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Once in Rome

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Rome, 66 BCE.

1.

“The room is ready, lady Xanthia,” the dark-skinned slave girl said. “Food and wine are served.”
Girl’s mistress, Xanthia the Fair, priestess of Venus Erycina, smiled at her, “Thank you, my child. You may go.”
The girl vanished; Xanthia stayed, leaning on the temple column and looking at the city. Sunset painted Rome in different colors — it was quite an impressive view. Manius would be proud…
Manius Valerius, the noble consul, one of those who conquered for Rome her first province, the blossoming Sicilia… He brought not only grain and wine, but the cult of Venus Erycina as well. Memories of him still warmed Xanthia’s heart. The fearless warrior had been half sure that the golden-haired Immortal had been the goddess herself and not just her humble priestess. He used to say that it had been much harder to win her heart, than the island.

Xanthia sighed. Of course, she would have preferred Sicilia remain independent and Greek, but the glory days of Greek civilization were over, Alexander the Great being the last spark. Younger nations fought over the world now, and for whatever reason she liked Rome more than Carthage. Romans were nearly relatives, and at least they were eager to learn. She had followed Manius to the new centre of the world and after his death stayed here, in the temple he had built for her on Capitoline Hill. She tried to make the Temple of Love as Greek as possible, a place where not only pleasures of body were sought, but also pleasures of mind. And she succeeded; after all, once she’d been one of the founders of hetaera’s school in Corinth, she knew what she was doing. Her household, both slaves and free servants, adored her and the temple of Venus Erycina was respected throughout the city, even among the honourable matrons. She’d lived in Rome for almost two centuries now, either as chief priestess or hiding in the shadows of the temple to avoid unnecessary questions. Now was a period of openness and the most powerful and influential citizens of Rome considered it as an honor to be invited to spend an evening in the inner temple. Today, however, lady Xanthia expected a new person among her usual guests; Quintus Hortensius, one of the best Roman orators, had asked her permission to bring along his new friend, Ressius Lanius. He was one of Caesar’s associates somewhere from south and was already known in the city, as a promising orator, good fighter, and judge of poetry. Xanthia had been curious, so she agreed.

Quintus and Ressius were the last to come and Xanthia felt an Immortal Presence as the servant announced them. She stood up, suppressing instinctive desire to reach for her sword — she was on Holy Ground and not alone. She knew most of the Roman Immortals, usually they clung to their family names, and there were no Laniuses among them. So either he was rather young or…
“Greetings, my lady Xanthia, let me introduce you,” Quintus’s rich voice filled the room, but Xanthia’s gaze was fixed upon the tall man next to him. His hair was short, in Roman style, but his eyes were the same. They made her heart pound at a furious pace.

“Methos,” she whispered inaudibly. Ressius Lanius bowed slightly.

2.

That day Xanthia allowed her guests to persuade her to sing. She rarely did that, but today, with Methos sitting here, she just couldn’t concentrate enough for philosophical conversation. So she sent for her small lute, tuned it a bit, and let her hands choose the melody. Unsurprisingly, she found herself singing an old Ionian song and her mind drifted to another time and place.


Outskirts of Miletus, Ionia, circa 450 BCE

She came home long after dawn, but she was sure he wasn’t sleeping yet. A faint light, coming through library door along with Immortal Presence, confirmed it. She opened the door and saw him sitting in his usual sprawl, his attention focused on some dark papyrus.

“It’s careless, to be so engrossed like that.”

He raised his eyes. “I heard it was you.”

“Then it’s impolite.”

He smiled, got up and helped her take off the armor. “How was the council?”

“As usual. A Lot of talking, little doing.”

“And what was the talking about?”

“Don’t pretend you’re interested in politics, Methos the scholar. I know you are not.”

“Then I won’t,” he agreed obligingly and leaned forward a little, pushed away hair from her temple and kissed it lightly. “You must be tired. Come, the bath and bed are waiting.”


Rome, 66 BCE

Methos sat quietly in the corner, playing a fascinated novice. And even if he wasn’t really a novice, but fascinated he surely was. He had been looking for this woman for nearly a century now. Not that he had questioned every passing Immortal or Watchers, but he had stuck to the Mediterranean, paying a visit to every extraordinary woman he had heard of. And finally she was here, as radiant as ever — and he didn’t know what to do. He couldn’t know if he was in welcome at her temple or in her life now. True, they had once had a happy time together, but their parting had been far from ordinary, even for Immortals…


Outskirts of Miletus, Ionia, circa 450 BCE

There was some fuss in the palace, but Methos didn’t pay much attention. If it was something serious, requiring Xanthia’s presence elsewhere, she would tell him before departure. Methos smiled warmly, noticing couple of her hairs on the scroll and brushed them away. Fate had obviously been on his side, when it guided him here.

He came to Miletus, a once famous centre of culture and civilization, seeking knowledge. And though the height of the city’s prosperity was behind it, there was still a lot to see and learn, from poetry to architecture. After some time he had been told about lady Xanthia, savior and keeper of ‘the old library’. And though the woman was very likely an Immortal, he had taken a chance of visiting her and never regretted it. There were few people in the world Methos could honestly name his equal and Xanthia of Miletus seemed to be the first woman on that list. Mutual attraction and passion aside, they had a great deal to learn from each other, though he found it best to hide his experience as a warrior and strategist. To her, he was just a wandering scholar, tolerating sword as a necessary part of the Game. It was Xanthia and her men who took care of the occasional brigands and pirates, not that she needed his help anyway. The woman was more then competent, her men might be few in number, but they were well-trained and disciplined, and adored and nearly worshipped their beautiful leader. They had handled any troubles neighboring villagers had. But now something serious must be happening, from all these thorough preparations in warrior’s wing. Methos got up and went to look for Xanthia; he found her in her study, musing over local map.

“What happened?”

She pointed at circle on the map: “This village was attacked yesterday. And I’m afraid it’s just the beginning.”

“Persians?”

“No, it’s not an army. Just another band of killers, looking for fortune but this time could be really dangerous. The messenger said they are led by the Four Horsemen.”

“That can’t be true,” Methos answered and immediately knew that had been a mistake. Not the phrase itself, but the tone. Not a fearful denial, but a calm confidence of a man who knew for sure. And Xanthia was too perceptive to leave that unnoticed. Before he could think of anything correcting his slip, she asked, calmly and directly:
“You were one of them?”

He couldn’t tell her an outright lie, so he merely nodded and then raised his eyes, waiting for a reaction. He knew that he had just lost a friend, but had he acquired an enemy? Of course, Xanthia had never posed herself as Justice, but she was old enough to have a personal grudge against the Horsemen.

“This area was ravaged by the Horsemen once, you know.”

He nodded again. Probably. There had been too many villages and areas.

“I need your help to protect it now.”

He nodded for the third time.


Methos had a millennium experience of raids and attacks, this bunch of conceited youngsters could hardly invent something new. And so the band was destroyed rather quickly but not before doing its share of destruction.

In the aftermath of the battles, Methos felt rather strange. He remembered much better that he wanted to of how it felt — to kill both those who fought back and those who didn’t. But he discovered he had forgotten how it was from the other side. What it felt like — to bury the dead, to heal the wounded, to restore the burned houses… the survivor’s grief.

“Growing attached, brother?” the mocking voice in his head kept asking, but that wasn’t the case. Those people were by no means his, and yet, something deep inside him, something that had died even before he rode with Kronos, that something was slowly becoming alive again. And he wasn’t ready for it.

Finally, they did all they could do for the poor villages and returned home. Methos tried to avoid Xanthia, more or less successfully, but she found him in the stables, saddling his horse.

“Leaving?” she asked calmly.

It wasn’t easy, but he met her gaze. “Unless you are challenging me, yes.”

“Methos, I’m not challenging you. You don’t have to go.”

“I’m afraid I do.” He leaded his horse out; Xanthia followed him with her eyes silently.



Rome, 66 BCE

And now he was sitting in the same room with her, listening to her marvelous voice, and a song he had last heard nearly four centuries ago. The song ended, last notes merging with praises.

“What a lovely song, lady Xanthia”, Quintus said. “What is it about?”

“It’s about conversations left unfinished,” she answered, locking her eyes with Methos for an instant.

The song actually was about the sea at dawn, but he nodded, acknowledging and accepting the hidden invitation. Not that he knew what he would say.


3.

To avoid raising any suspicion, he had to leave with Quintus. The elderly man was expecting thanks for the invitation and Methos didn’t disappoint him. Besides, his gratitude was quite sincere, even if for completely different reasons. At last, they reached the point where they would part their ways. Methos waited in shadows until the orator disappeared from view and returned to the temple, by another path, just in case.

He stopped near the temple entrance, not quite sure what to do next; then he suddenly saw a slave girl before him.

“This way, master.”

She led him to a small, but cozy room and left him there. He stood near the table with wine and fruits, not daring to step further. He soon felt a Presence and Xanthia appeared from the opposite door.

“Methos,” she stated, without any emotion in her voice or face.

“Xanthia of Miletus,” he answered, voice equally even.

She came closer and asked, “Wine?” He nodded, she reached for a jug, and their hands met. Before he knew what he was doing, he pulled her into a close embrace and gave her a passionate kiss. He half expected to be thrown on the floor, but instead she returned the kiss, and… After all, they were in the Love temple.

“Why did you leave?”

Methos was pouring the wine; the question hit him like an arrow in the back. He took several slow breaths, and then turned around, a goblet in each hand and half smile on his face.
“I had a date with my conscience,” he said, returning to the bed. “And she is rather jealous lady.”

He reached out the goblet and held his breath, waiting. Because passion was one thing, but acceptance — completely another.

She looked at him intensely for a moment, and then took the goblet.

“I see,” she tasted the wine and closed her eyes briefly, dismissing the subject and the four centuries between.

“So, how did you end up with Caesar?”

Methos felt that a huge lift was taken from his shoulders. His smile became genuine as he sit down and answered, “I was in Miletus garrison when he came there to gather a fleet against pirates. Felt curious.”

“You were in Miletus?”

Methos had to look at the floor.

“I don’t think you should go there anytime soon,” he said quietly. A silence stretched, filled with memories. They both were old enough to know that nothing lasts forever; and Rome, too, would fall one day, victim of time. But hopefully that day would be far from now.

“And now you are staying here, to help young Julius in his quest for power?”

Methos grinned.

“For a mortal he isn’t young, Xanthia. And he might be the person that this shaky Republic needs right now. But I think I’ve found a stronger reason to stay, more so than the politics.”

She smiled. All Gods of Olympus, he’d missed that smile!

“Then welcome Rome, Ressius Lanius.”

He leaned forward and kissed her temple lightly.

Chapter Text

4.


Rome, 65 BCE.

“Ressius, calm yourself.” Xanthia couldn’t stand his pacing any longer. “Nothing terrible has happened. Truly, it’s a pity your conspiracy was discovered, but at least nobody get hurt.”

“Ha,” Methos finally sat down. “If it had been my conspiracy, it wouldn’t have been discovered in the first place. Conceited youngsters!”

Xanthia smiled and approached her lover, and began to massage his shoulders.

“Dear, what do you want from them? People rarely learn from their own mistakes, and you expect them to learn from yours… Nothing irremediable has happened, really. Your Julius will just start another game that is all. But he should be more careful with his allies, Catiline is hardly the best choice.”

“You are more than right. But that patrician is dangerous. And needs watching.”

“Maybe. But, Ressius, be careful. Catiline is still in the habit of killing without second thought.”

“I know.”

There was something strange in the way he said this ‘I know’, something that bothered Xanthia. She couldn’t exactly tell what it was, but she decided to pay a closer attention to Methos’s political games from now on.

5.


Three years later (62 BCE)

The rituals were over and temple grew quite as Xanthia made her way through it to one of the hidden rooms. Methos had been staying there for a few months now, since ‘Ressius Lanius’ had gotten himself killed in some accident. (Xanthia still wasn’t sure if it really had been just an accident of he had done it on purpose). But his ‘death’ hadn’t stopped Methos from taking part in the current intrigues, he’d just moved to the shadows. He’d grown a beard (Xanthia didn’t like it at all, but had to admit it did change his appearance), wore different clothes, used face paint to stay unnoticed and so far it worked. But, as time passed and the final act of a play called ‘Catiline conspiracy’ drew nearer, Xanthia became more and more worried. Methos took this all a little too seriously. There was no reason for him to be so concerned about the future of Roman republic or even Caesar wellbeing, there just wasn’t an explanation. There was something more to it and today Xanthia was determined to know what exactly.

Methos was in room, sitting in front of the small table and mixing face paint. So he was going to participate in person in the denouement of the drama.

“You sure you need to go? You have done enough already, can Cicero and Senate handle the rest?”

The funniest thing of that all was that Cicero actually believed he had discovered the conspiracy all by himself.

“I don’t want to leave anything to chance.”

Oh. Well, maybe the direct question would be the best choice.

“Methos, what did Catiline do to you? Personally?”

“Nothing, Xanthia, I assure you. It’s just… Pestilence must be stopped.”

“Pestilence?” she asked quietly. “As in the Horseman of Pestilence?”

Methos’s hands froze above the bowl, he cast a quick sharp gaze on her… then suddenly burst out laughing.

“I really should watch my tongue more carefully in your presence, lady Xanthia.”

“Well?” she remained serious.

Methos sighed.

“Yes. The horseman of Pestilence was a person a lot like Lucius Sergius Catiline.”

“Was?”

Methos sighed again. He didn’t want to lie to her, and he knew too well that no trap was perfect or eternal.

“If you ever come across Immortal with a scar over his right eye — be wary.”

With that he returned to his paints and Xanthia left him alone.

One of the slave boys brought the news that a battle between Catiline and Senate forces had begun. And though she should have known better, Xanthia still felt nervous. And so the first rays of the Sun found her waiting on the rear porch. At last she felt the Presence and an instant later saw Methos coming, clearly exhausted.

“Well?” she asked, hiding her relief.

“It’s over. Catiline is dead, so are his main allies.”

“Good. But you know, someday you will have to face him, not just the resemblance.”

“Maybe. But not tomorrow,” he said wearily.

“Not tomorrow,” she agreed, reaching out to touch his cheek. “Come in, I’ll help you with the bath.”

6.
Nearly a month later it was truly over. The remaining participants of the conspiracy were judged; Caesar had happily avoided any accusations and now was building bridges with Pompey, choosing another way to get power. It was time to go.

Methos was packing in his room, Xanthia watched him silently, leaning on the far wall.
Suddenly he heard her footsteps; then saw out of the corner of his eye as she put a coin-size token on the table.

“There is a tavern on the Appian Way, close to the city, called after Mercury. Show this to its owner, and there will a horse for you.”

“Thank you,” he waited till she withdrew her fingers from the token and came back to that wall, then took the token and hid it in the small embroidered bag on his chest.

Couple more moments had passed before he sharply turned to Xanthia and asked, surprising himself more than her, “Aren’t you tired of this life yet?”

She smiled sadly.She actually was tired and the idea of traveling with him was more than tempting, but… She couldn’t abandon the people of her household, and the Crystal was now hers to guard, she had no right to risk it in unprepared journey.

“Send me a letter when you find a place worth settling down.”

He nodded understandingly and returned to his packing. When he was nearly finished, he asked quietly, “Can I ask a favor of you?”

“You can ask.”

“Caesar or not, but soon someone will turn that dying Republic to an Empire. Make sure it’ll be someone worthy.”

“You overestimate my influence here, Methos,” she answered with an ironic smile, “but I’ll do my best.”

“Thank you,” with that he tightened the bag.

“Your journals?” surprised, she pointed to scrolls and papyruses, left on the table.
“Keep them for me for a while, until I find a place worth settling down.”

She laughed, acknowledging the hit. He pulled the bag over his shoulder, took a step towards her and stopped, knowing, that one more step — and he wouldn’t be going anywhere.

She locked gaze with him.

“We will meet again.” There was no question in her voice.

“We will.”



Epilogue.

Two millennia later and some hundreds of miles to the northwest, in a place once called Lutetia, a lean tall man stood in the cemetery with a single lily in his hand. The epitaph, engraved on a white stone in front of him, said ‘Rebecca Horne. 1959-1994’. Methos sighed. He never knew why she had kept this particular alias for more than millennium, never asked who or what she had been honoring and remembering by it. And now it didn’t matter anymore.

They met again and again throughout the centuries, never loosing track of each other for long. She’d kept his journals from time to time and continued to see right to his soul through all his masks and lies. More than once he had sought (and found) sanctuary under her roof, more than once he’d come to her side, when she’d needed support. More than once they had consoled each other in the aftermath of mortal loves. More than once they’d shared the most marvelous secrets of this world. More than once he’d dumped new Immortals he’d come across on her , openly teasing and secretly admiring her belief in the young ones, her ability to teach them, to make a person out of a wreck… She’d failed as a teacher only once but it had been enough.

Methos bent forward and placed the flower on the thin layer of snow, close to the headstone.

“It’s over now,” he whispered in the long forgotten dialect of Ancient Greek. “The Horsemen are finished. I thought you should know.”

Or maybe she already knew. Her body lay beneath that snow, last piece of her crystal was in Amanda’s care, her Quickening somewhere inside MacLeod, but… Where was her soul? Methos sighed. The Greek concept of afterlife had never been among his favorites and yet…
“We will meet again, Xanthia of Miletus. We will meet again.”

The End.