Title: Finding the Road
Archive: Seventh Dimension - Yes please! Others please ask.
Characters: Methos, Kronos, Caspian, Silas
Feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: They're not mine, I'm just playing with them. I'll put them back when I've finished - honest!
Acknowledgements: Big thanks to Rachel and Sonia, fellow Betas of the Apocalypse, for the super beta service and encouragment.
Notes: This was my submission to the HLDU4 story competition. The requirement was to supply a missing scene to one of the episodes. My scene is missing from CAH/Rev6:8
Finding the Road
The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom
The snow came just after midday. Methos watched the first flakes disappear on the already snowy ground and found the energy to smile in relief. This is what he had hoped for. He looked up at the clouds and found them grey and laden. It seemed that the slave-girl had been right: in three days the mountain passes would be blocked. Now he just had to make sure he was on the other side before this one closed. He reckoned he was still two or three hours away from the head of the pass; it was just a matter of pushing through. Methos turned his head to look back the way he had come. He could see nothing in the swirling flakes, nor hear anything in the rising wind, but he strained to see horsemen, to hear hoofbeats, because he knew they were there behind him, following him, hunting him: his brothers.
His horse stumbled and he pulled his attention back to the present. He dismounted and went to pat its head. "You're tired," he said. "So am I. But not much further now and then we can both rest. When we are safe." He took the reins in one hand and started to walk.
It was hard work. The snow blurred road and landscape into a shifting, white plain. It deceived him so that he was continually stumbling deeper into little gullies or banging his feet and shins against hidden rocks. The wind was vicious; it wrapped his cloak tight around him and then flung it open so that the snow could get in. The blizzard meant that he walked in a white twilight of confusing swirls and patterns of flakes. He peered into it trying to make out the real rocks, the real features from the phantoms his tired brain was piecing together out of eddies of snow. Every so often the wind would drop for a moment and it would be possible to faintly see the outline of the mountains on either side so that he could keep track of his direction. He walked on, stumbling wearily, his tired horse following him.
For Methos was tired. His need for sleep lay like a weight at the back of his head. His body ached and he struggled to breathe in the cold, thin atmosphere. It had seemed a simple plan originally. The mountain passes would be closed in three days, the mountains were two days travel from the camp, so if he could get at least one day ahead of his brothers he could get over the mountains and leave them on the other side. That would give him the winter to lose himself in the lands beyond. It was a good plan. He had packed his provisions, stolen his brothers' horses and left in the middle of the night. The next two days had been spent riding hard, driving himself and his horse on, constantly listening for hoofbeats behind him. Now he only had to make it through the mountains. He endured a blast of wind that seemed to come straight at him. He leaned into it, forcing his way forward and stumbled to his knees when it abruptly ceased.
As he came up to one knee he saw a figure standing in front of him. He raised his eyes to a familiar face. Kronos? He jumped to his feet and reached for his sword, but the figure was gone. Methos bent down and caught his breath. "I'm seeing things," he muttered. "Great!" He reached for his mercifully solid horse and started walking again, stamping his feet to get some feeling back into them.
The snow kept on falling, blinding and freezing him. He could no longer find the road; he just had to trust that going up meant that he was going in the right direction. He stumbled over another concealed rock and stepped heavily to one side to save himself. The impact jarred painfully through cold-numbed bone and muscle and he groaned.
"It's not going very well," remarked Kronos.
Methos raised weary eyes and looked at his brother as he stood beside him. Kronos was standing with his arms folded and an amused grin on his face. The wind did not ruffle his hair and the snow blew straight through him. Methos ignored him and walked on.
"Why are you doing this?" Kronos' voice asked beside him. Methos said nothing and just kept on walking, drawing the hood of his cloak closer around his face. "You hate the cold. Why are you putting yourself through this?" Kronos persisted. "Why are you leaving us?"
Methos did not mean to answer, but he thought back to when he had finally made the decision to leave The Horsemen and he found himself saying, "It's because I've had enough."
* * * *
How long the word had been waiting to be found he did not know, but it had arrived like a thunderclap in his mind four days earlier. It had been just another raid on a camp on the wide plain beside the mountains. He had buried his sword to the hilt in a peasant's chest. When the man had raised a hand to pull at Methos' skull mask, he had put his left hand to the sword and twisted it within the man's body. His victim had screamed and gone limp but not before a wave of blood had flowed down the sword and over Methos' hands. Methos had pulled the sword out and, ignoring the man who now sprawled at his feet had stared at the warm, sticky liquid that covered his hands.
The word echoed in his brain. He had had enough of this killing. The idea shocked him, and yet there was an inevitability about it, a rightness.
How long he stood there, staring at his scarlet hands, while the screams and killing of the raid went on, he did not know. An arrow, thudding into the ground beside his foot, broke his concentration. A contingent of new horsemen had arrived. They circled the camp on their small steppe horses, firing arrows into the camp as they did so.
Suddenly the rules of the game had changed. It was no longer a raid on a mostly unarmed camp, but a battle with an enemy who could wound them at a distance that left the four horsemen helpless.
'Back!' Methos and Kronos yelled the word together. The brothers headed for their horses. Silas went down, clutching his thigh and Methos pulled him up, supporting him until they had scrambled onto their mounts. Kronos led them in a charge through the yelling, circling enemy and they broke free, with Kronos catching an arrow in his arm as they did so. Their superb horses quickly outpaced the smaller, steppe horses of their attackers and they made it back to their camp safely.
The camp soon resembled a disturbed anthill; with slaves scurrying around shocked and scared by the outcome of the raid. Methos was less surprised; there had been defeats for The Horsemen before, but not in a few centuries. He supervised the removal of the arrow from Silas' thigh and then went to attend to Kronos.
The Immortal was in his tent with Caspian.
"This is a new development," Methos said, holding up the bloodstained arrow. "I think we should move somewhere less prickly."
Caspian snorted in disgust. "We should not run from these archers," he said, holding up the other arrow. "These toys cannot kill us. We should kill them all. Slowly." He savoured the last word, tasting the imagined agony of his victims. Methos could almost see the blood on his lips.
"The arrows can't kill us, but they can kill the horses," Methos said patiently. "We're the Four Horsemen, Caspian. Somehow I don't think the Four Walkers are going to have quite the same impact! We need to move somewhere else."
"I want us to winter here on the plains," Kronos said, inspecting the healing wound in his arm. Then he looked up at Methos. "Find us a way to deal with these archers, brother. I rely on you to come up with a plan to defeat them." His pale eyes bored into Methos', daring his brother to argue.
But Methos had long ago given up even the thought of rebellion against Kronos. He nodded and walked from the tent. He had always been aware of the ties that bound The Horsemen together, but now they seemed suffocatingly tight around him.
That night, as they sat around the campfire discussing the day's disastrous raid, Kronos had turned to him and asked, "Well brother? Have you come up with a plan to succeed against these archers?"
Methos had shrugged modestly. "We could stampede their horse herds through their camps, that could cause a bit of damage. Maybe set fire to the grass where it's dry enough. Set fire to a few tents at night?" He imagined the screams of the people trapped inside the blazing tents and shivered inside, but kept a jovial exterior. "We *could* train Caspian to shoot arrows back at them, but I don't know if one winter is going to be long enough to do that!'
Kronos and Silas laughed at that. Caspian glowered at Methos from his side of the fire and Kronos' smile broadened at the tension between his brothers. "That's it then," he said. "We'll stay here, now that our clever brother has provided us with the means to win. Thank you, Methos," he added, knowing that this was against Methos' wishes.
Methos merely smiled back, accepting the complement, while he seethed inwardly. After a thousand years of trying to work out what his brother was planning, he still failed again and again. Suggest Plan A, and Kronos would want to do Plan B. Suggest Plan B, hoping that Kronos would pick Plan A, and Kronos would pick Plan B, or maybe not. Methos had given up. Whatever the reasoning that went on in that twisted mind of his, the only sure outcome was that Kronos would do what he wanted to do. Of course if that choice tortured Methos, then it was a bonus. So Methos had learned to hide his true feelings, he made sure that Kronos never had anything to use against him. It had become almost instinctive, so now he smiled blandly at his brother and hid what he was feeling inside.
* * * *
"That's it?" asked Kronos. "You're leaving your brothers because I made a decision you didn't like?"
"No," Methos said. "I'm leaving because I *could* find a plan. We would have done all the killing I suggested, but I'm tired of it." He walked on, talking with the unseen figure that kept pace beside him. "Silas isn't," explained. "He's happy as long as he's fighting or there's the prospect of fighting. He'll be content as long there is something to keep his axe busy.
"Caspian? Well he's happy, if Caspian understands what that means. He lives for killing, for inflicting pain. He can't reason. He would single-handedly attack a legion, a city, a sea, anything to feed that raging hunger for blood and pain he has inside him."
"Oh, Kronos," Methos said, sadly. "You're not tired of The Horsemen. It's still the life you love. But you *are* getting bored." Kronos was silent at this and Methos went on. "The raids aren't enough for you. Burning villages and slaughtering peasants doesnt satisfy your rage anymore. I can see you looking around for other objects of entertainment. Well I was that entertainment once before, I'll not be it again!"
"Entertainment?" Kronos sounded puzzled.
"Cassandra," Methos explained. "When you took her, you said it was because I had to share with my brothers. But you also did it because you knew I cared about her, because it would amuse you to watch me make the decision between her and you."
"That was over two hundred years ago! You're not still angry at me for that?"
Methos slowly shook his head. "No, my brother. You don't get angry at a viper, you just learn to avoid it. Well I learned my lesson from Cassandra. I've never let you know what I cared about since. I tried not to care about anything." He found the energy to raise his voice. "And that's another reason I'm leaving. I've had enough of not caring!"
He walked on, concentrating on the business of putting one foot in front of the other. It was becoming more and more difficult. The snow dragged at him as he walked. His whole body ached from tensing against the buffeting from the unpredictable wind. The world had narrowed to a few feet of blurred whiteness on either side of him. "One more step," he muttered to himself, "just one more step." He kept going not for fear of what followed him, but because of the thought that he might die here and then revive, frozen in place, to endure cold death and icy rebirth in a hellish cycle of pain.
He stopped and made a few tentative steps forward and then back. He shook his head. He had thought that the ground was levelling off or even falling away from him. Had he reached the head of the pass? He couldn't tell. Squinting through the blizzard only chilled his face even further. He had no choice anyway; he could only go on.
Then the ground slipped from under him.
He did not know whether he had made a false step or if the ground had given way beneath him, but he found himself tumbling and sliding down a gully. His numb and already aching body screamed in protest as it bounced to a halt, but he could only moan.
"Is all this worth it?" Kronos was sitting cross-legged in the snow beside him.
"What?" Methos said around a mouthful of snow.
"Is leaving your brothers worth all this pain?" Kronos asked again. "And for what? So that you can become one of the little people again? So you can go back to crawling and grovelling to your 'betters'. Go back to living with mortals but never being one of them? Go back to hiding, worrying, living in fear? I saved you, remember?"
"I remember you saved me from being stoned, Kronos. I remember I owe you." Methos got to his knees and looked up the side of the gully to where his horse stood.
"I didn't save you from being stoned. I saved you from a life of nothingness! I saved you from that and then together we created The Horsemen. We don't hide what we are. We dont grovel. We are free. We do what we want, we go where we want, we take we want!"
Methos shook his head and began to crawl out of the gully. It was so hard, every part of him protested him moving. "No Kronos," he said. "I did what you wanted, I went where you wanted, I took what you left!" Anger gave impetus to his words and his movement. "And anyway, The Horsemen's time is over. Those archers are only part of the problem. People are better armed. The armies are more organised. We can't roam free any more. Those days are gone."
Kronos' voice was scornful."Is that was this is really all about then? You're leaving because times are going to get hard for The Horsemen?"
Methos reached the lip of the gully, pulled himself out, and then staggered to his feet. He tried to focus on the phantom before him, but his brother's figure kept wavering, blurring into the falling snow and then reforming.
"It doesn't matter why, Kronos," he sighed. "It doesn't matter what I think. It doesn't matter what I say. It only matters what I do. And I'm leaving."
His hands were too cold to hold his horse's reins so he twisted them round his arm and moved off. He was no longer walking; he stumbled and shambled along barely putting a foot in front of the other. But it seemed that he was going down hill now. He knew it might be back the way he had come, back towards the pursuing horsemen, but he no longer cared.
Then he walked into a boulder blocking his path. He didn't see it, just walked straight into it. This final obstacle was too much, he leaned his forehead against it in weary defeat. From somewhere a spark of defiance raged against the fates that had led him to this position. He raised a hand and banged his fist against the rock in frustration. The rock resonated hollowly, more felt through his bones than heard. He knocked again. It was hollow, wooden. He ran his hand against the side. His fingers were too numb to feel any texture, but there was a feeling of regular bumps. Planks? A building?
He fell to his knees and crawled round it, feeling for an opening. It was there. He pushed his way into a dark and musty place. But there was no snow and no wind. In the fading light he made out piles of grass hay in it. It must have been a hut the shepherds used for storing food for their mountain herds.
It didn't matter. He crawled into the mound of hay and pulled it over him. He still shivered, but the absence of the wind made the place seem warm to him.
"Looks like you might make it." Kronos was clearly visible in the darkness. He smiled. "Well, no matter how far you run or how long you run for, you can't run from me, brother. You can't run from yourself. We are the same, Methos; we are brothers. We will always be brothers."
Methos nodded, acknowledging the truth. "I know, Kronos," he said. "We are brothers." His head sagged back wearily. When he looked up again, Kronos was gone.
His head dropped back again and he found that he couldn't lift it. A warm, comforting darkness surrounded him, cocooned him. He tried to struggle against it, but had no strength left for the fight. It might bring sleep or it might bring death, but he could not summon the energy to care which. He closed his eyes and surrendered to the dark's embrace.
When Methos awoke, light was filtering through the walls into the room. Outside, he winced as the bright sunshine reflecting off snow stabbed into his eyes. Holding his hand up as a shade he saw that his horse was nearby so he walked over towards it, the fresh snow crumping under his feet. An investigation of the saddlebags produced a honey cake and a water skin, with a reassuring gurgle coming from it. He drank through dry and cracked lips, ate and drank again before pouring water on his palm for his horse to drink.
He looked up towards the pass he had come through. A wall of snow lay across it. Nothing was going to get through that until the spring thaw. A wave of elation rushed through him. He raised his hands and shouted a wordless cry of exultation to the white land around him and the empty sky above him. He had done it! He was free.
The valley below him sparked white under the blue, blue sky. Methos picked up his horse's reins and started walking towards it. Somewhere before him, under the snow, was the road. He only had to find it.