by Maxine Mayer
I found him in the woods that day, by his ancient buzz alone. It was a wild yelp of a buzz, like the cry of a wounded fox. In spite of the fact that all three of us searched, it took us an hour to locate him, even with the buzz. He hid and ran and hid again so effectively. Truly, like an animal. A survivor.
He was unbelievably skinny. And he was filthy, dressed in rags. He fought like a wildcat to get free of us, squirmed and kicked, bit each of us several times. But at last we were successful and we tied him up. He took one more look at our faces, then rolled himself into a ball and would not speak to any of us.
I didn't answer Silas or Caspian when they asked me what he was. Oh, I knew, as did they, that he was an Immortal One, hard to kill, if you didn't know how. But I sensed more, much more. I sensed his age. This one had endured, survived, for centuries, millenia. They thought he was only a ragged child. I didn't tell them differently.
Silas wanted to care for him, like the pet he always wanted to keep. But I let neither of the others near him, I tended the boy myself.
He didn't move out of the ball he'd rolled himself into when I took him up bodily and threw him into the river, to clean him. But the shock of the water frightened him, he went limp in the river and I was able to strip his filthy clothes off with one hand, while I held him up from drowning with my other.
After I'd washed the worst of the dirt from him, I carried him near to our fire and wrapped him in warm dry skins and covered him with furs, rubbing him until he stopped shivering.
"What's your name, boy?" I asked him loudly. "You can tell me at least that much." He was silent, frightened still. "Very well, it makes no matter, I can wait," I told him, and busied myself fetching him some gruel. I warmed the food for him over the fire and offered the bowl to the boy. He eyed the food warily, then held up his bound wrists.
Then, for the first time, he met my eyes.
"I am Methos," he said very softly. "Unbind my hands, Kronos, and I will eat, and I will speak to you."
He had little to recommend him as far as looks go. Scrawny as a plucked chicken - that was never to change, even after he'd fed his fill for months - ratty brown hair, long nose. But he had wonderful eyes to go with his quickness of mind. He had a big heart. Not like Silas - simple. No, Methos' heart was a vast turbulent thing, like a river run amuck in the flood months. He was a handful, I saw at once. But I've managed worse, in my time.
After I did as he asked - cut the ties binding his wrists - I sat near him and waited while he ate. He was starved, I could see that. But he was not the feral animal I'd thought him to be when we found him. At last he finished what I'd given him so I handed him a drink. "Drink, boy, then speak."
He drank. Then he smiled. Then he spoke. "I am Methos, the oldest of our kind still living. If you take my head, you'll gain all the strength you'll need, Kronos, to be first among our kind." Then he smiled at me again, as if he had a more tempting offer in mind, if I could bring myself to refuse that one.
And I smiled too. "I don't want your head. I don't need your power. I'm strong enough already. I am first of us all."
"You want something, then - in return for food and drink and shelter, and for sparing my life. Speak. It is yours."
"I want your story, boy, I want your story."
It was then I understood that Methos was not a boy. True, when he made first death he was not as old as I was. But he was not a boy at all. He was a man.
"Yes, that. Your story, Methos, in return for your life."
"Mine is no different from yours, the same story over and over. We live, we love, they die, we survive. Except in one thing, your life and mine are the same."
"What's the difference?" I asked, wondering what he might tell me.
"Kronos, you saw how I was when you found me - alone. You are with those two men, Caspian and Silas. So, you are a fool. That is the difference."
"They are my brothers, Methos."
He shook his head slowly. "No. Oh, no. Our kind must not have brothers. In the end there can be only one."
"Ah, but the end is a long way off! Meantime, I do not fear Silas or Caspian or any ten like them. It needs only a bit of will to gather brothers, and I do not wish to live alone. Together we are more than Immortal - we are invincible! Will alone accomplishes the task! See, I have two brothers! They weren't difficult to find. It took a little time, a little thought, a little will. Only five centuries, and I found them. Now, I want another - I want you!"
"You don't need me, Kronos. Let me go. I won't harm you or the others. Let me go."
"What - to starve like an animal in the forest? That's no life for one of our kind."
"Will you make me your slave, then?"
"I might," I said cheerfully, "Yes, I might."
"Then you'll live in such fear as you've never before known - for the rest of your days." Methos threw everything he was into that threat, and I knew it was true. I could never enslave him as I had Silas and Caspian - bind him to me - neither with chains nor with fear. But I knew the way to keep him with me forever. He'd given me the key himself.
"You'll stay with me, Methos, for no other reason than your own desire. I'll make you one of us, our brother. Wouldn't you like that?"
He didn't answer for a long time. He looked away and stared into the fire. But I knew I had him. He couldn't resist it - the thought of it - I could feel his ancient soul bend towards the bribe the way a flower leans into the sunlight. I pressed my advantage.
"You've been alone too long, Methos - you've forgotten what it's like - to be with friends. Remember - we won't die like the rest! Come, give me your hand on it, brother, let us be your kin!" I stretched out my hand, palm up, my fingers stretched wide, ready to grip his hand in return.
I felt his ripple of revulsion at touching anyone - but he throttled it easily, like the survivor he was. He grabbed my hand and used it to pull himself to his feet, while I was still sitting on the ground.
"If you want to be my brother, Kronos," he said steadily - as he showed me my own knife, which he'd taken from me without my noticing, in that moment it took him to stand - "you'll have to do better than this!"
I did better. I had him on the ground in an instant, my knife back in my hand, its blade at his throat. "Brother," I told him softly, my breath hot on his face, "we never lift a blade against each other. You'll need to remember that."
He didn't look frightened, and I could sense his laughter in his aura. Smiling, he pushed my knife hand away. "And why is that, 'brother'?" he asked.
"Because I said it, 'brother'," I responded, returning smile for smile.
"Well then, it must be right. I'll remember, Kronos, all the days of my life, that we never lift a blade against each other. Because you said it. Good idea."
We slept that night in a cave not far from the river. In the night my new brother cried out in his sleep, waking all three of us. He thrashed wildly, and his nightmare raised his heat to a fever. He sweated. He cried out again and again. None of us could wake him with our calling. Finally, I sent the other two out of the cave.
When they'd left I grabbed Methos' shoulders and shook him as hard as I could. He didn't wake but he stopped thrashing and went limp under my grip. I took some water and a strip of skin and wiped the sweat from his face. He rested quietly then, and I lay down beside him, gathering him to me like a child, holding him firmly in my arms.
"Oh my brother," I whispered while he slept, "what have they done to you? You're going to keep me very busy, I see, sucking the poison out of such festering wounds." I sighed and closed my eyes. I was as exhausted as if I'd dreamt his nightmare along with Methos. "Never fear, old one," I whispered. "I've got a few ideas. And I've got plenty of time, brother, to draw out the venom!"
A few months later Methos' nightmares stopped abruptly. He had his last one for decades, the night before we found the horses. He loved the horses - I think their gentleness healed him. I let him choose the one he wanted to keep.
His hand hovered over his horse's back. "Will they let us ride them?" he asked me, full of wonder at the marvelous beasts.
"They will, but we must tame them the way you tame any animal - man, woman or child."
"How?" he asked simply. He was always curious. I don't think he'd ever desired power in all the centuries he'd lived.
But Methos was a fast learner, and took from me every trick I could teach him. And turned those tricks from the isolated weapons children wield into unimaginable tools of terror and war. He was a monster of the mind. His imagination fueled our raids with incredible fire, granting us victory after victory, such as we'd never known before, with all our power. We became the Four Horsemen - bringing terror and death wherever we rode.
Yet he wanted nothing for himself except to please me. Nothing I could discover.
"Will you have this woman, brother?" I'd ask him, always offering him the most beautiful from among our new captives.
"As you wish, brother," he'd always answer, taking the woman I chose for him.
"Will you have these heads of cattle, brother?" I'd ask him, choosing the healthiest beasts we'd stolen.
"As you wish, brother," he'd answer, as if he didn't care.
"But you've earned it all, Methos," I told him. "Your plans brought us our victory this day!"
"I thank you, Kronos, for your tribute." He'd smile, then walk away.
You see? We were alike. In our contempt for things - for the spoils of war - we were alike. Our needs were different - his was for love, mine for power. But in our contempt for things, we were different from the others. As night is from day. This is what drew us to each other. Still, Methos refused to give me the power I needed - over him. Why? I refused him nothing.
He got under my skin, finally, when I noticed he'd stopped eating entirely. "What foolhardiness is this, brother?" I asked, angrier than I could remember ever being. "Will you deprive us of your company, Methos, starve to death, leaving us alone?"
"I cannot die, brother, you know that," he answered quietly, meeting my anger with his reason. Then suddenly he spoke to Silas and Caspian, who were sitting round the fire with us. "Leave us, brothers." They were shocked to hear him address them - he rarely spoke directly to them, and then only to pass the time, pleasantly, but without any interest in them at all. They looked at me for direction. I nodded and gestured for them to go. It was night, anyway, time to rest before tomorrow's raid.
"What is it, brother? Why do you starve yourself, cast away your strength of life - do you do some honor to the Spirits with your fast - or simply throw my bounty in my face?" Or would you leave us, I thought, but said nothing of that.
"I am lost, Kronos. But I thank you for my horse. She pleases me. Remember how I loved you for that gift, when I'm gone."
Then I spoke out. "You would leave me, then?" Not us, me. Of us three, I was his only true brother - that much I knew. The other two didn't exist for him. His bond was with me.
After a long silence, he replied. "The last man my heart bled for -"
When I heard those words I could scarcely quiet my excitement - I knew it jumped like fire in my aura. I didn't bother to try to hide it. I would receive a piece of his story now!
"Yes, brother - who was he, this man you loved?"
"The last man my heart bled for was my first teacher, many years ago," Methos said slowly. Then he sank to his knees before the fire and stared into the flames, letting them hypnotize him. He spoke as if he were delivering an incantation to the Spirits, swaying a little with each phrase. "He was worthy of my love, and I gave my whole heart to him. When one of our kind took his head, I followed that one, waited until I grew stronger - strong enough - then took my revenge. Took his head."
"Yes, brother, I understand."
"No, you don't understand, Kronos - you cannot understand."
I felt it then, his passion and hatred - for who or what, I wasn't sure. "Then tell me," I said simply. If he was going to leave me, I wanted to know why.
"It is you - it is not right - you are not worthy. But I bleed like a stuck pig - for you!"
The insult cut me to the gut. I struck out, backhanded him with fierce and sudden anger - struck him dead. If he were Mortal, he'd have been dead, so ferocious was my blow.
While he lay dead, I waited in fury for him to revive, so I might strike him down again. And I repeated his words in my mind. "It is you - I bleed like a stuck pig - for you!"
Then his meaning hit me - and I laughed out loud. Brother Methos loved me! He didn't want to go! He wanted me! All the while I'd thought he was outside our life, free of my power - untameable. But I'd been wrong. I had enslaved him after all!
This was a useful bit of knowledge, this weakness of Methos. I loved him too, but that didn't matter - I don't bleed for love. I take what I want, then take it again. No man and no feeling enslave me - ever. I cannot love like that. It isn't in my nature. If my lover gives me trouble, why I kill him without a qualm! Such attachments as Methos felt are out of my range.
I'd use this, then - use him - and have his love as well! I thought, you've slipped up, brother! You've given me a gift tonight - power over you, forever!
"Feeling any better?" I asked, when Methos revived from his death.
"What do you think?" he asked, his voice raw. "I ride at dawn, Kronos. Say my farewells to the others. You cannot stop me - unless you take my head."
"I have no plans you don't make, brother," I told him mildly. "But you're not going away. Stay with me this night, in my tent. If I injured you - well - it will heal - but I ask your forgiveness," I said with a smile. "Don't look so surprised, Methos - you're not the only man who likes a little honey with his cow dung. You're not the first man - or the only one - who's loved not wisely but too well! We must never be too cautious, brother, who we give our hearts to - or we'll find ourselves alone again in the forest, shivering like wounded dogs, with no fire to warm us, no fire at all."
My words pulled no response from him, so I flung myself down beside him, satisfied when I saw him jump and felt his sudden shift to fear. I do like the old ways best! I brought out my knife quickly, laid its blade at his throat, and covered his mouth with my own. I planned to take him violently, to set the rules at once. There'd be time enough afterwards, for love. He fought me as he'd fought when we found him, like a wildcat - but I was much stronger, much stronger than he.
By morning, we'd made our bargain. He with loathing - for himself, for me - me with satisfaction at a good night's work, an unexpected conquest, which was sure to prove useful. Now, Methos truly belonged to me!
I did love him. I dismissed the idea of sharing him with the others - as we shared all things - though we all used the women regularly. No, I kept him for myself. I was never a man to cast pearls before swine.
Methos gave what he had to our band, after that. He planned for me, brilliantly. Even more brilliantly than before. He watched over the economy of our camp like a good steward. He created our masks of terror - designed our face paint too. Did everything he knew to please me. His fear was a joy to behold.
And he never once betrayed me - until the Witch stole his heart away.
I had a good run with Methos. You might even say, a great run. Methos rode with me for decades, which turned into centuries by and by. As the centuries passed, he grew violent with it all, as he killed and raped alongside us. As the centuries passed, no one but I could distinguish him from any of us.
He killed and raped alongside me - slept by my side, watched out for my back, washed my feet, soothed my spirit. And loved me, as no one else ever had, ever would.
He grew to exult in our freedom, our power, but it never was part of him. He'd known the life of Mortals. Known the poverty, desperation, fear. Our freedom seduced him. Our power excited him. But he never became one of us.
But he thought he was. He tortured himself, hating what we were, what we did. And the more he suffered, the more joy I felt. As long as he believed himself a Horseman, he'd stay. With me.
Methos called what he felt for me "bleeding like a stuck pig." I knew what he meant. For him, loving me stole what was left of his youth, took away the joy he might have found in simple pleasures. Bled the last drops of innocence out of him. Spilled his life force, like spilling his seed onto the ground, with his own hands. Over and over again, for centuries. That's what our bond, our love, meant to him.
Yes, I knew. You think I cared? Whatever kept him with me, by my side, in my bed, on my raids - at any price, to anyone - was fine with me. After all, he could handle it. I'd seen him do it. His nightmares? Well, I handled them. That's all that mattered to me, in the end.
Methos was always different, unique. He had more "seed" inside him than most. And he had more life force than anyone I've ever known. All the loathing and venom he could bleed, for as long as we rode together, didn't make any inroad at all into who Methos was. He would always survive - somehow. Always survive - intact.
I counted on that, after he left me. Because I knew I'd find him again one day, however long it took, and he'd still be Methos, still brilliant. Still "bleeding like a stuck pig" - for someone.
The only thing I didn't know was who he'd be bleeding for when I found him again at the end.