Two Roads Diverged

On the shores of the Black Sea, ca. 95 C.E.

His people were all long dead… many by his own hand. When the being, who simply called himself The Kurgan… as if it were all the designation he needed, hunkered down by the fire at the campsite of his mortal allies… those he used to create chaos in the world… he accepted the horn of strong drink as his right. Although thirsty, the Kurgan dutifully spilled the first sip into the dirt as required by the mewling faith of his allies. He needed them for the present… and as long as he did so… he'd give lip service to their gods.

Thirstily he drank the fermented mare's milk mixed with blood and belched loudly to show his appreciation. The drink was both a treat and an honor. By drinking it… the Kurgan cemented their alliance.

"Tell me of the metalworker," he finally asked.

"It is said he has great skill," Abul Khan replied. "Even among my people… there are few who have his gift to bend and fold the metal for greater strength."

The Kurgan nodded. Metalworking had come far in the past few thousand years… or so the teacher whose head he'd taken for his first quickening had said. There were metals older and stronger than those now known by men… but the secret of them remained hidden. If the Kurgan's dreams had been correct… then the metalworker might possess the knowledge he sought.

"Is he a warrior?"

Khan spat! "As with all this vermin who infest our lands… the metal-worker is skilled with the sword as well as the forge."

The Kurgan nodded. Secretly to himself he smiled. His dreams… the strange ones sent to him as his right by whatever power that had made immortals… had told him to find and take the head of this metalworker. Not yet one of us, he thought. But I will send my allies to attack. And when he rises… I will claim him. "His knowledge is nothing. Kill him along with the others. Kill them all."

The Kurgan lounged back on the furs and stared pointedly at the veiled women on the edge of the firelight.

Noticing his guest's stares at the women, Khan motioned for them to approach. "As required by the custom of my people… I offer you this night… my wives and concubines."

The Kurgan laughed deeply. "And I will take them."

"Which ones do you wish?"

"All of them. I have a powerful appetite."

Abul Khan blanched; his eyes flickered back and forth between his women, his warriors, and his guest and new ally. To refuse the request of his guest was to be diminished before his gods. But to allow it was to be seen as weak before his warriors and invite challenge. He had many women. Custom demanded he offer them all… but never before had a guest accepted all. He motioned to the women to settle outside the tent he'd reserved for his guest. Surely he would still have a few to warm his own bed this night.

The Kurgan smiled. Already he was hard and ready for this night. He'd need no sleep… and he would service all the women. Service… and likely ruin for all the time to come… but then that was the way of it with mortal women. He'd yet to find an immortal woman who could re-heal over and over so that he could exhaust himself. If he ever did… he'd keep her alive… against the day when the final Gathering came… and then he could dispense with her… as he would with all immortals.

One by one, if he found immortal women… he'd chain and bend them to his will. Men would lose their heads… but until the gathering… he'd keep one or two women for his pleasure. Satisfied at the thought… the Kurgan rose to enter the tent. As he did so… he motioned for the first women to attend him.

Throughout the night… Abul Khan watched as one by one his wives and concubines were called for. He heard their cries as the guest used them. He saw their terrified faces as some few crept from the tent to make room for more. They held torn and bloodied clothes about them… and flinched from his touch. Abul Khan feared he had one of the ancient demons as his guest and ally. That meant there was even a greater reason for him to katow to whatever the demon wished. If he failed in his duty… the demon would slay them all.

Just before dawn, the warriors of Abul Khan rose, climbed aboard their shaggy ponies, and rode off to attack the village. Behind them… the Kurgan grinned and chose another woman to pleasure. He would join the battle soon enough… but first… he was determined to rape and destroy every female in this village.

The horde arrived at the outskirts of the village and rode down upon it out of the rising sun. Few of the barbarians were up, as yet. One of the few who was up, was the metal worker… already stoking the fires that fed his forge. He'd found a new vein of metal recently… and his mind was filled with new things to make. Already he made swords for the men, cooking pots for the women. For the children he made great rings that interlocked and that the children could spend time on figuring how to unlock them. And still his mind was filled with the visions of things not yet made. He'd had visions as long as he could recall… visions of a world that was not his world… of a time that was not his time… of a people not his people. He'd learned long ago to say nothing of the visions.

As a boy… other boys… older and bigger… had pummeled him when he spoke of his visions. Those boys were warriors now… and he was the metal worker… as his father and his father's father before him had been. He'd never put on the muscle that had defined his father… indeed… he looked nothing like him… but his more slender frame belied the strength in his arm. Those who crossed him now, learned that to their chagrin.

Hearing the war cries and seeing the horde approach, he rang the metal gong and screamed warning to his sleeping people. Still groggy they came from their beds… swords in their hands. Even the women joined them… as was their right… in the defense of the village.

The metal worker pulled his own stout blade from its sheath and with a cry that chilled many who heard it… waded into the attackers and began to slay them.

By mid-morning the carnage had ended.

Abul Khan strode amongst the burning huts and the screaming and dying women and children. His men were taking their pleasure with the barbarian females… and then killing them. Some of the children might have lived on with them as slaves… but the Kurgan had said to kill them all… and even now he was coming.

Giving the orders, Abul Khan commanded the slaughter of the children… and bowed to the Kurgan. "All die even as you watch, my lord."

The Kurgan grunted. Already he could sense the great change occurring in the metalworker. He alit from the great stallion and pushed Khan from his way as he sought the body of the one he wanted. Before them all he would take the man's head… they would witness the great lightning and know that he was indeed a god… and the knowledge in the man's head would be his. The Kurgan would know the secret of metal.

Before him, the other struggled to his feet… already his hand found a weapon… already he was prepared for the battle. He thrust the bodies of his enemies off of him as he felt the Kurgan for the first time… and knew that darkness had come.

Behind them another great cry went up as the remnants of the village was attacked by a second force… a far stronger force… and one led by the power of one of the old ones.

The Kurgan paused in his onslaught over the metalworker as he reacted to the powerful coming of the one he knew only as the Parthian. He would need to be ready for this one and could not afford the quickening of the new one at this time. Instead, he rammed his great sword into the man's slender body and withdrew it. "Another time," he sneered and turned to meet the enemy.

The battle went on most of the day. The two competing hordes of warriors, like two great armies of darkness… neither having women nor children to guard or to slow them down… fought over a spot of ground that neither had any intention of settling on.

The Kurgan had not been able to manage single combat against the Parthian. The man had directed his troops with the mastery of the great general he was, so that to reach him… the Kurgan would need to fight through the fiercest of the battle. If he died… the Kurgan had no illusions as to what the Parthian would do to him.

Reaching his stallion, the Kurgan flung himself on its back and reared the horse before galloping away. "Another time, Parthian!" he called out as he rode off.

Behind him, the Parthian directed his troops to continue the slaughter of the warriors of Abul Khan, while he fought to the side of the dead metalworker. He crouched beside him while others of his warriors fought to protect him, and waited for the man to awaken. He'd nearly arrived too late. His dreams in the night had warned him that the Kurgan was on his way here… that he desired the head and knowledge of this one. Ahasuerus had risen at once and ordered the attack. This one was to be saved. This one was to be trained… for the far-off day.

The metalworker gasped back to life once more.

"Greetings, brother," Ahasuerus said in the Goth's own tongue. "The Kurgan has gone… and my warriors slay those who attacked and killed the people of your village."

"Why do you call me brother?"

"Because my very young friend, we are indeed brothers… and I have much to teach you."

Paris, St. Julien le Pauvre, 1210

The Black Knight rode through the cobbled streets of Paris, and even the mortal populace feared him. Men, women, and children crossed themselves at his passing and hurried to nearby churches in their attempts to get to safety.

His irregular shield was studded with spikes and the bas-relief of human skulls cast in iron and buffed to a high sheen. His breastplate likewise featured the same and his helmet with its horsetail of black hair and its appearance of a monster's skull struck fear into all of them. At the Knight's side was a massive broadsword with wicked spikes. His horse seemed one of the Devil's own. Black it was with feral red eyes. It snorted occasionally… and those who were near swore later that they'd smelled fire and brimstone in its vapor.

The knight took no notice of the populace… as if they were of no importance whatsoever. Although… if one were to see his face… one would note the grim smile of amusement as the knight watched the effect he had on those he passed.

At long last he reined in his charger near the grounds of a small church. He was but one of many who stopped for the night there. The church was on the road to the Holy Land… and the crusaders stopped here for the night. They were made welcome on the grounds, fed, and offered shelter. They prayed in the chapel… and prepared themselves for the next phase of their journey.

But the knight had no interest in a crusade to free the Holy Land. His interests were a little more personal. He was interested in killing all others of his kind… and in becoming the sole survivor… the lone immortal who would then have the power to rule the world of mortal men. A postulant rushed forward to take his horses reins as he dismounted… then hesitated… fear plainly written on his face.

The knight roared with laughter and tossed the reigns to the boy. "Tell me… is there a priest named Darius in this place?"

The boy nodded. Fearing to speak as his voice quavered in fear… he pointed to the church itself. His finger trembled in the air.

The knight threw back his head and roared more loudly. "Yes! I feel him." With that he strode purposely across the grounds toward the church. He knocked several slower moving penitents out of his way and entered the church.

Mass was being said.

Men and women stood about the nave… focused prayerfully on the altar and on the priest who even now lifted the cup of Christ.

The priest's head jerked slightly as the knight entered, but then he refocused on the service and continued. Only when the service was over… and the communicants were filing out… did the priest excuse himself from his duties and approach the black knight. He spread his arms in welcome.

The knight removed his helmet to sneer at the priest. "Still here Darius? One would think you'd tire of this life."

"Still here. And as for having tired of it… even after eight hundred years… I find there is still much to learn. You should try it some time."

The Kurgan tossed his long black hair out of his sneering face and shook his head. "Me… as a monk? I don't think so."

"Nevertheless… you are welcome here as always."

"What if I grab you by the neck and pull you off Holy Ground?"

"You're welcome to try."

The Kurgan growled low in his throat as he considered the invitation. Yet even as he did so… he felt the rumblings deep in the earth that seemed to indicate that something wanted him to try… something that would destroy him.

"Perhaps later."

"Ah yes… Ramirez told me you'd borne witness to a fight on Holy Ground."

"Ramirez!" the Kurgan laughed. "That one is no friend to you. Not like I am. He will sell your soul to the devil for one more day of life."

"Since when did we become friends?"

The Kurgan nodded. "If I were not your friend Darius… this life would be lost to you. My teacher, the Arab, told me that you held the gift of prophecy. Had I taken your head long ago… I would have that gift."

"You failed in your attempt."

"There was a time," he sneered as he leaned in toward the shorter priest and whispered, "that my even bringing that up would have made you race for a sword and come at me."

"I was young and intemperate. I would like to think I have learned since then," Darius replied evenly. His eyes twinkled in amusement.

"You cannot hide here forever. I will have your head in due time."

"Perhaps… or perhaps you will lose it in due time to the Highlander."

"The Highlander? I am unfamiliar with this one."

"He hasn't been born yet. His time is not yet."

"Then I will be certain to make his acquaintance before he comes into his own."

"Again… you are welcome to try. Come now. There is food and a place to sleep."

"And a woman? I wish all my needs to be met, Darius."

"There is none here to accommodate you Kurgan. For that you must seek elsewhere."

"And leave you in peace? No… I think I like tormenting you. Shall I confess my sins? Shall I tell you in detail all the men I've slaughtered, the women I've raped, the obscenities I've uttered?"

"Do as you think you must. Confession is for those who believe. What do you believe Kurgan?"

"That I will be the one. I am the oldest! I am the best! In the end… I will survive!" His raised voice caught the attention of several penitents. He roared at them in amusement.

"Leave them be Kurgan. They are not part of this," Darius said gently laying a hand on his enemy's arm. The Kurgan stared at the hand and then pulled loose, noting there was still strength in that hand.

"You still practice."

"Not for years."

"But you still have it."

Darius shrugged. "It gathers dust."

"Then I live in hope. One day you will sicken of this life. One day you will leave it behind and I will come to you then. Be warned Darius… you and I have a shared destiny. The day will come when you and I will line up on either side of the great divide and fight for what we believe."

"If you say so."

"You think this Highlander will prevent it? You are wrong."

Darius shrugged. "Then perhaps my fabled gift of prophecy is just that… an empty fable told by the Arab to keep you in line." Again he gestured to his enemy to join the simple meal and break his fast.

The Kurgan glared at the smaller man and then snorted. "I really ought to drag you out of here."

"Then whom would you confess to? Who else would listen to you and not judge you for your actions? Who would understand you? Certainly not Ramirez."

"No… certainly not Ramirez." The Kurgan laughed amiably and slapped the priest on his shoulder. "You're right of course. I need to have someone to whom I can unburden my soul. It would seem you are to be my conscience. I think I liked you better when you were a general. We could have had a glorious battle."

"Perhaps. But then… one of us would be dead now." Darius led him to the tables set up outside and motioned for soup and bread to be brought. "The fare is simple… but it can be filling. Eat well." He bowed and withdrew.

The Kurgan ate his fill that night… slept without troubling dreams on Holy Ground… and in the morning… continued his journey south.

#30#

Author's Note: This motif is taken from several posts I wrote for Eternity of Darkness, a chain story on the Higlander Bulletin Board, whose setup was that the Kurgan killed both MacLeods, and was on his way to killing all immortals and winning the prize. It was up to Darius (still living in this AU) to gather immortals in an attempt to stop the Kurgan. The story became massive, but allowed me to explore the relationship between Kurgan and Darius as it might have been. The modern day confrontation would not make sense to non-readers, but the flashbacks, I thought, would.