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The Reflecting Pool

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Imagine the usual disclaimers. Give unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto the Internet what is the Internet's.

Warnings: spoilers for the fifth season. Violence, with violent implications.







". . . Zeus the Father made a brazen race. They loved the lamentable works of Ares and deeds of violence; they ate no bread, but were hard of heart like adamant, fearful men. Great was their strength and unconquerable their arms. Their armor was of bronze, and their houses of bronze, and of bronze were their implements: there was no black iron. These were destroyed by their own hands and passed to the dank house of chill Hades, and left no name: terrible though they were, black Death seized them, and they left the bright light of the sun."

Hesiod, Works and Days



"Cassandra!"

"Hijad, Hijad! I found water!"

The grubby girl in her woolen shift slid down the hillside, leaping over scrub and small boulders. She was waving both arms wildly. Her hair seemed to be flying with enthusiasm. "Hijad, I followed the gazelles, it was just as you said it would be, I followed them and they led me, they led me to the water! It was just the way you described it to me!"

"I told you there was magic in you, apprentice." The healer hurried to join her. "Lead me to it, quickly!"

She danced barefoot among the thorny bushes of the desert, talking ten words to a step. "I followed the gazelles at dawn, Hijad. It took great stealth and skill, no one else could have done it. Eventually I stalked them to their secret place - just as you told me - they were gathering around the rock and licking it! So I scared them off and, here, here, look! - look, Hijad!"

Quizzically, he peered at an undistinguished rock face on an undistinguished little cliff overgrown with tangled thorns. A few lacklustre flowers bloomed at the foot of the cliff. "Look at what, Cassandra?" There was no water.

"Oh!" Stricken, Cassandra crowded up to examine the rock. Her lip quivered, she stamped her bare foot in anger. "It's gone!"

"Even a gazelle may sometimes lie." Hijad patted her head consolingly, and then stopped and took a closer look - not at the spot Cassandra was running her fingers over, but higher, above her head. "Aha!"

She stood on her tiptoes. "What is it, Hijad?"

"Here . . . and here. See the marks? These were carved by the olden peoples - generations ago, time out of mind. Look well and learn them, Cassandra. You have found us a treasure, and your tribe will praise you tonight."

Cassandra turned pink with pride and pleasure. "Teach me, my father."

Swiftly, he examined the rock again, and laid down the empty waterskins he carried, positioning them carefully. Then he picked up a large piece of stone and struck it against the cliff. At the third blow, the rock fractured. Cassandra screamed with delight as a great gush of water streamed out, pouring down the rock face. "Look! The cliff gives birth, father! Its waters flow!" She thrust her hands into the flow, let drops run over her lips and across her chin. Meanwhile Hijad quickly adjusted the waterskins, and the sudden torrent of warm water filled them, every one, before slackening to a trickle like that which had attracted the gazelles. In moments it was over, and then even the trickle trailed off, evaporating like a puff of smoke in the desert heat. The rock face dried. There was no trace it had ever been damp.

"You did magic, Hijad." Wonderingly, she touched the spot, lifted a waterskin and hefted it. "How did you bring the water?"

"It is a special place, where the water pools slowly inside the rock, to be released with a blow by one who knows the way. From time to time you may find such places, and always there are the marks to show you that other people found them too. Learn them, here and here." He led her fingers to them, made her trace them out. "The gazelles found it too, you see. I told you the gazelles would bring good luck for you. It was the gazelles that led me to you first, long ago."

"A babe abandoned in the wilderness." She smiled at him, put the waterskin to her lips and drank. For long moments she carefully tasted the water, rolling it over her palate as solemnly as if she drank the finest wine; then she broke into a great grin, and swallowed. "It's good."

"Now you know how to follow the gazelles to water." He drank. "Now all men will know you can find water. They will praise you around the campfires, saying that you can bring water forth from the rock, that you can speak to animals and learn their magic. They know that you have healing hands. When you lay hands on the camels, the calves are born easily. You bring good health to the sheep and to the goats. When the time comes for you to marry, your husband will pay me a gift beyond all gifts! And he will make you the mistress of all his flocks."

Cassandra drew herself up haughtily. "I will never marry. No matter what they offer, no matter who courts me, I will never say yes - no, not even though they beg on their knees," she bragged. "I don't want any of the young men. They are not good enough for me. I am your daughter!"

His face creased in a smile. "When the time comes for you to marry, you will have a prince and a king, the ruler of a city. A hero among men, who can kill the lion with a single blow of his fist. Other men will call him 'My Sun, Great King' and he will drive a chariot, harnessed with bulls, over the mountaintops; he will slay dragons and sphinxes for you. He will come on a white horse, fighting off all other men, and carry you away wrapped in a carpet. And in his house, you will be as a princess."

"A princess," she whispered.

"Only a mighty chieftain is worthy of you, my daughter."

"I love you, Hijad."




"What is this, O gods, that you have done?

You have let in a plague and the land of Hatti, all of it, is dying,

so no one prepares the offerings of food and drink.

And you come to us, O gods, and for this matter you hold us guilty

. . . and there is nothing that we do aright in your eyes!"

Prayer of the Hittite king, Mursilis

Elsewhere, the Horsemen hunted.

Out of the mists of time they came, and burst upon Anatolia like a wolf into the fold. They rode west and south, in a whirlwind of slaughter: across the Hurri lands, old Mitanni and Kizzaiwatna, swinging north toward Tuz Gol and the sweet river Sehiriya. The torches were raised before their onslaught, and the alarm ran from village to town to city, messages spelt out by elaborate codes of signal fires lit on the mountaintops - to no avail. Taking fresh horses as their own mounts failed, the Horsemen could travel two hundred miles between dawn and dusk; they outran their own news, and fell upon poor mortals who never knew why they died. They raided deep into powerful Hatti, wealthy with bronze and iron: the land of the Hittites.

Wherever they rode, they killed everyone they met.

Only those who took sanctuary on holy ground escaped them. The Horsemen hunted mortals, for Kronos hated mortals. They killed for sport, and once inside the walls of a town could wreck devastation worse than any plague; they killed for pleasure, as war ravages battlefields; they killed more surely than famine of a winter; they were death on horseback. The Hittites cried out to their rulers for armies, saying that dust-clouds beset their windows, smoke beset their houses, the embers on the hearths were choked, the gods stifled in the temples, the sheep stifled in the folds, the oxen stifled in the stalls, the ewes spurned their lambs, the cows spurned their calves; barley and wheat (they cried) throve no more - oxen and sheep and women ceased to conceive, and those who were pregnant could not bear. All this, they cried, because of the horror which emptied their towns and laid waste their villages. But when armies were sent against them, the Four Horsemen vanished like smoke.

They laid waste along the Halys almost to the sea, and swerved westward at random, into Achaia - almost as far as Troisa. This was the city which would one day be remembered as Troy.

Terrified mortals, knowing little of them, called them demons and nightmares. But they never learned the Horsemen's names. The Horsemen hunted mortals, but immortals were their true prey. South and north, east and west, they searched out their own kind, and they killed and they killed and they killed: hunting as a pack, separating only for the final challenge and the quickening. And only those immortals wise enough to hide on holy ground escaped them. Europe and Asia were the game preserve of the Four Horsemen in those days, and thousands of years afterward immortal teachers passed along horror stories to their doubting students . . . long after even the Watchers had forgotten that the stories were real. But the immortals knew that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had, indeed, existed. And they had been the greatest hunters in the long, strange, secret history of the Game.

In that year, Kronos counted backward, victory after victory, and knew that he was almost a thousand years old.

Near dawn, they had overridden some small band of nomads, killing them all: it meant nothing, and in fact Kronos had already forgotten it. It had only been a prelude. Soon after, they had fallen upon a tribute train from Egypt, crawling along the last lonely stretch of the long road north . . . guarded by large-eyed Egyptian soldiers, their dark skins oiled against the sun; with two hundred patient donkeys plodding, with fifty haughty camels swaying high-headed along, bearing gifts from the Lord of the Two Lands to the Hittite king at Hattusa.

And in an orgy of slaughter, the four Horsemen had left the soldiers strewn amidst snapped javelins, the donkeys and the camels straying free to the four winds; the ambassadors from Egypt had perished, every one, and their letters of passage with them. Then the Horsemen had plundered the wreckage of what bits and pieces they pleased: for Silas, a black-faced Aethopian girl, a baboon's head for Kronos, and a treasure of maps and papers for Methos to read. Caspian, caring little for material things, had contented himself with wholesale slaughter. There had been jar after jar of Egyptian and Greek wines, with which they had laden the slave girls who had also been part of Pharaoh's gift. A wagon of citrus-wood saplings in pots was now strewn across the wasteland, hacked and dying. And the gold from Africa which Pharaoh had sent his brother king was scattered to the winds. What need had the four Horsemen of gold?

Only the slave women had survived, driven like so many beasts of burden to the Horsemen's camp. Now Kronos sat his mount upon a hilltop, alone for once, and gazed east. He was dreaming of the rich cities of Hatti with their many, many gods . . . some of whom, to be sure, would be his own kind. Immortals for the hunting.

He was hungry, though it was Silas' turn.

Time to hunt in earnest. Methos had ridden away, scouting back along their trail for survivors. Caspian and Silas were in camp, no doubt quarreling and troubling the women even now. Kronos yearned for quickening. Burning farms and killing travelers along the road was diverting, but fruitless. The best place to hunt was in cities, among armies, in populous lands.

Kronos heard shouting voices. He reined his horse around, trotting it down the little hill and tethering it to his tent-post. By then (naturally) Silas and Caspian were apparently about to kill one another over a piece of cheap cloth. And Methos, back from scouting, had just jumped on Caspian's back and hooked his blade under Caspian's throat. Methos never needed help. Kronos approached, laughing to himself. "Trouble?"

"Not any longer." Methos dropped off Caspian's back, turning away indifferently.

What?

What was this?

The others had noticed nothing different. Kronos quieted them, by slashing the cloth in two; they would have forgotten the whole thing in an hour, he knew. Then he went after Methos.

He heard a resonance within his mind - like the song of a harp-string, plucked so softly that the sound carried only through the fingertips; but as he approached, the song died. And yet it had been vaguer than a memory of music. Neither Silas nor Caspian had heard it, he thought. Its source was the slave girl over whom Methos was bending, a dagger in his hand. She was immortal, and Methos had just killed her.

Kronos crouched, hands on knees, and peered at her. He pushed her with the toe of his boot, and she rolled over, her hands lolling wide; the song of her immortality was silenced. "Brother, what's this? A toy for Caspian?"

"No!" said Methos immediately. "She belongs to me."

"She's meat on the hoof. Anyway, where did she come from?"

Methos shrugged. "From the end of your sword, brother." He gathered her up, her long limbs sprawling like a new-born colt's, and lifted her; he staggered, catching his balance, and Kronos grinned. Methos growled a little at him, and set off toward his tent. Kronos followed, curious and not a little amused. The girl was a filthy wild thing, her hair full of dirt - nothing there to enthrall a man at first sight. And yet Methos had once adored women, and of course he had always been badly hurt . . . for (as Kronos had taught him) women were for the bed and the hearth only, women were nothing. Nothing. Now, Caspian was hungry for women, ravenous for women, and pouncing on an immortal girl like this one would be just like Caspian - not Methos' game at all. Caspian in the last few hundred years had entertained himself with stranger and stranger enjoyments, wild play for which mortal women were not suited . . . because they never lasted. His latest amusements had to do with cannibalism and necrophilia and other games which could only be played with young immortal women.

Innocent, shapely young immortal women, preferably newborn in their immortality. Like this powerless girl, whose face promised spirit and beauty. Yes, Caspian would drool over this one. Kronos watched Methos dump the dead girl unceremoniously on a carpet. Then he pushed his brother aside and squatted, wetting one finger and running it across the girl's skin. "Soft as carded wool. No scars, no pockmarks - yes, she'll be pretty enough once she's washed. It's been a long time since I've seen you single out a woman. Let alone another immortal. You'll have to fight Caspian off--"

"I can handle Caspian."

"I know, brother." Kronos clapped him on the shoulder. "What has this one got that the others hadn't?"

"She's different. Can't you tell?"

"Different. No. She's just a girl."

Methos knelt down and turned the girl's face to the light, cupping her chin in one hand; then he stroked her hair, gazing down. "As if she was made of air and darkness. Deep within her, deep as a pool opening upon the wine-dark sea, there is the reflection of some power - like the promise of fire that slumbers in the candle-wick, Kronos. I knew - I knew a woman like her once. If she survives, she will be a wonder in the world."

"Did you see that in her eyes?"

"She has great wild eyes like a falcon's. Yes, there's power in her."

"You'll have to keep her dead awhile, or else Caspian will sniff her out for sure . . . and it's his turn before yours." Playfully, Kronos pushed Methos, trying to knock him over; he burst out in a roar of laughter when Methos shoved him away. "I might tell him about her myself. What will you give me to hold my tongue?"

"Oh, you'll keep quiet," said Methos, smiling, "my brother."

"What do you see in my eyes?" Kronos asked jealously. And in real curiosity. "Look at me, ancient one."

"She's an unlit candle," said Methos. "And you? You're wildfire."

"Well, you owe me." Reassured, Kronos tugged at Methos' hair, and strode out of the tent shouting for Silas and Caspian. Methos followed; for how many centuries had they been as close as fire and shadow? He had known all along that Kronos would help keep the girl hidden. And here came the other two Horsemen, summoned by their master. "Saddle your horses," Kronos ordered. "Silas wants quickening. Ready yourselves, brothers! Are you hungry?"

"We ride?" asked Silas eagerly.

"We ride!"




. . . The terrors

Of the Dark Pit never leave me.

For the house of Death is deep down

Underneath; the downward journey

To be feared, for once I go there

I know well there's no returning.

Anacreon of Teos



Cassandra woke.

She bolted upright with a shout of rage. There she stood, shaking from head to foot, in her tattered and bloodstained shift which resembled a woolen sack - a sack which had been ripped apart by knives. Her lip quivered, she clapped both hands over her mouth; but no one had heard her, no one came. And she remembered him: the terrible horseman with his face painted blue, the magician who had killed her and brought her back to life.

How had she sinned, to be punished so? This must be the underworld.

Cassandra's eyes grew wide. They brimmed over, and tears left dust-streaks down her cheeks. She was in the underworld, punished for her pride in her youth and beauty, in her strong and perfect white teeth which so many men had praised. Punished for her refusal to marry. She swayed, biting into the palms of her hand, and her fingers gouged her cheeks until she grew faint, the light swam in her eyes; but nothing changed. Eventually she had to blink away her tears, and look around at her new master's tent.

When she ran her fingers over her cheeks in fascination, she found the skin smooth and healed. She pulled at the rips in her shift, rubbed and stroked and prodded her unmarked stomach.

Certainly that man was a magician.

She prowled around, gazing stealthily through the loose-woven awning at the camp without. But she saw no one. She heard no one. She breathed in deeply and smelt dust, dung-smoke, meat stewing, horses and men and women . . . and stenches like screams of pain, blood and torment, death and torture!

Then she stepped out into the light.

No one moved in the Horsemen's camp, save a few shambling slaves who seemed more dead then alive. Cassandra ignored them in scorn, striding across to the cooking-skin set up on its tripod of poles. She stuck her finger into the stew, tasted it and turned up her nose. Where were the horses? She was sure she could ride a horse; on a horse, she could escape. But there were no horses.

With a thrust of her heel, she snapped one pole of the tripod - sending the whole array over sideways, so that her new owner's dinner splashed in the dirt. She kicked the fire apart, rushed to the nearest tent and flung a burning cl[Bot of dung inside; for good measure she ripped a bone from the fetishes decorating the tent-poles, and she crossed her fingers, crossed her eyes, and tossed the bone upon the tent-roof. There! Let them deal with that! She ran to the next tent, blinded by tears, and hauled at a tent-pole; but it was too well-set to come out. Cassandra cursed and spat into the tent. She darted inside, grabbed a spear, and tried clumsily to thrust it through the side of the tent and slash open the hide wall with the spear-point. But it didn't work, though she levered with all her weight. And meanwhile one or two of the slaves had gathered and were watching with dull horror.

Cassandra made the sign of the horns, jabbing her first and fourth fingers at them. She heard women weeping somewhere, and cries in a foreign language. She threw down her spear and glared the sorry slaves out of her path, walking from tent to tent; she counted four tents. In one, several women huddled together, their hands and feet bound in a coffle. When they saw Cassandra they all gave tongue, in no human language: like the barking of carrion dogs, like the mewing of cats and the cries of vultures. Cassandra shied back, aghast. The nearest woman . . . the nearest woman had skin all velvet-black, like a dead mouse's skin, after two days of rotting when the hair comes away clean from the flesh. She turned her rot-black face to Cassandra and rolled the blue whites of her eyes, and her teeth were as white as shining bones. She yammered a stream of gibberish at Cassandra, and Cassandra blanched and backed out of the tent.

Human skulls - glossy and clean - were heaped in a pyramid in the center of the campsite. And there were bones underfoot, snapped and broken bones littering the area round the cooking-fire. The flavor of the stew in the hide container rose suddenly into Cassandra's throat. The scent still clung to her fingers. And the sound of screams seemed to echo and resound in her heart.

Cassandra's head swam. She felt great with some strange sickness, as a woman might be great with child. Pains stabbed through her eyes, mysterious words rose to her lips: ". . . a great evil shall come . . ."

The Horsemen were coming.

They were coming, they were coming! She knew in her bones that they were coming. Cassandra darted into the nearest tent. She could hide - she would hide--

The Four Horsemen came over the rise, out of the eye of the sun. The hooves of their horses thundered as they came galloping, driving three prisoners stumbling before them; the riders yipped and yelled and whipped their captives onward with the flats of their swords. One of the horsemen was roaring joyously, spinning a long-handled axe in circles around his head. Hidden behind the tent-flap, Cassandra scarcely dared to breath. She could see what the prisoners were - by their shining hair, by their shining garments, by the shining jewelry they wore. These, young and beautiful, were the gods of the Hittites.

As they came even with the tent, the huge warrior in the lead leant over his mount's shoulders, and swung his axe. Like a farmer, swinging a scythe in the field. And he beheaded the god nearest him.

Cassandra screamed, unheard. The man on the horse threw back his head and bellowed like a bull.

The sky blackened.

The wind blew.

Lightning erupted from the flesh of Mother Earth herself. Thunder boomed and cracked. In the darkness the Horseman's mount reared pawing at heaven, wild with terror, and the noise of its whistling scream was like the end of the world. Fingers of lightning crawled over the horse's shivering flanks, writhed up toward its rider, and grounded themselves crackling in his body. He glowed from head to foot.

As his horse shrieked with panic, he shouted with ecstacy. Whiplashes of lightning snapped out and struck him. The eerie blue glow settled momentarily in his eyes, traced the bizarre foreign designs which painted his face. His mount faltered to its knees, sank down shaking out its long neck like a snake, and dropped its head to the ground - dying, as if poleaxed over a grave. While ball lightning and wildfire still played over it.

The Horseman rose from the dead beast. He flung up his arms to the skies, and shouted: "I am Death!"

One of his friends vaulted off his own mount, strode over and put a hand under his arm. "Been too long, hey, Silas? Never mind about the horse--" as the man Silas looked around with vague regret. "We'll find you another."

And as he turned, Cassandra caught a clear glimpse of his face - a face blurred with bristling beard and smudged, smeared dots and lines; a face carved up one side, across the right eye, with a scar like a jester's paint. By some trick of the light, a red glow seemed to glimmer in his eyes, in his features. It was the face of the monster who had killed her. Sickness knotted her belly again. A shock like the breaking of waters, a wave of dizzy horror, crashed through her. And her mouth whispered: ". . . the voice of evil . . ."

They were laughing, talking, slapping Silas across the back. "But you were too eager, brother!" said the evil Horseman, the scarred Horseman. "You let the best one go."

And they all turned and looked at the two remaining captives.

"Silas is too generous. He's very old--"

"Powerful," said the scarred one, grinning. Methos stood next to him; the scarred one clapped him on the back, pulled on his ear. "Toothsome. Eh, Caspian?"

The one named Caspian looked as if he had swallowed bad pomegranate seeds. "Damn you, Kronos!"

"Never mind, you can watch! But it's too bad that we only caught three, hey brother? And your turn this time," said Kronos cheerfully, "comes fourth."

Caspian was staring hungrily at the other two gods - at the taller of the two, who carried himself like a king. He whispered, "He's old as the hills. I can feel the power in him from here."

"An old one indeed." Kronos strode across, drawing his sword. Neither of the captive gods flinched; they stood close together, breathing in deep gasps from their run across the wasteland. One was dark as night, the other fair as daytime, and they were dressed alike in leopard kilts and Hittite hats, with bright jewelry round their throats and arms and wrists. But it was clear to see that the taller of the two, golden as an image in a temple, was the prince. And his dark companion was only a courtier.

Kronos put the point of his sword under the tall one's chin. "Tell me your name!"

"Telepinu," said the golden god. He slapped the sword-blade aside; and Kronos swung one fist, casually, knocking him to the ground. He sprang back to his feet, spitting blood at his captor. "And you are Illuyanka - the serpent in the garden, the evil one!"

"Tell me the name of your city."

"I'll tell you nothing!"

Kronos leered. He raised his sword, and cut down.

The dark god shrieked. The golden god never made a sound. Two of the Horsemen - Silas, Caspian - got the dark one by the arms as he lunged at Kronos; they kept him away, laughing and shoving him back and forth between them, and the man Caspian yipped like a dog and bit him on the cheek, drawing blood. Meanwhile Kronos put a foot on the chest of the golden one, pinning him down. He stabbed with his sword, once, twice, thrice.

"There are a number of ways I can kill your friend here," he said conversationally. "A simple beheading is satisfying but crude . . . you might call me an artist in the dealing of death. But have you ever seen a fellow immortal endure while you trepan his skull and scoop out what's inside? If I do it little by little, he'll be awake and aware even as I peel the scalp and face clean off him, and bind him head-down in the cooking-skin--"

Cassandra heard all this clearly; she was only a few feet away.

"--and keep healing," Caspian was saying. He was licking his lips. "Ever heard of the bottomless stew-pot, the cauldron of the gods that brings men back to life? The stories are true. Why, one immortal can feed a regiment all winter."

Silas remarked cheerfully, "Sometimes it's a mercy to take the head."

"Attarimma!" the dark one whispered. Then he screamed it. "We come from Attarimma!"

"Hah. Never mind, he's dead anyway." Kronos pulled his blade free, bent to wipe it across the shining golden hair of the dead god. "Too bad for you, friend. I don't like to behead them when they can't watch."

He stepped closer to the dark one. "Say goodbye." He swung the sword.

Hiding in the tent, Cassandra moaned. Cramps like birth-pangs doubled her over. She muttered, "The evil one--"

When she was able to look again, the Four Horsemen were gathered around the golden one, the dead man. Somehow - somehow they had propped him on his feet, and they were shoving him, playing with the corpse - like the murderers, the animals they were - but something was wrong--

The dead man was alive again, struggling helplessly against them.

Kronos had stabbed him, four times. Kronos had stabbed him four times! Cassandra had been a healer's apprentice all her life; she knew how men died; she knew when a man would live or die, and what wounds would kill a man. She knew, in her bones, that the young god had been dead. And now . . . now the Horsemen were squabbling over which of them got to kill him.

"--wasted your turn, wasted your chance at him! Hah, if it had been my turn I would have known which to choose--"

"Well, it's not your turn, Caspian!"

"Both of you are fools! How could you pass up a prize like that?"

"We're impulsive," Kronos said, and there was a grin in his voice. "Well, Methos. Brother. I guess you come out the winner."

"Damn you." Lower, from Caspian. "If only there had been four!"

"You want him, don't you, brother? Too bad."

"Oh yes--"

"Maybe you should beg Methos, then. Maybe if you beg, he'll be generous."

"It'll never happen!" Silas whooped.

Caspian snarled.

All this while, Cassandra had been listening for one voice that never spoke: the lazy musical drawl of his voice, of the last Horseman's voice. And he had never spoken. Now he said, "Caspian can have him," and she started, her heart jumping.

There was a silence. She dared to peek around the tent-flap.

The golden god broke the quiet with a shout of defiance. "Illuyanka, kill me if you dare! In Attarimma there are many immortals. My father will behead you, the vultures will eat--"

"If I meet your father," said Kronos, "I'll cut out his heart and his eyes. Do it, Caspian."

Cassandra shut her eyes, faint.

This time it went on and on - it seemed to go on forever. Wind blasted through her hair, and sand from the wasteland whirled around her, into the tent, into her face and eyes. When she gazed through watering eyes at the heavens, the blue day sky was all midnight, blazing with outraged stars.

When it ended, she clung weeping to the tent-pole; her mind was reeling. She was dammed. She was dammed, and in the underworld. While out there, the sky was blue again and the Four Horsemen were laughing to each other: "His father? His father!"

Caspian let loose a howl of pleasure: "Your loss, Methos! Brother, what will you claim for your turn now?"

And she heard Methos answer, "Brother, I'll have the woman who is in your tent."

That was all she waited for. Cassandra was out of the tent, and running.

She fled like a gazelle, sprinting across the sand. Behind her, Methos met Kronos' gaze; his mouth thinned with irritation, and he lifted and strung his bow, all in one smooth sweep of his arm. She was halfway up the ridge, flying like a bird. He nocked an arrow, drew the bowstring taut, steadied his aim down the arrow of the eye: a straight line of sight drawn between his eye, and Cassandra's back. She gained the top of the rise, skylined against the horizon, and she was a silhouetted target within a glory of light. Methos loosed the arrow. The bowstring snapped, thrumming against the archer's wristlet he wore.

She sprang straight up into the air like a shot deer, and fell.

Caspian was cursing, throwing down his sword and stamping on it. Kronos grinned at him, and strolled up to the dying woman. He turned her over with his toe, and her eyes - already glazing over - sought his, widening with horror; he had never seen such a look of fear before. It almost made his hair rise. Then he smiled slowly, and bent to hear her last words.

She whispered, "You are the face of evil," and she was dead.

Kronos shrugged in puzzlement. He glanced over his shoulder: Caspian was there, crowding close to take a good look and then blaspheme in disbelief at what he saw. "You tricked me! Just look at her--"

"Stay away from her," Methos growled, and shouldered between them and the girl. "She belongs to me, Caspian!"

"Until my next turn," hissed Caspian.


It is easier to make bad out of good than good out of evil.

Never try to teach me.

I am too old to be taught.

Theognis of Megara



Evening stole into the hot footprints of Day, as cool water seeps across the desert.

She lay curled into a ball, one hand pressed to the small of her back where the arrow had struck. Outside the shadowy tent, flames leapt and danced; the sounds which carried to her were more savage than the cries of jackals and lions. She had used not to be afraid of man nor beast.

A quiet sound. Her master, treading softly, came into the tent and went back and forth, never speaking a word. He splashed water on his hands, slid off his cloak and let it fall; he unlaced his leather armor, his boots, his wristlets. She stole a glance at his painted face, and shuddered.

"Come." He knelt beside her. "What is your name?"

His hands on her, gentle, impersonal - as though he was handling a promising mare. Her heart was empty. At this time, she was stunned into submission, like a wild mare exhausted into suffering the saddle; such a mare can be mounted and ridden, docile as if hand-raised with cow's milk. He could have walked her off a cliff, and she would have followed. Cassandra suffered him to slide her ruined dress down from her bowed shoulders, to give her water to drink from his cupped hands. Her mind was empty. He took her face between his cool hands, lifted it until she looked into his eyes. Her soul was empty. His eyes looked a question. So she whispered, "Cassandra."

"Tell me of the city of Attarimma, Cassandra."

"Attarimma? There is no greater city in the whole world."

"No doubt," said Methos dryly. "In what direction does it lie?"

"In the east. Far away, five days afoot."

"Go on. Tell me what more you know."

"There are many gods there, and soldiers, and wealth. It is a Hittite city."

"A colony of the Hittites? Mm. They'll have chariots, and well-built walls."

He seemed lost in thought, but not displeased. Her voice hushed, Cassandra asked, "My master? You are a mighty magician?"

"I am, and my brothers also."

"I knew you were, when you brought me back to life."

"Yes. Never disobey us, Cassandra. Your life is like a trickle of sand through our fingers; should I choose to open my hand, your sands will run out in a moment. Rest in my hand, child." He touched her cheek, stroked her hair. "Because I wish a servant, I have made you invulnerable. And because you are beautiful." He smiled. "Luxurious in a spray of myrtle. You wear too the glory of the rose upon you. And your hair is all a darkness on your shoulders and your back."

Cassandra was mesmerized by the singing cadence of the words; in her language, they were pure poetry. "Oh," she breathed. "Say more!"

"You know well that you are something dazzling - just as if among a herd of cattle one should set a racehorse. Strong, swift. With feet full of thunder, creature out of a dream with wings."

She flinched, looked aside.

"What makes you weep now, Cassandra?"

She whispered, "The noise those men make frightens me."

"Come." He took her hand, and led her out of the tent.

They walked through the desert. All the earth was deathly black; all the sky was luminously black, with brilliant stars beyond counting - the armies of unconquerable night. Shadows below, and light above. There was no moon, and no cloud. Close by the Horsemen's camp was a meander of sweet water, glossy and dark. She stepped in after him.

Water was the wealth of her desert home. This river ran strong and cold, smooth as a dimpled mirror. Cassandra gazed down at a drowned reflection of herself, against a reflection of endless stars drowning deep. She thought suddenly how the Old Women of the wastelands - and they were wiser than any other women! - foretold the future in reflecting pools. Someday, Hijad had been fond of saying, she would be reckoned among those old wise women. She stooped suddenly and ducked herself in the river - straightening again all wet as a new-born goddess rising from the sea, one arm across her breasts, one across her loins. And with her hair falling in wet corkscrews and curls.

The fingers of the water ran all over her. She felt herself painted bright as mirror-glass. A shiver and a tremble shook her, as if something was dripping water on her grave. But seeing herself reflected in his eyes, she forgot everything save the moment.

"Let me wash the paint from your face, my master."

He did.

"I was made to belong to a king," she told him. "To a great king, a great hero, a great magician. My father was a wise man and he taught me magic. I can heal and make potions and help the beasts of your herds give birth. No woman can cook better. I am not a worthless chattel!"

"You are the wild fig of the rocks," said Methos gravely, and kissed her.

Much later, Kronos (finding himself unable to sleep) saddled his horse and made a circuit round the camp, checking that everything was well. Neither Silas nor Caspian would stir before noon tomorrow, for they had broached the Egyptian wine. Even well watered, it was strong enough to lay a man low - the vintners having strengthened the fresh pressing of their grapes with oleander sprouts, cypress, wormwood, and mandrake fruit. And also raw opium, belladonna, and hashish.

Little stirred in the night. There was a sound of jackals mocking far away, and close by floated the sobs of one of the Egyptian slaves, weeping fitfully. Kronos sat his horse, gazing eastward toward the city he had set his heart upon. A city full of immortals. Treasure trove.

And here came Methos home, with his woman.

Mystified, Kronos watched without making a sound. The woman walked as if she floated. Once she looked up toward heaven, and sighed and then laughed. But the starlight fell upon her face as she did; Kronos found himself leaning forward to stare. He drew back, shocked. They both looked as if they had been struck by lightning.

What?

What was happening?




Part Two

"Does the nature of men and gods differ? No. Their nature is exactly similar. If a servant stands before his master, he is washed and wears clean clothes. And either he gives his master to eat, or he gives him to drink. And he, his master, eats and drinks, and is content in spirit and well disposed towards him . . . What is welcome to the gods and to men is in no wise different; what is unwelcome is the same."

Hittite temple text.



"Attarimma," said Kronos.

It was morning, six days later. The Four Horsemen lay on their bellies at the edge of a cliff, gazing down over the country below. Behind them, well-tethered and away from the skyline, their horses cropped the grass. They were scouting out the valley of the city of Attarimma.

This was the nature of the Hatti-land, whose people called it the Great Desert. It was a basin wasteland surrounded by natural barriers - the Anatolian plain, walled about with mountains, fissured by meandering rivers in whose deep-carved valleys grew lush gardens and orchards, most welcoming to men. Above the sunken valleys, the high country was bleak and inhospitable. A man could travel for days across the treeless steppe, and suddenly come upon a well-watered paradise walled by steep cliffs; awe-struck by the sight, he could raise his eyes and see, in the distance, bleak hills just like those he was riding over. Harsh winds blew over, salt lakes raddled the wasteland, across which Cassandra's nomad people wandered like beggars. A few camels and a goat had been her tribe's treasures.

But the cities, whose people possessed the fertile valley lands, were wealthy beyond her imagination. Of course the Four Horsemen cared nothing for this. They lusted instead after their fellow immortals, who ruled those cities as gods.

They looked down upon Attarimma, which Cassandra thought the greatest of all cities. They saw a small town hugging a small isolated mountain, more like a hill with pretensions. A small river wound through the precincts within the city walls, which were modern: built of Cyclopean stones after the Hittite custom, the work of many men and many years. Two gate complexes were visible, fortified with towers. Within, the buildings were of mud-brick upon foundations of stone. A temple precinct lay sprawled across most of the western half of the city; a palace area of many great megara halls occupied the southern quarter. The like could be seen in virtually every city in the civilized world.

But the citadel upon its small mountain was another matter. Looking down upon it was like gazing through a window into the past.

"This city may be older than I am." Methos leaned his chin on his fists, elbows propped on the stony ground. He nudged Kronos, who lay shoulder to shoulder with him. "See how the houses lie heaped upon the height - no roads between them, roof leading to roof? Such a style of building was old-fashioned when I was young. There are no roads and no doors between such houses. One gained entrance downward from the rooftops, and an invading army had to fight its way upward across the roofs, through a maze of snake-holes and ladders. Hard fighting, brothers."

Silas and Caspian exchanged leers of anticipation.

"There'll be a garrison. Perhaps fifty chariots, no cavalry. Foot soldiers, two or three hundred. The outer walls are doubled - see there? - outside the main wall is a lower secondary wall, and the main wall itself is infilled with rubble and braced with cross-walls." He drew his bronze dagger, cutting diagrams in the turf as he spoke. "And faced with masonry of stones longer than a man is tall. Impregnable."

"And the gates themselves?"

"Three gates, I think. The third will be beyond the citadel. The river entrances are probably blocked, impassable. It looks as if they shut and guard the gates every night."

Kronos was amused.

"Look!" said Caspian suddenly. "Something's happening."

They watched. "It is," said Kronos. "Brothers, rejoice. Those must be immortals."

A procession was winding through the nearest gate. Clearly through the morning air the sound of cymbals and shouting carried up to the Horsemen; craning, they picked out what must be dancing-women, children turning cartwheels, temple harlots in their fluttering filmy dresses - all small as toys. Priests in pointed caps carried lit torches. In the midst of this parade a chariot slowly traveled, its horses led by walking men. In it, two tiny figures rode.

They proceeded in slow state to a grove of trees under the eaves of the cliff, surrounded by meadows green as jewels. "Their holy ground," said Caspian gloatingly.

"All right then." Kronos elbowed his way back from the cliff-edge, and sat up chewing on a blade of tough grass. "Caspian, Silas. Go break the camp and bring it closer. Kill the excess slaves and beasts, keep four milch camels. You know what to do. Be back here, sunset, in three days . . . Caspian, remember what happened last time you crossed me: you are not to behead that girl, you hear? Don't take her to your bed, don't speak to her, don't touch her. For you, she does not exist. Silas - take Methos' horse. We'll get you a new horse here."

"Let Methos pick her out," said Silas anxiously. "He knows how to choose a horse. A lively light brown is what I like. A big gelding, fifteen hands at least. None of those sheep-faced scrub ponies."

Kronos elbowed him. "Brother, you speak as if I had never ridden a horse."

"Brother, you choose mounts as if you had never ridden a horse! Find one with a good dished head, Methos. Ears small and pricked and thin at the ends, long neck, deep shoulders, deep chest. Upright pasterns clean of long hair. Don't be fooled by one that's shaven or clipped. Loins round and wide, haunches that go wide behind. Out-hocked, and with good action. Look carefully at its eyes--"

"Enough, brother." Methos shrugged. "For every noble horse that neighs, a hundred asses bray. I'll find you a paragon among horses."

Kronos sat laughing while they left; then he threw down his spear of grass. "We can go stroll through the market. Have you got any money?"

"A few shekels, a few mina. And some of that silver we got from the Egyptians." He drove his dagger suddenly into the ground, yanked it out. "Caspian had better not touch the girl--"

"She's just a woman. What is she to you, Methos?"

"I don't know. I don't know. But something strange--"

"What? Methos, tell me."

"I can't describe it." He broke off, shaking his head wordlessly. But all this while he had been fidgeting with the dagger, cutting up the sod with it, ploughing it deep.

Kronos put a hand over Methos', stilling the blade. Methos looked at him wide-eyed. So Kronos - his heart suddenly filled with wild fear - struck his brother's hand from the knife, pinned Methos to the ground with an arm doubled back, ran the dagger's edge along his cheek.

Methos made no sound, save for a gasp of indrawn breath. Seated astride him, Kronos bent close, his mouth near Methos' ear, and said savagely, "She's only a woman. Say it, brother."

"She's - she's only a woman - uhh! Let go, Kronos!"

"Are you hearing me? Don't struggle against me, Methos - you know where that gets you. Are you hearing me?"

"Yes!"

Kronos slid the point of the dagger into the corner of his brother's mouth. "Now. Tell me what's strange."

No. Already it was too late, the shock of surprise gone from Methos' face. Methos growled, biting down with his teeth violently upon the knife, and he shook his head, worrying the blade in Kronos' hand. "Nothing, except that I like her. What more is there?" He pushed up onto his elbows, head twisted to gaze back over one shoulder; his brown hair was in his face, in his eyes, strands stuck in his mouth. His ribs heaved with deep shuddering breaths, his heart pounded. All this, Kronos could feel. "We get along. She serves me well. Are you going to make me eat that thing?"

"No." No good trying for more now. Kronos knew that his brother was drawn irresistibly toward whatever was passionate and fiery - as the cold seeks the heat that balances it - and there might be nothing more to this. The girl was certainly a stormy soul. He withdrew the dagger, sat up thoughtfully hefting it.

With this knife, Methos had killed the leopard that had come up Kronos' spear. Taking turns with this knife, they had skinned the cat; its pelt hung in Kronos' tent now, one of the few possessions he valued. Holding his brother's gaze, Kronos thrust the knife into his belt, knelt up and pushed back his long hair from his own face. Methos lay motionless between his knees. Kronos grinned and pushed his shoulders down, rubbing his face into the dirt. "Say it again, how you love your brothers best."

"I love my brothers best," muttered Methos, "except when we wrestle."

Nearer the city, there were groves of olives and pomegranates, fig and apple trees. Every acre of the rich valley bottom was cultivated, lush with fields of emmer and barley. Peas and vetches twined up tripods of saplings. From Anatolia came the grape, which was the gift of the gods to cheer the hard lives of mortal men: there were many vineyards around Attarimma. And everyone knew that the Hittites possessed much copper and bronze. The kings of foreign lands wrote to the Hittite king, asking him to send them iron; at this time, that metal was rarer than gold, and though the Hittites (as all the world knew) had craftsmen who could smelt it, they produced far less than the legends of later days told - and most of that ended up in the temples. A single iron knife-blade was treasure, such as kings badgered one another for.

Iron was never sold in the market-place. Before they went down into the city, Kronos and Methos hid their armor of iron tabs and plates, which would have made them a spectacle for the whole city to marvel over. They rode down together on the one horse, and were passed through the city gates without incident, foreign though they obviously were. Certainly there were many other foreigners set up in the markets, selling everything from tin to carpets. Good woven garments from Mesopotamia were much offered, and there was cloth from as far away as Babylonia. There were slave girls: the current value of them was twenty shekels each. There were male slaves, for thirty shekels, more valuable than women. A cow or a donkey sold for the price of a woman, and a horse for the worth of a man. There were a few good horses.

Of course one didn't look for well-trained horses - or riders! - anywhere south of the Black Sea. Kronos kept a straight face at the thought of paying money for a mount. He purchased a live lamb, with dinner in mind; carrying it cradled in his arms, he trailed behind. Methos walked to and fro, leading their horse, searching.

Here and there could be found the lively brown horses Silas favored: chestnuts, browns and bays, solidly colored, with never a white spot upon them. These were the horses of the northern steppes. They were powerful, cat-like, often higher at the haunch than the shoulder. A very few might be black, with a bay gleam upon them like the play of color across gold-sheen obsidian - but those were never traded south. They were not dappled or mottled, for those were traits prized of the desert, not the plains. Silas thought them cannier than any other breed, easier to train, and hardier.

Southerners rode mares, disdaining the northern practice of saddling only geldings. Accordingly, most of the brown horses shown were mares . . . but the geldings (and there were a few) could be got for better prices. Methos went from horse to horse, finally settling on one he liked. A boy had it on a lead-rope, showing its paces; it was decked out in a saddle with Scythian cut-leather appliques, and the cheek-guards of its bridle were wooden reindeer doubling back upon their ornate horns. There was no leather cover, such as Assyrian horses wore, over its clipped mane. A dun gelding with no saddle-galls, six years old. Methos spoke with the dealer, had the animal brought over. He lifted its hooves, ran his hands along its sturdy legs, examined its teeth; he found fault with all these things, and they haggled.

While Kronos watched, remembering . . . how first he had set eyes on his brother, hundreds of years ago. And he had seen in a moment the fulfillment of his dreams. Like the horse one yearns for, which no other man can conquer; like a sword out of legends, which will make a man invincible. There would never be another immortal who matched him so perfectly. No other, to be the reversed mirror image which contained lacks for every virtue Kronos had, virtues for every lack Kronos possessed.

He looked like an innocent youth, his long hair tossed down his back. If provoked in battle, he could kill like an enraged stoat. He could think and plan like no other man Kronos had ever known. And yet he was as elusive as water, which stays only in the palm of an open hand, and when the fist closes the water escapes. The bonds which bound them together were like cobwebs and dreams. In an instant, they might turn out to be illusions.

"Give it some hay," Methos was commanding the horse-dealer, imperiously, "I want to see how it takes the fodder!" and Kronos tightened his hold possessively on the lamb in his arms, staring at his brother. The lamb bleated and wriggled. "We'll take it, if you throw the harness in." Take him away, and you might as well strike off Kronos' right arm then and there. Either loss would cripple. "All right, here's your money." Methos spat on the merchant's hand, and they shook on the deal. And behind them, Kronos looked down in surprise, to find that the lamb was dead: he had strangled it.

And there were other immortals all around them.

The warnings struck Kronos all at once, from many directions. An instant later, the carcass of the lamb flung underfoot, he was back to back with Methos - both of them with drawn swords, wheeling as they searched the crowd. Their horse had snorted and cantered a short distance off, and the dealer was pulling the dun gelding away, frightened. "Five?" Kronos said from the corner of his mouth; Methos turned his head slightly, saying, "One old, four young." And Kronos felt a fierce greedy glee, because Silas and Caspian were not there, to share this bounty of quickenings.

There. There they were. Immortal men in leopardskin kilts, armed each with sword and axe. Their plumed helmets sported pig-tails of dyed horsehair, trailing down their bare backs. Kronos studied them eagerly. At once he picked out the old one.

Here was his opponent!

He squared off against the old one, feasting upon every detail of his face: wide-browed, wide-cheeked, with staring brown eyes. Rank curling hair showed around the rim of the helmet, in a forelock over the man's heavy brows. He carried a strange scythe set with tiny flint teeth. A thick gold ring pierced his nose. The body of a man in his prime, powerful as a bull . . . and behind the liquid eyes, thousands of years of experience. Hundreds of challenges surmounted. The harvests of uncounted souls. To another immortal, an irresistible temptation.

As Kronos sized him up, so he was examining Kronos. His face was grim. He held up one hand, saying, "Peace, peace. Stranger . . . give me your name."

"Koren," said Kronos, never lowering his sword. This was a name which had been given to him by the Arab peoples of the south, when for a time he and Methos had lived on the shores of the Dead Sea; it meant the horned one - the devil himself! - and he was fond of it. Off and on, he used it still. "And Methos, my brother."

"In this my city, I am the Weather-god of Heaven," said the old immortal; his voice held the calm confidence of millennia. "These are my students. I am their father, my woman Zarina is their mother. Leave now, and don't come back."

"Why?" said Kronos; he felt his upper lip draw back. "Are you afraid?"

"There are mortals watching," the man warned. "In this country, we no longer fight before witnesses."

"Newfangled manners," Kronos sneered. "Perhaps we'll cross paths later. When we do - your head is mine. Though not before I rip out the sinews in your hands and feet."

One of the students - a tall man with a beautiful Babylonian voice - cried out: "Tauros, let's kill them now!"

"Peace, Darius," said the old one. "There will be no bloodshed here."

"We have only one horse," Kronos growled, bargaining. He put a toe under the limp, trodden lamb lying dead in the dust, and kicked it toward the ancient immortal. The young ones snarled at the insult; the old one's eyelids barely flickered. Kronos thought he might actually be older than Methos - the kill of a lifetime. "Let us take the horse we have bought, and we'll go peaceably."

"Go now. Take the horse, and go." The man added, grudgingly, a very old form of farewell. "And may the Gathering be millennia delayed!"

And may our reunion, Kronos thought, come swift and soon!

The five immortals walked them to the gates, and stood there gazing after them. Long after they had quitted the city, Kronos glanced back over his shoulder and saw the five figures still guarding the gate, still as the statues of heroes of ancient times.

But Methos said, much later, ". . . I think I knew them."

It was nightfall. They had ridden a circling route, ending up near the city again. Close to owl-light when the horses grew thirsty, they had given them their heads and let them seek out a little spring of good water, a safe place to halt for the night. Kronos had walked over the land, searching for signs of ambush or danger, while Methos watered and cooled the horses and complained over the shoddy state of the dun gelding's tack. Both men had drunk their fill, and eaten a few mouthfuls of dried meat.

They let the horses sleep saddled and bridled, unknotting the right end of each horse's rein from the bit-ring and lying with these improvised tethers pinned under their shoulders: it was an old horseman's trick. In dangerous country, the Horsemen slept sometimes with the tethers of their horses in their hands. But they had seen no sign of pursuit, and the immortals of Attarimma - the more fools they! - seemed a peaceable lot. Now the horses dozed looming over them, head to tail after the companionable way of horseflesh. Having no tent or blankets, he and Methos merely rolled up in their cloaks, back to back for warmth, and talked.

Kronos lay quiet now, feeling his skin crawl. Even after so many years, any mention of Methos' past left him cold with fear . . . as if his brother, the dearest possession of his heart, might slip without warning between his fingers. He said, "Which one? Tauros?"

"No. The woman he mentioned. I knew a Zarina once. Long, long ago."

"Tell me about those times."

"The times were different. I was different . . . Kronos, the whole world was different. It was long before you were born. We lived then - we lived then in a different manner. As those immortals live now. Much as," Methos said, thinking, "we four live, Kronos."

"As a band of sworn brothers?" asked Kronos.

"No! . . . as a family. I lived in that manner," said Methos faintly, "when I was a child . . . when I was very young - these are my first memories. It was before I become immortal. It's all a blur now. It was in the northern forests, in the great forests that stretch from the Scythian plains westward even to the ocean. There were many of us, young immortals and children not yet past first death, and an old one who taught us. Our mother." The last word came out slowly, reflectively. "No mortals dared come near, those forests were the domain of the immortals."

"Go on."

"I remember our mother, and her men who were our fathers. Those were ancient, powerful immortals who came, wooing her, out of the endless forest . . . to challenge whatever man held her, upon holy ground. There was a circle of standing stones that was the holy ground, and whatever immortal could hold that ground, won the woman as his. Terrible fights, like the world ending - with flint knives, with hand-axes. Whoever lost, slunk away afterward like a defeated stag with shattered horns. I never set eyes upon a mortal or saw the face of old age until I was a grown man."

"And?"

"There was an immortal who came with mortal slaves bearing his burdens. Some were old, some twisted by disease. I thought they were monsters, Kronos." He laughed a little. "But their master was too young to fight for our mother, so our father did not drive them away. His own woman was with him, Zarina of the magical voice. To me she seemed the most beautiful of all women, and when she spoke with me, and walked alongside me in the meadow when night fell and the frogs sang . . . why then, I felt like the king of the world."

"And what happened then?" Kronos made his voice very soft, casual.

"The swords. The first swords we ever saw." Methos was silent for a long time before continuing. "They were all armed with bronze swords."




We are helpless; it is hard; but we are caught and confined

. . . All is disposed of by the gods in the way they wish.

Theognis of Megara



Cassandra sat by the camp-fire.

The stench of burning camel-dung filled her nostrils. Flies crawled in the corners of her mouth, flies walked upon her hands, and yet she was indifferent. Her dull staring eyes had fixed upon another world. Her hair hung in draggles, plastered back with sour sweat. She had lost her beauty, as an ill-broken mare will break her heart over the bridle.

Since the Horsemen had gone to scout out Attarimma, ten days had passed. During this time, she had watched Silas and Caspian kill half the women in camp, and drive the remainder onto the road, trudging doubled under heavy loads: she too had been treated this way. The four milch camels spared from the slaughter carried the camp tents and the valuable tent-poles; the slave women hauled everything else. Their men, ranging to and fro vigilantly on horseback, toted nothing. Well, almost nothing. Caspian had a whip.

Along the way, they had found a village. She had seen how they sacked it, and what they did with their victims. This was what her man did too. He was no doubt doing the same somewhere at that very time, with his horrible friend. They were monsters, all monsters.

Afterward, she had begun to refuse food and drink. The big Horseman named Silas had come and coaxed her, but she had turned her face aside; the evil-eyed one, Caspian, merely ignored her. The welfare of their horses was no doubt of more moment to them. After two days, grumbling, Silas held her down and forced water into her mouth, and Cassandra had come alive, spitting it in his face.

Two days more brought them close to Attarimma, and the men picked out a defensible place with water to pitch camp. Cassandra worked dumbly with the rest. Because of Caspian and his skill with the whip, none of the slaves slowed when the two Horsemen departed, nor did they dare to look up when four Horsemen returned. Cassandra saw her man, but was past noticing.

When the tents were set up to the satisfaction of their owners, the slave women were told to rest and eat. It made no difference to her. She helped gather dung for the fire, and hauled water to fill the cooking-skin. Then she sat huddled on the ground, after the manner of nomad women everywhere in the world, and stared toward far horizons.

Methos sat nearby, grousing over the new horse's tack. First he and Silas had gone over this new dun horse, point by point, discussing every aspect of its confirmation. Silas had brought along four pieces of green camel-hide, and they had shod the beast with these, then and there, nailing them on with bronze nails salvaged from the carcass of Silas' old horse. There were also two slim triangles of wrought iron hung on straps, which would be fastened to the new saddle: these were stirrups, and all four Horsemen seemed embroiled in a debate over their usefulness. Methos had devised them; Silas disapproved of them; Kronos approved; Caspian argued for argument's sake. Cassandra attended as if from a great distance. Such things meant nothing to her.

Now the argument was over and the other Horsemen had gone away, leaving only her man. Distantly, Cassandra heard him muttering to himself. The bridle (he complained) had been brightened up with bits of applique, chiefly leather cut-outs inlaid with tinfoil, but what was underneath was old and much-mended. The copper bit had been worn sharp-edged. There was a hole worn in the thick felt sweat-pad that tied to the underside of the saddle-cushion. The saddle-cushion itself had a hole - a gap in the stitching that joined the top piece to the bottom. Half the stuffing had come out. Methos sat cross-legged, stuffing horsehair into the gap, and then he stitched it shut and pummeled the cushion into shape with his fists.

"Cassandra," he called. "Fetch me food, bring me wine."

"I will not," Cassandra said clearly.

"Cassandra, must I kill you with my knife again?"

"You don't have your knife!" she said.

Methos gazed at her, his face tranquil. "Well. At least you're alive," he said. His fellow Horsemen, not far off, were watching like hawks. He turned and called over to them: "My brothers, go riding, and I will watch the camp. Come back after the sun sets."

She sat, gazing sullenly at her hands, while the other Horsemen rode out. "A man and a horse," Caspian called derisively as they passed. Then with a whoop: "A woman and a donkey!"

Her eyes flashed at that. She got to her feet - not quite daring to spit in Methos' direction. "O man. Master of the world! Let me crawl to the cooking-skin and serve your worthy stew."

"Do so," said Methos, in appreciation. He crossed his arms and sat watching while she served the meal. "Bring wine. Water it with good water from the spring, woman."

She muttered, "I'll water it with--"

"Cassandra, I like spirit in a woman - but take care. Silas says you have not drunk for four days?" She turned her face away, and he remarked, "My horse will last ten days without water. Perhaps you are trying to prove yourself worthier than my horse? If you die, we will only bring you back to life again."

Cassandra burst out, "You lied when you said you were a magician! I know now that you lied! You and your brothers are demons, all of you - I saw what they did on the way here - I saw their evil ways--"

"Bring the wine."

Cowed, she brought it, carefully watered four-to-one.

Methos drank. He forked up stew with his right hand, and ate; then he fished a ripe pomegranate from the bowl by the cookfire, rolled it back and forth along the ground to burst the seeds, bit through the skin and sucked. Meanwhile Cassandra sat frozen, her only motion the slide of her eyes toward his mouth as he drank. "War is appalling to women," he said. "Or did you see such acts of evil magic that you decided to die?"

"I saw your brother spitted by a farmer's billhook, laughing as his entrails spilled out," she whispered: the healer's apprentice recounting unnatural horrors. "He strangled the farmer with them. He grinned as he died, and grinned as he awoke. No mortal man is insensible to such pains. You are the dead walking. You are demons."

"Death on horseback," he said, amused rather than horrified. "Do dead men eat pomegranates? Do they lie with women? No, don't try to answer."

"I want to die, let me die!"

"And yet the sun still shines, and love is beautiful. Come help me, Cassandra. Help me catch one of the camels and stake it out for milking."

When the milch camel was securely staked, he thumped it in the belly to keep it from biting his hand off. It rolled its eyes and lifted its upper lip, but did not quite dare spit - much like Cassandra. She could see that he was much used to handling all sorts of female beasts. He knelt with a bowl, and began to milk the camel, humming to it. While his white horse, on the very end of its own tether, watched every motion he made.

"Every horse in the desert has a camel for foster-mother," he remarked conversationally as he milked. "There is no fodder for them save milk, you see. Men and horses grow slender and strong upon a diet of milk." His hands kneaded and worked and pulled. "Sit near, and I'll tell you a story, Cassandra."

When she had done what he wished, he began.

"Long ago when the world was young, we were four princes, the sons of a mighty king. Our father led an army numberless as the stars, an army of inexorable law. No greater king existed in the whole world. And these were the qualities of his four sons: Silas was the strongest, Caspian the wisest, and Kronos the kindliest, the lover of mankind. And I was the eldest son, heir to the king."

"The eldest son," Cassandra commented. There was a satirical light now in her eye.

"Just so," said Methos, unruffled. "Until one day we conceived a rash and splendiferous plan. For: O my beloved, said our brother Kronos to us that day, we are our great father's shadows, unfit to beat his carpets or lace his boots. Let us go on a quest, to prove ourselves. Sunk under the ocean is the rose of immortality, O my beloved brothers - he said - fathoms deep, rarer than murex or pearls: the golden rose that no man has seen. We will find the rose of immortality, and bring it back, thus benefitting all mankind. Do you know of the ocean, Cassandra?"

"No . . ."

"Imagine water from horizon to horizon, sparkling in the eye of the sun." His bowl being full, he sat back on his heels, spreading his arms wide. "This desert, utterly flooded. In the deeps swim fish longer than men - longer than horses - longer than houses. Such was the ocean that we would sail, searching for the golden rose."

"Water across the world." She looked up, down. "From horizon to horizon. Reflecting the sky."

"It's a true story, Cassandra. It is the sea in the south, where the fleets of Crete rule the waves. Men float on the water in ships, which are great rafts. So my brothers and I journeyed down to the sea, and set sail on our quest."

Here he paused, carrying the bowl to his horse. The horse drank noisily, smacking its lips. Methos stroked its dripping nose, and returned to his milking.

"We sailed for a month. We sailed for a year. We sailed ten years, Cassandra, until after great adventures we discovered the uttermost ocean beyond the ends of the world. Water from sky to sky, flat as a mirror, shining like the sun - barely an arm's-length deep under our keel. We looked down into the water, and saw ourselves reflected . . . four faces, and every face the face of my brother Kronos. Then the reflections rippled away, and we saw the rose."

He stopped, looking downward into the bowl, which was brimful of creamy, white, warm milk. Cassandra had edged a little closer. Methos said nothing. "And?" she asked in a tiny voice.

"It shone under the water, immaterial as a reflection. Two monsters guarded it: a whirlpool, a dragon. My wise brother Caspian quieted the whirlpool with a tale that could make water itself lie down sleeping. My strong brother Silas slew the great dragon fish."

"And . . . ?"

"And Kronos reached down and plucked the rose of immortality."

He sat gazing, as if lost in amazing memories, into the bowl - until at last she could not hold her tongue.

"And? And, and--"

"A vast voice spoke. Proud brothers! it said. We cowered, and the voice spoke, saying: Give back the rose. Men were not meant to have that rose. Return the rose of immortality!"

"And then?"

"But we were proud: Kronos clutched the rose. Then the voice spoke, saying: Take then the gift of the rose for your own, brave princes . . . but no one can carry the rose of immortality home to man. Be wise, and do not try. For death is the lot of mortal man."

"And then?"

"But then we all spoke, refusing. We will take home the rose! we said, all four. We will bring all mankind the gift of immortality! Then the voice cried: Foolish princes, take then the spectre of the rose! Take home my curse, for such is the moral of the rose!"

"And then?" Cassandra could not help but ask.

"And then the rose was gone from our hands . . . as if we had tried to pluck a reflection from a mirror. And we were sailing a coracle on a millpond, in our father's city. A hundred years had passed, our names were unknown to mortal men. But from that day forth we have roamed the earth, accursed."

She whispered, "You were immortal."

"No power could grant us death. Moreover, each one of us was cursed according to his own sin. Silas, who killed the dragon fish, was cursed with such love for all birds and beasts that the only meat his mouth can savor is the flesh of his fellow men. Caspian the wise was driven mad. And Kronos, who loved mankind, was marked with a hate of mortal men that will last beyond the end of time."

Again he broke off. This time she prompted anxiously, "And you, Methos?"

"I was the oldest brother. I should have led them - led them away from their evil ways. Because I failed, because I was content to follow Kronos, I have been sentenced to follow forever and never lead. Until the curse is broken, until the end of time."

"How can the curse be broken?"

His gaze met hers. "By the one who will love and accept me. When the one comes who can do that, then there'll be magic done."

Impulsively - but such was her nature - she caught at his hands, which lay lax on the rim of the bowl. "But when we lie together, Methos, there is magic. You know it; I know it. I am not innocent of men. But no man has ever pleased me in the manner you did."

"Yes," he agreed. For the first time, his face was troubled. "But Cassandra, what does it mean?"

She carried his hands to her breast. "It means I can break the curse. I will do it, Methos!"

They sat together: one thinking, one feeling. Presently she nestled her head upon his shoulder. Presently he held the bowl to her lips, and she drank the milk.




Where got I that truth?

Out of a medium's mouth

Out of nothing it came

Out of the forest loam

Out of dark night where lay

The crowns of Nineveh.

Yeats, Fragments



The next evening, the Horsemen rode against Attarimma.

They came in the twilight gloaming, riding out of the highlands. Cassandra rode behind Methos, astride the fleece shabrack strapped under his saddle. Her arms were wound around his waist, her cheek was pressed to his back.

At the foot of the cliff, they turned briefly away from the road, toward the grove they had noticed before. There, three of the Horsemen stood guard while Methos rode on; well within the margins of the grove, he halted while Cassandra slid down. "This is holy ground. Stay in the grove, Cassandra, no matter what. We'll come back to you."

"Come soon," she said.

He smiled one of his rare smiles. "I'll bring you a white dress," he promised, "and a gold necklace."

Outside the grove, the other three Horsemen waited. "Why protect the woman?" asked Kronos, suspiciously.

Methos only shrugged. "It's all according to my plan."

Caspian said, "I still want her head."

The Lion Gate of Attarimma was magnificent: faced to ten times the height of a man with glazed ceramic tiles, blue and green and bronze and brown, and every one of these thousand tiles depicted a rampant lion. Ornamental pillars spaced along the city wall repeated the motif, for as far as a bow could shoot. The gate was fortified with a looming tower. Its entrance was a tunnel, along whose walls paraded colorful lions, sphinxes, griffins and bulls; three heavy doors guarded its length. This passage made a dogleg turn before exiting the walls - rendering attack along its length extremely difficult - and slots in the ceiling above admitted upon a guardroom pacing the length of the tunnel. Through these slots, arrows could be shot or burning oil poured.

Such defenses made the city impregnable against armies. The Four Horsemen rode up just before the gates were shut, behaving themselves peaceably and meekly. They were admitted, the last ones in at the weary end of the day. The guard would change soon, and the gates be shut and secured. At the other gates of the city, the same thing would happen. And the people of Attarimma would be sealed within the walls.

The entrance to the guardroom lay up a stair between the first and second gates. At the changing of the guard, the door to this was briefly opened. It was then that the Four Horsemen attacked.

The soldiers coming on-duty died first. Next, the Horsemen set their steeds at the stair: charging up in the shadows, bent low over the shoulders of their horses, swords swinging. They slaughtered every guard, plunging - still mounted - along the narrow guardroom and cutting left and right, while the thunder of hooves rolled deafeningly in the tunnel below. It took mere moments. Soldiers stationed just without the gate came along the tunnel at a dead run, but by then two of the Horsemen had dismounted and were kneeling above the arrow-slots, shooting downward. Those who survived the field of fire met the remaining two Horsemen coming back down the stair.

It ended quickly. The Horsemen made a sweep of the vicinity to kill any witnesses; three of them rested, joking and laughing to one another, while Caspian arranged the corpses in interesting decorative patterns . . . all this according to Methos' plan. They left the gate itself standing open, guarded only by the dead. This too was part of the plan. They had done all this before. In many cities, many times.

They visited both of the remaining gates, repeating the carnage twice over. There was a little resistance at the last gate, easily overcome by setting fire to the floor of the guard-room. At each gate, Methos had them make sure the triple doors were securely shut.

Then they set the city on fire.

In the grove, Cassandra was exploring. She walked amidst crab-apple trees already heavy-boughed with tart fruit. Scarlet wood-lilies, summer tulips, sweet-scented single roses slept shut-petaled in the leaf-mold. Soon she found moisture squishing under her feet with every step. In the little meadows between the trees, white marsh-mallow plants crowded under the tall nodding stalks of hollyhocks, their flowers furled pink and yellow and cream. She parted them with her hands, stepping though: the hollyhocks swayed higher than her head. Beyond them was the cliff. In a hollow within sheltering walls of native stone a spring welled forth, and a pool lay deep. In the water were stars and a moon.

Enchanted, Cassandra walked through cool wet grass, and stood looking down.

She gazed into the reflection of her own face. But what her mind's eye reflected upon was a man's image. Half-blue, half-white. He had killed her, kissed her, charmed her witless with his wiles . . . and all the while his tranquil expression had scarcely changed, as if no matter what he did, no anger or malice could touch him. As if he was sunk in a well of boredom centuries deep, beyond the reach of any human voice. And she imagined herself stooping to the reflecting pool, to warm his cool mouth with her kiss. Then, she would find out how the dead could come back to life.

She ached for him.

And she thought of the myths of the gods, who visited women in strange forms - clouds and bulls, cob swans and showers of gold - to get hero-sons, begotten in the touch of fire; women knew themselves with child by the immortal gods, when lightning struck them, and they survived. So the Old Women of the desert said. For it was the fire from heaven which engendered divine children.

Her face grew dazed, her lips parted. ". . . only a solstice child can stand against the voice of evil . . ." She doubled over suddenly, arms folded across her waist. Tearing pains shot through her. Cassandra whimpered. Disorientation and dizziness washed like seashell song between her ears. Were Methos and the others coming back already?

A voice spoke. "Be calm, child." All thought fled from Cassandra's mind. Other immortals moved around her: over a dozen, men and women, youths and girls. The voice spoke again, low and powerful. "Up, girl. Ride before me . . . Good girl! Ah, there's a power in this one. Did you hear what she said?"

"No--"

"She's bait staked out, to tempt the minotaur. Leaving a woman upon holy ground - this is a message, sent by an old immortal, one who still remembers the ancient customs. Do you know that, once, we fought one another on holy ground alone?"

". . . no, that's impossible!"

"You can't imagine the way we once lived. You think the world doesn't change. But once, we outnumbered mortal men."

"No!"

"Yes! The Gathering is coming, boy! But forget that. You'll learn these things when you're grown. This girl, now - ah, girl, do you know you have the sight? My poor child. You're a lamb for the slaughter. Yours is the prophet's doom, to utter words of truth and never be believed - and you're not the first to foretell the coming of the red-eyed one."

"Wife, you speak in riddles."

"Ah, husband, you're not as old as I."

"And yet I can still give you your fill, woman!"

Cassandra rode with her head down, her dazed mind struggling: stark images, snatches of mysterious words, struck through the fog. There was no putting sense to them. They had no order. They were like shifting quicksand - memories, she would think long afterward, out of a nightmare. And over it all sang the seashell song, the thunderous chorus in her heart.

A great evil would come. A great evil would come. A great evil would come.

"This is a trap."

"Yes. Her man and his friends are in the city now, no doubt. They're headhunting, but they don't know the secret of Attarimma: that the entire citadel is holy ground."

"And they didn't dream we could track them." A deep voice, a man's voice - confident and calm. "Now, we have their woman. Even as they think to hunt us - us! - in the streets of our own city."

"And when dawn comes, the vultures will clean their skulls."

Her hands - were those her hands? She was looking at her hands. Her hands rested upon the silken mane-cover of a Hittite horse. It was plumed with horsehair dyed blue, tasseled along its length and hung with small flashing discs of tin, and embroidered with a strange mystic design: that of gigantic birds rending headless men and women.

. . . the red-eyed one!

"What's that light?"

"Great Mother, is that smoke?"

Before Cassandra rose the walls of a wonderful city, such as she had only dared dream of. The walls were of mighty stones, girdled with great towers. Behind these, the buildings were framed with adzed beams, roofed with wood and thatch, walled with whitewashed mud bricks. Dry as tinder. But Cassandra could not see these things from where she sat, nor would her mind have considered them. She only clapped her hands, to see the flickering glow above the walls.

Strong hands shook her. "Girl! Tell me, who are your masters?"

And smiling, she replied, "They are the Four Horsemen."

"Ride," said a voice. It rose, shouting. "Ride for your lives to the Lion Gate! Ride!"

. . . a dark-eyed man with long curling hair and the petulant mouth of a boy who still believes in good and evil. She stole a kiss from a twelve-year-old. But why imagine herself wearing the skin of a wolf?

It was as if the horse under her was being asked to walk upon marshy land. It shied and trembled and then, brought well into hand, walked forward shuddering in every part. Its hooves trod sickeningly soft; it tested every step. They were in - a cave? No. No cave smelled so, of smoke and blood - like a slaughterhouse, during the autumn smoking. No. No. No, this was a passage walled with griffins and sphinxes, lions and bulls. Dead men lay underfoot, and the shivering horses picked their way between them.

. . . she searched for three thousand years . . .

At the nether end of the tunnel, a great tumble of bodies all but blocked the path. Men, women and children, with their livestock dead around them, and even a wrecked wooden handcart or two. She found herself coughing and weeping, and could not stop. Beyond these was a city, all beribboned with bright fire.

. . . to find her true love. To find Methos, her man. To find Kronos alive. To find the one who had passed through darkness and light.

Every roof of every house was burning; the high buildings of the great temple quarter, glimpsed at the citadel's feet, were a glory of flames. Bodies lay in the street. Ahead, Cassandra glimpsed dim figures running pellmell. A mounted figure, monstrous, surreal, came plunging after them. Its face was a demon mask; it swung a torch in blazing circles above its head. It rode them down, cutting right and left as its horse plunged through their midst. Once past, it wheeled to cut them off - as a rogue dog kills in a sheep-pen.

"Illuyanka!" The young immortals riding with her charged forward, drumming their heels along the sides of their horses. Giving tongue in a savage chorus as they rode. "Illuyanka, dragon of the volcano! Red Set, black Typhon, running star! For Attarimma! For Attarimma! Die, Ahriman, die!"

What became of them all?

. . . a highlands child. The man and the boy . . .

"--should have stopped them, woman!"

"No one could stop them tonight."

And at the end of the burning, blackened street, four Horsemen had halted, watching.

Facing them, two ancient immortals sat on horseback. A ragged girl perched before one of them. The other dismounted, and strode forward - like a titan out of legends, a great bull of a warrior. A gigantic man. As he walked, he reached over his shoulder and swung up a great weapon - a sickle or scythe of a strange sort, utterly antique. It was made from bright soft copper. And its blade was toothed along its inner curve with dozens of glittering flints.

He shouted: "Koren, horned god! Face me now!"

The Four Horsemen did not move.

The man with the scythe voiced a great roar of mockery: "Come, Horseman! Mighty rider of the god-mask, you were not so brave afoot in the market-place!"

And one of the Horsemen held up his hand. He turned to give the torch he carried to the pale rider at his side. As he slid off his horse, he pushed back his iron mask and flung it aside, the right corner of his mouth lengthening in a grin so the long scar across his eye assumed a strange merry aspect: he was gloating over death. The bull-man Tauros jerked one fist up, making an insulting gesture old as time. Kronos laughed with one side of his face. And they came walking, walking toward one another: one with his scythe, one drawing his great sword. "God of Attarimma, your head is mine!"

And still the low, burning, steady voice blurred Cassandra's sight and mazed her mind. Reality seemed to waver against the power in that voice. That woman's voice. "It's too late. We can't interfere . . . Down from my horse, child. Down, daughter! Yes, stand on your own."

Cassandra clung to the rider's boot for a moment, disoriented. The sole of that boot was sewn all over with tiny glass beads that flashed red with reflected fire. She tilted her head far back, swiping at her eyes, and looked into the other woman's face.

An evil one will come, to vanquish all before him. Only a highland foundling, born at the winter solstice, who passes through life and death yet still survives, can challenge the face of evil.

The world swam and tilted. The woman was gone - as if she had never been. Methos shouted her name, caught at her hand. In the wild firelight he and his horse both seemed strange, all painted and streaked with clotted black. Black smears and marks came off on her ragged dress; her cheek was all wet, her hair dripping where his hand had brushed. Cassandra clung to him in fear, leaning against his boot, both her hands clapped over his. And she pressed his hand against her parted lips. Then the house nearest to them collapsed in a burst of flame.

She saw him clearly. Not black, but red.

Beyond them, the battle ended. Jerking out of her master's hold, Cassandra's gaze fell upon them: Tauros and Kronos. The flint scythe lay in the soot and filth and blood of the street. Tauros had stumbled to his knees like a foundering bull, and the Horseman stooped over him, taking a fistful of his curling hair at the brow. Kronos pulled his head back. There was a bright flash as the bronze knife in the victor's hand slashed around the victim's forehead, past his ears and back to the nape of his neck. The god of Attarimma screamed.

Kronos yanked viciously up and back on Tauros' scalp. In almost the same motion, he grasped the flint scythe, brandished it with a flourish, and swung it - not to take the head, but straight down across his foe's body. The sound which followed was like Attarimma's death-cry. It was followed by hacking coughs and a single despairing shout: "My woman will destroy you!"

Kronos was laughing, soundlessly. He pointed at what now lay bloody in the street, and flung the scalp he held across its owner's face. And beheaded him, with his own scythe.

It seemed all Attarimma exploded with fire.

It was fire from heaven.

When she could hear again, Cassandra was screaming. Methos held her, and she struck him and screamed into his face: "You are the living dead!" Then she was on her knees, clawing at her hair. She sobbed, hearing Methos shout: "Kronos, no! I want her to live!" And then: "KRONOS, I WANT HER TO LIVE!"

And darkness fell.








Part Three

A sudden blow: the great wings beating still

above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed

By the dark webs, her nape caught in the bill,

He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

How can those terrified vague fingers push

The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?

And how can body, laid in that white rush,

But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

A shudder in the loins engenders there

The broken wall, the burning roof and tower

And Agamemnon dead.

Being so caught up,

So mastered by the brute blood of the air,

Did she put on his knowledge with his power

Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

Yeats, Leda and the Swan

For fourteen days, the Horsemen had their way with Attarimma. At the end of this time, not one mortal in the lower city was left alive.

No one escaped. At the Lion Gate, the only unbarred gate left to Attarimma, one or another of the Horsemen haunted the way all through those terrible nights and days - a masked monster lying in wait, to fall upon any who tried to escape. All died. In the temple precinct, supplicants died clinging to the altars, burned alive as fires swept across the city. In the markets, men died. Smoked out of their houses and hiding places, women died. Every child who stumbled crying out into the narrow streets was doomed to die. Quarter by quarter, the Horsemen hunted through the ruins of the city.

"Our city is dead."

Parts of the citadel had been burned out during that first night of destruction. Then the immortals of Attarimma, taking with them what mortals they could gather, had withdrawn into the heights, pulling the ladders up behind them. This, the most ancient section of Attarimma, had never had the fortress walls common to younger cities; its defenses were different. It was older than writing or swords. It had been there before the Hittites and their architects, and now it was outliving them.

A town faced with lines of blank walls, rabbit-warrens of flat-topped houses all alike, and never a door or gate . . . where the only entrance was through ladders let down from the roofs, and those ladders had been withdrawn. There were wells hidden in the labyrinth of high-walled houses, and rubbish courtyards stinking of sewage, where now pigs rooted and chickens scratched. There were storehouses and granaries: enough food for a siege of months. The houses were set wall against wall, but without connecting doors: were the Horsemen to break through any wall, all they would find would be a dead end of further walls. And every house was like every other. Within, a single large room with its hearth, oven and cupboards. Along the east side, the woman's platform; in the north-east corner, the man's platform; elsewhere the smaller platforms where children and visitors slept.

In every house was the family's cult shrine. Every third house was a community shrine, richly decorated with religious paintings. Beneath the sleeping platforms of every house, the sacred bones of the family's ancestors slept, awaiting immortality. All of old Attarimma was holy ground.

At the very pinnacle of this maze of buildings were cult temples dedicated to the living gods, mingled with tombs of dead immortals.

"Have the lower houses been emptied and the ladders all destroyed?"

She stood on a rooftop in the citadel, far beyond arrow-reach. Around her stood her surviving sons, who called themselves students. They left a respectful distance around her - all three of them. The rest had died, their heads taken by the Horsemen on that first terrible night. Over three-quarters of her family, all her daughters among them . . . and her own husband too.

Tauros.

Ah, Tauros.

"Dead in the street, his holy bones rolled in the dust," she whispered. "Where is the family to bring home his body, lay it in the mortuary for the sacred vultures to cleanse? Who will paint his skull with red, inlay the bone with precious metals? His bones are all that survives a man - even an immortal. Who will lay his bones beneath the sleeping-platform that was his in life?"

"His scalp hangs on that Horseman's saddle." This was Darius, her favorite. "His skull's in the dung. His scythe, the Weather-god's weapon, has been profaned. Mother, what will we do?"

Another of her sons said urgently, "Mother, he's dead. Who will be your husband now? You will have to choose among us--"

"You are children." She made a dismissive gesture, and they fell silent. Then her eyes narrowed. "Do you all want to marry me now?"

They did. She saw it in their faces.

"Children." She shrugged. "If you want to play house, you'll have to find your own girls. Who am I?"

"Mother," they answered respectfully. "You are the Queen of the land of Hatti, Queen of Heaven and Earth, mistress of kings and queens in Hatti, guiding the royal rule of the mortal kings and queens of Hatti. You are the Sun-goddess of Arinna."

"Call for the ladders to be let down. I will bring my husband home."










By spear is kneaded the bread I eat

By spear my wine is won

Which I drink, leaning upon my spear.

Archilochus of Paros

Kronos sat on a mounting block, using Methos' dagger to scrape a scalp clean of flesh and fat. "That witch has charmed him," he said.

Caspian was gnawing on a bone. He stopped long enough to spit on the ground. "She's a powerless girl. Let me at her, and we'll have no more of this nonsense."

"You won't touch her, d'you hear? She has some power. I've seen others like her, with the sight and the voice. Mortals with the gift never live long enough to learn its true use, but some immortals make it their sword. Call themselves watchers, or some nonsense like that. They were the ones who started spreading those tall tales about the Gathering - the end of the world."

"Those are old wives' tales."

"Prophecies. Leave her alone. I'll deal with her by and by."

"Those old women know things we don't." Silas was brushing dried blood and filth from his horse's coat. The beast lipped affectionately at his hands, rested its chin upon his shoulder and slobbered with love. He puffed a breath into its nostrils, rubbed it around the ears. "Listen to them, I always say."

The scalp, which had belonged to one of Attarimma's young immortals, was clean enough now. Kronos put a hole through one edge with the point of the knife, and knotted a new-made rawhide cord through the hole. He would hang it with the rest, as a duster on the fringe of his horse's saddle. Tauros' scalp was there; he thought briefly of one custom the Scythes practiced, and grinned. After killing their enemies, they skinned them, stuffed them with straw, and led them around enthroned on horseback. Too bad he hadn't thought of that at the time. And (his grin widened with the memory) he had left his dead foe in no shape to be stuffed. But the skull, now . . . if he could find it again, it would make a sweet bowl. A better memento even than Caspian's new saddle-shabrack, all soft with long flowing hair.

Methos was at the far end of the street, his back to his brothers. He stood with his weight back on one heel, sword over his shoulder like a farmer's rake. Kronos got up abruptly, his skin prickling all over with foreboding. He tucked the scalp in his belt, gave Silas a clap on the back, and walked across. "Methos. What are you looking at?"

"The citadel."

"They're not coming down. Or is it more memories?"

Methos shrugged. Suddenly he twitched out from under Kronos' hand, like a horse shivering off a crawling fly; he looked around with slitted eyes and teeth all bared. "It doesn't matter."

"You've been off your feed for days now. Come walk with me."

They walked without speaking for a while. Methos said presently, "If this woman - Zarina - is the one I remember, she's old, very old. She was more than a thousand years old when I was a . . . when I was a student. She would be older than Tauros, and more powerful."

"Ha! There's a good thought, brother! And it's your turn, too."

"Caspian is sniffing after my woman again - did you see him looking at her this morning? Next time I catch him leering, I'm going to knock his front teeth down his throat."

"What is it between the two of you anyway?" Kronos watched his brother closely as he asked this. He moved a little nearer, so that their shoulders touched. "Just take her head and be done with her. Why not?"

Again, Methos shivered all over. "I don't want to. I like what she can do." He was silent for half a street's length, and then said as if compelled, "It's as good as quickening, what goes between us."

Kronos shoved him. "You've got it bad for her. Is she so good on her back?"

"Like a man's dream." It seemed to Kronos that his brother started to say more, but changed his mind. It was at times like these that Kronos remembered Methos was centuries his elder - quicker-witted, wilier, not to be fooled into letting any secret out. Then Methos said, "Wait, what's that?" and pointed. "There. On the heights."

Kronos shaded his eyes with his hand. "Well, well, well," he said. "It's breakfast time."

There was no need to call Silas and Caspian. They had done this a thousand times before - hunted as a pair, chasing down immortal prey - until they could work as one without a word, right to the moment their quarry was cornered and challenge could be made. Kronos said now merely, "You were right, they're coming for Tauros' bones," and the two of them crossed the street, angling toward the Lion Gate.

They fell into a loping run, communicating with exchanged glances. Methos meant to stage an ambush halfway to the gate. The horse-market where they had met Tauros was a likely place. They had walked through it and knew the surroundings. And it was good, open, well-trodden ground, with fine footing and elbow-room: just right for a fight. If they hurried, they would reach it just in time.

Very little of the market had been destroyed by fire. Just within, Kronos and Methos halted, looking right and left. Kronos pointed and raised an eyebrow. Methos nodded. They swung left, moving into concealment. At a corral with attached horse-sheds, Kronos caught his brother's hand and gave him a boost, and Methos leaped straight up the head-high fence of posts and slats, and ran along its top as if down a broad footpath. He went onto a shed roof, glanced around, and nodded. Kronos flexed his knees and sprang. At the apex of his leap, Methos caught his hands and helped him scramble, armor and all, onto the roof. Then they crouched down and waited.

The warning came.

Their quarry would know they were there. But they would not know where, or how many. Kronos loosened the sword in his scabbard, checked his knife. This was the knife he had taken from Methos, the knife that had scalped Tauros. And he felt the surge of the tide in his bones, ringing in his skull and mounting to a chorus of chanting. It came from the left - no, the right. Was it ebbing away? Was it moving from side to side--?

A voice spoke.

His head jerked up, his eyes jerked open; the startlement was like that of deep drowsiness battling off sleep. He had almost rolled off the roof.

The woman stood under the edge of the rude horse-shed, gazing upward. Her hair in crimped curls flowed waist-long like a plume, and she was an Amazon: garbed and weaponed like a man. All alone. And yet she had not bothered to draw her sword. Gold and polished blue iron were bright upon her, in many necklaces of metal moons and blue glass beads. Her face was powdered with white lead, made into a mask like that of a city's cult-statue: rouged with red ruddle and purple-snail, painted with bold black stibnite around the eyes. Her eyes in the mask were wide and glittering and hypnotically alive.

She spoke.

Kronos' head nodded. When he met her gaze, the pulse beat in his body like a drum like a cave. Her voice was a wind, with flying echoes.

She spoke.

He fell asleep open-eyed, while his heart hammered in panic. Then he rolled off the edge of the shed and fell to the ground at her feet.

She said, "You're the one who killed my man. Stranger, fool, boy - do you even know what you've done? He had taken ten thousand heads in his time, my husband. It took us three generations of searching merely to find one another, woman and man; we were together one hundred and eleven years; Horseman, you killed him like a dog. For profaning the Weather-god's holy scythe, the punishment is to be made to swallow seven stones, and every stone as round and large as a newborn baby. If there were any stones at hand, I'd make you start eating now."

He could not fight her - no more than the dog resists the bitch in her season. His head pounded and his body ached; he desired her so urgently that if he had drawn his sword, it would have fallen from his hand. Kronos wallowed in the dirt, screaming behind his locked teeth. And she toed his chin up with one little booted foot - the soft hide boot sewn all over with pretty beads and applique - and stood looking down, amused at him.

"Leave him alone," said Methos, from the shed-roof.

She spoke.

"Zarina, your tricks won't work on me. Don't bother." There was a thud as he leaped off the shed, landing with sword in hand; he stepped forward, and she stepped back. Her eyes narrowed.

She said, "Methos?"

"Go away, woman. I don't want to kill you and you know why--"

"Let me kill him."

"Go away!"

"What is he to you? He killed my man, Methos. I want his head!"

"I don't want to kill you," Methos repeated, his voice calm. "But he's my brother and you won't kill him."

"He's nothing to you." Again, her voice was a wind, blowing loud through empty wastelands; Kronos shook his head hard, hearing words without meaning. "Forget him, Methos. He is forgotten. He is forgotten. He is forgotten, Methos!"

"No." Methos had not even blinked. "Zarina, it won't work."

She stood gazing at him. She said, "Why, you've grown up."

"Have I?"

"You have. Do you know what I mean by that, Methos? I don't think that you do."

"I do know, Zarina. But it doesn't matter."

Then she said, "Tauros is dead, and I am without a man. You know the old laws, Methos. You must be my man now."

These were the words that broke the spell.

Kronos woke. He could think and move: he sprang to his feet, his hand flying to his sword. "I'll kill you, witch!" Then Methos was wrestling down his arm, and the woman Zarina - no fool! - had turned and fled. "Let go! Why are you stopping me?"

"She's already gone," said Methos.

"Damn, she bewitched me! I need a woman," said Kronos between his teeth. He sat down heavily on the edge of a water-trough, holding his head. "Any woman but her - gods above, I ache. What did she do to me?"

Methos shrugged. "Witch women, old immortals. They have that effect on you young ones."

"'You young ones' indeed." Remembering her words, Kronos grasped his brother's wrist, digging his fingers in. "What she said. What did she want of you, brother?"

"What does any woman want from a man?" Methos crouched beside him, tilting his face up to meet Kronos' gaze; his long hair blew across his face, obscuring the blue paint. "Kronos, about Cassandra--"

Kronos twisted slightly on the wrist he held. "What about her? Tell me, brother."

"What Zadira made you feel," said Methos, "that's what I feel with her." He gripped Kronos' hand so hard that his fingers whitened. "I can't think of anything else. Brother, what's happening to me?"

And Kronos thought (never voicing the words): "That woman has to die."










May wide and towering heaven collapse upon me in all its bronze and terror,

catastrophe to the peoples of the earth,

on that day when I no longer stand by my companions,

on that day when I cease to harry my enemies!

Theognis of Megara



Close by the Lion Gate stood the house in which the Horsemen had made their camp. It was made in the megaron style: a long hall with a hearth down the center, with on three sides a wooden gallery supported by double rows of posts. Great wine-kraters stood at either end of the hearth, surrounded by carved wooden furniture inlaid with ivory, and painted lion-heads snarled down off the walls. The floor was decorated with a pattern of mosaic pebbles, in red and black and shining white.

Now there were horses stabled on the mosaic floor, and their masters watered them from the wine-kraters. The tall elegant doors at the entrance of the hall had been kicked in, splintered into pieces. Caspian had pulled down the wall hangings, for Silas to rub his horse with; they were both in a fine good humor, and sat together before the hearth, drinking unwatered wine.

When Kronos came in, he was pulling a woman behind him.

His brothers took one look and then came closer. The woman was young, with long shining hair and a bold-nosed Hittite face; she had the broad bare feet and the garb of a peasant from without the walls. She stumbled along behind Kronos, blank-faced. "Brother! You've been playing without us," Caspian joked, fingering her hair. "When the barn's empty, you have to go to market for new cows. Is country milk to your taste now?"

"She's a gift for Methos. Time for him to stop mooning over the witch-girl. Methos!" Louder: "Methos! Get in here!"

Methos looked in from the door of the store-room he had taken for his own. He said, "Yes? What is it?"

"Come join us." Kronos left the woman, and went to drag Methos across to the hearth, towing him by the wrist. Methos walked sleepily after his brother, knuckling his eyes and yawning a bit. He blinked at the woman.

"Where's Cassandra?" he asked.

"Forget Cassandra. This one is for you. I had a good look at her husband, and you never saw a sleeker, fatter, more contented-looking man - look, there's not a line of ill-humor anywhere on her face. The supper cooking on her hearth was a wonder. And she's as gentle as a ewe on a tether. Take her, and remember this: there's more than one woman in the world."

Methos touched the woman's cheek. She stood gazing at the floor, too cowed to fight. "Lovely woman," he purred, and suddenly she looked up and her eyes went dark and wide. "Ah. Girl of the lovely glance, looking out through the window, your face is virgin; lower down you are a married woman. She's beautiful, brother. But one woman is much like another."

"Then we'll give her to someone who wants her." Roughly, Kronos shoved the woman aside. "Caspian. There. But drink with us tonight, Methos. Stay with your brothers."

They sat together, drinking, late into the night. Cassandra carried the wine-jar around, fixing her gaze upon the floor . . . while Caspian entertained himself (and Kronos, and Silas) not finishing before the woman was dead; Cassandra listened to all this, hating them for the fiends they were. Her man merely looked bored. When she judged them beyond noticing or caring, she hid herself in the inner room. Presently Methos would come to her; she waited patiently, listening to the men quarrel.

"Where's that woman?" That was Kronos; she smiled to herself, huddling deeper in the shadows behind the door. "Brother, your woman irks me. I'm going to kill her."

Caspian bellowed, "She won't be far away! He told her that if she didn't serve him well, he'd curse her with barrenness!"

"Hah." Kronos' voice was slurred with drunkenness. "We're all cursed with that curse . . . wish we could have children, don't we all . . . ? It's the one thing mortals can do and we can't--"

"Kronos, if you had children, you'd eat them."

"Methos, wait. Listen to me. I have to talk to you about that woman."

Cassandra perked up her ears.

"Which woman?"

"You know which one."

"Ah," said Methos. "My witch-woman." His own voice was only a little blurred. She peeked round the edge of the door, looking proudly upon her man. He sat straight where the others slumped, and his gaze was clear and alert. He had given her a necklace, a dress, a new pair of soft goatskin boots. He knew how she had magic hidden in her, and could sometimes even tell the future. She had told him all about the prophecy.

They leaned their heads together: Kronos and Methos. Silas was asleep, snoring. Caspian had gone outside to relieve himself. She eavesdropped without shame, picking out the fragments of sentences spoke low. Some ancient fairy-tale . . . forests and standing stones and a slaughter of innocent children, and a girl with a magical voice. ". . . hid in the cave." That was Methos' voice. "They all died. She spared my life."

"You've always told me that you didn't remember those times."

Cassandra peeked out again, made curious by the change of tone in Kronos' voice. By chance, Kronos saw the motion. But by then, he was too drunk to care.

"When you asked before," Methos was saying, " you weren't . . ."

"You won't go off with her as she asked," said Kronos, making it a question. He was gripping Methos by the shoulders, shaking him. "Brother, answer me!"

Methos turned his face aside.

Angry and defeated, Kronos released him. He caught another glimpse of Cassandra's face, looking around the door. The look of shining pride upon it baffled him, but he was too befuddled to think about what it meant . . . until later.

By then, what cocks yet lived in Attarimma were crowing from what rooftops yet remained. Day had dawned. A little light fell through the door, into the tiny room where Methos and Cassandra had laid their bedding. He slept beside her, soundlessly and deeply, while she (not having sat drinking all night) was wide awake. She leaned over him, gazing down - searching his face, for some signs of his age.

Not a thread of white in his hair. Behind that youthful, lying face slept a spirit older than the oldest of old men. Beneath the skull-mask he wore to war, she thought, was another mask of blue paint; beneath the blue paint lay yet another mask. If she touched him now, he would start up groping for a weapon - and for an instant his features would be drawn like a starved child's.

She knew that he had saved her from death at Kronos' hands; she thought that he had chosen her above all other women; she was not to understand, until hundreds of years later, how wrong she had been.

So she touched him. He jerked all over, grabbing at her. Cassandra bent and smoothed his hair, kissing the tail of his eye. "Hush, my man," she whispered. "Lie drowsing, and I shall fetch water to wash your mask away."

While outside, Kronos' voice rose shouting. "Methos, Silas, Caspian! Wake, saddle the horses, make ready to ride! It's time for us to forget this sorry excuse of a city! We ride, brothers - we ride!"








Across the pale stillness

Of water keel-carven, these lovely eyes of desire

Drag the ship to her doom.

Simonides of Keos



Vultures wheeled and dipped above the rooftops of the citadel. The sacred mortuary ground lay upon the peak, and here they landed, feasted, flopped away squabbling and bloated - the black vultures of Anatolia, monsters whose wings spanned five feet across. It was the most ancient of customs. When the bones of the dead were picked clean, they would be gathered and laid to rest.

She, Zarina, had gathered a meager basketful to expose to the sacred vultures . . . hunting for the strewn pieces of her man, as though she could sew them together bit by bit and with the magic vitality of the immortal race, the severed limbs of the god would return to life. With her own hands she had fed the birds of the air. For seven days, she had knelt at the edge of the mortuary ground, fasting and praying. With unbound hair, blowing like smoke in the wind.

She had been born in a city such as this, in this very land - eons before the coming of these upstart Hatti lords. Then, the Mother Goddess and the mighty Bull-God had been worshiped in every house. The old ways faded. The old immortals died. The children around her were so ignorant that they scarcely knew why they slew one another, what the quickening was for. The world turned: the endless hour of the immortals had ended, the brief moment of mortal man had begun. And the Gathering approached.

Darius and the others came to her while she was gathering Tauros' cleaned bones. The vultures, still hungry, circled low. The whole city was a feast for the vultures now; hundreds of the huge birds had gathered to feed. Attarimma was dead.

"Mother, they've gone. Taken their horses and vanished. We can still track them. When will we hunt them? When will we leave?"

"Wait." Last of all, she picked up and held the white skull with its jagged holes and fractures. "I should paint you in the old way," she told the skull, "lovingly, with many colors. But you were younger than these ancient customs. Tauros, you were born in Sumer in the dawn of the age of swords; I will give you the burial of a Sumerian king. And then it really will be goodbye."

"Zarina," said Darius patiently. "Time to end it."

"Impatient children." She folded the cloth she had brought around its light burden of bones. "Has the shaft been sunk? Are the furnishings gathered, and the silver, the gold? And the mortals, too. All my waiting-women and his servants, the flutists and harp-girls. And his chariot with its colored ribbons. He loved that chariot." Zarina lifted the bundle of linen, and kissed it. "Men!" she said indulgently.

"Zarina? Are you coming?"

They were fretting, hands twitching toward their swords. She drew a deep breath. "Well. You two, look me in the eye." They did. Then with all the force of her mind, she said: "Now. Go. Go, my children. You, ride east; you, ride west. Never come back. Never look back. Never come back!"

They did.

She turned upon Darius, who was frightened - poor small boy! "You, Darius. Don't fear. I won't lay the power of my voice on you: I love you too well. Were you not centuries too young, I'd take you for my new man." She laid a hand upon his arm. "Just do these things for me. Gather the mortals, and then get yourself a horse, and ride out. And forget Attarimma."

"I could never forget you, Zarina!"

Zarina kissed him. "Now go," she whispered. "And may the Gathering be millennia delayed."

When he had gone, she turned her attention back to the vultures. They still circled overhead, feeling cheated no doubt; a few had flapped down to strut along the edge of the mortuary ground. They were bold creatures. They, who had eaten Tauros. And here was one hurrying up behind her, bald neck outstretched, wings spread as it jabbed with its hooked beak!

She said: "Now. Die."

A sudden blow. The great wings beating still, above the silent woman; her hair caressed the dark webs of its feathers, the cruel bill; she held its helpless mind within her grasp. How could those terrified vague wings escape, when the force of her voice was brought to bear? And how could the bird, laid in that white rush, but feel its own heart beat - and beat no more?

A shudder in her mind engendered there . . . the broken walls, the burning roofs and towers; and her dear Tauros dead.

And vultures falling, dying, from the air.

Being so caught up, so mastered by the power of her voice - did the black vultures, as they dropped dead, care that their sad fate was her indifferent choice?










" Be careful to avoid the anger of the deathless gods."

Hesiod, Works and Days.



The Horsemen rode into camp upon an evening like any other, herding women before them.

The black woman from Aethopia, not yet dead, turned a blank face upon them; she had spent her life in slavery, and what was the difference - to her - between one set of masters and another? Cassandra was walking among the other slaves like a queen. And Silas, cheerful as always, swung off his horse and hustled the captive women onward; they flocked between the tents, as flustered as a covy of partridges. Caspian growled at Silas, running after the women like a dog. Methos' horse ambled behind the rest. Its rider sat relaxed in the saddle, his face utterly bored. And flutes like bird-calls, drum-beats like heartbeats seemed to echo in the quiet air.

It had been a good day, hunting women and immortals. They had caught one of the Attarimma immortals riding (for some reason) west like a madman, and Silas had taken the head. That made it Kronos' turn. And after him, Caspian.

"Come," said Kronos, "let's celebrate. Divide our bounty."

"You can have my share," said Methos. "I'm tired."

He dismounted and went into his tent, where Cassandra waited.

Kronos sat on his horse, biting his lip. (It was his turn. And after him - tomorrow morning perhaps, he thought suddenly - came Caspian. Yes, Caspian would be ready and waiting.) He fondled the dagger thrust through his belt. Yes, he thought. Yes, it was time. Without considering further, he swung off the horse, letting it wander free. He strode into Methos' tent; moments later he was out again, hauling the woman by the wrist as she dug in her heels and struggled and tried to twist free, calling over and over: "Methos!" But no answer came to her cries. Silas called out, "Ho, Kronos!" as they passed. Caspian had roped two of the women by the wrists to his tent-poles, and stood against one, nuzzling her neck; he did not even look up. From Methos' tent, there was no sound or movement.

And night fell.

Methos walked out of his tent, still trembling with anguish and fear. Above him, the full moon rose over the wastelands of Anatolia. It was the third night of the full moon.

Methos stood gazing into the pool of the moon. He remembered first meeting Kronos, hundreds of years ago. Then, he had found the younger immortal fascinating - like a child who grabs at life so greedily that he breaks whatever he handles. By the time he realized his mistake, it had been too late. And now for centuries he had been the willing tool of evil. The reflecting pool, in which Kronos could see himself enlarged.

A shriek ripped through the night. Methos turned his head and saw his woman run from Kronos' tent. He could have stopped her . . . but he did nothing. He could have followed her . . . but he did not. After several moments had passed, he shook himself, and took a step. Then he halted.

He saw Zarina standing at the edge of the squalid little camp. Her armor burned white with moonlight, there was a naked blade in her fist. Behind her moved a shifting darkness, which was a mass of mortal men armed with swords and axes. Zarina lifted one hand, and spoke.

Throughout the camp, the slave women dropped sleeping to the sand, defeated by the power in her voice.

Two of the Horsemen came running, raising their weapons and bellowing with rage. Zarina spoke. Caspian and Silas staggered in their tracks, faltering and falling upon their faces, and then like sacrificial animals they lay at her feet. She spoke, saying, "Sleep until death. Then leave this land, and never return." The power in her voice went into their unconscious minds like the lash of a whip. And she stepped over their bodies and walked into Kronos' tent.

All this while Methos had stood watching, frozen.

In the tent, Kronos was just waking. So he opened his eyes to see the woman standing over him. At her back, armed mortals were crowding in through the tent-flap. And he heard her voice saying to the mortals: "Take him and bring him back to Attarimma."

They killed him a dozen times on the journey back to the city; he killed over twenty of them, fighting every mile of the way. At last Zarina, tired of the game, told him to sleep and had her mortals lash him across the back of a horse. When he woke again, it was day. He lay upon his back, bound with iron chains. Above him were mortals, a great throng of them all dressed in jewels and finery as if for a wedding . . . and beyond them, vultures circling infinitely high in the air.

Tauros' woman was there. She came and crouched over him, beautiful and desirable and deadly. She touched his face, and she smiled. Kronos managed to croak out a demand. "Methos!"

"He's no longer yours, boy," she said. "Your time together is over. His youth is over. He has grown up, and is a man."

She stood up. The mortals crowded closer. Their faces were blank as those of dolls.

"Let it be done!"

And Kronos felt himself being lifted and carried away. He was tied to some sort of litter or rack of poles, and now he was being taken down a slope, past piles of rubble and freshly excavated earth - what was this? The men who carried him began softly to chant, crowding together, shoulder to shoulder in the close quarters. Earthen walls rose around them. There was the smell of the diggings.

The walls opened out. Above them, now, the light of the sun was distant beyond high ramparts of virgin soil. Objects surrounded them. Turning his head from side to side, Kronos saw a vast jumble of treasure, furniture of ivory and solid gold, bronze weapons, sealed wine-jars of marble and agate. There was a chariot leafed with gold, ribbons of red and white and blue trailing in limp bundles from its railings. Lying there, still in the traces, were the slumped, dead forms of the chariot-horses. Women walked past shining with silver and lapis lazuli. They sang as they went, they carried harps and flutes. Men came, carrying chests and boxes and bundles. There was a dais, upon which lay a pitiful little heap of bones surrounded by swords and necklaces and armor.

His litter was set down. Around him the singing girls were folding meekly to their knees, and one was fishing a silver filet out of some fold in her gown, smoothing it between her fingers and putting it on. She looked at herself in a tiny tin mirror, and smiled. The men set down their burdens and began to hand around small bronze cups, which they filled with ladles from a krater so big that it took two servants to haul it.

After drinking, they settled slumped like the dead horses, here and there amidst the treasure of Tauros' household possessions. Their eyes closed, and they became still. Some of the servants went around arranging their limbs, picking up dropped musical instruments and laying them upon the breasts of their owners. A squad of soldiers filed past, one of them pausing to toss Kronos' dagger - the dagger with which Cassandra had stabbed him - contemptuously down. They gathered around the dais, passing round cups of the drugged wine. Then they laid down in formation in the dust.

And now the first shovelfuls of dirt came flying down from above.

Kronos struggled like a chained titan, screaming, heaving against the bonds which seemed, now, heavier than the weight of the whole Earth. While the tomb was filled and around him the dying ladies suffocated, turning in their drugged sleep as they were covered . . . drawing their legs up against their chests, curling into balls, clutching their fists soundlessly to their open mouths. As they were buried. As Kronos was buried, fighting with the vitality of fire far beyond the last breath - to wake and fight and die, and wake and fight and die, over and over throughout endless centuries. Into the grave, for a thousand years.








Epilogue

In their time the girls shall give birth

To a hero race, half-divine.

They shall be ageless and bear children.

So from my tripod oracular I proclaim.

Corinna of Tanagra



They rode into the endless forest.

They traveled southeast at first, crossing the Pontus Mountains at the Cilician Gates - leaving Anatolia behind them. A slow turn of the seasons saw them swinging north, north and then west . . . around the obstacle of the Black Sea, crossing steppes and mountain ranges. All Europe was one vast forest in those days, from the fertile plains of what would be Russia to the coasts of the country which would one day be France. To cross it was a journey years long. Methos took his time. He was searching for the perfect place, far away, hidden from all other immortals. The holy ground onto which he could take the woman.

What would be called Normandy was a wilderness of standing stones. These made their own forest: thousands of them, megaliths and dolmens marching in wide rings and lines across the countryside, under the shadows of ancient trees. Someday this wilderness would be settled, mortal farmers would cart the monoliths away for building stone, and their secret would be lost.

There was a holy pool in a place Methos knew, which lay ringed by stone dances: shining blue, reflecting the shining blue sky.

"This is the place," he told Zarina. His horse stood nearby, cropping the flowery grass; she sat enthroned upon her mount, hands folded upon the rein at its shoulder. "There are springs in the forest, and plenty of game. Stone to build with, grazing for the horses. No people for a week's journey in any direction."

"It's good," she said.

He gave her a hand down. "I was born near here, on the longest day of summer."

"On the coast of the World Ocean? Yes, this is a good place. If mortals come near, we can move up into the mountains; I know secret places there. Old, hidden valleys with holy ground, which must be deserted by now. Painted caves, and the like. Later I'll tell you how to find them - it's good to keep the knowledge of such things alive. And I shall teach you all the things you were too young to know."

He dipped up water from the pool, and drank.

Zarina jabbed a fist upward toward Heaven. "May the Gathering be millennia delayed!"

Their time together was two hundred and twelve years, before the Game separated them. During this span, she gave birth to ninety-seven children.

May the Gathering be millennia delayed.















Note: Because the Greek alphabet has no letter C, all names such as Kronos and Cassandra would originally be written with a K. The word "koren" in Arabic means "horned".

Jericho is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world. But archeologists in Turkey and the Near East have excavated cities dating back six and eight and even nine thousand years. Catal Huyuk, nine thousand years old, had five or six thousand inhabitants and was built house upon house, without streets and doors - only blank two-storey walls facing outward, and access to these houses through ladders let down from roof level. It had no walls, and no other defenses.

The Hittite city of Attarimma came under attack from unknown forces sometime around 1000-800 BCE. Letters (clay tablets, really) pleading for help were sent, stored away, preserved, and finally unearthed and translated in this century. No record remains of the city's fate.



Originally posted elsewhere April 24th, 1998