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Full Circle, Chapters 36-40

by Celedon


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Chapter 36

Orly Internationale, Paris

The whirring of the camera’s shutter opening and shutting each time a picture was taken was not noticed by all of the other people who split around the young man who took the pictures in their hurry to get to their gates for their flights. They did not see anything out of the ordinary; they didn’t notice anything at all except the vast amount of gates that still were between them and their destination. And for that, the young man was glad that he blended so well in the crowd heaving a quiet sigh of relief as they made their way around him.

The man pulled the camera down from his eye for a moment and shrugged his sleeves down over his wrists again. For just an instant, a tattoo revealed itself on the man’s left wrist: a blue circular one with what appeared to be a stylized ram’s head in the center of it. Several smaller circles lay within the larger outer band of the tattoo itself. He was a man who belonged to something that was outside of most men’s knowledge or beliefs: the Watchers. Those who knew about the immortals that walked among men, observed them, recorded their lives and history for posterity. Those who kept vigil over their secret society as well as the secret of the immortals from the rest of the world at large: that was what the Watchers were and did. And they had for centuries.

Greyson shifted in his hard plastic chair while his eyes panned about looking for anyone who might bring him trouble. He pulled out his cigarette case from his inner pocket of his coat, tapped down the tobacco in the cigarette he had pulled out of it, then placed it in his mouth with an elegant movement.
 
He began to pat himself down for his lighter then felt a familiar bulge in one pocket. Reaching in, he withdrew the object then held it up for viewing.

The ancient rosary he held gleamed from use over many years; his eyes faded as he remembered exactly where he had gotten it from: prior to Waterloo, after the battle was over and Wellington had won another small victory. He had been caught behind the English lines and had not been allowed passage through them despite any type of pleading or bribes he had tried. No one was allowed under any circumstances to go on past Wellington’s armies. He had found it near an abandoned cannon that had been mired in the snow.

And he had cursed loud and long at them for it too for he knew that Darius was out there somewhere finally off Holy Ground after centuries of hiding upon it. He knew because it was he himself who had given the Cardinal a small fortune as a bribe to have Darius assigned to a hospital or to a position as a chaplain to the French army and thus off Holy Ground.

He had had it all meticulously planned out: the confrontation, the baiting of his centuries ago mentor, the death of the man he had come to hate because of his actions on one particular day 2,000 years earlier. His hand gripped it in a tight fist till the knuckles on his hand turned white. But Wellington had other plans and had caused him to miss one of the rare opportunities to get to the man who called himself a man of the Church now.
He sighed then glanced around as the man sitting beside him gave him a nudge and took the proffered lighter from him. He lit his cigarette, then blew a small smoke ring. He glanced over to the man who had given him the lighter. “Merci,” he said as he handed back the lighter. “Un cigarette?” He pulled out another pack and offered one from it to the other man. “My special blend.”

The other man thought for a moment then took one, nodding his head in thanks to Greyson. He lit it then smiled appreciatively at the flavor which bit at his taste buds. “Bien, monsieur. Tres bien.”

“Of course.”
An announcement blared overhead and Greyson stood to board his plane back to Vienna and his home. He made a final glance around him then went to check in; once done he boarded never noticing the young man with the camera who followed him onto the plane.
St. Julien de Pauvre.
 
Darius tossed fitfully in his sleep until his eyes gradually opened to the darkened room which served both as his bedroom as well as his office space. He knew that sleep would not visit again that night so he got up and slipped on his robe, which lay across a small armoire near the bed.
 
Sighing, he rubbed at his face to waken himself up completely then slowly walked over to the desk after kneeling momentarily in front of a small cross hanging on the wall near the bed. He sat at the desk and lay his tired head upon his hands. Ever since the visit from Methos he had had disturbing dreams of things he had nearly forgotten that had occurred centuries before. Dreams which woke him in the middle of the night like tonight with their vividness and clarity of people and actions long since gone. Taking a deep breath, he raised his head and flipped on the small light on the desk and began to shuffle papers about.

The jarring ring of the telephone startled him and caused him to drop several papers on the floor. He picked it up while glancing down at the papers on the floor. "Hello?"
A woman's sobbing was heard on the other end of the line. "He dead, Father. He's dead! Murdered!" The sobbing continued but harder this time.

"Anna? Is that you?" Darius said in a concerned voice. "Andre--are you talking about Andre?"

A small "yes" was heard from the other end of the line and his face became knotted in pain and consternation. Another one. Gone. He knew without having to say anything else who had done it.

Greyson.
 
He tried to be as calm as he could in an attempt to calm the woman down. "Do you want me to send someone over, Anna? I can call the bishop and have them send someone from your church. Would you like me to do that?"

"I cannot believe it, Father! Who would do something like this to my Andre? Why would they do it to him--to me?"
 
"When did it happen and where?" At least she was talking and beginning to become a little more calm, he thought to himself. It was something considering the shock she must be feeling.

"At the airport there, in Paris. He just fell over and died right there while waiting on his plane. The police are telling me he was poisoned."
Darius lifted his eyes up to the cross then said a small prayer for his former student. "Anna, listen to me. Go to bed and sleep if you can. I'm calling the bishop and asking to have him send someone over in the morning, all right? Sleep, Anna. You'll need it and the strength it provides you. Do you understand?"
 
A rustling sound came from the other end of the phone and he knew she was nodding.

"Yes, sleep, I'm so tired. Goodnight Father."
 
"Night, and we will take care of things, don't worry." He hung up the phone and then stood up. Walking over to the cross, he fell to his knees in supplication. He cried out, "Why this? Why? They were all good people, Greyson. They were innocent of what happened. Why punish them for what happened?"
 
There was no answer only silence. He pushed himself up off the floor, crossed himself then walked out to the sanctuary to gaze out through the simple stained glass windows to the street. How long would this continue, he wondered? And for how much longer could he take seeing his students killed one by one before no longer being able to resist taking the other immortal up on the challenge to fight him?

And, he thought ruefully, I know what it would mean.
 
My death.

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Chapter 37

Wearily taking his horse’s reins, Darius turned to go back to the king’s longhut. He clasped his arms about him to ward off the cold that chilled him to the bone, and watched the stars twinkling sharply in the chill of the night sky. “Home, “ he softly said to no one. “Home—but not for long if I have anything to say about it.”

When he arrived back to the longhut, he warily watched the guard for a moment then proceeded to enter the dwelling. All he could think of was a warm bed, hot food and a cool glass of mead to quench his thirst. He brusquely passed by the men and women still up listening to the bards around the large fireplace as he headed towards his room but paused when he noticed that the room had grown still when he entered it.
 
He swung around to stare at those who clustered around the fire; they in turn stared back at him. Momentarily he wondered if anyone even remembered who he was but he decided that it didn’t matter for the moment. All that mattered was his body screaming for sleep and his empty stomach. “What are you staring at?” he growled at them all then swung about and went to his room.
 
One of the ladies turned to another and asked, “Wasn’t that the general, Darius?”
“I think so. I do believe it was him!”, the woman answered.
 
The first woman scratched at herself as she mused at the information then said, “I thought he was dead!”

“Obviously not dead, dear one,” one man joined in the conversation. “I’ve heard he’s a hard one to kill…”
 
Three years later, Greyson rode with a massive contingent of men like a prince towards a secret meeting. It was to be attended by all sides who were interested thanks to his efforts during that time period to bringing down the fall of the Roman Empire—or at least what was left of it. He had used force, bribery and sheer coercion, slept with the wives of the powerful men he needed on his side who had influence with the rulers of the people he was visiting with at the time, and so much more in order to further his case.
 
Many times it sickened him to do what had to be done but he never let on that that was the case. He attended his duty to his father well and followed the order of his commander to the last degree and then went further. In one case, he was put to the test when with the Huns to decide a man’s fate when he was questioned as to what his people did for punishment for the crime the man had committed.

Greyson had stood up and without blinking an eye, decapitated the man on the spot then sat back down and continued to eat as if nothing had happened. There was stunned silence for a moment then the Hun leader broke out laughing and welcomed him on the spot as a member of his tribe with all the rank a visiting prince would have gotten. He had found himself drawn to the horsemen of the steppes despite the fact that they were, in his heart, enemies.

And so it was that he had toured each of the groups as instructed by his father to plead for troops and to promise a part of the richness of Rome to each of them: the Ostragoths, the Huns, the Vandals. And it was the Huns he now rode with as well as the Vandals so he could show them the way to where it had been arranged for the meeting to take place. It would be the first time all had sat down together outside of the Ostagoths, all at the same table to discuss something.

Greyson slid his eyes over to watch his Hun companion as his eyes widened at the site of the large tents and hastily erected longhuts that lay in front of them. He pointed and spoke to him in the sing song dialect he had learned while with them about what was about to take place. "You will be required while among my people to not have your weapons, my lord. Remember, you have been our enemy until now and there is no love lost between our people. We, in turn, also will have no weapons as the others too who are attending. Do you agree?"
 
A gruff, barking sound was made by the man riding beside him. He was dressed in rich silks and furs. And with every step of the horse, a tinkling sound was made from the several bells that were braided into the mane and tail of the beast. His almond shaped eyes missed nothing, and his sharp mind remembered every landmark there had been from their homeland to where they were now. “I understand, but I do not like it.” The Hun ruler swung his cool eyes onto his guide. “How many others are there like this?”
 
“Look for yourself—both of you.” Greyson said to the Hun and Vandal leaders who looked about with a mix of curiosity and the calm assessment of the opposing armies’ forces. He swung an arm towards the rough enclosure that held several corrals of horses, thousands of them of different colors and sizes but well suited for war. “Several. We shall have all that is needed when you join us.”
 
He glanced around himself in appreciation of the hastily established camp. Darius had only sent word a few months prior that the time had come to bring their soon to be hoped for allies to a meeting so as to negotiate and plan strategy for the assault upon Rome. It had taken a lot of doing but he had at long last convinced them to accompany them to this clandestine meeting between what had been until recently the bitterest of enemies.
 
The haunting sounds of the long, curling lur horns greeted them as they came closer into sight to signal that they had arrived. Instantly, it seemed as if thousands swarmed out from all the buildings, clustering about to await the arrival of the visitors to their camp. Many gawked their necks and heads about as they took in the brightly colored silks of the men so the vast steppes from which they came and the well trained soldiers who had come with their leaders, each one hand picked by the leaders themselves.
 
“We have our greeting party coming to bid us well I see,” Greyson said as he pointed out the two men riding silently towards them. One sat as if he was born on the back of a horse and the other looked like the true leader of men that he was. Darius. He trotted up to his father and embraced him tightly as he murmured, “Is it all in place?” to the other man.
 
Smiling, Darius whispered in his ear, “How could it be anything but?” He then turned towards Alaric. For a moment his face flashed hard and cold as he thought of what the past three years had brought him: the hardships, the conniving, the additional troubles that had had to be overcome due to Alaric’s orders.
 
He smiled at his king but his thoughts remained dark and murderous. He had found out after Greyson left when he had woke the next morning, that Alaric had refused to see him. He had in fact, been banished from the king’s sight and all his titles and lands had been stripped from him and his home knocked down by the command of the king. He was in all respects, just an ordinary man once more a fact that he hated more than anything else except for one thing—the king himself.
 
Immediately, he began to plan and take measures to bring himself back to power. He set into motion plans which had led to the assassination of his successor and the fall from grace of the next man who had dared to usurp the position that Darius knew innately that was his and his only. He knew that only he had the vast experience required that the others didn’t. He knew that he would get back into power by whatever means necessary and sway Alaric again to do as he wanted him to. It had taken time but he was now fully back in command of the armies as if nothing had happened between them at all in the past three years.

“Greyson, I see you have brought our visitors well to us.” Alaric’s tone was flat, not at all welcoming. “Bid them well from us and ask them to sup at our table tonight. We have much to discuss. “ He glanced over at the noisy throng which milled about behind them. “Our brethren have decided to join us already in our plans for Rome, in retaliation for our humiliation at her hands.”
 
Greyson coolly looked at his king; it was obvious that there was no love lost between them. “My lord, it is my pleasure to bring them to you.” He glanced at his father before looking back at Alaric. Bluntly he stated, “When do we eat? It’s been a long journey for all of us.”
 
Insolent like his father, Alaric thought to himself. His being away hadn’t changed him at all. It had, in fact, made him even worse. “We sup soon. Lead them into my tent and we shall break bread with them and quench their thirst.”
 
Greyson nodded in acquiescence then whirled his horse around to tell his charges of the invitation. He was to serve as interpreter and as a liaison between all the parties; he was well suited to the task. He had learned much in the time away about how to manipulate people. He made an excellent and skilled covert operations person. In other words, a spy of the highest magnitude.

After riding back and extending the invitation he accompanied both of the rulers of those he had ridden so far with. Introductions were made, gifts proffered, exchanged, and accepted. Then all went into Alaric's tent to begin discussing how the process of the destruction of Rome was to be accomplished.
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Darius' palm slapped hard on the flat oak table. "No! We will be the first through the gates of Rome. We have precedent to do so; they shamed both our gods and us with their one god and their ways. The time is right I am telling you." His hand curled back into a meaty fist. "We will have the honor but you also will share the goods. Between you, Rome will be no more as we now know it. We will be free of her tyranny at long last to do as we want!"
 
Through Greyson's interpretation the ruler of the Vandals spoke up. "And if we allow you this, what is to say that there will be anything left of the city's riches for us?" His eyes slid over each of the men in the room as he tried to gauge the foreigner's responses and thoughts. "What will we get out of it?"
 
"Yes, " piped in the Hun leader, "if there is nothing left then you will have brought us here only to lie to us. We are men of honor and of pride. If there is any treachery, we will avenge ourselves upon you in such a way that our past history with each other will be nothing compared to what will be"

Each of the differing factions eyed each other warily while the air laid heavy in silence. No one faction trusted the other and the negotiations had now been ongoing for hours without any breakthrough as to how it was to come about regarding Rome's downfall. All were weary and short tempered; the only thing that they seemed to agree on was that Rome had to be taken with the time being right to do so.

More mead was poured. Behind hands that covered their mouths, were whispers between each member of their factions between themselves, discussing things of which were being talked about. Eyes snapped sharply to the front towards Alaric when the sound of liquid was heard being poured out onto the table.
 
The Goth king stood, one hand holding a beaker of wine as he poured it out on the table and watched as all eyes were directed at him. "Watch carefully. This is the blood that we will spill once we get to Rome." He paused for effect, noticing that not one person's attention wavered from him as he waited for Greyson to translate his words in both languages. "This is the color of Roman blood. It is the color the streets and roads will be when we take the city and then you follow in our wake, one wave after another."
 
Glancing over to the Ostragoths, he smiled ever so slightly. At least they understood him and what he wanted to accomplish despite the fact that they were as greedy as the others when it came down to the spoils of war--Roman spoils of war, that is. But it didn't matter, right now. All that could and would be negotiated out soon, provided they convinced the two other kings to join forces with them. He continued. "Join us and you too can see this color for yourselves and bring back to your homes, wealth beyond your wildest dreams. What say you, my brothers?"
 
Greyson translated but was secretly impressed with Alaric's words. He was sure that the men from the steppes would say yes to the offer. He waited the same as the others for the answer but was taken off guard when the Hun ruler stood up and replied with his answer.
"We will not do this for you." He turned and walked out, followed by his party of men.
At this answer, pandemonium broke out. Many stood and walked out on the others as they followed the Hun outside to his tent while others sat in stunned silence. Still others talked noisily while Darius strode over and grabbed his son and dragged him outside where they couldn't be heard.
 
"Go get them and bring them here. Promise them anything except being the first in Rome's gates. Tell them whatever they want to hear but bring them back and get them to say, "yes."" He roughly shook his son by the shoulders to emphasize a point. "We need them!"
 
Greyson's eyes lit up as if they were on fire and he nodded in understanding then headed in the direction of the Hun tent.
 
Darius watched him go and as he did, he murmured, "I need them!"

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Chapter 38

Over the next few weeks the negotiations dragged on between all four parties. More than once one of the parties involved walked away when they found that they could not do things as they wanted nor could not get the compromises necessary to form a solid diplomatic bond between them. Nerves frayed and tempers flared as they drug on.

Greyson began to wish that his father had never even thought of the idea of having them help supply the manpower he needed to bring Rome to her knees. He was exhausted from his stint as interpreter as well as spy for his people.
 
Eventually though, all parties had come to the agreement that the attack on Rome would happen in three waves with the Goths being the ones who would get the honor of sacking Rome first. In their troops would be the best Hun and Vandal scouts they had; the scouts were to report back to their people the best way to be lead to Rome when their time came to attack.
 
Once the Goths got through with pillaging and sacking the city, there was to be a lull between the next attack that was to be lead by the Vandals in the second wave followed by the Huns in the third wave. It was a brilliant plan, carefully thought out and planned; Darius knew that Rome would be utterly decimated when finished. The thought of Rome on her knees brought a smile to his lips and a chuckle of glee as he contemplated it again.
It was to be the completion of a dream that had burned in him since the defeat during the last revolt seven years ago. And it would also be a means to unburden himself of the one thing that kept him from grabbing all he could and building an empire that would last for thousands of years under his command.
 
He sighed wearily as he took another long swallow of the sweet honey mead in his beaker and looked around at the celebration which swirled and eddied around him. The Vandals and Huns were returning to their homes in the morning; already scouts had been chosen and knew why they were to be left behind in the possession of the Goths. This celebration was to honor those going home and Darius was getting quietly drunk but remained ever alert as always.

Greyson made his way over to his father’s table sliding a glance towards Alaric and the other two rulers. “Good riddance I say. This is far more than I had bargained for,” he complained. “I won’t be sorry to see them gone.”
 
“Stop whining like a small child!” Cold blue eyes turned towards Greyson. “We have what we wanted out of them and they have what they think they want. They each think they have won more than the other in the negotiations when in fact, they have won little and lost a lot.” Darius jerked a chin towards the others. “I was the winner this time and it is I who hold all the power. Alaric will be gone soon enough and then the world will know of me and tremble when I come.”
 
The younger man sucked in his breath while holding the other man’s gaze. With a thumb outstretched, he drew it swiftly across his neck from one jugular vein to the other. When his father nodded ever so slightly, he chortled out loud. “Very good, father. Very good!”
 
As they continued on their journey southward, the army’s ranks begin to swell as their brethren, the Ostrogoths took their places within Darius’ army. Word passed ahead of them that a mighty army was on the move and that it was worthless to try and stop them. If you tried, then you would die and your village would be sacked while your women were raped before your eyes.
 
Darius’ heart felt as if it would nearly leap out of his chest if only it could in pride at the size of the army that seemingly grew larger each hour of each day they traveled towards their objective—Rome. All the years in preparation for this to happen and become a reality, all of the careful planning, strategies they had worked out and was now in place, all the late nights of making do with whatever means of subterfuge was necessary to get what they needed done. It now was all coming together into a force no one had ever reckoned with in a few centuries. Not even Rome would be able to withstand what was to come by Darius’ reasoning. And the thought of that made him smile broadly in anticipation of what lay ahead.
 
Rome
 
The emperor paced back in forth in agitation pausing every now and then to look far off into the distance to the north of Rome. Ever so often he shook his head as he thought then discarded his ideas as to what could be done to stop the great army his spies had told of that were heading towards the city.
 
“May the One in Heaven look down upon us and show us mercy,” the ruler said to the air. “We will need it.” He sighed and looked up towards the sound of a bird singing in one of the trees he had in his gardens of his villa that stood outside of Rome.
 
He was his father’s son in looks and bearing but didn’t possess the ability to lead men like his father had for so many years. His father had bestowed the emperor’s crown upon his half brother, Honorius, but had left nothing for him when he had died a few years past.
 
During his brief reign, his brother had assassinated his guardian, Flavius Stilicho, the great general of the mighty Roman forces as punishment for leading a failed uprising against the tyranny he had forced upon the populace at large. He had been so hated by the people that there had been several attempts on his life until finally, one day, one of the attempts accomplished it’s goal and he was buried without any outpouring of public grief. In fact, a great celebration broke out in the streets when the news filtered down from the Senate that their emperor had in fact, died.

The Senate had come to him in supplication and begged him to take over governing the Empire for their was no one else who could be trusted enough to do so. “My Lord Theodonius, we beg you to take up what your father left as his legacy to Rome.”
 
“Speak not to me of my father, nor of my lately departed brother. Rome has seen enough bloodshed in the last few years and has lost too many good men to that so called legacy of my father.” Theodonius’ eyebrows met in the mid-center of his forehead as he considered what they had proposed. After a long pause that made the Senators fidget nervously, he glanced at them. “There will no dissention upon my nomination?”
 
“We are unanimous. Say the word and the position is yours. We are willing to do whatever you say, lord, but we beg you to say, “yes”.”
 
“Then I accept.”
 
Now, all of that seemed so long ago. Sighing once more, he looked back towards the northern horizon and damned his brother for killing the one person who might have been able to do something with the army that would stop the Goths. There were others available to take the place of the general, Constantine for one, but many had been sent to the eastern part of the empire to help put down an uprising that was occurring. It left Rome vulnerable; they had taken some of Rome’s finest soldiers and most of her army with them. All that was left were some untried legions and fresh faced boys who were serving their proscription time that was required under the law. And he knew that if anything were to be thrown against them that was too hard, the army would collapse, leaving Rome easy prey.
 
And that was something he didn’t want to allow to happen while he was leading the Empire. He headed inside to pray for a miracle to occur and for protection from the nightmare he knew would be made real if Rome were to be sacked by the Goths. “May God save us all from that…” he murmured as he went inside the temple located inside his home. “Have mercy upon us.”

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Chapter 39

Paris
 
Darius waved merrily to the group of nuns who gathered their charges as a mother hen gathered their chicks around her to protect them from the rain. He watched, smiling the antics of the young children who were all dressed in their school smocks and shorts as it began to rain and who didn’t necessarily want to stop splashing in the puddles which were forming. Shaking his head while laughing softly, he wagged a finger at one who had turned to look at him in defiance before taking a last, large jump into the nearest puddle. “Children!”
 
The Mother Superior bee-lined for the child immediately and scolded him in front of the others causing the child to burst into tears. She glanced up and bowed her head in deference and salutation to him then hustled all of the children away in a single file with the help of the other Sisters who accompanied her. Soon, the only thing that remained to say that they had been there was the echoing of a child’s cries through the narrow streets and alleys.
 
He turned, knelt and crossed himself before continuing on into the chapel and from there into his combination living quarters/office space. He paused, realizing that for the moment he was a free man—his time was his own.
 
Glancing around, he listened to the pouring rain that pelted the lead roof of the church. He made his way to the small window, opening it a small crack to peer at the downpour. “April in Paris—it hardly ever changes through the years!” he quietly said and then said a prayer of thanks for the bounty the rain would bring.
 
He closed his eyes for just a moment and was instantly transported to another April morning centuries prior to what he lived now in an altogether different place and time…
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Wind made the rain pelt harder into each man’s face as they slowly plodded onwards towards Rome. They remained silent, each man determined to make it one step at a time until the time came for camp to be made for the night. The sucking sounds of thousands of feet being lifted out before plunging back into the muddy muck of the earth seemed never-ending but not a man complained about it nor seemed too concerned about what lie ahead of them.

Alaric galloped back towards Darius, pulling his horse up sharply to prevent his mount from sliding into Darius’ own. He turned his horse about, matching the pace that Darius set his own mount before looking over towards what would be the horizon if one could see it.
 
Darius jerked away from him, his mount trotting a few steps beyond the other animal so that no contact was made when the other animal slid to a stop nearly in front of it. The general scowled and yanked at the reins, pulling the horse back in line and said nothing to his king in greeting.

The silence continued for a few more minutes, each man testing the other to see who would outlast the other before breaking into the strained formalities that each used when speaking to one another. Finally, at long last, the king broke the silence. “We shall make camp up ahead. The weather is too bad to continue; the men need rest and food.” He pointed to a small clearing. “There. That is where we should stop.” He sternly looked at his general. “Do you understand me?”
 
He waited for the protest that was surely to come from Darius but much to his surprise, nothing was said regarding the encampment. Instead, the icy blue eyes of his general steadily locked onto his own; a small thinning of Darius’ lips was the only thing that gave away any sign that the orders were not taken well by the general.
 
A large crack of thunder made their mounts shy away from one another but quickly they were gotten under control again. Darius glanced away from the man who had stood in his way once to often then back at his king. “If Roman soldiers can march forty leagues in their measurement units, my men can do forty-five. These men can out-do anything Rome can do; they can out-fight, out-maneuver and out-last whatever is thrown against them. You should know that, Alaric. You have ridden with them so you know that they are unstoppable and have no fear.”
 
Alaric glanced backwards over his shoulder at the ragged line of men and boys who trudged heavily through the mud. Glancing back at the other man, he shook his head. “They are unbeatable, that is true, Darius. But they won’t be if they don’t get rest! You have your orders. Obey me.” With that statement, he wheeled his horse around and cantered off towards the other sub-commanders to give the orders to stop for the night. He didn’t trust Darius enough to do it and knew that his highest ranked soldier would ignore his orders if a chance arose to do so and follow his own devices.
 
Shooting a deadly glare in the direction of the king’s retreating back, Darius pulled the bronze helmet off his head, held it under one arm, while his hands freed the braids which kept his hair away from his face. He let loose with a shrill whistle and pointed to the spot indicated by Alaric, making a series of hand gestures to indicate that they were to stop for the night. He noted with satisfaction that the other lieutenants all nodded at this and began to arrange for the men to get ready to stop and rest.
 
Soon the army arrived at the spot and one by one they collapsed under what little shelter there was from the rain. It looked that the meal would be once again the cold, bug infested bread each man carried, a small portion of cheese that was allotted to one and all, and mead to warm them as well as to keep their blood flowing in the cold wetness. The air reverberated with the sounds of weapons being discarded onto the ground as well as the leather and wooden armor those who could afford it wore.
 
Greyson came over to sit and break his fast with his father, breaking open his bread to pick out the bugs that were visible before biting into it. Both ate in silence; they were more tired and hungry than both were willing to admit. Closing his eyes in weariness, he tilted his head upwards and opened his mouth to catch the rain. “Gods, but we have gone so far!” he said after taking a long, hard swallow of the quenching rainwater. He sat back up, broke off a piece of cheese, bit it, then thought for a moment. "But if I reckon right, we must be almost there."
 
Darius roughly sketched out a map using a stick in the muddy mire that was supposed to be the ground. “I figure we are here and that Rome is somewhere--here.” He stabbed at a point that was further away by perhaps a handspan from where he had indicated they were. He munched on his bread, took a long drink of mead, and then pointed. “We may be as close as only a week away from there.”
 
He tossed the bread crust over his shoulder, and chewed thoughtfully as his eyes scanned the gray skies. “What we need though, is dry weather. If we are to succeed in entering Rome’s gates then we must have dry ground in which to fight on and be in a position that will give us the advantage.” Narrowing his eyes, he mused, “There are more than one road into the city. If we were to blockade all routes in and out of the city and do it by cover of night….” He cupped his chin in his hand while drumming his fingers on his knees as he thought it out.
 
“If we were to do that, “ Greyson said, continuing his father’s thoughts, “We could put a part of the army at the most vulnerable gate and wait for the crack of dawn to attack.”
 
The older man nodded proudly at his son. “I see that you have learned a few things in the years you’ve been gone.” His eyes returned to the makeshift map in the mud and he frowned in concentration. “We would have to scale the walls with a few men and take out the guards at their post who guard the entrances and the signal fires. But we have to have a diversion to do so.”
 
Silence reigned for the next few minutes until involuntarily, the Goth general yawned. He glanced sheepishly at his son then said, “Let me think on it. Perhaps the rest will come in my dreams!”
 
Grinning at his father’s remark, the younger man nodded. “Sleep well, father.” He stood and left without any further comment, leaving behind Darius still staring at the map he had drawn on the ground.

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Chapter 40

Rome
 
Methos sauntered slowly through the crowded bazaar in the narrow streets that infested the areas of the city that were not a part of the more planned areas of it. The area where he was in was more haphazardly built than those where the more public buildings and areas sat. Both the homes and the streets they sat on were dirty and mostly dilapidated, with refuse flowing in the streets. One had to be careful where one stepped; you never knew when someone might fling out pottery bowls full of human waste from a window or dead carcasses of animals. Rats scurried about in broad daylight with no thought as to whether or not they would be seen.
 
He threw a denarii at one of the vendors who was selling figs at his stall and waited until his small bundle of figs were wrapped up in a large leaf and handed to him before he continued on his way. He missed nothing, the cries of the vendors hawking their wares with each one trying to out shout the others to bring customers to them, the small children who ran about laughing madly in sheer delight as they chased one another. He also saw the women who shopped for their households while the soldier who were too old for active duty watched on to ensure that things ran smoothly.
 
One by one, the figs were eaten as he made his way through them all and back onto the main streets of Rome and back towards his own small villa he had rented for a small sum. Even here, the streets teemed with a lively spirit as members of all the populace, from Senators to slaves intermingled in the spring air. He had a good life here at last, one where he blended in and was yet still visible to everyone. But to those who knew him, they saw nothing nor knew nothing of him and called him behind his back, “the invisible man.”
 
He sighed in contentment as he made his way through his doorway, brushing away the slave who rushed to his side and made his way out to the small courtyard that sat in the middle of the house. On one side, a small bench sat; he made his way and eased himself down upon it. Pulling a scroll out of one sleeve, he opened it and began to read the Latin written upon it. He was still learning so much of the past here. The thoughts and ideas of the men who had great influence in Rome and had caused him to take up his old habit of reading and speaking to the great minds of the times as he had done in other times and places. He soaked up the information like a sponge; he enjoyed the great debates between the learned men as well as being an active participant in the debates themselves.
 
He looked up and away to the sky when he noticed a great shadow fly across the ground. ”Birds,” he thought as he watched a massive flock fly off to the north then went back to his reading once more. But the odd occurrence nagged at him and after a few moments, he rolled the scroll back up and stood looking off to the north, wondering just what might have disturbed them so that they flew in such a manner. His instincts told him that something was amiss, yet he could not tell what it could be nor did it give him any answers that would calm him. He shook his head and decided to go to the steps of the Senate to see his friends there; perhaps they might know of something that he did not.
At least, he hoped they would.
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Night came and the order went about the camp that no fires were to be lit that night. Surprise would be needed to carry out the bold plan of sacking Rome that Darius had devised and so once more, cold rations were eaten again by the men. Alaric wandered about the soldiers, encouraging them for what lay ahead, promising them things, bringing them hope and fortitude for the morning to come.
 
Men spoke in lowered voices as they huddled around in small clumps together, sharing the camaraderie of each other while they ate what could possibly be their last meal. Each man’s thoughts drifted away ever so often to the ones they had left behind in their homeland but each man would fight to his death in the morrow if need be because it could be the beginning of a new way of life for many of them. No more cold winters, no more snows, just warmth and an easier life than what their families currently had.
 
After awhile, the army drifted off to an early sleep; some would be required to rise when the night was deep and prepare for their part in the attack while others slept on. Darius walked among the men, stepping over the sleeping forms draped across the ground as he made his way towards an isolated spot further away from the encampment.

A dim orange glow could be seen up ahead through the brush; it was there that he made his way towards knowing full well who was waiting. As he stepped into the small clearing, his face broke into a small grin. “I thought I had ordered no fires?” He made his way nearer to the banked fire, sat down and glanced over at the blonde who sat in silence beside him. “Of course, there are always exceptions to the rules of anything, ” he continued.

Greyson turned his head to see the man who called him son better in the dim light. “Maybe there is, but for now there is but one rule—win.” He poked a small branch at the embers as he mused out loud. “Once more, tell me again how this will work?” His eyes caught his father’s and held them steadily.

Pulling his knees to his chest, Darius gave a weary sigh before dropping his chin upon them as he closed his eyes and repeated as if saying a litany, “There will be four groups of men who will act as individual armies. At a given signal, each will set fire to the gates. During the confusion this causes among the guards who man the walls, the men will take the ladders and scale the walls, killing all men who react in Rome’s defense. No one is to be left standing.”
 
He paused and opened his eyes to look off in the distant horizon as he continued. “The king, the rest of the forces and I shall attack Rome at the main gate and break through. We will make our way to the center of the city then branch out from there. Not a single Roman who opposes us shall see the next dawn; they shall pay for what they did to us seven years ago.”
 
Greyson nodded as he understood the implications of the orders. Rome would never be the same again after they had finished with it. It would be totally decimated, a fact he had no qualms about making it happen. In fact, he was already eagerly anticipating entering the city and feeding on the fear their arrival would cause among her people. His face split into a smile. “So it shall be done, my general.”

Darius stood up and stretched as he locked eyes with the other man. “I will be first there. And the king shall be—“ he paused and coldly smiled, leaving the thought unspoken but both knew what was meant. “Come, even men such as you and I need rest before the big battle.” He motioned in the direction of camp; Greyson stood and in silence both walked back to their beds as they waited for the day to come.
____________________________________________________________

In the darkness of the moon, the sentries who manned the signal fires that were lit at the first sign of trouble on the roads to Rome found it hard to do their duties properly. Their post life was boring; to alleviate it they often gambled amongst themselves, betting all they had in a fierce game of chance.
 
Tonight had been especially slow—the men who were on watch left every once in a while to watch the games and bid on who the winner they thought would be of the hotly contested games before returning to their posts. Time and again they watched at their posts until boredom overtook them and the shouts of the players lured them back again to the games where they lost all track of time as they became engrossed in it.
 
A long ladder snaked its way onto the side of the high platform. Not a sound was heard except the groans of the losers and the cheers of the winners; within minutes a man’s head popped up over the edge of the platform to see if all was clear. His assessment of the situation made him grunt in satisfaction and soon he was standing upon it, keeping well within the shadows so as not to be seen. He whistled; soon others joined him and they made their way towards the sounds of the men playing.

Down below, a line of men carried away the kindling that was to be used for the fires back towards the gates of the city. Before long, all was gone, stacked neatly in bundles easily carried by the men who had been recruited to do the laborious work.
 
A quick jerk of a knife slit open one guard’s throat from ear to ear, the blood darkly flowing while the last gasp garbled out of his mouth. He fell heavily but was caught on the way down by his assassin, so as to not alert the other men on duty that they were under attack.
 
A nod at the other Goths sent the rest of the attackers out into the open. The Romans were caught off guard; their heads jerked upwards with dismay then fear fighting for position on their faces. That was quickly replaced by a grim determination as they fought for their lives but one by one they fell to the floor which by the time the assassins were through, held ever-deepening pools of blood as each man’s bodily fluids became emptied from their bodies.
 
A ragged but yet muffled cheer escaped from the Goths’ lips; the leader of the group picked up a torch that was ensconced in a wall near him. Picking his feet up over the bodies, he made his way back to the lip of the signal platform and waved it once before snuffing it out.
 
Instantly, a man pointed to the light and called out to another man who then leapt onto the bare back of a horse who had been in wait for him so he could go to the position he knew Darius was holding. He was to be the first of many that night to tell that the attacks on the signal fire platforms had been successful.
 
All around Rome all resistance to the great army that both Alaric and Darius led was snuffed out in a bloodbath which left no one alive. “All roads lead to Rome,” Darius softly said then smirked, nodding with each report he received. Meanwhile Alaric bestowed praise upon the messengers with promises of riches once the city had fallen.
 
Both men’s eyes caught each other’s from time to time; their gaze bespoke of the anticipation of winning the battle even though it had not begun. Darius though hid his true thoughts behind the mask on his facial expressions that he showed to the world. ”It will be daylight soon, dear Alaric. And then, I will be rid of you once and for all.” He looked off to the east, calculating how much time it would be before the rising of the sun. Nodding to himself, he then smiled. ”Soon.”
 
Glancing over to his lieutenant, he raised an arm then dropped it. Instantly, orders broke from the man’s lips to those around him; the orders traveled down the lines as the army lurched itself to life to begin the march to their final position; in front of the main gates that led into Rome right on the Appian Way.
 
It was time for the reckoning and the vengeance they had waited three years for.



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