Duncan stood at the kitchen counter of his barge moored somewhere in the great, ancient city of Paris, polishing a fine, antique sword, his brown eyes studying the intricate detail work along the blade carefully. He'd rarely had the opportunity to examine a sword as old as this one. The short blade and simple design told him it belonged to the early days of the Romans. The leather that had been wound around the grip had long ago disintegrated. Feeling the presence of another Immortal roused the Highlander out of his reverie.
"Come in," he called, his Scottish brogue still evident after four hundred years. In walked the lanky, unassuming Immortal who'd outlived everyone around him to the point of becoming a myth.
"Hello, Duncan." The reed thin Immortal helped himself to a beer from Duncan's refrigerator then plopped down on the sofa, his hiking boots propped up on the coffee table.
"Methos, feet off the coffee table." The Highlander moved around the count to where his friend sat quite comfortably. With an annoyed glare, the world's oldest Immortal put his feet on the floor, like a good guest.
"So, what have we here, MacLeod, a new sword for your collection?" Methos asked, curious about the vaguely familiar item.
"Yes, an old friend told me about it, he said it dated back to the Romans." Duncan ran his cleaning cloth down the blade, making it shine in the light.
"Let me see it." Methos set his beer down and took the sword. Touching the hilt, he tried hard to recall where he'd seen it before. "How much did this little knickknack set you back?"
"Less than it's worth, probably," Duncan answered, sitting with his fingers laced, leaned forward. Methos held it up to the overhead light to examine it more closely.
"I've seen this sword somewhere before." Methos' dark brows knit together as he looked at the hilt's detail work. "Where was it found?"
"Greece." Duncan answered, curious as to why Methos studied the sword so closely.
"I met a warrior woman from Greece once, the village of Cyra." Methos thought back to that day so many centuries ago, his mind's eye melting into the flashback.
"Callisto, we've got the villagers on the run, should I let the men go after them?" Theodorias asked, his horse coming up level with the cotton blonde at the head of the line of bloodthirsty scoundrels. The late afternoon sun's ray matched the orange and red of the fires burning an innocent, farming village.
"Yes, have one group take the harvest and any other supplies we need, burn the rest." She pursed her lips, annoyed at the time wasted butchering villagers for their dinner. Theodorias spurred his horse on, shouting orders to the men as they wreaked havoc on the defenseless village lying unsuspecting in the valley.
"Where's a warrior princess to fight when you need one?" the psycho warrior asked aloud though no one rode anywhere near her. She could hear the screams of women as men invaded their homes and the shouts of men as they faced the merciless horde. A group of women and children ran toward the temple down the valley from their village. It was a safe haven for travelers and worshipers of Demeter. The patron goddess of the crop kept them from starving. Visitors from miles around came to offer grain to the kindly goddess, hoping to survive another year.
"Please help, we're under attack," a dirty faced woman shouted as she burst into the temple, her eyes wide and her face pale.
"Under attack, from whom?" the high priest asked, rushing to the front door where a dozen women and their children stood. The women clutched their children, some of them shaking in fear. Young men in green robes rushed to bar the door with a heavy plank across the double doors.
"Callisto, she called herself Callisto, the enemy of Xena," The dirty faced woman explained, wringing her hands as she followed the priest to the front temple doors.
"By Zeus' thunder bolts, we don't stand a chance against her and her army." The white haired priest began ushering the woman and children inside the temple, his assistants rushing to their aid. An apathetic figure stumbled out from behind the ten foot statue of the goddess.
"There's not much point to holing up here in this temple, the army will simply burn the temple as well." The scruffy figure wore the clothes of a traveler, a vagabond.
"He's right, you might as well keep running until you hit the river." The high priest and the assistants secured the temple doors. More assistants placed heavy furniture across the stout, wooden doors. The sound of hoof beats outside made some of the smaller children cry.
"What do we do now. the army's found the temple, surely they know we've taken shelter here." The dirty faced woman's voice sounded desperate.
"Is there a crawl space out of here?" The stranger asked, his dark eyes narrowing as his mind raced. He didn't particularly care what happened to him, but he'd seen enough blood shed to suit him for a lifetime.
"No, the temple is solid until you get to the second floor. there are windows up there." The high priest pointed to a set of steps lining the wall to the back. They led to rooms upstairs where the high priest and his assistants kept their private quarters.
"Then we'll just have to lower ourselves down. us there any rope, anything that can be made into rope?" The stranger asked, leading the way up the stairs. Soldiers for hire were trickling down the valley, heading for the temple.
"Leonidas, gather every robe, every sheet, curtains, everything." The high priest sent a fair haired boy on his way as they rushed upstairs. The robe clad boy's blue eyes widened in fear, but he did as he was told. All of the women gathered their children in their arms. They were in a dire situation and couldn't see any way out of it.
"You," The stranger pointed to a young woman holding onto the dirty faced woman who'd burst into the temple. "start shredding what cloth you can find, then tie the strips together." She shook her head, afraid, frozen with fear. Roughly, the stranger took her by the arm, his face only inches from her face. Tears streamed down her dewy cheeks as she stared mutely at him. "Do you want to live, girl?" He shook her, trying to rattle some self-preservation into her. Finally, she shook her head 'yes'.
"Good. now do as I say or those men will do things to you beyond your worst nightmares." He roared, speaking first to the young woman then to the women standing clustered at the top of the stairs.
"Here you go, Xander, Sir." The boy had returned, his arms full of any cloth he could find.
"What's your name?" The high priest asked, leveling his gaze at the stranger who'd taken charge of the escape.
"Methos" The stranger answered, the word tasting bitter in his mouth. Aghast, the white haired priest grew a few shades paler. His weather beaten brow lifted. He recognized that name. It was a name parents used to scare their children saying, "If you don't behave, Methos, the death rider, one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, will come and get you."
"My mother had a bad sense of humor." Methos cracked, hoping the old man would quit looking at him as if were Hades come to collect him.
"Yes, bad sense of humor. You're far too young to be that Methos." The horror in the old man's light eyes disappeared, instead there was fear, but not of Methos.
Numbly, the young woman began tearing the curtains and robes into strips. Another woman began tying them together. The young woman looked into the stranger's eyes and saw a whole universe of pain and despair. He'd seen things, things that would haunt a man.
"How long should the ropes be?" The woman tying the strips of cloth together asked, her hands working feverishly.
"Twice as high as you can reach, Zoe." The girl answered before thinking. They were only on the second floor, thankfully. Methos nodded in agreement as he looked down at them. Turning, he began sizing up where best to tie the ropes off quickly. Four windows lined the wall overlooking the rising valley beyond. Each one belonged to one of the rooms where the assistants bunked in pairs.
"You, girl, how many lengths have you made?" Methos bellowed. More of the soldiers were gathering, getting ready to attack the temple.
"Three." She answered.
"We need one more, work faster." Methos commanded, his dark eyes locking onto her light ones. In other circumstances he would have studied her features, her darkly lashed blue eyes, long, raven black hair, the strong, curvy figure and full lips.
"They're almost here, Xander. What are we going to do now?" Leonidas asked, his voice weak.
"Don't worry, boy, things will work out in the end." Methos responded, seeing the desperation in the old man's eyes.
"Here's the fourth rope. Now what?" The young woman held one of the ropes in her hand, wondering where to tie them off.
"Let me have them." Methos took the rope and went to the window. Using his sword as a guide, he measured the width of the window. Encased in stone, it would bear their weight just fine.
"Break up one of the chairs, tie the rope to the middle of the longest piece and put it across the window parallel to the sill, once you've done that, climb down." Methos ordered. The young woman nodded, her tears dried and her brain working again.
Quickly, a few of the mothers shimmied down the make-shift ropes, their children climbing down after them. Methos and Xander waited until all the women had gone ahead, except the young woman.
"I'm Vanna." The young woman spoke, not looking at Methos. Sunlight lit her light eyes, making them look like polished gems.
"You've done well, so far, Vanna." He nodded, a smile pulling at his angular face.
"Thank you." she smiled back.
"Vanna, come on, we've got to get to the river." The old woman shouted from the ground below. Taking a deep breath, the girl leaned over and pressed a kiss against his stubble cheek.
"For good luck." She giggled, running toward the window and disappearing over the ledge. Xander just shook his head. He'd known Vanna her whole life and she'd never been so bold. Turning red, faintly, Methos pushed the priest toward the window and on his way down the rope.
Soldiers saw the village women descending down the temple walls as they circled the pile of stone. Theodorias led the charge. The women bunched together, fearing the riders on horseback.
"Why don't you pick on someone your own size for a change?" Methos growled as he landed, pulling his sword from the scabbard he wore across his back. Vanna took one of the women by the hand and began pulling her toward a clump of thorn bushes growing behind the temple.
"We can hide in the bushes, the thorns will keep them from following." She urged the resisting woman. Soon other women were following her, Methos causing quite a distraction.
"I would say pick on someone as smart as you are, but there aren't any cyclops handy just now." Methos taunted the big man coming at him with blood lust in his beady eyes.
"I'll show you cyclops. I'll make you look like one." Theodorias came at him, sword in hand, his horse soldiers stopping to watch the fight. He didn't see the young woman leading their quarry into the brier patch or the worried expression on her face as she watched the gallant stranger begin fighting.
Sidestepping Theodorias was easy, he was big and cumbersome. Methos knew if the big man got his hands on him the fight would be over, he'd be crushed between two, massive paws as big as any bear's. Each time Theodorias tried to stab his sword into Methos' meaty middle, he skipped back, infuriating the big man.
"Stand still and fight like a man." Theodorias roared, lunging hard and fast toward his target. Methos shook his head, grinning as if they were using wooden, practice swords instead of lethal, metal swords. Slowly, Methos backed his way toward the brier patch where Vanna and the rest of the village women hid. He didn't want to lose the fight, not because he feared death, but he didn't want to have to explain why he came back to life after losing. Carefully, he maneuvered the muscle bound warrior away from the temple to a place where he could die without being seen. At least that way he could reanimate in a few hours time and go back for the village women.
Losing didn't take long at all. Theodorias obliged Methos with one thrust of his blade to the heart. It only took him a few seconds for the Immortal to die. Reanimating would take longer though and be extremely painful. Methos always wondered why it hurt so badly, he'd died a thousand times and reanimated a thousand and one.
Having killed the dark eyed stranger, Theodorias found something else to destroy. His horsemen went on their merry, raping and pillaging way, momentarily distracted. Vanna and the other women settled down in their prickly hiding place for the night. It wasn't comfortable, but it was safe.
After Nightfall …
"Psst, Vanna, are you there?" A vaguely familiar voice hoarsely whispered well after dark. The third time was the charm calling her name. It was difficult to hear over the roar of the fire consuming the temple only yards away.
"I'm here." She stepped out of the chest high bramble toward the voice calling her name.
"How are you and the rest of the women?" Methos saw her clearly in the light of the full moon overhead. An untold number of stars shone like precious stones scattered across black silk.
"We're fine. Is Callisto's army still in our village?" The young woman asked, hoping they wouldn't have to hide in the bramble much longer. None of them had eaten and the children needed water soon.
"Yes, but I think we can steal away down to the river. Follow me." He took her hand in his, feeling the chill of her skin against his palm. Together they helped the village women out of the prickly bushes. They were tired, hungry and terribly scratched.
"And just where do you think you're going?" A snotty, female voice asked. Dark brown eyes stared dully at the small band of escapees crawling out of the bramble. The willowy, cotton blonde clad in black leather held her sword as if it were an extension of herself. No emotion showed in her coolly beautiful face as she stood watching them. Vanna tightened her grip on Methos' hand as she stopped abruptly.
"Who are you?" Zoe asked, her voice shaking.
"I am called Callisto." She stepped up to them, her long blonde hair blowing around her face. In the moonlight, her pale hair almost seemed to glow. She had a hardened, dispassionate air about her, almost soulless. "Again, where do you think you're going?" The warrioress demanded, her patience running thin.
"We have nothing to offer, let us go." Vanna answered. Methos felt her fingernails begin to dig into his flesh.
"Sorry, dearie, that can't be done, you see, I don't do a job halfway, all of you have to die." Callisto shook her head, turning her head to one side as she slowly advanced. Methos sized her up, she wasn't an Immortal, but she was determined to finish what she'd started, not caring if she died in the process. That made her dangerous. He hadn't intended to play the hero, but that's the lot the Fates had cast him in for the moment.
"Vanna, take the women to the river, I will take care of this." He pushed the young woman away, drawing his sword.
"Ah, someone has a Hercules complex, how sweet." Callisto laughed meeting his attack with a left fist in his face. He knew she'd fight dirty, which was fine with him, he didn't have a moral code against hitting women. If they were big enough to dish out punishment, Methos figured they were big enough to take it as well. What he didn't count on was her lithe, nimble body and formidable fighting skills. The warrioress back-flipped away from him, cartwheeled and seemed to stay in the air as much as she was on the ground.
"Callisto, haven't you killed enough people for one night's entertainment?" A husky, female voice demanded. The cotton topped warrior turned away from Methos. He didn't see the look of excitement spread across her face as she discarded her male opponent.
"Xena, glad you could come out and play. I've longed so to have you over for a play date." Callisto oozed sarcasm. Methos looked from the blonde lady warrior to the brunette one facing her. Both were taller than average and dressed in leather armor. Behind the brunette stood a smaller, wheat blonde carrying a staff. Her hands were wrapped around the five foot weapon favored by the Amazons. Methos could tell she'd used the blunt weapon quite a bit. It looked well worn and well cared for.
"I see the three of you have met before." Methos spoke from behind Callisto, his deep voice carrying despite the roaring of the temple burning nearby.
"A time or two, yes." The brunette warrior purred, her sword ready to meet the steely blonde.
"Go on with the women you were helping, they need someone to protect them." The wheat blonde moved forward, her green blouse and brown skirt standing out against her sun kissed skin. Methos smiled a doubtful smirk. He didn't count himself as much protection.
"Trust me, we can handle Callisto." The wheat blonde looked up at him with sad, knowing, blue eyes and smiled as if nothing could defeat them. With a raised eyebrow and a stiff bow, he took that opportunity to disappear. Whatever issue those two had with Callisto, he wished them the best.
Quickly, he found Vanna and the others. They'd gathered around a few reed boats the men used to go fishing. Vanna had just set one of the children in the boat, her dress' skirt wet nearly to his waist.
"Alright, everyone take a seat and be quiet." In the last few hours Vanna had gone from a weak-kneed little girl to a take-charge kind of woman. The change had been noticed by all the women and the temple priests. When she said move, they did, without question.
"Vanna, did everyone make it to the river?" She turned to the male voice behind her.
"Yes, are you coming with us?" She smiled when she saw him in the moon light. He was older than her, a great deal more than he looked to be truthful, but the hope he saw in her eyes when she looked at him was something he hadn't seen in many an age.
"Yes, as far as the next village." He answered truthfully, though what he'd do after that he dare not plan. He just might forget himself and settle a spell with Vanna.
Together they loaded the village women and children as well as the temple priests into the fishing boats. Casting them toward the center current, the priests paddled easily downstream. Vanna and Methos boarded the last boat, joining the rest. Despite the bright moon the river felt and seemed dark. A thousand different sounds echoed across the surface of the rushing water.
"How did you get away from Callisto?" Vanna asked in a loud whisper. The sounds of battle could still be heard in the distance.
"A warrior woman called Xena distracted her." Methos shrugged and continued paddling. It wasn't the most noble move, but he figured someone had to protect the women.
"I've heard of her. Did she have another woman with her?" Vanna's eyes lit up. She was every little girl's hero, they all wanted to be Xena, Warrior Princess.
"She did, but I didn't hear her name." Methos thought back to the two women who'd shown up out of the blue.
"It's Gabrielle, an Amazon princess and a bard." Vanna's voice took on a wistful hush to it. Methos bit back a chuckle, shaking his head. Vanna was a breath of fresh air. After that the ages seemed to roll on endlessly.
The eldest Immortal studied the hilt again, thinking back to a pleasant few decades he passed in Greece. He and Vanna talked about that night often. Her voice would take on that wistful, happy tone he'd come to love so.
"Well, what happened to Callisto?" Duncan asked, munching on an apple as he listened to Methos' tale.
"I don't know. I stopped hearing anything about her not long after that." Methos handed the sword back to Duncan and let the topic rest. The time he spent with Vanna had been sweet, but oh so short.
Duncan saw the traces of both regret and happiness in his friend's voice and the way he seemed to look off into the distance.
"Too bad we couldn't see Callisto and Xena in action." The dark eyed Scot lifted his thick brows mischievously before grinning like a dope. Methos rolled his eyes. The younger Immortal had a cheesy sense of humor.