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Pale Horse

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“Him,” Sherlock said, with a wave of his hand towards the broad, shallow dish of water, “The third in line; I’ll have him.”

In the still liquid, shapes shimmered. A cloaked skeleton rode a pale horse at the head of a winding file of armoured soldiers. Pennants drooping, mounted and foot followed him through a rock-strewn landscape.

“I have already chosen him, Sherlock,” Mycroft said, lips pressed together once the last syllable issued forth.

“Stating the obvious again, Mycroft? Tsk, tsk,” Sherlock taunted from the nest of embroidered cushions on the divan upon which he reclined. The blue silk of his sleeve slipped down his arm while he continued to wave as though conducting music only he could hear. “Knowledge always trumps death. He’s mine.”

“I’m the older, wiser brother, Sherlock,” Mycroft warned, raising his chin and turning away.

The moonlight entering through the open flaps of the pavilion cast shadows over his face. The eyes were dark hollows, the round of the prominent brow ivory.

“So you’ve told me since I was in my cradle, but you chose politics as your arena this time round,” Sherlock retorted with a laugh. “I think that says enough, but in case your powers have waned even further since you made that decision, please recall, I have been immune to you since I was born and will continue to be. You hold no sway over knowledge, much as you try. Even you, cannot kill an idea." Sherlock's gaze flashed over his brother. "He is mine.”

“Ideas, no. Flesh, yes. The fever has almost consumed him. He is on my doorstep,” Mycroft answered, dipping his fingers in the water so that a new image appeared.

A man moaned on a cot, his face grey, his blankets wet with sweat, his armour a heap of metal on the floor.

“Send him away, Mycroft,” Sherlock insisted. “Send him to me. I would have him.”

Mycroft sighed.

Sherlock smiled and rolled onto his side to stare into the silvery bowl.

“See how the light glimmers within him, even in this dark hour, like obsidian or jet or black diamonds. He is a rare one, I will keep him and polish him,” Sherlock continued.

“Waxing poetic, brother mine?” Mycroft said.

The man’s face was contorted with pain, his lips moving silently.

Sherlock dipped his forefinger in the water and the words became audible.

“Please God, let me live,” the man murmured.

Sherlock’s fingertips ran across the image of the man’s forehead. “Live, brave soldier, and come to me. Bring your unquenchable light to me.”

The man sighed, his brow smoothed. Someone stretched out a hand. “His fever broke,” a woman said.

“Take him, then,” Mycroft said with a flick of his wrist.

Outside, a horse whinnied. Another snorted.

“I already have,” Sherlock replied and lay back on the cushions, fingertips pressed together beneath his chin.

The teeth of the pale horse clicked as it ripped the young grass out by its roots. The winged horse reared, pulling down another apple from the tree overhanging the spring.

In the west, the moon set. The stars sparkled.

Far away, John opened his eyes.