On the day the Immortal called Kronos first slew a man in cold blood, his teacher Nandam kissed him on the forehead and on both cheeks and on the mouth and told him that if he wished to conquer, he should seek a strategist of the highest sort. Nandam had lived six hundred years before he took Kronos as his student, and after Kronos left him he lived another five hundred years and taught many more students, and he himself had been taught by Methos, called Bringer-of-Death. He was wise, and he knew his student well. Kronos, for all his love of battle and his charisma, had no head for strategy.
And Kronos took his teacher's words to heart and traveled, looking for a companion: a killer like himself, and yet unlike. One who could plan for him, who would be his right arm and his shield-brother.
He was less than two hundred years old when he found Methos, the Bringer-of-Death. Before he even learned Methos' name, he knew that this man was the one for whom he had been searching. Methos had eyes the color of earth and an axe-blade face, and a knife buried in the heart of a soldier who had made the mistake of cheating at knuckle-bones.
Kronos loved him at once.
He met Methos' eyes and smiled, and Methos' mouth twisted in reply. In the old days, before their kind played their game of beheadings, another Immortal was as likely to be an ally as not. "You're good with a knife," Kronos said. "What's your name, boy?"
Methos pulled the knife out of the soldier's chest. The soldier fell with a heavy, sodden sound, and Methos held the bloody knife casually at his side. "If I'm a boy," he said, "then you are a babe in arms." His smile became real, then, for he knew Kronos, although Kronos did not know him. "My name is Methos."
"Nandam's teacher?" Kronos said, and could not keep the wonder from his voice, for Nandam had been ancient, even by the way their kind reckoned age, and Kronos had never dared to hope that Methos lived still.
"As you are Nandam's student," Methos answered, and something sparked behind his eyes, like a star shattering.
"Well met," Kronos said, softly. "I think, teacher of my teacher, that you and I are well-met."
"Buy me a beer," Methos said, "and we'll see."
Strategy. Cold calculation. One hand blood-stained and visible, and one hidden. Eyes like the earth and a body honed to weapon-sharpness.
Kronos bought him a beer, which Methos did not drink, and told him the story of his travels and his adventures. Methos was an attentive listener, for he had not outlived gods by being shy of information, and Nandam's young pupil was a rich source of such things as might keep a man alive. Methos also knew a leader when he met one, and he was not too proud to be the right arm of a man nearly two thousand years his junior. For he, too, was best with others; he had neither the strength nor the physical presence to lead, but he had a mind that would later be the envy of Darius the Persian, and wit as sharp as his many knives.
Thus they found themselves in agreement: the two of them were better together, better bound by blood-oaths and brotherhood, and to their band they added two other Immortals: Caspian, called the Eater of Men, and Silas the Giant, from the great forests of the Urals.
It was Methos who taught them to ride, who brought the war-horses to their camp. Kronos smiled at his brother, his strategist, his good right arm--Methos, the thinker, the oldest of the four of them. Methos, whom he loved, and who loved no one--and who gifted Kronos with his fondest dream, the dream of blood and conquest.
They became the Horsemen: mounted death.
Three of them wore black. Only Methos wore white, pale as a shroud, covering himself in silence and mists.
They had a camp in the East. Within a short walk of the camp lived a family of foxes with whom Silas was particularly intimate. He used to watch the foxes when he tired of women or food or fighting with Caspian. One night, not long after the Immortal slave-girl Cassandra had escaped them, Methos joined him. He lay his long body flat against the little hill that hid them from the foxes, and he smiled at Silas.
"Greetings, brother," Silas said.
"What do you do, out here alone?" Methos asked.
"I watch the foxes. I like foxes."
"Ah." Methos rolled over onto his back. "I thought perhaps you liked to look at the stars."
"Stars are stars," Silas said. "They do not change, just as we do not change. Foxes, *they* change, and play, and I watch them."
Methos laughed, but softly, so as not to disturb the foxes. "Stars change. You'll see--look at them in a thousand years, Silas, and they'll have changed."
"A thousand years, brother? That is longer than anyone has ever lived." For none of Methos' brothers, not even Kronos, knew how just how old Methos was.
Methos laughed again, and there was flint in the laughter. "So it is," he said, and got to his feet. "Watch your foxes carefully," he said. "It is not only men that our brother Caspian loves to catch and devour." He left Silas to his foxes, and walked back to the camp. He believed it was time to move on from this place, but they could wait until the foxes had grown and gone.
Foxes were ephemeral, and time and tide could wait. In the end, they waited nearly five years before leaving the East entirely, five years Methos spent riding out alone, scouting routes and speaking to traders. He left his face unpainted and hired himself out as a guard for travelers, gathering news all the while.
He rode back to his brothers once or twice a year and told them what he knew: Men were breeding fleet horses in the north of Africa, and forging iron into blades across Egypt and into Asia. He brought with him breeding stock for their herds, and weapons of iron, and woven fabric. He brought papyrus and sticks of ink back for himself alone, for none of his brothers could read or write.
For Kronos he always brought wild honey.
And every time he came back to them, Kronos would stand by his horse and place his hand on his calf and smile. He felt as if he could see the plans behind Methos' eyes, could see the paths laid out for all of them there. And Methos, his right arm, would lean down from his mare and kiss him, and his mouth was sweeter than the honey he brought.
They went west slowly over those five years, following Methos, until they crossed the Urals to Silas' beloved forests, where the trees grew thick and hid the slowly moving stars. Civilization had not reached the forests yet, but from the forests one could ride to settlements, and this Methos did, often with Caspian at his side. They would stay away for days, and then return--Methos calm and full of plans, Caspian bloody and relaxed, sometimes with a young girl or beardless boy tied across his horse's back. He had an eye for those who could tolerate pain, and he covered his body slaves with elaborate scar-work.
Silas trained the horses for forest combat, all except for Methos'. Methos would tolerate slaves or his brothers caring for his horses, but no hand but his ever trained them for battle, for he never rode anything but the mist-colored mares that he had bred for speed and endurance. When Silas complained that Methos' mares ran from him, Kronos narrowed his eyes and said, "I'll not lose Methos because of you."
And so Silas the Giant learned to make himself small and coax the mares to him, but he dared not train them. He was never entirely sure that Methos would not kill him for it.
Kronos was the only one that Methos would let on the backs of his mares, and then only rarely. He would ride up to Kronos and smile down at him, and Kronos would vault up behind him and wrap his arms around Methos' waist. They rode together, as if they were one body: Nandam's student and Nandam's teacher, two of the most dangerous men in all the world. The mares were fleet, and Kronos would press his cheek between Methos' shoulderblades and there would be only the sound of hoofbeats and the sound of Methos' heart in his entire world.
He thought he would die with loving Methos, those first long years, for despite the fond kisses, Methos never seemed to be gripped long by any strong emotion. Kronos wondered, every now and then, if Methos had loved the slave Cassandra. If he loved her still.
And then came the day when Methos rode into camp with the hard lines of his face creased with pleasure, and tossed Kronos a shining steel sword. "Look at that, brother," he cried, and there was joy as bright as the blade in his voice, and his eyes were like stars shattering in the sky. "Is it not beautiful?"
Kronos turned the blade and watched the sunlight glance from it. "Not so beautiful as you," he said, and heard his brother's breath catch.
"Nor as you," Methos said, and slid from his mare to savage Kronos' mouth, to kiss him as he never had before.
The steel blade was nearly forgotten in the storm of their lovemaking.
The ages passed much as the ages before had done. The Horsemen crossed the continents, raiding where they felt like it, trading in the cities, needing only each other and their blades.
Kronos kept the peace between his brothers, and honed his fighting skills. Silas watched wolves and lions and deer grow, and trained horses, and missed his forests when the Horsemen rode on the plains or through the deserts. Caspian consumed his enemies to take their strength, and his body slaves died in beautiful agony. Methos planned their raids and kept his own counsel.
None of his brothers noticed the slow changes in the strategy, the way Methos fed their legend with bodies left at the crossroads, raped and trampled into the earth; the silent nighttime raids and the children nailed to walls were to them only a clever trick. To Methos they were necessary, part of the great drama of blood and terror.
He would whisper to Kronos at night about strategies and artistry, but Kronos never listened. "I have no head for this," he said. "It's why I have you, brother."
"I'll teach you," Methos said. "I can teach you so many things. I can teach you to read and write, to plan as I do--"
"Reading and writing! That'll pass, Methos. All things pass."
"As even I may pass," Methos said. "Reading and writing are older than I, and if I teach you, at least I can leave you my journals."
"Very well," said Kronos, and pulled Methos on top of him, thinking to drown the talk of reading and writing in sex.
Methos taught him anyway: showing him the symbols for sheep and goats and beer and wheat, the symbols for war and death and enemy and plunder.
Kronos learned out of love for his brother, but he was not half the student to Methos that he had been to Nandam, wise Nandam, who was now dead.
He had always known that he would not be Nandam's student forever, but what was there to separate him from Methos?
The next century, the century that became the last of the Horsemen, dawned bright as blood. Methos was as vigorous in battle as ever, but as the years wore on, he took neither slaves nor Kronos to his bed. Strategy no longer pleased him, and even the pleasures of murder waned under the weight of time.
He grew silent, and his eyes were tundra shrouded in mist.
One day he rode out on one of his scouting trips and never came back. He had taken with him only weapons, supplies, and his favorite mare.
The other Horsemen waited for him for almost ten years, and then Caspian drifted away, into the cities where he could hunt human flesh, and Silas took his axe and went back into his forests, and Kronos wept for his brother.
He was sure that Methos was dead.
Methos went east into India, where the Horsemen had never traveled, and he tried to forget his brothers.
Kronos went west across Europe, and then south down the coast of Africa, and by then Methos had discovered the Watchers and hidden himself from them.
The Horsemen became a myth.
Methos became a myth.
The Watchers kept watching.
Twenty centuries passed.