Well, standard disclaimers apply:  I don't own 'em, unless I do, I won't hurt 'em, unless I do, I promise to have 'em in before curfew.  On a related note, this is a Kronos/Horsemen story folks, it has some not nice moments.  Consider yourself duly warned.  But it's still PG-13, gonna have to work harder to get that coveted R.  One day, one day.


Christmas Child

Hot desert sand pattered against the sides of the tent, like rain from a cooler clime.  It settled against the skirts, then skirled madly as the wind gusted and paused in a timeless cadence.  The lone occupant of the tent scowled at the walls as if the noises were a personal affront to him.

Losing his patience, the man exploded upward, out of the bed of silks and pillows that cocooned him.  His steps across the tent were measured with controlled violence.  Throwing open the flap of the tent, he called for wine.  Assuming that his needs would be met, he let fall the flap and turned back to gaze around his tent.

All that it held had been a gift from the King who ruled this land.  The silks, rare and precious, had travelled the Silk Road from far off Chin to Damascus; the pillows boasted the finest embroidery; the brazier in the corner was finely wrought, and heated knives as well as it heated food.  None of this wealth soothed the man, however.

The flap of the tent opened cautiously, and a timid girl, not much past fifteen summers, entered with a cup of fine wine held before her like an offering to a capricious God.  Her hands were shaking, and she refused to even glance up at the man.  As he reached for the pottery cup, his other hand darted out and grabbed her by the hair.  The wine spilled to the ground from her nerveless fingers.

"Do I scare you, little girl?" he growled menacingly.

"Please … Master, I did not mean to offend."  Her voice quivered with fear.  The hour was late, and she had hoped to be spared the attentions of her new masters.

The tent flap suddenly flew open again, and two other men strode in.  One was large, larger than the girl, offspring of one of the Semitic tribes of the area, had ever seen.  He towered over the girl and the other men.  His height was matched by his girth, and she had thought him the famed Goliath upon first viewing.

The second man was smaller, but somehow more menacing.  His skull was shaven to display an ornate tattoo whose design deepened feelings of unease the longer it was stared at.  At his belt hung a string of what the girl was quite sure were human finger bones.

"Kronos!" bellowed the larger man, breaking the tense silence occasioned by their arrival, "Caspian and I wish to know why we still sit here, waiting."

"Ah.  Is that so, Silas?" questioned the tent's owner.  "Go," he motioned to the girl, "and consider yourself lucky that we were interrupted."

The girl scurried from the tent, thankful to have escaped with her life.  She knew that Kronos was a dangerous man.  Stories circulated that he had once led a band of raiders known as the Four Horsemen.  Although he only had two 'brothers' with him now, there was talk in the camp of a third, one who had left.  Then the talk would turn to how vicious and unpredictable Kronos had become since that day.  The girl thanked her God for her life.

"Do you question my leadership, Silas?"  Once again it was Kronos who broke the silence.  Not as large as Silas, he was nonetheless more menacing even than Caspian.  The scar that bisected his right eye merely added to his mystique, and his movements spoke of tight restraint over a flashing temper.

"Never, brother," returned the big man.  "It is only that the horses are restless.  They long to ride, as do I."

"And what of you, Caspian?  Do you long to ride?"  Kronos' tone emphasized the last word of his query, as if daring the tattooed man to answer in the affirmative.

"Bah!" cried Caspian.  "You know what I long for, brother.  I have needs that cannot be met by these pampered, royal slaves.  I wish to hear the cries of the dying."

"Then sit, brothers," Kronos said calmly, "and I shall tell you what you wish to hear."  All three men settled on the floor of the tent, unconsciously leaving a space empty for their missing brother.  "Herod has sent a messenger to me just this day," Kronos continued.  "We are finally given leave to enter the city."

"A city?" scoffed Silas.  "We cannot ride there."

"Patience, Silas," Kronos counselled.  "We shall ride when we are finished with this favour for Herod."

"Why do we even need this mortal pretender?  This is not a job for immortals." Caspian interrupted.

"Because he pays us well," Kronos snapped, "in goods, and slaves, and coin."  And because, he said to himself, he might know where Methos is.  Ah, brother, I miss your skill.  You would have turned this situation to our advantage long before now.  "And because this [i]job[/i] allows us to use our talents and to spread fear," he finished aloud.

Both Caspian and Silas seemed satisfied with Kronos' explanation, and he once again mourned the loss of Methos, who would have seen through his feeble excuses.  Shaking off his melancholy, Kronos returned to the discussion at hand.

"According to the message, we are to enter the city of Bethlehem and slaughter all the male children."  A small grin graced Caspian's face at Kronos' words.  "The fool believes some drivel about the [i]new[/i] King of the Jews being born there."  Motives mattered not to the Horsemen.

"And when we are done?"  The hopeful note in Silas' voice spoke of cool nights on the desert sand, and hard rides against nomad camps and trading caravans.

"When we are done, we ride.  Now, let us be done."  Speaking decisively, Kronos rose, grabbing his sword and dagger.

Eschewing the city gates, the three men slipped in under the cover of darkness.  Moving silently through the sleeping city, they entered homes at will, slicing the throats of sleeping babes with no guilt or conscience.

Once, Caspian happened upon a nursing mother, and the savage glee that lit his eyes caused even Kronos to pause.  Without Methos to plan their raids, the Horsemen had less opportunity to indulge their urges.  Thus, Caspian had been denied his playthings for too long; he left the woman's corpse only at Kronos' express command.

Their path lit by the brightest star any could remember seeing, the remaining Horsemen moved through Bethlehem, bringing death.  Splitting up to complete their task before sunrise, Caspian went to examine the inns, Silas canvassed the remaining houses, and Kronos inspected the various stables and outbuildings.

The smell of hay greeted Kronos as he entered the last stable.  As he moved farther under the roof, he heard a soft humming coming from directly ahead.  Two more steps, and he could see a woman, bent over a bundle lying in a small, hay-filled manger.

"Woman," he said, compelled somehow to keep his voice quiet, "is that a boy child?"

"Yes, this is my son," she replied.  As she looked up at him, Kronos noted that she was not that much older than the slave girl at his camp, and not dissimilar in looks.  But her demeanour was radically different from that of his slave.  This woman radiated peace and joy and contentment.  Kronos felt himself soothed, but quickly recollected the purpose of his mission.

"Move away from the boy," he ordered, drawing his already well bloodied dagger. 

"His father will protect him," the woman cautioned, as she moved back slightly.  Kronos craned his head around, but could see no one else in the stable.

Stepping up to the child, Kronos raised his dagger to deliver the killing blow.  Just then, he looked into the child's eyes.  What stared back at him caused the breath to stop in his chest.  Eyes that he had last seen glaring out of his lost brother's face gazed calmly back at him.  Eyes that were filled with wisdom and loss and great pain, both already felt and yet to come, sat unblinking in the face of a child just days old.

Kronos fell back, pulling a huge, gasping breath into his straining lungs.  The arm that he had raised to deal death to this child dropped to his side at the sight of Death already dealt.  A rush of immortal presence alerted him to the arrival of Silas and Caspian.

"Is this the last one?"  Silas was obviously anxious to be gone from the city.

"Kill him, brother," urged Caspian.  "Or may I have the honours?"

Kronos' outstretched hand stopped Caspian in his tracks.  "Leave this one," he ordered quietly.  Caspian began to protest, but the point of Kronos' dagger under his chin halted his words.

"Come brothers, it is time for us to leave."  Kronos once again spoke softly, as if to avoid disturbing the child.  "You have had your fun, now we ride."

As the Horsemen broke camp and rode away from Bethlehem, Kronos knew he would not receive the information that Herod had promised him.  "But I will find you, Methos," he promised aloud.  "If it takes me another two thousand years, I will find you."