The Methos Chronicles


The Lives and Times of Methos, the World's Oldest Immortal, and the Lives He Touched in His Travels

Second Excerpt: "Red Right Hand"


Being the Story of When the Four Horsemen Met the Warrior Princess and How It Changed the Horsemen Forever

by Marina Frants




Feel free to send feedback to the author.

Table of Contents

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V
Chapter VI
Chapter VII
Epilogue





* * * * *

But remorse I felt and remorse I had
It clung to everything
From the raven hair upon my head
To the feathers on my wings

* * * * *

I

It was stupid to complain that the raids weren't fun anymore, because strictly speaking, they had never been "fun" in the first place. Getting falling-down drunk in cheap taverns with Silas was fun. Cheating at dice with Caspian was fun, even if it did end in a fistfight every time. The raids were not fun. Still, he used to get a certain grim enjoyment from them, a feeling of power and control, the knowledge that in this world of blood and chaos, he was the one in charge. And if the screams bothered him sometimes, if the faces of screaming children wormed their way into his dreams, it was easy to dismiss them as a lingering weakness, to tell himself that only a coward would give in to these qualms.

Until the day he stood still and watched Kronos drag Cassandra from his tent, and learned what cowardice really was.

Looking back, Methos could not determine exactly when it happened, when he went from killing because he liked it to killing because he was afraid of what Kronos might do to him if he stopped. Cassandra hadn't caused the change, she only forced him to become aware of it. But awareness brought no useful answers. Methos the brilliant planner, the brains of the Horsemen, the man to whom even Kronos looked for answers, had no idea what to do next.

He tried to leave once, a few weeks after Cassandra's escape. It was a couple of hours before dawn, his turn to be standing watch while the others slept. He was saddling his horse when a strong hand gripped his shoulder, and Kronos's voice hissed in his ear.

"Going somewhere, brother?"

Methos managed not to jump or cry out, though his heart raced and every muscle tensed in a panicky desire to flee. Getting careless in your dotage, old-timer. He hadn't even heard Kronos coming up behind him, and he'd been on the alert for it. He plastered a careless smile on his face and turned around.

"I got bored sitting there," he said. "Thought I'd ride the perimeter."

He couldn't see Kronos's expression in the thin moonlight, but the grip on his shoulder tightened painfully for a second before letting go.

"Excellent idea, brother! It's a fine night for riding. I'll go with you."

So they both saddled up, and rode a couple of circuits around the camp. Neither one of them spoke. Methos considered attacking Kronos right there and then, but he had no illusions about who was the better swordsman. Even if he did manage to win, they were close enough to the tents for the Quickening to bring Silas and Caspian running. So he said nothing, and meekly followed Kronos back to camp at dawn.

Over the next few months, he dedicated himself to allaying any suspicions Kronos might be having. He came up with some of his most brilliant plans during that time, led the Horsemen to their biggest victories. There was only one failure, and Methos didn't count it -- all bets were off with a demigod involved. The Horsemen graduated from sacking tiny villages and wandering tribes to laying waste to whole towns, even ones that had small defending garrisons. Methos galloped into battle like a man possessed by demons. He did things even Caspian balked at. And Kronos laughed and clapped him on the back, and spoke of moving on one of the larger cities, like Sparta or even Athens, and setting the horsemen up as kings.

And in Methos's dreams, blood bubbled up from the ground to drown him, skeletal hands clutched and tore at him, voices whispered "Coward!" until he woke in a sweat, biting his tongue bloody to keep from screaming. Every day he swore to himself that tomorrow he'd leave, and damn the consequences. And every day, he knew he lied.

* * * * *

I met her on a night of fire and noise,
Wild bells rang in a wild sky.

* * * * *

II

Pilos was a small target by the Horsemen's recent standards, a village just on the verge of growing into a town. But it was prosperous due to its abundant olive crop, and its location near the intersection of three major trade routes. Besides, it was on the way.

They got wind of the raid in advance somehow, just like in Thessaly a few months before. Methos had snuck ahead to scout the location, and saw the villagers erecting hasty fortifications and evacuating those too weak to fight. Methos didn't worry much about it -- his spies had determined that Hercules and his Immortal sidekick were nowhere in the area, and ordinary resistance had never stopped the Horsemen before. He went back to camp, sketched the layout of the village for the others, and offered a simple attack plan. They would fire burning arrows at Pilos's crude walls, hit at a spot where their defenses were weakest, and batter their way in by force. Not the most elaborate plan, but Methos didn't think anything more was required.

They broke through the walls easily enough, and were making short work of the poorly trained villages who ran out to fight them. The fire spread from the walls to the nearby buildings, and some of the defenders were forced to divert their attention to putting out the flames. Kronos and Caspian rode them down, whooping with laughter, while Methos and Silas forced their way toward the center of the village.

A heavyset man wielding a blacksmith's hammer ran into their path. Silas swung his axe at him in a wide arc. The man avoided the blow, but the movement put him within reach of Methos's sword. Methos brought his blade down, and neatly severed the man's arm at the shoulder. The blacksmith's eyes and mouth opened wide in shock. He stared at his own arm lying on the ground as if he coudln't figure out what it was. Then his face went slack, and he collapsed to his knees.

Methos raised his sword for the killing blow when some instinct made him duck, pressing his face into his horse's mane. Something went whistling past his head. It struck a wall a dozen yards away, and ricocheted back at an acute angle. Too late, Methos realized where it was heading now.

"Look out!" he yelled, just as the thing struck Silas between the shoulderblades.

It was almost funny. Silas's face took on the same surprised expression that the blacksmith wore a minute ago. Then his eyes rolled up until only the whites showed, and he slowly toppled sideways out of the saddle.

A new sound rose above the general din of the battle -- a high-pitched, ululating cry that made Methos's skin crawl. He turned in that direction, and saw a woman in leather armor riding toward him at full gallop, sword drawn, black hair streaming behind her. He wheeled to face her, and at that moment a slim figure shot out of the shadows and swung a staff at his horse's legs.

He couldn't pull up in time. The staff connected with bone-crushing impact, and the horse went down screaming. Methos clutched at the mane in an instinctive effort to keep from pitching out of the saddle. It was a mistake. He should've let go and rolled free. Instead, the fall smashed his left leg against the hard ground and pinned it beneath the horse's weight.

The armored woman reined in her mount, and jumped down to retrieve the projectile that had felled Silas. Methos saw it clearly for the first time -- a metal ring, with the edges filed sharp. He realized with a shudder that the thing could've taken his head off if he hadn't ducked in time.

But this was no time to give in to the shivers, or to pain. He had to free himself, and get away with Silas's body. Methos braced his hands and his free foot against the horse's back, and began to push. His left leg was broken, he could feel the bones grinding as he moved. His eyes watered from the pain, and spots of color danced in his vision. He ignored it, bit his lip until blood trickled down his chin, kept on pushing. Just as he thought he couldn't take another moment of this, his leg came free. Methos sobbed with relief, and began the slow and painful process of getting up.

He was down on one knee, struggling to catch his breath, when a pair of boot-clad feet came into his vision. He looked up to see a blonde girl in Amazon garb, clutching a sturdy staff in both hands. She was ridiculously young, traces of baby fat still visible in her face, but her eyes held an entirely adult determination, and she obviously knew how to wield her weapon.

"You should've stayed down," she told him, and swung the staff at his face. It connected solidly with his jaw, and Methos had just enough time to feel grateful that it wasn't a sword before everything went black.

* * * * *

Once there came a storm in the form of a girl,
It blew to pieces my snug little world.

* * * * *

III

The first time he regained consciousness, he was lying on his back on the ground, and someone was holding his shoulders. He struggled weakly, and a young female voice said, "He's coming around."

"Damn." That was another, older woman speaking. "So soon? Hold him still Gabrielle, I need to set that leg now."

"No!" He gasped, and tried to sit up, but Gabrielle was holding him still, and then strong hands grabbed his leg and pulled, and the pain made his pass out again, but not nearly soon enough.

When he woke again, he was alone in the dark. He was lying prone this time, with his hands tied behind his back. The thin pallet beneath him smelled of old straw and mouse shit. The cloth covering it felt rough against his cheek, and a bit of straw was sticking out to poke him in the nose. Methos sneezed, swore, and tried to get to his knees, but something was wrong with his left leg. It wouldn't bend. Something seemed to be pressing in on the knee from all sides. It took a minute of panicked thrashing before he finally realized what it was. A splint. Someone had put a splint on his leg before it had time to heal. Methos laughed. It had been centuries since he'd had to deal with splints and bandages and other aids to mortal healing. He'd forgotten how cumbersome they were.

He rolled over onto his side, and tried to remember how he got into this predicament. Images came back to him -- Silas's fall, the armored woman on horseback, the Amazon girl with the staff... They obviously knew nothing about Immortality, which suggested that Kronos and Caspian had gotten away with Silas's body. The question was, what would happen now? For a moment, Methos allowed himself to indulge in wishful thinking. The other Horsemen would cut their losses and run. The villagers would kill him in some non-permanent manner and dump the body. He would revive, and disappear, and be free. But he couldn't make himself believe in the fantasy. Kronos would never accept a second defeat in Greece. He wouldn't rest now until Pilos was dust and ashes. And the Horsemen would never leave one of their own behind. No, they would be back for him.

He must've dozed off at some point, because the next thing he knew his neck was stiff, his right arm was asleep, and somewhere above him a door was creaking open. Methos closed his eyes and pretended to be asleep. He heard footsteps, followed by a scraping sound, like a torch being inserted into a sconce. Then an amused voice said, "Give it up, I know you're awake." Methos opened his eyes and looked up at the woman who had killed Silas.

She still wore her armor, and carried the sword and the metal ring at her belt. He could see now that she had pale blue eyes, and a face that was beautiful but cold. A veteran's face. Methos gave her the most charming smile he could manage under the circumstances.

"Let me guess. Xena?"

"You've heard of me. I'm flattered." She didn't sound flattered. "And you, I understand, are 'Death'."

"Only on formal occasions. You may call me Methos."

"Well, Methos." Xena bent down, grabbed his shirt, and hauled him up to a sitting position. He just remembered to gasp and groan as if his leg hurt him. "Your friends seem to have gone off without you."

He smiled wider. "Tough luck for me."

"Why keep all the tough luck to yourself? Tell me where their camp is, and you can all share."

"What, no threats? No torture? I'm disappointed. The Warrior Princess isn't living up to her reputation."

"Do I need to?"

"No. There's nothing I can tell you. They'll have moved camp by now. And if you want them, all you have to do is wait. They'll be back."

She peered into his eyes for several seconds.

"I believe you," she said finally. "Though I wish I hadn't. I was hoping to avoid any more bloodshed here.

Methos raised his eyebrows. "You? Hoping to avoid bloodshed? How uncharacteristic."

A trace of emotion showed in her face for the first time, but it was gone before Methos could identify it. It might even have been a trick of the torchlight.

"You don't know me," she snapped, and stood up abruptly. "I'll send someone down with food." Then she was gone up the stairs, slamming the door behind her.

Methos leaned back against the wall and surveyed his surroundings for the first time. He appeared to be in some sort of cellar. Shelves lined three of the walls, and a row of metal hooks was embedded in the fourth. All the supplies must've been removed during the evacuation, for the room was now empty except for Methos and his pallet. He noted automatically that one of the hooks might serve as a decent weapon, if he could get at them. He strained against his bonds, but the ropes offered no give at all. Whoever tied the knots -- he suspected it was Xena -- did an excellent job.

The door opened again, and the blonde Amazon girl came down the stairs, carrying her staff in one hand and a small wooden bowl in the other.

"I've brought you breakfast," she said.

The bowl contained a lump of oatmeal. Methos looked at it with a dubious expression.

"What am I supposed to do, mash my face in it?"

The girl grinned and held up a spoon. "Open wide."

"Oh, no!" Methos turned his nose up, mustering an expression of wounded dignity. "No. I refuse to be spoon-fed."

"Fine." She put the bowl in his lap. "Then mash your face in it."

"Aw, come on... one hand free, that's all I ask." He looked up at her imploringly. Unlike the other Horsemen, Methos knew he could look quite harmless if he tried. He was trying now. "What harm can I do with one hand and a busted leg?"

She was hesitating. Methos pressed his advantage.

"You have your staff, you can knock me on the head if I try anything. What do you say?"

She sighed. "All right. But no funny business."

She wasn't entirely stupid. She fetched another length of rope, and tied one end to his left wrist and the other to his right ankle before freeing his right arm. Methos gave her a grateful smile as he flexed his fingers.

"Thank you, uh..."

"Gabrielle."

"Gabrielle. That's a pretty name. I'm Methos." He took the spoon from her. The oatmeal was luke warm and tasted like wood pulp, but he was determined to choke down every bite to keep his strength up.

Gabrielle sat with her staff lying at the ready across her lap, and watched him eat. The silence between them began to grow long, which was dangerous. In silence, she might start to think, and thinking might remind her that he was a murdering raider and not just a harmless, wounded fellow tied up in a cellar.

"By the way," he mumbled between bites, "what happened to my horse?"

Gabrielle lowered her eyes. "We had to kill it. It's front legs were broken. I'm... really sorry about that."

It made no sense. She was young, sure, but the Amazons were trained for battle from early childhood, and their tribe was always at war with somebody or other. This girl should've had enough experience by now not to get upset over the death of a person, let alone a horse. And she certainly should've known better than to expose her emotions to the enemy like that.

"It's all right." Methos blinked and turned his face away, as if trying to conceal tears. "It was a battle, you did what you needed to do. He was a good horse. I thank you for... for not making him suffer." He made his voice break on the last sentence, and choked up a bit on the final word.

Gabrielle looked puzzled. For a moment, Methos was worried that he overdid the performance. But then she shook her head.

"I don't get it. You've destroyed whole towns, murdered innocents, but you cry over losing your horse? How do you justify it? Do horses mean less to you than people?"

He flinched. "You don't understand."

"But I want to! Tell me. How can you do it?"

It was too easy. Methos was beginning to get worried. Was she playing with him? Would she sit there, and listen to his lies, and then laugh in his face and tell him that she knew all along? But when he looked in her eyes he saw no trace of guile, only honest puzzlement, and anger, and the beginnings of pity.

She could be a brilliant actress, of course. After all, people had looked into his eyes, and saw nothing but pure sincerity until seconds before the betrayal. Even Cassandra had trusted him, the poor fool, and she had known better... Methos pushed that thought away. Gabrielle was not acting, he was sure of it. Every instinct he had told him so, and he'd had millennia to refine those instincts.

He hesitated, searching for a story that would pluck the right strings, strike the right chord. "Kronos -- the leader of the Horsemen -- and I, we served as mercenaries together, years ago. He saved my life in battle, at the risk of his own. We became blood brothers after that, swore an oath of eternal friendship. When he told me he had a scheme to make us rich, I agreed, of course. I had no idea what he was planning, and by the time I found out it was too late." A couple of tears seemed required at this point, so he bit the inside of his cheek until his eyes watered. Gabrielle's face looked soft and blurry, and Methos fought down an irrational impulse to pat her cheek and tell her not to worry, he was only playing make-believe. "What could I do, Gabrielle? He was my best friend, I owed him everything, I promised him my loyalty... How could I betray him?"

"He had no right to ask you to do evil things for loyalty," she said earnestly. "You should've left."

Methos nodded. "I know that now. But I waited too long. Kronos would never let me go now. And where would I go? The Horsemen are known and hated all over the continent. Even if no one recognized me, I would know what I've done. How can I live among normal people now? I can't look anyone in the eye without wondering if I've killed someone they loved. No, it's too late for me to change." He broke off, and realized with a start that he was fighting back tears for real. His voice had gone ragged, and he was breathing fast. Damn. That was always the danger with this kind of improvising. You had to mix in some truth to make the lies believable, and sometimes you put in more truth than you intended.

"Methos." Gabrielle leaned forward. Her face was full of sympathy and understanding. "Don't say that, it's never too late. Xena used to be like you, and she changed. She's done so much good, helped so many people..."

It was true, then. The Warrior Princess had reformed. Methos had heard rumors to that effect, but he'd never believed them. Xena's reputation as a war leader had been legendary. Even Kronos might've hesitated to tangle with her then. She had wealth, power, an unbeatable army at her back. No one could touch her. What sort of insanity could've possessed her to walk away from all that?

What sort of insanity possessed you to try and ride away from camp that night?

"It doesn't matter now," he sighed. "We both know I won't be leaving Pilos alive."

"Yes, you will," Gabrielle said firmly. "Xena and I will be taking you to Athens for trial -- and the others, when we catch them. If you tell the tribunal what you've told me--"

"I'll still get what I deserve. It's all right. I feel better just having talked to you." He swallowed the last bite of his oatmeal and dropped his spoon into the empty bowl. "Thanks. I'm done now."

She came to take the bowl from him. Methos could've killed her right then. Her guard was down after listening to his sob story, and she'd left her staff leaning against the wall. He could've gotten his free arm around her throat and broken her neck before she had time to realize what was happening. He knew exactly how to do it. The entire conversation had been leading up to this moment.

He didn't move.

She took the bowl, and the moment was lost. Methos lay perfectly still as Gabrielle retied his hands, took up her staff again, and disappeared up the stairs. You've lost it, old-timer. You don't have what it takes to be a Horseman anymore, and you don't have what it takes to leave. So what are you going to do now?

* * * * *

Who's that yonder, all in flames?
Up jumped the devil and he staked his claim.

* * * * *

IV

It was a long day. No one else came to see him, either with food or with questions. The torch burned down to the edge of the sconce and flickered out, leaving him in the dark once more. Methos occupied his time by working to get his hands free. As he had suspected, Gabrielle did not have Xena's facility with knots. After several hours of determined effort, the ropes were loose enough to allow him to pull his hands through. Methos decided to remain where he was, though. The idea of trying to fight his way unarmed past Xena, Gabrielle, and several dozen angry villagers did not appeal.

It was hard to tell time while sitting in a dark cellar, but Methos thought it was late afternoon or early evening when Xena came down with a new torch and another bowl of food. Since charming her was obviously not an option, Methos sat still and let her feed him the lamb-and-lentil stew in silence. Afterwards, he expected her to just get up and leave, but she sat there and glared at him until he began to fidget.

"What?" he demanded finally.

Xena's eyes narrowed. Her hand shot out and clasped Methos's neck, pinning him to the wall.

"Understand this," she hissed, "I don't know what you said to Gabrielle, but she won't be coming down here again. And if I catch you trying to talk to her at any point between now and when we get to Athens, I'll rip your tongue out and make you eat it. Do. You. Understand?" She punctuated each sentence with a vigorous shake, and each shake managed to bang Methos's head against the wall.

"I understand," he wheezed.

"Good." She gave him one more shake for good measure, before letting go and storming out. Methos collapsed on the pallet, gasping. His head was ringing, his throat hurt, and he felt like an idiot. He'd had a perfect chance to escape this morning, and he wasted it for no good reason. Now Gabrielle was beyond his reach, and Xena was suspicious.

He hoped Kronos would have a good plan.

There was a sudden burst of noise somewhere above him. Shouts, screams, footsteps running in all directions. Or maybe they were hoofbeats, he couldn't be sure. In any case, it seemed the rescue party was here. Time to move. Methos pulled his hands free with one final yank at the ropes, tore the splint from his leg, and sprinted up the stairs.

The door was bolted, of course, but it didn't seem too sturdy. Methos came back down, and began to rip the shelves from the walls. Above him, the noise was increasing. He could hear crashing and banging, and an ominous creaking, as if some large and normally strudy structure was about to collapse. He hoped it wasn't the ceiling.

The shelves were plain wooden boards, not too heavy by themselves, but when he stacked five of them on top of each other they made a decent battering ram. Methos lifted it, groaning with the weight, and staggered up the stairs again.

Halfway up he smelled smoke. That explained the crashing and creaking, no doubt. Great. Thanks a lot, Kronos! Methos stopped three steps below the top of the staircase, and swung his battering ram. It connected with a satisfying thunk, but the door did not budge. Methos adjusted his grip and kept swinging.

It was hard to put much force into an upward swing. His arms began to ache, and his hands collected more splinters with every blow, but he could feel the door give a little more each time. On the fifth try it burst open, and Methos was annoyed to discover that it was, in fact, possible to fall up the stairs. He crawled out of the cellar on his hands and knees, and found himself surrounded by fire.

The walls were burning. Parts of the roof had already collapsed, forming a flaming barrier between him and the door. A charred, twisted body, barely recognizable as human, was partially buried under the rubble. Methos was seized with an instant, terrible conviction that this was Gabrielle. There was no way to find out, and no time to stop and wonder why he should care. He climbed to his feet, looking around for a way out. The heat was turning his skin to parchment and burning the air from his lungs. He gasped in a mouthful of black, oily smoke that sent him choking to his knees, but not before he saw part of the wall collapsing on the other side of the room. Flames danced across the gap, but on the other side was open space. Methos ducked low to get under the smoke, and began to crawl.

The floor was hot enough to blister the skin on his palms and knees. Hot embers rained down on his back. Smoke stung his eyes until he could barely see. He ignored it it all. It would heal. But if that roof came down on top of him, it could crush his head like an egg, and he really didn't want to find out if that counted as a beheading... The gap in the wall was right in front of him now. Methos wrapped his arms around his head and rolled--

--and kept rolling, turning over and over in the dirt, trying to smother the flames that caught at his hair and clothes. Then his momentum ran out, and he found himself sprawled in the middle of the village square. Every building in sight was on fire. The sky was black with smoke. People ran in all directions, screaming. No one seemed to notice an escaping Horseman in their midst. One man actually tripped over Methos's legs, picked himself up, and kept running without a backward glance.

Xena's war cry rose in the air. It was followed by an answering roar in a voice Methos recognized as Caspian's. He turned, and saw Xena and Gabrielle jumping aside as the Horsemen rode between them. For a moment, all he could feel was relief. Gabrielle was fine. And then he was surrounded by nervous, stomping horses, and Kronos was reaching down to haul him into the saddle.

"Welcome back, brother!"

They galloped through the smoke, laughing. Methos wrapped his arms around Kronos's waist and hung on for dear life. Behind him, he could hear Xena yelling, "Sand! Use sand to put out the fire!" Then they were out of earshot, and there was nothing but laughter and hoofbeats and the wind whistling in his ears

* * *


Methos picked up a small clay jar, sniffed at it, and put it down again.

"That's the fire mixture we used in the Limnos raid, isn't it? I'm impressed, Kronos, you remembered the formula."

Kronos grinned. "You're not the only thinker in this group, Methos."

They were sitting around the fire, picking at the remains of their dinner. Methos had changed into fresh clothes, and scrubbed the soot from his face. Some of the more serious burns still itched as they healed, but otherwise he felt fine. Perfectly fine. Really. He shook his head, as if that could dislodge any unpleasant thought that might present itself, and tried to concentrate on what Kronos was saying.

"--quicklime and sulfur left over from Limnos. And then Silas found a tar pit less than a quarter-mile away from here, so I decided to grab the opportunity."

"Yeah," Caspian smirked. "Silas found a tar pit by falling into it. Would've been gone for good if we hadn't pulled him out, the stupid bugger."

"Hey, who are you calling stupid?" Silas complained.

"You, stupid!" Caspian laughed. Silas promptly head-butted him in the face. They rolled on the ground, pummeling each other until Kronos and Methos waded in to separate them.

"What do you two think you're doing?" Kronos barked when they were all settled down again. "This is a time for celebration, not for fighting!" He splashed more wine into his cup and lifted it high. "A toast! To our brother, free to ride with us once again!"

"To Methos!" Silas raised his cup.

After a second, Caspian followed suit. "To Methos!"

Methos's smile felt as if it would crack his face. He didn't feel like a freed brother. He felt like reclaimed property. He refilled his own drink and took a deep swallow.

"It's good to be back," he said.

* * * * *

That road it twists, that road is crossed,
It's down that road a lot of little girls get lost.

* * * * *

V

"Xena!" Kronos paced the campsite, rubbing his hands in anticipation. "Good! I've heard about her. She should give us a proper challenge."

Methos rolled his eyes. "What is it with you guys and proper challenges? Hercules and Iolaus didn't give you enough trouble, you have to go looking for more?"

Kronos growled. He always growled when Methos brought up the defeat at Thessaly. "This Xena is neither a demigod, nor an Immortal."

"No, she's merely the most feared general Greece has ever produced. And I brushed up on Greek history before we came here, and let me tell you -- that's saying a lot."

"So what are you saying," Caspian demanded, "are we supposed to avoid her, too, from now on? Maybe can send a messenger into every town before we attack. 'Hello, we're the Four Horsemen, come to strike terror into your hearts, but before we do, please tell us who's protecting you, in case they're bigger and stronger than us?' We'll be laughed out of Greece!"

"Caspian..." Methos sighed. "You always overreact. Of course we don't have to stay away from Xena, we can take her! It'll take a little finesse, that's all." He turned to Kronos, pointedly ignoring Caspian's scowl. "Do you want to hear what I have in mind?"

Kronos stopped pacing and sat down. "You know I do, Methos. Go on."

Methos fought to keep his relief from showing on his face. He'd been afraid that Kronos might insist on venting his rage in a straight-out attack on Xena. That would've been a disaster -- for Methos. He had stayed up all night thinking, examining the knowledge he had gained while being held captive, trying to make it all add up to a way out for him. By morning, all the pieces had fallen together, and the plan was unfolded, intricate, and perfect, like one of those puzzle boxes he'd seen in the East. And now Kronos was ready to do his part in it.

Methos opened his mouth to speak, and found himself hesitating. An image appeared in his memory, blonde hair and brown eyes, a face that was innocent, yet not a stranger to loss. Damn that girl, why was he obsessing over her? He barely knew her, and she held no physical attraction for him. Methos thrust the image aside, replaced it with a memory of Cassandra screaming his name as Kronos dragged her from the tent. That steadied him, helped him focus on why he was doing this in the first place. He took a deep breath.

"The girl," he said. "Gabrielle. Xena is very protective of her. Get her, and we'll have the advantage."

* * *


Kronos and Methos spent the next six days scouting around Pilos. The villagers were devoting most of their attention to rebuilding their burned-out homes, but Xena insisted that they keep up the defenses. As Methos predicted, she organized round-the-clock patrols to guard against further attacks. And, as he also predicted, she didn't trust the villagers to do the job unsupervised, so she made sure that she and Gabrielle had separate shifts.

Kronos wanted to move as soon as they figured out the shift schedule and the patrol patterns, but Methos made him put it off.

"The longer we wait, the more careless they'll get," he insisted. "Not Xena, she's too much of a veteran for that. But the others will relax their guard, a little more each day. Time it right, and we'll take the girl without breaking a sweat."

They moved on the seventh day. Methos chose the end of the pre-dawn shift as the best time for an attack. People were at their sleepiest then, looking forward to the end of their watch, convinced that since the rest of the night had gone smoothly, the next hour would go the same way. The plan went off perfectly. Kronos snuck up on the villager who patrolled the stretch adjacent to Gabrielle's, and slit the man's throat before he had time to make a sound. They concealed the body under a pile of dead leaves, hid themselves, and waited for Gabrielle to come into view.

She showed up exactly on schedule, stopping when she reached the edge of her territory, and gave a soft whistle. Methos, who had been observing this routine for a week, whistled back, and rustled the hedge that was concealing him from view.

"Andros?" Gabrielle looked annoyed. "You know you're supposed to show yourself! Come out."

"I'm over here." Methos rustled the hedge again. He had never been much of a mimic, but most whispers sounded alike anyway, and he was able to do a fair approximation of Andros's voice. "I found something."

"What?"

"Shh! Come here and take a look."

She came, like a lamb to the slaughter, never even stopping to wonder why an fellow guard was telling her to shush. Methos waited until she was practically on top of him, then reached out to grab her ankle and pull.

He had to give her credit -- she hung on to her staff as the fell, and aimed a lightning-fash blow at his knees from the ground. Methos had been expecting it, and he still barely jumped back in time. Gabrlielle leapt to her feet, keeping her eyes on him, but she forgot to watch out for a second attacker. Kronos stepped up behind her and smashed his sword hilt against her head, and that was the end of it.

Caspian gave a nasty laugh when they dumped Gabrielle's unconscious body in the middle of the camp. He squatted by her side, examined her face from all angles, pinched one breast, and leered up at Methos.

"Nice," he said. "Soft."

Methos grabbed him by the collar and pulled him over backwards.

"Look, don't touch, Caspian. That's not what we took her for."

Caspian jumped up, gripping his sword hilt, and fixed Methos with a furious glare.

"Are you telling me what to do... brother?"

"Damn right I am. She's supposed to be bait, remember? That means she stays alive and unharmed until we have Xena. Afterwards you're welcome to her -- to both of them, if you can get it up for that long. Until then, keep your hands to yourself."

"He's right," Kronos put one hand on Caspian's arm. "Be patient. It'll be that much sweeter, later."

Caspian muttered angrily to himself, but put up no further argument. Methos felt his heart beating faster as he dragged Gabrielle toward his tent. The first stage of his plan was complete. Now, if he could only get Xena to cooperate...

* * * * *

You're a microscopic cog in his catastrophic plan
Designed and directed by his red right hand.

* * * * *

VI

Methos's life was made considerably easier by the fact that he was the obvious choice to carry out the negotiation with Xena. Kronos, being the leader, considered it beneath his dignity to carry messages. Silas was too slow-witted for the task, and Caspian was... Caspian. Methos had some qualms about leaving Gabrielle unprotected, but Kronos seemed to understand the importance of keeping her safe, so Methos had to be content with that. What choice did he have, anyway?

Xena was waiting for him when walked into Pilos. Had he thought her cold before? The look in her eyes now seemed likely to incinerate him where he stood.

"Where is she? If you've hurt Gabrielle--"

"She's fine." Methos raised his hands in a placatory gesture. "For now. It's up to you to make sure she remains that way. I have a proposal for you."

"And I'm supposed to trust you? I don't know that Gabrielle is still alive, I don't know if you'll keep your promises, I don't even know what you are. How did you heal your leg so quickly? It was a bad break."

"If I tell you, will you trust me?"

"No, but it'll be a start."

"Good enough." Methos drew his dagger from his belt. Xena tensed, but made no move to attack or defend. Methos held his hand in front of him, and slashed the blade across the palm. Blood welled up and trickled into the dust at his feet.

Xena blinked at him. "What are you doing?"

"Wait. Watch." His hand was already tingling, indicating that the cut was beginning to heal. A few seconds later it was gone completely. Methos wiped the blood off on his shirt, and presented his unmarked hand for Xena's inspection. "See? No wound, no scar. I'm Immortal. All the Horsemen are."

To his surprise, Xena seemed more annoyed than amazed by this revelation.

"It figures," she muttered, then added in a louder voice, "How did you do it? Did you get your hands on the apples from the Labyrinth before Hercules burned the place down?"

Methos's first thought was, She knows Hercules... why am I not surprised? His second was, What apples? He did not voice either thought, of course. "How is not the point. The point is, we have Gabrielle and you want her back. Now, are you ready to deal?"

Xena's mouth curled up in a slow, tight-lipped smile. "No," she said, and charged him.

He could've easily sidestepped the attack, or met it with his own show of force. But that would've only wasted time, and neither one of them could afford it. So he let himself get pinned to the ground, with Xena's weight on his chest and her sword at his throat. Then he met her furious stare with his own perfectly composed one.

"Feel better?" He asked, and was pleased to hear that his voice was perfectly steady and reasonable. It was hard to keep from showing that naked blades near his neck made him nervous. "Can we talk now?"

"Oh, you'll talk, all right." Xena's voice was a low growl. "You may be immortal, but I know you can be hurt. So, are you going to tell me where Gabrielle is, or do I start cutting off body parts?"

"They'll grow back," Methos lied cheerfully. "But I'd think first if I were you. I don't deny that you could get me to talk. But I absolutely guarantee that it will take more than two hours, which is when my friends will kill Gabrielle if I don't get back and stop them." He pursed his lips thoughfully. "At least they said they'd kill her. I don't know, they might have some fun first... Caspian, for one, had that certain gleam in his eye when I saw him last."

Xena's blade pressed into his throat, not hard enough to draw blood, but hard enough to hurt. The urge to struggle was almost overwhelming. Methos held perfectly still and waited while she struggled for control. Finally she stood up and sheathed the sword.

"All right, what do you want?"

Methos climbed to his feet and brushed the dirt of his clothes. I'm getting too old for all this excitement.

"I want out," he said.

That surprised her. Methos took it as a small personal victory.

"You want what?"

"You heard me. I want out of the Horsemen. They'll never let me go, of course, but I have a plan to get around that, and I'll need your help."

* * *


The shadows were growing long when Methos returned to the Horsemen's camp, and Kronos, Silas, and Caspian were growing impatient.

"What took you so long?" Kronos demanded as before Methos had a chance to sit down. "We thought we'd have to ride out and rescue you again!"

"Patience, patience." Methos sat down and poured himself a drink. The gods knew he needed one... "Don't you have any faith in me, Kronos? My two hours weren't even up."

"Well, they nearly were," Kronos muttered irritably. "What happened, did she fall for it?"

"If you mean, did she believe me, then no she didn't. If you mean, did she agree to go through with it, then yes, of course she did. She doesn't have a choice. She'll meet us at Silas's tar pit tomorrow morning. That reminds me, how's our guest?"

"Fine." Kronos smirked. "Though she had some choice words about you when she woke up."

"Aww, she doesn't like me? I'm crushed!"

Kronos and Caspian laughed as if he'd actually said something clever. Silas looked confused, as if he was trying to figure out why Methos should be crushed by Gabrielle's dislike of him. Then his face cleared, and he began to laugh too. Methos was seized with a sudden, violent disgust at all of them, even Silas, who was usually the least annoying of the bunch.

"I'm tired," he announced, and fled into his tent.

Gabrielle was right where he'd left her, curled up on his bedroll, though she'd thrown of the blanket he covered her with before he left. Her wrists and ankles were chafed bloody from struggling against the ropes that held her, to no avail. Like Xena, Methos had the knack of making knots.

She lifted her head to glare at him as he entered.

"You! You are going to be sooo sorry when Xena gets here!"

"Actually," he said, "I've been talking to Xena. If you're expecting any heroics from her, you can forget it. She knows better, which is a good thing for you." He pulled up a camp stool and sat down. "Look at you, you're bleeding. Let me clean that up."

He reached for her hands, but she pulled away from him.

"Don't touch me!"

"I was only trying to--"

"Don't!"

Methos pulled back. Was she really that terrified of him? He'd thought her stronger than this.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he began, but was stopped by the fierce expression on her face.

"I don't care! You make me sick, going on about loyalty and gratitude and blood brothers! You made me feel sorry for you, and it was all lies! And what did it get you? Nothing! Why did you even bother?"

So that was it. She wasn't terrified, she was just embarrassed. Methos stifled a laugh.

"It was boring sitting alone in that cellar," he told her. "I was just amusing myself."

Like many fair-skinned blondes, Gabrielle blushed easily. Her face turned a nice, bright pink now.

"Great," she snapped. "It's nice to know I'm good for something. Even if it's only amusing the bad guys."

This time Methos did laugh. "Oh, you're good for much more than that! We're going to get Xena with you as bait. Now, don't you feel useful?"

She looked nervous for a moment, but quickly covered it with a defiant expression.

"I wouldn't gloat yet if I were you. Xena can be very tough to get."

Methos devoutly hoped that was true.

* * * * *

You will beg for the end,
But there ain't gonna be one, friend,
For the grave will spew you out.

* * * * *

VII

Of all varied things Silas might've done in the course of a long and misspent life, the one that proved most useful in Methos's estimation was his falling into a tar pit the morning after the Pilos raid. And such a nice tar pit it was, too -- big and black and bubbling, nearly twenty feet in diameter, located smack in the center of a nice, convenient clearing. The ground around it was ankle-deep in dead leaves and broken twigs, so it was nearly impossible for anyone to sneak up without being heard. If Xena showed up with reinforcements, the Horsemen would know about it. Best of all, there was a massive old oak tree growing right at the edge of the pit, stretching thick, sturdy branches across it. It couldn't have been better if Methos designed it himself.

They hung Gabrielle by her ankles from one of branches. This proved to be a difficult undertaking, since she put up as much struggle as a small, bound woman could humanly put up against four strong men. Still, they managed it. Afterwards, Silas and Caspian concealed themselves among the trees at the opposite sides of the clearing, while Kronos straddled the branch right above Gabrielle, ready to cut the rope at a moment's notice. Methos waited below, leaning casually against the trunk of the oak tree.

This was the part Methos had been most worried about. Both Kronos and, on a good day, Caspian were intelligent enough to point out that this arrangement was needlessly complicated and generally impractical. There were much simpler and equally effective ways of holding Gabrielle hostage. But his knowledge of Kronos's character stood him in good stead here. You could always get him with a nice bit of staged cruelty. Kronos lived for these little moments. And once Kronos was persuaded, Caspian grudingly went along. Silas, of course, just followed instructions.

Now it was just a matter of waiting for Xena.

She walked into the clearing smiling, perfectly relaxed. She carried neither her sword nor her chakram (which, as Methos found out, was the name for the metal ring she used to such deadly effect).

"Xena!" Gabrielle yelled in a shaky voice. "Don't come any closer, it's a trap!"

Xena kept smiling. "I know." She looked up at Kronos. "All right, I've done what you wanted. Now let her go."

"I don't think so." Kronos slowly ran the flat of his knife blade along the rope that held Gabrielle. "Not until we have you secure."

"And while we're at it," Methos called out, "how about showing a little respect? Kneeling would be a good start."

Xena shrugged. "Whatever makes you feel better." And she sank gracefully to her knees. Silas and Caspian emerged from their hiding places and headed toward her, weapons drawn.

"No!" Gabrielle shouted. Kronos laughed. Xena bowed her head, and rested her hands on the ground in front of her, looking sad and defeated...

Until the next second, when she jumped to her feet, holding the chakram she'd concealed among the dead leaves earlier at Methos's instructions. Before any of the Horsemen had time to react, she threw it. It arced across the clearing, struck Kronos upside the head, and sent him toppling over into the tar pit.

Methos shouted Kronos's name as he dropped to the ground. He saw Xena snatch her sword from the ground as Silas and Caspian closed in on her, but he had no attention to spare for that fight. Xena had told him she could take them on by herself, and he had to believe her. He suspected she could've juggled mountain ranges if Gabrielle's life had depended on it. Meanwhile, he had his own part to worry about.

He ran his hand along the ground near the oak's roots. It was there, just as Xena had promised -- a coil of thin rope, one end tied to a strong root. Methos looped the free end around his wrist, and turned to see how Kronos was doing.

Kronos was struggling weakly, still dazed from the chakram blow. Blood was running down one side of his face. The tar was up to his armpits now. He'd be under soon. Methos reached out to him with his free hand.

"Hold on! I've got you!"

Kronos's hand clutched convulsively at his.

"Help me, Methos," he gasped.

Methos met his eyes, projecting perfect sincerity.

"I've got you, brother," he said, even as he let himself fall.

The tar seemed to clutch at him with black, sticky fingers and pull him down. It was painfully hot, and smelled like something had died and rotted in it. The rope tightened around Methos's wrist, his lifeline, his tether to solid ground. He wanted to grab it with both hands and haul himself back out more than he ever wanted anything in his life. He didn't. He only thrashed around, in case either Silas or Caspian got a good look at what was going on.

Kronos was in it up to his chin now. Methos saw fear and desperation in his face, but no sudden realization. Kronos still did not know he'd been betrayed.

"I'm sorry," Methos told him, almost meaning it.

Kronos threw his head back and screamed. Every tendon in his neck stood out as he strained to free himself from the tar's unyielding grip. Then his mouth went under, and the screaming stopped. A moment later he was gone.

Methos himself was sinking rapidly. He looked up, and saw Gabrielle staring right at him, understanding finally dawning in her face.

"I'm sorry," he whispered again, not sure if he was addressing her or himself, just before the blackness sucked him under.

It was in his mouth, in his nose, in his eyes. He was choking, he was burning, his lungs were going to burst. His whole body spasmed, over and over, nothing was left but panic and pain and--

Nothing....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

He was back, but it wasn't over, the darkness was still there, choking the life from him again, stopping the screams in his throat, he was trapped in agony like a beetle in a drop of amber, it was never going to stop, it was--

Nothing....................................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

This was Tartarus. This was the fiery punishment the Jews' stern god rained down on unrepentant sinners. Had he sinned? He couldn't remember now, there was only pain where memory used to be, there was only--

Nothing............................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

makeitstopmakeitstopmakeitstopmakeitstopmakeitstopmakeitstopmakeitstopmakeitstop

Nothing................................................................................................................................................................................................................................

He was breathing. There was air in his lungs, and solid ground under him, and someone was scrubbing at his face with a cloth soaked in warm water. Methos sputtered, and tried to push the cloth away, but someone slapped his hand.

"Stop that," a voice snapped. "I'm trying to get your face cleaned off." The cloth rubbed against his forehead and across his eyelids. "There."

Methos opened his eyes, and looked up at Gabrielle's face, with blue sky behind it. For a moment he just lay back and enjoyed the sight. Then memory flooded back, and the trembling started.

He must've spent several minutes just lying on the ground shaking, while Gabrielle and Xena watched. Neither one of them made a move to touch him, for which he was grateful. Eventually, he felt recovered enough to move, but as soon as he sat up, his stomach heaved. Methos rolled groaned, rolled over onto his knees, and vomited the remains of his last two meals at Xena's feet.

"Kronos," he gasped when he could speak again. "Shit... we have to get him of there..."

"What?" Gabrielle stared at him if he'd sprouted a second head. "Are you crazy?"

"You don't understand!" he shouted at her. "I didn't know, I thought I'd be dead the whole time, and I wasn't, we can't leave him down there, I didn't know--" He knew he was babbling, but he couldn't stop. All he could think of was that he couldn't leave somebody to a possible eternity of that, not even Kronos. There were limits even to his capacity for betrayal.

He tried to stand, but Xena grabbed his arms and pulled him down again. He struggled, but she shook him and repeated his name until he settled down.

"Methos! Stop it. Calm down. We can't get Kronos out of the pit, he wasn't holding on to a rope when he sank."

"Oh. Right. Of course." Methos closed his eyes and took slow, deep breaths. This was not the time to fall apart. He sat there and breathed until his muscles relaxed and his heart stopped pounding. It was a false calmness, he'd be shaking and sobbing again sometime in the near future, but that could wait until he was alone. Now there were more important things to do. He opened his eyes and took stock of his surroundings for the first time.

They were in a forest somewhere. He could hear running water nearby, but not close enough to see. There was a pot of water boiling over a fire, and the remains of a half-eaten meal arranged around it. He must've been dead a long time.

He himself was a black, sticky mess. Only his face was clean. The clothes were a total loss, and he'd probably have to cut all his hair off. Gabrielle and Xena were watching him with cautious eyes, waiting to see if he'd have hysterics again. Xena looked like she'd had a hard fight of it -- there was a cut on her forehead and a bandage on her left forearm, and she held herself stiffly, as if her ribs hurt. Still, she was here and Silas and Caspian were nowhere in sight. Methos made a mental note never to pick a fight with this woman.

"What did you do with the others?" he asked.

"I killed them and tossed them in the river." Xena frowned as she said it. She had wanted to take Silas and Caspian to Athens -- and Methos too, for that matter -- but he'd made her promise to let them all go in exchange for Gabrielle's life. He was grateful that she kept her promises, since one of them involved her pulling him out of the tar pit.

"Do you think they'll believe it?" Gabrielle asked. "That you're stuck there with Kronos, I mean?"

"There's no reason why they shouldn't. They saw me sink, and they certainly won't be expecting Xena to rescue me. They'll probably go their separate ways, without Kronos and me to keep them together." It was hard to believe the Horsemen were finished. His life had revolved around them for so long... He felt adrift, stripped of purpose. He couldn't imagine a tomorrow that didn't involve killing. He'd find a tavern tonight and drink until he could imagine it, however long that took.

"Thank you." He looked from Xena to Gabrielle and back again. "I know you don't want my gratitude, but you still have it."

Xena rummaged in her travel pack, and tossed a washcloth and a piece of soap at him.

"You really want to thank me? Get that gunk off yourself. You stink."

* * * * *

And in a way I'm yearning
To be done with all this measuring of truth,
An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

* * * * *

EPILOGUE

Masts swayed in the breeze, dozens and dozens of them, dark lines against the pale sky. The air rang with the raucous laughter of sailors and whores, the hopeful calls of street vendors, the shouts of children. Methos stood at the harbor entrance and gazed into the distance where sky met water. He would be over that horizon by tomorrow, his passage was already booked. He and Xena and Gabrielle all walked to this city together, not because they particularly wanted each others' company, but because they happened to be headed the same way and it was hard to avoid each other on the road. He'd be leaving them behind now, along with everything else, which was just as well.

He heard footsteps behind him, and recognized by the rhythm who it must be, but made no move to turn around. A few seconds later, Gabrielle stood beside him.

"So where are you going?" she asked.

"Egypt," he said. "Alexandria, to be exact. The ship leaves with the next tide."

"Alexandria..." A look of longing stole over Gabrielle's face. "I've always wanted to see that library! Visit it for me, will you?"

"I will."

It would never cease to amaze him, this girl's refusal to hate. After all he'd done, she could stand there and talk to him as if he was an ordinary person, insead of someone who couldn't sleep anymore because he gave himself nightmares. He wanted to touch her hand, brush her hair out of her eyes, make any sort of contact, but ordinary human gestures seemed beyond him at the moment. Just standing there talking required an effort.

"Why Egypt?" Gabrielle asked.

"Because I've never been there before." Not for eight hundred years, anyway. "I want to go someplace where I've never hurt anyone. Where the Horsemen are nothing but a legend."

"Isn't that just running away? You can't atone by ignoring what you've done."

"I'm not looking for atonement. That's a fool's game, and you can tell Xena I said so. I just want a fresh start."

She looked ready to argue about it, but Methos did not feel up to the challenge.

"I have to go," he said, and fled into the crowded streets, toward the cheap waterfront inn where his belongings were stored in a dirty room. He still had money left. He was going to get drunk.

Again.

For as long as it took.

THE END




Methos, Caspian, Silas, Kronos, the Horsemen, Cassandra, Immortals, and anything else from Highlander: The Series are copyright © 1997 Davis/Panzer Productions. Xena, Gabrielle, Iolaus, and these versions of Greece, Hercules, and anything else from Xena: Warrior Princess and/or Hercules: The Legendary Journeys are copyright © 1997 Renaissance Pictures, Inc. This story is copyright © 1997 Marina Frants. Epigraphs from the Nick Cave songs "O'Malley's Bar" (copyright © 1996 Reprise Records), "Do You Love Me?" "Ain't Gonna Rain Anymore," "Up Jumped the Devil," "Sugar Sugar Sugar," "Red Right Hand," "City of Refuge," and "The Mercy Seat" (all copyright © 1994, 1996 Mute Corporation).

This story continues from "Protect and Survive." It takes place shortly before the two-part Xena episode "Destiny" and shortly after the flashbacks in the Highlander episodes "Comes a Horseman" and "Revelation 6.8."

Other installments of "The Methos Chronicles":


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