Methos had watched his bed slave run off into the desert with a wonder that had nothing to do with her as any sort of individual. She left and he felt no pain through his mind gifts' connection to her.
He had once been a great man, Methos thought, but now he was brought to this: measuring his own sanity by the pain of a slave running away. Oh Sonja, he thought, is this what you wanted for me?
Kronos never admitted to having allowed the slave girl to escape, of course. It didn't surprise Methos at all when the following day, Kronos told him that he had killed the girl, then gave him another slave to make up for the loss. Methos didn't bother to call him on the lie or point out that some other random slave girl could hardly make up for the loss of that particular one.
The fact that particular slave girl could not be easily replaced had, of course, been the reason why Kronos had hated her so much.
She'd had mind gifts and Methos had trained her in their use because he had felt like it.
She'd actually tried to hide it from him, apparently thinking that he cared one way or the other regarding her visions or perhaps her ability to see and change the minds of others. He didn't care. He didn't even care if she went into his mind. He had been genuinely amused when he had told her that she had his permission to make any changes to his mind she could manage.
She had clearly expected a trick, but he had lowered his defenses entirely.
She threw up when she saw his mind through her own mind's lens.
For all that she had learned the skills of a bed slave, she had never willingly touched his mind after that.
When she continued to throw up as he had taught her to ground and center her mind, he'd starved her until she got it right.
No point in wasting food. She was Immortal. She didn't die and she did learn.
He refused to ask her what she saw that made his mind so horrifying.
He wondered at first if it felt like an open pit into death. That's what it had felt like when Sonja had first died. For years, it had felt like his bond was still open, leading directly to death and only his Quickening had kept him bound to this world, shackled to life, unable to escape no matter how much he bled. Sometimes, when he killed someone himself and watched their mind fade in his own eye, he imagined that person acting a messenger between him and Sonja.
He had been bonded to Sonja for centuries, their bond grown stronger with each year that passed. They had survived everything together. They had survived wars and disasters and plagues. They had survived triumphs and failures. They had survived their kingdom, their land, and everyone else who had ever been like them.
When Sonja had finally died, it had felt like being ripped in half. His mind and soul hadn't just been broken, it had been ripped in half and the other half had been lost to him. He was only half a person, bleeding out constantly from a wound as big as he was.
But no, he rather thought that what she could feel in his mind wasn't nearly as clean or pure as that. For years it had likely been more a half bandaged wound, gangrenous and oozing pus: the kind of wound that was only possible when the wound wouldn't heal and the person couldn't die.
It had been a killing wound, but he was immortal and he had bandages provided by a herd of monstrosities.
Methos own immortality had kept Sonja alive long after Valdemar had vanished from the maps and even the minds of the populace, but they were alone and not even Methos' quickening could sustain Sonja indefinitely, as the Kingdom of Valdemar faded into history and the Companion's Grove became just another field. Sonja began to age and, worse, began to lose his connection with the world around him. His thoughts were more confused and his memories more fragmented. His sense of purpose, always so clearly defined, became foggy and focused on Methos alone rather than the rest of the world.
They both knew the end was coming. They had been everything to each other for centuries, had lived in each other's heads for all that time, growing closer and closer until they were closer than twins, closer than lovers.
Sonja would die and Methos would die with him, in mind even if not in body. He would be dead and for all his will to live, Methos didn't mind because he couldn't bear the thought of living without Sonja. Eventually some other Immortal would find whatever remained of Methos' body and take his quickening. Methos wished the nameless Immortal the best of luck dealing with that quickening. It would not be an easy one to swallow.
But Sonja, who yearned for his own death by then, could not accept being the cause of Methos'.
"What did you do?" Methos could still hear the echo of his own words reverberating down through the ages. What had Sonja done? And what had Methos done by failing to prevent it? What insane evil had the two of them together wrought, all for love?
Because Sonja had found a herd of white horses, animals that looked similar enough in form to Companions, but nothing like them, and mounted the female beasts one after another to father half-breed creatures, half-horse and half-Companion.
Sonja died before he ever had to see them born.
And Methos found that for all his disgust, Sonja's plan had worked. Their very existence spoke of a revolting act and yet they were Sonja's get and Methos could not abandon them to follow his Companion's lead into the dark.
Even with half of his mind gone and the place his bond with Sonja had been for so long bleeding pain and anger, disgust and love, longing and despair, he cared for the two fillies and the colt who emerged, confused and awkward, too smart and powerful to be horses, too stupid and weak to be Companions, and too beautiful to be unprotected from horse traders.
They didn't have the ability to Choose as a Companion could, but they still had mind gifts and they could still form bonds. Their young minds had strove to cover the open wound that Sonja's death had made.
For a thousand years, he kept that herd, that herd of horses infused with Companion's blood, those mental bandages that kept Methos alive through his pain and despair, that infected him with horror even as they salved him with love. He hated them as much as he loved them.
They kept him alive.
It probably would have been better if they hadn't.
They had kept him alive. They were no longer the bandages on his mind. His mind had scarred over the great wound enough that he had been able to not only train a slave girl in the mind arts but to then allow her to leave him.
That slave girl had stronger mind gifts than any of his white mounts had shown in generations.
The slave girl, more than a thousand years too late, was closer to being a Herald than these tainted creatures were to being the Companion their distant ancestor had been.
Methos walked among his small herd of white horses as they stomped their hooves and alternately crowded up to him to feel his touch and flinched from his very presence. He looked into their eyes and saw the insanity and the depravity that became stronger with each generation. He checked their hooves and their bone spurs and each of the birth defects that twisted their forms away from the beautiful horses that the others rode.
They were a cruel and vicious herd, looking at even him with madness in their eyes.
He'd kept them for a thousand years, in-breeding them to maintain the connection to Sonja, his one true mount. Every generation, though, they grew more sickly and less intelligent. More mad, too, and more vicious in their madness. They were a travesty of what they could have been, what they should have been, but they were all he had left of Sonja.
"I'm so sorry, Sonja."
He looked deep into the eyes of the youngest of the horses, born just a few months ago. He was a glorious white, like all the horses were, but one of his legs was twisted and his ribs made odd angles and his face was misshapen and lopsided. His eyes were angry and stupid and burned with a special flame of insanity. For all his deformity, he would grow up strong enough to ride into battle.
Methos stroked the side of the animal.
"I'm sorry, young one. You will the last one, I promise. You will be my last mount and I will walk away from the horsemen forever when you are too old to ride anymore. The last drop of living Companion blood will be that running in your veins, and when you die, they truly will all be gone from this world. I'm sorry it's taken me so long to let you go."
The creature bit his arm hard enough to bleed, but Methos continued to softly pet his gleaming white coat.