his answer but his thoughts were interrupted by an impatient and harsh, ”Well?”

Bowing once more in deference, he coughed and cleared his throat, gathering his thoughts before speaking. “Sire, it will be soon. The snow will stop by tonight, so the skies tell me. And we should start seeing more signs of home.”

Alaric was growing impatient with the man and scowled at him. “How soon?” His hands were numb from holding the reins so tightly; he released them then worked them about. They started to tingle as the circulation was restored to them once more and the pinpricks of feeling sent minute shockwaves through them.

The scout noticed the edge in the king’s voice and instantly replied, “A week if the weather holds.”

A thunder of hooves kicking up a spray of white powdered snow brought Darius to the king’s side. “Trouble?”

Nervously, the scout eyed the two commanders—one his king and the other his general. “Greetings, O Great One,” he managed to eke out of his mouth.

Darius acknowledged him with a curt inspection with his eyes then turned to the king as he awaited his answer.

Alaric slapped his thigh in frustration. ”A week?” he cried out as he glanced from one to the other. “A week? The men could be dead inside a week with this cold and snow!” His eyes landed on Darius and smoldered. “Tell me again, General, why I have you as such?”

Darius smiled at him with a smile that was almost an insolent smirk. “Because, O King, there is no one else like me nor knows what I know. No one else can provide you what you want most…. Victory over Rome.” He licked his lips in anticipation as his eyes glimmered with an inner light. “And that is why I am in this position, Alaric.”

With a swift jerk of his head, the king dismissed the scout leaving the two of them alone to discuss matters. “You are good—the best I have seen in my life, I’ll grant you that, Darius. But for as good as you are, you still make mistakes that cost lives that shouldn’t have been lost under any circumstances. You may not be the match against Rome I need,“ he said with the undercurrent of threat obvious to both of them. “There are others who could perhaps do better if given the chance. And after all that we have been through these past years I am strongly thinking of allowing you to retire while letting someone else try to do what you could not—destroy Rome while giving us our freedom and an empire to rival Rome in her glory!”

Darius visibly flinched at the words but instantly recovered. Through tightly clenched teeth, he hissed, “You wouldn’t dare!”

Alaric’s temper flared. “Watch me! When we get back home there will be repercussions for everyone including your son if he is indeed alive.” He seethed further, “Like father, like son—both treacherous and not to be trusted under any circumstances!”

Thoughts flashed though Darius’ mind of seeing Alaric’s body lying on the ground while blood seeped out of the deep wound that surrounded the embedded dagger in his chest. But his face never reflected what he was thinking; instead he whirled his horse away from the king and raced as far away from him as he could until he calmed down.

Finally, with his mount heaving for breath in the thin air, he allowed it to walk while he collected his thoughts. Somehow he would have to get the king to see things his way again so that he could influence him once more in the direction that Darius secretly wanted to take for his own means. And yet, he still would have to find a way to protect his son too from Alaric's wrath if Greyson was alive.

He pulled thoughtfully at his beard as he thought about Greyson. He had no doubt that he was indeed living but as to where he might be at this moment in time he had no idea. But what if he could be found? Then it hit him—send Greyson away on a mission to gather support among the brethren of the Visigoths for an all out attack against Rome sometime in the near future. A smile danced upon his lips and his eyes shimmered as the thought and idea of such a mission began to coalesce in his mind. Ostragoths. The smile became wider as his thoughts widened. Vandals. Huns. “Yes,” he chuckled in merry glee. “Yes!” A veritable coalition of peoples who would want to see the destruction of Rome and have a piece of the winnings from what is left once they got done with it. He raised his arms in supplication to the gods, closed his eyes and shouted out, “Show me a sign that this is the true way!”

A shaft of warm sunlight split the cloud cover and fell across his face. Whereupon, he opened his eyes and looked in wonder at it and the glittering it caused across the snow. He bowed his head and nodded, making a mental note to make sure to make a sacrifice tonight to the gods in thankfulness for their sign. “Thank you, “ he whispered to his gods he could not see. “Thank you for this sign.”

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Chapter 32

Greyson’s cloak swirled about his feet as he turned to face his accusers once more as he pushed back the great weariness he felt from the long journey home from the Roman states. “What are you telling me, that I failed in my mission? You dare to tell me that after seven years of bloodshed and victories for us all?” He crossed the room in a few swift paces and pounded the oaken tabletop with the flat of his hand as he emphasized his point while piercing each of the Council members’ souls with his eyes. ”I brought my men home alive!” he roared at them all. “What can you say for yourselves? What have you done for the people in the King’s absence?”

The eldest of the Council, the one who had first spotted him upon the walls of the city, cleared his throat and replied, “ We have no need to explain ourselves to you nor do we have to listen to your insults. If you do not tell us what has befallen the king and your father as well as the rest of the men we sent with them seven years ago you will suffer the consequences.” He shifted about as one frail hand reached out and grabbed at his goblet.

The darkness of his eyes glittered like black diamonds in the torchlight as he leaned forward. “The fact that you brought some the men home is irrelevant. You are nobody! Word reached us before your arrival of your ignominious defeat at the walls of Rome itself by a rabble of citizens, women and yes, even children!”

Another Council member scraped his stool backwards and stood up. He paced closer to Greyson and paused as he stared into the icy blueness of his eyes. “You failed because Darius failed as did the King.” His brows knitted together while his voice grew colder. “Where is the king?”

Greyson looked from one to another of the Great Council members faces as his temper let loose upon all of them. ”I…don’t…know!” A hand passed over his face as he rubbed at it in order to stay alert for any signs of danger. “I haven’t seen or heard from them in over a year.” He grabbed a beaker of wine and downed it but then was grabbed from behind into a vise lock grip of two guards. He struggled violently all the while cursing in two languages the men who stood before him and had made judgment upon him. “You will live to regret this, mark my words!” he screamed at them as he was drug away to be locked up away from all others.

The echoes of his struggles and curses sounded hollow in the halls as they slowly receded away from the chamber where those who had had him imprisoned for being impudent and for not answering their questions sat in silence. Eyes darted about from one to another as they slowly caught their breath from the confrontation until finally the silence grew too deafening.
The youngest of the members stood and looked down the hall where Greyson had been led away then broke the silence by saying, “Wrong answer…”
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Rome

Amid the exultation that filled the streets of Rome which Theodonius had authorized in celebration of the end of the war with the Goths, Marcus Constantine sat at a small table he had confiscated as his own getting quietly drunk. He had made his appearance along with his Co-Commander at the ritual blessing by those men who were followers of the man who was called Christo and had gone through the motions of being honored by the emperor. But somehow it had all felt hollow to him despite his outward appearance of pride and comradeship.

He had been proud to receive another honor bestowed upon him as well as more land and his choice of armies to lead once more. It was one of a long line of accomplishments he could list beginning all the way before Caesar’s time that had been given to him. After so many though, it didn’t feel like it was much of anything at all if he were to tell the truth of the matter should someone ask him. But no one did.

Taking a sip of wine from the cheap clay goblet he drank from, he scowled as he went back over the one part of the ceremony that had stayed with him the entire day. The bestowing upon Flavius Stilicho the greatest honor the emperor could give him by endowing him with the guardianship of his youngest son, Honorius. It had caught him by surprise. His fist hit the table in frustration and ire at the thought of it. Had he not also served Rome faithfully all these centuries? Did those years, nay, centuries count for nothing?

He signaled for another amphora of wine with a slap of his hand on the table which caused the man who owned the bazaar stall to come running. He gave him what he wanted before salaaming back into the shadows to wait for the next customer. His vision swam while his thoughts spun nearly out of control from the wine’s heady effects as he lurched to his feet and grabbed at the wine before swaying down the street.

He had made a decision finally as to where he would govern and lead his troops. He had decided to make sure he was as far from Rome as possible so he wouldn’t have to be reminded ever again of this wretched day. And if something should befall Rome while he was away, then so be it.

He hiccuped then coughed as he wove unsteadily through the throng towards the palace to tell the emperor of his decision. A pair of feminine hands beckoned to him out of one darkened corner of a building while whispering promises of being able to make all his dreams come true. He paused to listen and grin crookedly to the enticement then looked askance in the direction of the palace.

When the light giggle came from the shadows he glanced back at the dark corner and followed the hands and voice inside. After all, the emperor could wait and he had waited too long since last having a woman. One lived one’s life as one could and took pleasure when offered he had learned in his long lifetime of soldiering. And right now, pleasure was all he cared about!
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Late into the night amidst a bone chilling cold that numbed and blistered exposed skin from frostbite if one wasn’t careful, Darius rode before his assembled men. He looked upon the sunken eyed, hollow cheeked men and his heart choked up with pride at the strength each had shown under the worst of circumstances recently and on the field of battle in the past few years.

He finally stopped his mount before a blazing bonfire that eerily lit him with a blaze of red and orange hues as it reflected off the metal he wore and glanced off his skin as if it in itself was on fire. Turning his head, he glanced over at Alaric who cantered up towards the lines to inspect his men a final time.

“Men,” Alaric stated as he watched the men listening intently to him, “you are all heroes. Let no man tell you otherwise. You have given everything you had for me as well as for your families and people. There is no shame upon you.” He galloped up the line a few paces then stopped once again. “We have come home at last. Here we will find sustenance, love, and life. Here we will impregnate our women, raise our crops and harvest them, raise our children to be proud to call themselves Goths.”

The men raised a cry at his words—one of triumph, one of pride, one of belief in the justness of what they had done. Swords were raised, glittering red gold in the firelight, and shields were beat upon in tempo to the cries of the men. They quieted as Alaric raised his hands for silence again. Once more, the only thing one could hear was the sounds of the night broken by the rustling of the men and horses close at hand.

Allowing his horse to pick its’ way through the drifts, Alaric then bid the men fare thee well and released them from their bonds of service to him. Until, of course, the day he called upon them again to take up the shield and sword on behalf of all who called themselves, “Goth.”

The men shuffled around as they looked at one another and murmured among themselves about what had been said but drew quiet as Darius’ voice rang out in the dead of the night although he spoke with a quiet certainty and authority to them all. “Go home to your families—should they still be living. Go home to your hearths—should they still be standing. Go see your children and love them—providing Rome has not enslaved them or kidnapped them to be as their own children.”

The buzz of men’s voices began to rise in the night at their general’s words. They glanced at one another as the reality of what they might be facing them ahead began to sink in. One by one, they looked at one another then listened again to the man who had lead them for so very long.

“But remember that brothers, when you see what pain and suffering Rome has caused your families. When you see the meager food that they must eat because Rome will not give us more room to expand so that we can adequately feed our people.” Darius lowered his voice; despite that it still managed to carry to even the furthest ears in the night air. “Remember all this when the call to arms comes. And it will come, never doubt it, my brothers. It will come.”

Alaric was stirred by his general’s words to his troops as he silently watched and nodded in agreement. Yes, it would come again. Despite the warning against his life by the slave Methos, it would happen as soon as it could be managed.

The sooner, the better.

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Chapter 33

Paris

The glowing tip of embers from the cigarette was the only hint that danger was in the cold night air. Bells tolled the hour of midnight but the time had no meaning to the one who waited in the dark for someone to come scurrying home from a long night and straight to his death. Instead, a long sigh escaped the man who watched and waited in the dark then pressed his forehead to the cold, dank stone of the building that hid him from view.

Greyson’s eyes closed as the last echoes of midnight floated away. “It would be soon,” he thought to himself. The man he waited for had turned out to be quite predictable in his habits and he found that to be very boring. There would be no ice-cold thrill to be felt as this particular man fell at his feet as had so many others had through the centuries in an effort to get his vengeance.

The knowledge of that fact disappointed him even though it didn’t surprise him in the least. Darius for all his knowledge about the hearts of men had forgotten one important lesson when teaching his students through the centuries it seemed. He had forgotten to tell them that there was someone out there always watching and waiting for them just out of sight. He had forgotten to tell them that even though peace is what he taught, it was not how they would die. He had forgotten to tell them about Greyson.

Greyson’s eyes opened as he heard the approach of footsteps. It turned out to not be whom he wanted so he directed his attention elsewhere so as to not attract attention. Once the people passed by him, he went back to his vigil as his thoughts turned inward. He mentally began tabulating how many men he had killed that had once been students of his once upon a time father’s. When his count reached a suitably high number he smugly smiled to himself as he said to no one but himself, “And more to go, old man, until you come off Holy Ground, cower no more, and take up the sword again against me.”

His thoughts were interrupted by more footsteps; he flicked the butt of his cigarette so that it sailed away in a perfect arc away from him. Shoving his hands in his pockets, he felt for the dagger he had hidden away in one of them. He stepped out of the shadows and approached his soon to be victim. “Excuse me, didn’t you study under the good Father Darius?” he inquired in an innocent voice.

The older man, who carried a large satchel of books, stopped abruptly and peered closely at the younger man who stood before him. “Do I know you?” He then nodded. “Yes, I studied with Father Darius, why do you ask?”

“No, but I know you. I, too, was a student of the good Father at one time.” Greyson was quickly becoming bored with the exchange even though few words had been spoken. His eyes shifted to the satchel of books. “Let me take that from you, relieve you of your burden so to speak.” Grabbing the satchel away from the man before he could protest, he casually tossed it to one side in the street. “Oops!”

“My books!” the older man cried out but his words were cut off as Greyson plunged the dagger into the softness of the older man’s now exposed abdomen. He fell hard to the sidewalk with eyes wide in incomprehension and shock. His blood formed a dark pool around him before threading its way towards the downward slope of the street.

Greyson’s eyes and face remained impassive. He reached down and removed the ancient ceremonial dagger from the man’s body with a quick jerk then wiped it off on his clothes. Upon straightening, his eyes darted around before coming back to rest on the still corpse. “Never a gendarme when you need one, is there?” he said wryly. His eyes turned as bitter and cold as the night. “I’ll give your regards to Darius when I see him.” He smirked as he continued. “I’m sure he’ll be delighted to know that we ran into one another. Too bad you can’t be there to see his reaction.”

He looked around once more as one hand fished inside his coat pocket and withdrew an empty pack of cigarettes. He looked at it in disgust then balled it up and threw it out into the street then sauntered off back into the inky dark night once more.

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Chapter 34

Alaric watched silently as the army split up in different directions as the men made their way back to their homes on their own. ”Good men all,” he softly said to no one in particular. For a few moments longer, he waited as his eyes flicked around in all directions as the men scattered. A few even lifted their voices in song; the music echoed eerily in the forest as it bounced among the trees.

He shifted about, pulling his cloak even tighter around him against the cold and shivered. Impatiently his horse stamped its’ feet for it too wanted to be somewhere out of the cold and in response, he slowly made his way beside his general who also sat in silence and watched the men disappearing towards their homes.

“It’s time to go home, Darius. “ The sentence was tinged with longing, sadness and anticipation. “It will be good to be back in our own lodges again.”

Darius turned to look at his king then looked back at the remains of the bonfire before he spoke. “You go alone, Alaric. I have other things that need to be taken care of before I enter the city.” His brow furrowed. “We fought well with our hearts and our souls. We almost had them in our hands.”

It was Alaric’s turn to frown. “But we didn’t get them, did we? We didn’t get what we had wanted or had hoped to accomplish, did we?” He moved his mount away from Darius. “Under no circumstances, will you be gone for any length of time, Darius. We are not yet finished with our prior discussion in regards to you and your position. Do you understand me?” He didn’t want for any response from the other man. Kicking his horse in the ribs he scurried towards his city, leaving Darius behind seething at the slight.

He too shivered and silently vowed his vengeance upon the king. But he also realized that he needed to stay in good with the king for a while longer until he could manage to gather the power to set out on his own with the entire army behind him. He scratched at himself absently as he composed himself again and headed off in the opposite direction of the city. He needed time to himself to plan and conceive a foolproof line of attack that would bring him the downfall if Rome and what he most coveted.

An empire.
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Rome

Methos slid another date into his mouth as he sank lower into the hot Roman bath and sighed in contentment. He had made his way back to Rome once he left Alaric using the small ships that channeled the Mediterranean between Italia and Greece on centuries old trade routes. He then had managed to steal a horse off someone who had too much wine upon his arrival on Roman soil. He bided his time with them but once they had passed out, he took off towards Rome sitting astride a big bay who he had found to be a swift and sure footed mount much to his satisfaction.

And so now he was enjoying all the comforts of Rome again and all the corruption too. His eyes followed the movements of all the men in the bath with him and he played a game with himself as he tried to figure out who they were and what business they were conducting today while bathing. For the most part, he identified the Senators easily –they were hard ones not to miss. Their oratorical skills were on display even here although in a more subdued tone of voice as they gathered in clutches while conspiring and manipulating both themselves and others.

He watched them with a smirk on his face as he caught every now and then small snippets of conversations from them. To him it seemed that the topic of the day was the revolt of the Goths and the outcome of it. Rome was intact again; all was well. The emperor had named a successor and had also named a guardian for his second son so he surmised as the talk wafted his way.

He turned his attention away from them while saying ”Fools!” Closing his eyes, he settled into the waters as near him more water poured from a small ceramic pipe into the bath. The sound of it lulled him into a light sleep yet he still was alert enough to hear anyone approaching. He was glad to be back among those who appreciated education as well as those who were willing to question ideas as well as concepts until an answer might be found through the use of reason and logic.

A thought curled around inside his head until it found its way to his conscious mind. It made his eyes open and his mouth tighten; he pushed his way up out of the water and called for a slave as the water puddled around him as he stepped out of the bath. No time for any sauna today—he had other things to take care of first.

The slave ran over and began to towel him off briskly while Methos watched and postured so as to be thoroughly dry. He noticed the cross-hatching of scar tissue on the slave’s back and grimaced—at some time the man had been whipped severely yet had survived somehow. One hand pulled the boy away from him; he inspected the man closer. “Who is your master?”

The other man kept his eyes lowered and only pointed to a heavyset man who kept an eagle eye on all the doings inside the baths. The man glanced over at the two of them when he saw his slave point at him and stood when he saw the two of them approach.

“You own him?” Methos said as he wrapped his toga around him and threw the excess of the fabric over his shoulder. He stared at the man while one hand gripped the man’s forearm.

“If the slave has caused you any problems he shall be punished I can assure you, lord.” The slavemaster bent down to eye level and hissed at the man, “What have you done this time, hmmm?” at which the man urinated upon the ground in fear, but never looked at his master. The man watched as the puddle of urine increase in size then stop. His face became livid and he raised a meaty hand to backhand his property right then and there. “Insolence!”

As his hand swung downward, Methos reached up and grabbed it in mid-motion while his knee came swiftly upwards to meet with the man’s groin. He twisted the man’s wrist until a sharp crack was heard; the other man collapsed to the floor, shrieking in pain. He glanced at all the eyes that were glued to him and to the man on floor before calmly replying, “No problem at all. He’s not your problem anymore, he’s mine.” He fished around in his waistband for his leather purse but found nothing as he knew he would. “Sorry, seem to be a little short today.” Glancing at the slave, he nodded at him, “You’re coming with me.”

The man glanced from his owner to the man who held tightly onto him and silently nodded. What was one more master? He’d only known slavery most of his entire adult life, freedom was an unheard of thing for him. He had no hopes for obtaining it or dreams of it ever happening. He nodded in submission and the two of them left together.

Once they were outside the baths Methos skirted into a nearby alley, pulling along the slave behind him. Finally after getting lost in the maze of the narrow passageways, he turned to look at the other man knowing full well what he was--an immortal. "Where are you from?" When the slave hesitated in answering the question, he repeated it. "Where are you from?"

Clearing his throat, the slave looked him in the eyes and proudly replied, "Iberia."

"How did you come here to Rome?" Methos inquired as he assessed the immortal in front of him. It was obvious he didn't know what to think of his immortality, didn't understand it, and probably hadn't been trained in the Game. Mentally he shook his head. He wasn't going to be the one who taught him. He had far too many other things to catch up on and he didn't want the responsibility.

"I was a sorcerer of my village many years ago before the Romans came," the man replied. "The legions came and burned my people out. I had put a spell on them when we first learned of their coming but it didn't stop them from destroying all that I had ever known." The man paced a few steps then looked back at Methos. "My people had me burned at the stake for not being able to protect them."

Methos winced at the thought of being burned alive. He had died by several means in his lifetime but never by that one. He had seen others die by it; it was a terrible way to go. One hoped that the smoke would kill you first before the flames took too much of you so that you wouldn't suffer for long. "You survived. You woke up whole." He paused as he watched the other man's suffering reflected on his face as he nodded. "Do you have any idea what you are?"

The slave acted as if he hadn't heard him. "The Romans came and cut me down then took me with them to here. I've been here ever since--for 22 years!" He glanced over at Methos. "What do you mean what I am?"

Methos eyes narrowed while his mouth tightened. "An immortal. You need someone to teach you the ways of our kind, but it will not be me. You are free, go home if you want but find someone to teach you what you need to know." He scratched at himself idly then continued. "The sensation you feel when around me, you will feel when others like us are near. Heed the warning it brings."

The slave looked incredulous. "Freedom? Why?"

"Let's say I was like you once not so long ago."

"Are you--" the slave turned to go but his curiosity got the better of him.

"Like you? Perhaps I am." Methos waved him off. "Go, but before you do, what is your name?"

The slave stood upright and with a dignified air, made a few quick motions in the air. "I am called Kantos." With a swift turn on his heel, he scampered down the passageway out of sight, leaving Methos wondering just what he was doing in the alley when he should still be in the baths.

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Chapter 35

Steadily, through the ever-deepening snow, Darius made his way to the entrance to the city that he knew would be mostly undermanned and entered the world of civilization again. His eyes darted about for any signs of those who might be walking about at the late hour but saw no one. He didn’t want to be recognized yet nor did he feel jubilant that he had come home after so many years away. Instead, his thoughts raced through all that had happened in those years during the revolt—uppermost was the fact that Alaric’s death had been thwarted not once but twice either by the gods or by someone who had other things in mind than what Darius did regarding him.

That fact alone made his stomach twist in knots while his face became cold granite with glittering chips of blue in place of his eyes. ”May he die in agony!” he snarled to the snowflakes as he continued to brood at the setback of his plans for an empire.

He shook his head and scowled then once again wondered what had become of his son. Had he indeed made it back alive? Had he, at least, been triumphant against Rome? Silence was the only answer he had except for the muffled hooves against the ground of his horse. Ahead of him he could see the center of the settlement and a lone pole thrust into the ground. Attached to the pole was a misshapen object; he squinted as he tried to make it out as to what the object was then grunted as he recognized it for what it was.

A man.

The hairs on his body rose in anticipation as he pulled back hard on the reins to a complete stop. He scanned the area then peered closer at the man as the unmistakable signaling of an immortal nearby slammed into him full force. ”Greyson?” he hoarsely whispered to the figure who was drooped down as if asleep on the thick stake. ”Greyson?”

An ironic chuckle that was unmistakably his son’s filtered though the thin air. “All hail the conquering hero.” Gray eyes rose to meet blue as the prisoner straightened himself upright. “You’d be surprised at what you can find out just by being here like this.” The moon came out from behind the clouds for a brief moment and illuminated both men’s faces.

Fury crossed the Goth general’s face as he took in the condition of his son—the wild, unkempt hair, the manure splattered clothing, the dirt and filth of one who had been exposed for a period of time to the elements. Not to mention the very stench of him from having to defecate as well and urinate upon himself due to his imprisoning restraints which didn’t allow him to move about at all. What happened?”

With cold ire in his voice, Greyson calmly replied, “I don’t think they liked my soldiering capabilities. Seems I left more behind me than I brought back.”

Darius leapt down from his mount and in three swift strides he was at his son’s back, sawing away at the bonds until they fell useless to the ground. He stepped aside and came back around to embrace his son at long last. "It's good to see you."

Both men startled at the sound of music that came from one of the elongated huts then Darius slapped his son on the back. "Come, let us be away from here, there are too many prying eyes. I have a job for you. Did you die while here?" He motioned at the stake.

Grayson shook his head, "no", as he rubbed at his arms and wrists, restoring the circulation to them. He raised his head, looked about and nodded as he glanced at. "Job?"

Slowly with Darius' mount in tow, the two immortals began to make their way to Alaric's central enclosure. Darius with one arm thrown over Greyson's shoulders nodded. "Yes, job. Something that will get you away from here for sometime until it is safe for you to return to my side again."

His curiosity raised, Greyson's eyebrows raised a notch. "What did you have in mind?

The snow and night swallowed them and their words as they drew further away from the empty stake but the echo of the general's words hung in the night air: "This is what I have in mind..."
_________________________________________________

As the two of them drew near Alaric’s dwelling, they discussed all that had happened to them since they had last parted. Both told one another of the victories each had had through the years and of the final defeat of their armies. Darius was weary and desperately needed sleep but he had to ensure that all was in place in order to ensure that Rome would pay for what she had done to his plans and to his men. All he needed were both time and allies that could be depended on to do as they were told.

Too bad that the Huns and Vandals didn’t have that reputation; the Ostragoths on the other hand, did. They were Goths and would follow him to wherever he wanted to go, once he got rid of anyone who had other plans than what he had in mind. Darius paused and looked askance at the guard who stood huddled against the cold and snow in the looming shadows. He glanced over at his son and clapped him on the back. “I doubt that they will be happy to see you freed and by my side again. In fact, knowing them as I do—“ he paused with a frown on his face. “Are the members of the council still the ones we had when we left seven years ago?”

Greyson shook his head. “Some are; many are not. It has changed, so it would appear.” His eyes turned flint gray, while his face turned hard. “I wasn’t allowed to stay around long enough to be a good judge of their character.” He stared into the shadows and spat. “No one saw me die because I lived on hate. I drank on revenge when I was thirsty. They will all pay someday for what they did to me, I swear!”

Darius listened impassively, but he watched the fervor in which the words were uttered by Greyson and knew that each word was meant in earnest. The council members would indeed die by his son’s hands no matter how long it took him and he wouldn’t stop it in the least. Finally, he nodded and pulled out a sack of coins and threw them at his son. “Take this.”

Deftly the other man caught it in mid air, tucking it into his waistband. “And this is for?”

“New clothes for one thing. Burn the ones you have on. From this point onwards until I call you to my side, you—“ He glanced over to the guard once more and nodded his head towards the outskirts of the village. “Come, too many listening ears.”

Both moved off in the direction of the village’s outer edges and the older man continued with his sentence that had been left half finished. “You will do whatever it takes to get the Vandals and Huns to cooperate with us. You must! The Ostragoths will cooperate with no problem! They, like us, love a good fight and I intend to do just that."

"And what shall I do to persuade those of them who are reluctant to join us? Threaten them, murder them, sleep with the wives?"

Darius' tone of voice lowered. "Whatever it takes, my son. No matter what, understand? Report to me as you can on your progress while I work on the king from this end."

Greyson looked sharply at his father. "Are you anticipating problems, father?"

Wanly, Darius smiled as he shook his head, "no." "None that I cannot handle. After all, time is on my side, not his. He is getting older and since his illness, he is most definitely weaker. Do not trouble yourself over it." He ran a dirty hand over his face as he tried to wipe away the sleepiness that was slowly overcoming him.

Greyson grew concerned but didn't say anything, as it was not his way. He was never one to show great kindness or caring towards others with the exception of his wife who was long since dead. He held out his arm and both men grabbed each other's in a tight grip. Both knew that once more, they would be parted but ultimately they would be together again as they rode towards the future with Darius at the head of the mightiest empire not even Rome could match! "And I will be right there at his side in whatever capacity he needs me," he whispered softly to himself. His eyes locked onto his father's. "How long do you think, father?"

Cocking an eyebrow, Darius thought for a moment. "Three years or less depending on how successful you are in getting the others to become our allies and give us troops to fight with."

"Then I shall not let you down. Three years is nothing!" With that, he turned about and headed into a low entrance to the hut they stood by but stopped when he heard his name called. Upon turning, he saw Darius fling his cloak off of himself and throw it at him.

"Something to remind you of who you are both fighting and working for, my son. Do not forget who you are and what you are. Be cautious."

Cold laughter rang out in the thin air. "I always am, father. I always am!"



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(This page last updated 02/22/2003)