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A Foreign Country

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The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.

(L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between)


I know you.

Pythagoras stared deeply into the fire as darkness closed in around his heart, his conversation with Jason replaying over and over in his head as he waited out the long hours of his watch. His mind had been in turmoil ever since Arcas had turned up the other night.

You're not pleased to see him?

Of course I am.

The truth was, though, that he had decidedly mixed feelings about Arcas' arrival. One the one hand he was Pythagoras' only brother (even if a traitorous little voice in his head kept pointing out how much closer he was to Hercules and Jason than he'd ever been to Arcas). They had grown up together (even if Pythagoras was that bit older and had always felt responsible for Arcas); had played the same games by the same hearth and shared a history that no-one else could truly understand.

Yet at the same time, Arcas' arrival had stirred up memories that Pythagoras desperately wanted to forget. Memories of his father; memories of how the man had died. He hadn't been a kind man (and certainly not a good father) but did any man deserve to be killed in the way he had been?

You weren't expecting him to turn up.

No. No he hadn't been expecting to see Arcas. As he had told Jason, they didn't always see eye to eye. Arcas was a little too like their father for comfort; had his father's anger. They were too different to ever really be close and since their mother had died there was little to tie them together any more – just a vague sense of filial responsibility to one another.

What is it? Pythagoras.

It's nothing.

Father. Everything came down to Father – as it always had. It seemed that the man still had the power to ruin Pythagoras' life even though he had been dead for so many years.

Arcas had been so young when Father had died – too young to know what the man was really like; too young to understand the effect that drink had on Father (the fact that it made him violent and vicious) and Pythagoras had tried to shield him from it as best he could – young though he had been himself. Mother had asked it of him; had asked him to always protect Arcas and he had done his best.

That final, fatal night, though, he'd had to try to intervene; tried to shove Father away from Mother with all his childish strength when he had seen Father attack. He'd seen Father hitting Mother before, of course; had been on the receiving end of the man's drunken temper on too many occasions himself (the only one in their small family who hadn't was Arcas – the child that Father thought of as his true son; the son who was so like his father in so many ways).

I know you.

He hadn't meant it; he hadn't meant Father to fall and hit his head. He was just trying to protect Mother. It was an accident. But who would believe that? Pythagoras had killed him whether he had meant to or not – and that was the secret that he would have to live with and take to his grave; his burden to live with and his to die with.

What is it? Pythagoras.

It's nothing.

The Oracle had said that the time of reckoning was upon him and that he could not avert it no matter what he did. Even before he had spoken with her, Pythagoras had felt a sense of disquiet; an unease that he felt every time he was near Arcas; a hidden darkness that marred their relationship – that came between them at all times.

Arcas was just so angry (still; even after all this time); was still raging against the world for the death of a father he remembered imperfectly; still desperately wanted justice (revenge) against the person responsible for his father's death.

Until Arcas could find it in his heart to let go of the past, there would always be a distance between them – and Pythagoras would have to keep the truth concealed; would have to lock his secret back inside his heart

I know you.

Pythagoras nearly snorted out loud – because no-one really knew him; no-one really could know him without knowing the secret that haunted him – the skeleton hiding in his past. And how would they see him if they did know the truth? (Not that Pythagoras would ever want them to know). Would they see him as he saw himself? As a murderer?

He shuddered.

He couldn't tell his friends; couldn't risk them reacting badly; couldn't risk losing the relationships he had made – the friendships he had found.

He hadn't many friends over the course of his life so far; hadn't fully fitted in anywhere (especially with the other children in his village on Samos). Hercules' bluff friendship had been a revelation. Yes, he might make jokes at the bulky wrestler's expense but he loved the big man dearly; valued his friendship above everything else.

Then there was Jason; naïve, open-hearted Jason whose own noble nature always made him think the best of other people; to believe that they would be as honest and good-hearted as he was. His friendship was different to Hercules' (he was an ally who could be relied upon to join in the gentle teasing of the burly wrestler) but no less precious to Pythagoras.

The thought of losing the friendship – the respect – of either one of the men he shared a house with horrified the mathematician; turned his stomach and made him feel sick.

I know you.

Pythagoras sighed and stared miserably into the heart of the fire once more. It wouldn't be long now until his watch was over and Jason would take over, but he wasn't sure he'd manage to find meaningful rest even when it was; had a suspicion that what sleep he was able to find would be plagued by nightmares and memories.

On the far side of the fire Otus, the enormous mute who worked for Nilas the caravan leader, began to stir. He was due to stand the watch later in the night. The mathematician raised his head to look at the man thoughtfully.

Otus was a murderer. The brand on his arm told the world about his crime; marked him out as a killer. Pythagoras wore no such brand. His crime was still secret – hidden – and yet he couldn't help feeling that he should be punished in the same way Otus had been. Then he might be able to find the same sort of redemption – and perhaps a little peace. What was it that Nilas had said? That Otus had paid his price; that he was a good man.

Pythagoras had tried to be a good man; had tried to help his fellow man wherever he could – but he still wasn't sure that anyone would believe he was good if they knew the truth about his past; if they knew what he had done. Deep in his mind – in his heart – he knew what he was; could hear his inner voice's accusatory tone: murderer.

I know you.

Otus wriggled himself into a more comfortable position and settled down into deep sleep once more. Right at this moment in time Pythagoras envied him his ability to relax so completely.

Slowly and silently, the young man pushed himself to his feet and slipped to the entrance to the cave, peering out at the position of the moon to estimate the time. He'd been right. It was about time for his watch to end. He turned and padded silently back across the cavern to his blanket, next to where Jason was sleeping and crouched down next to his friend.

I know you.

Jason was stretched out on his back, one arm curled under his head and his legs crossed at the ankles. In sleep all the worries and cares of the day had drained away, leaving him looking very young and very peaceful. Pythagoras almost hated to wake him, even though he knew it was Jason's turn to take the watch. He sat back on his heels for a moment, thinking.

Behind him, Hercules gave a loud snore and muttered something unintelligible which might have ended with 'Medusa'. Pythagoras almost smiled.

There were few people who could even begin to understand the bonds of love and friendship that went between him and Hercules. Pythagoras supposed that they didn't make the most likely of pairings – a burly middle-aged wrestler with a love of wine, pies and gambling and a scrawny mathematician with a fascination for triangles and an interest in the healing arts – and yet their friendship had been strong from the start and had only deepened over the years.

Even so, Pythagoras had never spoken about his past with his old friend; had kept that part of himself and his life hidden; had never wanted to expose himself in that way.

And now, of course, he had two people that he shared a bone strong deep friendship with; two men who were the family of his heart if not his blood; two friends who he must keep his past from.

I know you.

Pythagoras looked at his friend sadly, even as he reached out to wake him up.

No, Jason, he thought as he gently grasped his friend's shoulder, you don't know me anywhere near as well as you think. You do not really know me at all.