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The Dying Gaul

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The world is small, still, but not so small as it was once; one does not expect to recognize every Immortal he meets. There is a an Immortal leaning against a tree by the edge of the stream, face turned away, and Methos kicks his mare closer. She is not, properly, a warhorse-- they do not fight on horseback very often in Galatia-- and she objects to the smell of death.

The wound in the man's side is very bad, probably fatal. They are almost a league from the valley where the worst of the fighting took place. Methos 's mare moves away from the spreading blood, and then he sees the dead man in the stream. His head is five feet further on, and his face is unfamiliar.

“John?” the man he is escorting calls. “Is all well?”

“The Gaul is injured,” Methos answers, “perhaps badly. I am going to see if there is anything to be done for him. Stay by the path, and keep watch.”

The little fat sculptor doesn't listen, of course. He gets his horse within ten feet of the dying Gaul before it spooks and takes him backward much more quickly. This time he stays; he is an artisan and not a soldier, and unused to the reality of battle.

Methos slides off the mare and lets her reins fall into the grass. She isn't trained to fight, but she is loyal and will not leave him. He touches the injured Gaul's shoulder, and the man's head lolls toward him.

This face, he recognizes. In all the wide and widening world, of all the men ever born, it would be this one. “Barbatus,” he says resignedly. “I might have known.”

“Maximus,” the other man grins. There is blood trickling from the corner of his mouth, though there is no wound Methos can see. “You're not with Hierax?”

“Of course not, my friend. Have you ever known me to fight on the wrong side of a war? Particularly in a piss-poor provincial country like this?”

“Which begs the question, what are are you doing in such a country in the first place?” Barbatus asks. His sun dark face is an odd grey-green, and Methos can see that despite the pressure of his hand against the wound in his side the bleeding is worse. Not long now. “Does Attalus have such a beautiful daughter as that?”

“No, but the son is lovely,” Methos says, kneeling. “Like you, I grew tired of Rome, ungrateful bitch that she is. This might be a petty war among barnyard kings, but it has not been without its amusements.”

“No,” Barbatus agrees. “The daughters of Antiochus Hierax are fair indeed, Maximus, as fair as any woman in Rome.”

“I shall ask for them as my portion of the spoils, then.”

Barbatus grins weakly. “Have you any water, despoiler of the fair?”

“Only wine in my saddlebags, I'm afraid, and someone has beheaded a man in the stream.”

“No matter. It won't be long now, will it?”

Barbatus is less than a century old, an infant as Immortals go. But a man never grows used to dying, no matter how many lifetimes he lived. “Did you know him?” Methos asks, hoping to provide a distraction. There is so much blood it must be nearly time. The hem of Methos's cloak is wet with it.

Barbatus shakes his head. “Luck,” he says. “Mine, mostly. Retreating, and I stopped to take a piss-- took me by surprise. Damned dishonorable, Maximus, and him a Gaul.”

“Barbarians, all of them,” Methos agrees. “This side of Thrace, they're nothing but goatfuckers anyway.”

The other man doesn't respond. His eyes are closed, his breathing slowing. He is dead, and the last thing Methos said to him was obscene. He touches Barbatus's forehead, and says, in place of a benediction, “Until we meet again, Cornelius Lucius Scipio Barbatus.”

He eases the other man down, until he lies flat, and places his sword at hand. Barbatus has no cloak; like a proper mad Gaul he has been fighting in the nude. That alone would be enough to sway Methos to the other side-- even an Immortal has things he wants covered. But Barbatus will keep well enough. He always does manage to come out on top.

Methos's little mare is waiting where he left her, her rains dangling and her mouth green. He swings on and rubs her neck gently, and then he turns his back and rides away from Barbatus. His charge is where Methos left him, facing away from the battle, away from the trouble that would have come, if there had been trouble. There is smoke on the horizon now, barely visible above the trees. They are burning the bodies, then. As well Barbatus died here and not there, then, since he made such an interminable thing of it.

“He is at peace, John?” Epigonus asks anxiously. He is not a bad man, Attalus's little pet sculptor, except for his idiotic insistence on seeing the glories of war firsthand. Methos has done as the king asked and shown him, and he does not think the man has enjoyed the lesson. It will be interesting to see how he depicts the things he has seen.

Though Methos is tired of Galacia, tired of Pergamum, and tired of Attalus, and he does not intend to stay long enough to see those sculptures finished. Perhaps in a century or three he will ride this way again and see Epigonus's work.

“He's dead,” he says in the meantime, letting his mare settle into a walk.

“Shouldn't we bury him?”

“Have you got a shovel with you, then? Te crows will take care of him.”

Epigonus looks troubled. The last thing Methos needs is for him to ride back and interrupt Barbatus in the act of resurrection-- that never ends well, for anyone. “He was a Gaul, and a murderer-- there was another Gaul dead in the stream. But if it bothers you, when we reach camp we can send someone back to take care of it.”

“Oh,” Epigonus says, and when Methos looks over at him his eyes are round and shining with tears. “But he seemed so noble, so heroic--.”

“He was running away,” Methos snaps. “Did you think he was mortally wounded and crawled so far only to die? He had deserted his comrades-- his prince. His face was fair, perhaps, his visage noble. Make use of his pose in your sculpture. But he was only a man. Do not make more of him than that.”

And then, because he is angry, but not really angry at Epigonus, he offers the other man his flask. “Take a sip of wine,” he says, “compose yourself. And let us be gone from here.”

He is angry at the stupidity of it, the waste: at the endless wars, at the Game, at the dead and the dying. Nothing changes. Nothing ever changes. “Remember that war is an ugly thing and glory fleeting, and that there is no honor in death.”

Epigonus pushes the flask away. “I will remember the things I have seen to day to my dying, John of Thrace. Drink your own wine, and make of it all what you will.”

He is stubborn, for a small, fat fool, but his vision is his own. “Very well,” Methos says. “To your dying Gaul, may he find the peace he deserves!” He takes a long swallow of wine and pushes the mare into a trot. He'll deliver Epigonus, and ride on, and maybe next time he sees Barbatus he'll take his head just because he can. No one else here is civilized; why should Methos be any different?