Art of War" by Karen

Disclaimer: Hercules: the Legendary Journeys and all related characters are the property of MGM Studios, Renaissance Pictures and Paramount. As always no money is made off of this piece. They are only borrowed for entertainment purposes and for the story. G.

2nd Disclaimer: Highlander: the Series and all related concepts, events, characters are the property of Rysher Television, Panzer/Davis Productions, and their respective creators, and they do not belong to me. You know the drill. Note: In series continuity, I'm not actually certain what is considered cannon from the time that Methos took Cassandra prisoner and made her his slave. She was a pre-immortal at the time, and he caused her to 'die' over and over again. If I diverge somewhat from continuity, please bear with me. g

Note: Written in response, if rather extremely belated, to a story challenge posted by Cindy J, on the story challenge message board of the Seventh Dimension Highlander Fanfiction Archive back in 12/98. Yes, I know, ancient history, but better late than never.sigh, featuring the first meeting between the God of War, Ares, and Methos, or Death on a Horse set during the Bronze Age.

Prologue

The Osprey cut through the waters of the Aegean strait as if it had been born made to sail the oceans. It was an excellent craft, its wood beams freshly caulked, its iron fittings newly oiled to within an inch of their lives. Sailors climbed the ropes and stays, singing a wordless but heartening tune serving as counterpoint to their activity.

The helmsman gauged the turning of the wheel in his hands, his skin bronzed and as leathered as his tunic, from long exposure to the sun. The merchant ship boasted an innovative desiggn of placing rowers on two different levels, one above the other, doubling their number, guided by two steering oars thrusting out from the stern. A cabin boy of maybe ten or twelve years of age ascended the rope ladder to the crow's nest, where a bell-shaped basket afford a good view in all directions, and from which an archer or a slinger might cry out warnings or launch arrows at an enemy.

Elsewhere, trying to stay out of the way of this boiling activity, which grated on his admittedly raw nerves, a man with dark hair worn long at the sides, so that it just brushed his shoulders, leaned over the railing, being quietly and unobtrusively ill. Feeling his guts roil inside of him, the dark haired man wondered why he should suffer from nausea,. The thing that most angered him was the absolute refusal of his 'healing ability had not dealt with being sea-sick.

He had boarded the Phoenician trading vessel, Osprey, several weeks ago, after traveling over land across the steppes of Outer Mongolia, nearly driving his mount mad with exhaustion, not to mention himself. As used as he was to the harsh climate and changeable seasons out on the plains, it had still taken much longer than he had anticipated to cross it and then attach him to a caravan of merchants headed south along the ancient trade road.

In the back of his mind, he thought back to one of the longest days of his long life. He chuckled, and smiled a thin-lipped smile. "Being Immortal certainly has its advantages." Methos smirked, and then heaved his guts over the railing. "Just wished it work a little faster on curing me of the cursed sea-sickness."

Just then a loud roaring rushed across the deck and blocked out all other sounds, Methos stood in the center of whirlwind maintaining his balance on the wooden deck and ignored the strange up and down shifts his stomach was performing. He was hurled across the deck to end slammed up against the bulkhead of the galley. The last thing he wanted to think about right now was food, but despite his best efforts, the smell of pea soup, overcooked at that came to him, and he hurled his lunch to the ground. Recovering, he glanced around, sweat dripping from his forward, and shouted: "Just what the hell is going on?"

"Move aside, Sir," a crewman said in a subdued voice. "You are in the way."

Methos curled his lip into a sneer, grasping the man by his soiled shirt collar and lifted him off the deck. The man's brown face paled and he began gurgling.

"We've come under attack by reavers!" a sailor yelled, his words mangled by bad teeth and heavy accent, but Methos understand them well enough, having picked up a little Latin and Greek by conversing with the caravan traders on the way to Athens.

"Reavers? Oh, you mean pirates. Can we out run them?" Methos asked dropping the half-strangled sailor to the deck.

"Only if ye wanna be swimming with the sharks," he answered.

Methos glared at the sailor and then looked in the direction where most of the activity had been concentrated. He could just barely make out the shapes of triangle-shaped sails on the horizon. The ships, nearly two dozen square-masted sloops approached their position; drawing nearer, they began launching boulders and firing arrows at those who fought to both defend the Osprey and bring into a safe harbor.

Scene 2:

He heard a creaking sound, and not that of the sailors manning the wooden sweeps that lined each side of the ship, Methos looked around at the faces of the sailors and wondered what was happening. It was not often that he witnessed men with very dark skin go white as ghosts.

"We're breaking up!" the captain shouted in a hoarse voice at the same instant as an incredibly loud whistling echoed around the ship, followed up by a large boulder that slammed into the ship's hull and caved it in. Moments later, the crews of the other ships launched more boulders from the catapults rigged up on their foredecks.

A shudder ran throughout the ship, tearing the rigging and breaking the single mast. The ship lurched and Methos was sent careening across the deck to come to a halt against a bulkhead and momentarily blacked out. When he came to, he could see crewmen scrambling everywhere, much like ants streaming from their nest when disturbed by a booted man kicking it. A handful of sailors, quickly if somewhat roughly, escorted the merchant ship's passengers towards the stern where small boats had been attached, loaded up the passengers, and lowered the boats with the passengers into the water, but they were too late.

Later:

The ship nearly ran ashore on the coast of Greece, either the mainland or one of the islands. The crew staggered out of the water, bruised and battered, and were confronted by a troop of armed men. In their hands they carried a mixed assortment of weaponry. There was a moment of uncomfortable silence as both sides stared at each other.

Methos wiped the hair out of his eyes, taking his attention off the tableau just long enough to assure himself that his sword was still strapped to his back in the sheath he wore underneath his coat. He thought about his brothers in the Four Horsemen: Kronos, Silas, and Caspian, and with only a small twinge of regret that they no longer rode together. No one else could understand as well or would be able to see inside his very soul: If 'hellions' such as they could be said to possess such a thing. He took a moment to be certain no one was paying him any attention, to check if his sword was still securely bound in its sheath which was strapped to his back. It was, and he turned around to find the sailors hopelessly out-matched and they knew it. After putting up a rather lack-luster resistance, they were quickly captured and divested of their weapons. Methos, seeing the way wind was blowing and figuring he would have better luck striking out on his own, began running in the direction of the distant village, when he felt a blow with a blunt instrument hit the back of his head, and he succumbed to blackness.

****

When he came to, Methos was forced to his knees in the wet sand by the gauntlet of the lead slaver, he felt mingled fury and frustration as the leader ordered with a curt gesture of his hand an iron collar clamped and soldered around his neck. He glared up at his captor and in cold and measure voice he said: "You wouldn't dare to do that if I were free."

"Oh, wouldn't I?" the other replied. "Take the slaves away, and prepare for the march to the mines." he ordered. His yellow hair hanging lank and dripping wet. He wore a tricorn helmet, chain mail, and a dagger at his belt. He ordered the troop into marching orders. The other sailors and now captives were also chained with iron collars around their necks, and then roped together at their ankles, and marched away in a staggering line to the east.

2 weeks later:

"Who the hell are you?" Methos demanded. He felt the 'buzz' that signaled the presence of another Immortal; he scratched the short hairs at the nape of his neck and kicked himself for not having noticed it earlier. It irritated him no end, but until only a few years ago, he thought he and his brothers in the Four Horsemen were the only Immortals around. "Well, it's rare when it happens, but I could be mistaken about that. I've been around Kronos and that other pair of miscreants, Silas and Caspian, too long." Methos scratched the left side of his face where the stubble of several unshaven days rubbed against the fabric of his hood.

"Depends who you ask. We've been watching you, for some time now, and I would suspect you're one of those new ones who always think escape at the first, last, and only possibility." Ares said, folding his arms across his armored chest. "Methos, is it not?"

"We?" Methos mocked, not even bothering to ask how the other knew his name.

"I mean, I have been watching you. 'We' is just a figure of speech. And to answer your first question, I am Ares."

Methos gave an apathetic shrug, trying for bland indifference, hoping that the stranger would give up in frustration, if nothing else. "The first duty of any prisoner is to escape," Methos said giving the other a quick glance that took in everything, from the dark eyes and hair, cut short almost to the ears, to the boiled leather armor and the sword hanging at his hip. He wore black leather that was almost the same shade of black as his hair. He had pale skin, a long narrow slit of a mouth, and a thin nose.

"Indeed," Ares nodded. "And how to you plan on doing this? Slaves here usually do not live very long. Often they are condemned to death for committing crimes."

"At this point, I really do not care," Methos remarked, turning his attention back to the pickaxe in his hand, and proceeded to pound on the rock wall. Concentrating his undivided attention to coaxing out more copper ore. Methos ignored the presence of the other man, at the same time taking note of everything present in the prison yard: The compound was large, easily 100 yards in circumference and closed in on all four sides by thick walls of well-constructed mud bricks. Other slaves performed their assigned tasks, with the overseers standing in the shade of the walls. The guards were perched at each of the four gates, and another pair perched on the top of a viewing platform, a rickety structure made of straw and wood. They were armed with crossbows and a plentiful supply of arrows. He had taken due notice of these security measures. While his captors dragged Methos into the compound, bleeding from a split lip, Methos realize that he had sustained no lasting damage. with a battle-axe, certainly not enough to cause any real damage. But previous experience indicated that it was a better strategy to allow his captors to think the damage was more than it actually appeared. He closed his eyes and could feel the swaying of the horses, the clanging of the spoked wheels of the supply carts and the voices of the soldiers dragging the chained prisoners away from the port city and towards the copper mine. Escape was not going to be easy, but not impossible.

"I offer you power, command over my entire army, and your freedom from this mean place," Ares smiled, "All you have to do is swear allegiance to me." Ares looked Methos over, taking special note of the deep brown eyes. Wariness seemed ingrained in him like the dirt under his fingernails. He was good to look at, but he wore masks, like the actors in the theaters. He armored himself in layer after layer until the real man was hidden beyond threat of discovery. Ares took a closer look, and was taken aback by the feeling that here was a challenge, and that was as close to the truth of the man as few would ever get.

Methos briefly speculated on what Kronos would have done in his position.

"Well," Ares prompted. "Have you had time to think over my generous offer?"

"Yes, I will swear allegiance to you. But let's make one thing crystal clear, just to avoid any confusion later," Methos said, "What's in it for you?"

"Direct. I like that," Ares replied. "I admire that quality, even if you are verging on the arrogant and insolent side."

"Let's say I agree to do this," Methos hedged.

"I am the God of War!" Ares suddenly shouted, "I will not be bargained with like a haggler in the market. Do or do not!"

Methos nodded, slightly alarmed, wondering what he was getting himself into, but it was too good an opportunity to pass up. "I will swear allegiance to you. What do you want me to do?"

"It is very simple." Ares smiled. "You lead my armies to victory over any and all enemies, and you will have power and rewards beyond your wildest dreams. Take this."

Methos stretched out his hand and wrapped his fist around a bronze pin, turning it over and over in his hand, examining the wingspan of the carved bronze eagle.

"Present this token to the present commander of my armies, he'll know what to do." Ares said, while Methos tuned out and thought back to the last time that he had seen a sign similar to this one. He had believed this to be a long buried memory, because it was something of a failure on his part.

Flashback:

Kronos galloped up to his side, sawing at his mount's reins, and leaned over to where he could whisper into his ear without Silas and Caspian over-hearing. He had a soft, hoarse voice and Methos idly wondered for a second if he used that same tone of voice in the bedchamber. Dismissing the thought as he would swat a fly or cut an arm from an enemy, Methos turned his attention back to what the other was saying.

"I hear tell that a certain petty king is offering a reward to anyone brave or foolish enough to take any one of us, or even the whole lot, into custody. He has even put up a reward." Kronos said.

"A reward. And how much is the price on our heads this time?" Methos asked.

"300 florins a head," Kronos replied, and went back to his position in the line.

"Wanted dead or alive, is it? Given his position, this petty king would no doubt prefer us dead? That's more money than we've seen in months."

They rode into the unsuspecting and unprotected village in the valley. It was made up of several tents and a cattle pen that had been enclosed on all four sides by a wooden fence to prevent them from straying or becoming easy pickings for predators. In the back of Methos' mind, he thought it a wise precaution, but not from two-legged predators mounted on horses. "This raid would be too easy." he muttered to himself under his breath. He placed the mask painted black and white, painted a bone-white to portray his role in the Four Horsemen as Death on a Horse. Methos awaited, betraying not a sign of impatience, knowing that Kronos would take the lead; when and where to give the signal to sweep into the small village and cut down anything that moved or even so much as resisted. Methos could see that both Silas and Caspian were spoiling for a good raid and other things as well. There was the signal, Kronos raising his arm, his fist clenched, then jerking it down in one quick movement. They kicked their mount's flanks and spurred them forward, swords at the ready.

**

Methos dismounted and swept into the last standing tent. Inside he found a woman holding a sword in trembling hands, seemingly without the strength to lift it, much less fight, but determined to defend her home. He inspected her, tall, dark with pale skin and brown eyes. Her hair was dark brown shading over into black and hung in a ragged curtain down her back. He felt a confusing mix of emotions, contempt for her puny attempt at defense; desire to possess her and make her his slave; and even a trace of what he thought he could use her for, something other than what she half-expected him to do. Methos moved forward, knocked the weapon from her hand, and slung her over his back.

***

When Methos came out of the tent with the woman slung over his back, her hair blowing in the wind, Kronos approached him. "Find a new playmate or a new slave?" Kronos inspected the woman, noting with interest the fine bronze brooch that held her cloak closed, adorned with a golden eagle with its wings outstretched. "Do you mind sharing, Brother?"

He noted that while he had been occupied in the tent, his `brothers' had slaughtered all the other villagers and set fire to their tents, cattle, and stored goods. Methos thought it over for a moment, seating the woman on his horse.

"Very well," Kronos said, and walked over to talk with Silas and Caspian.

*end flashback*

A week later:

Methos exchanged glances with the assembled military advisors that would now be expected to command, well aware of the unsettled grumbling from the previous general, Ortho. Just as Ares had promised, the bronze pendant was enough to win them over. His army sprawled across the river valley, and it appeared that the Scythian general would comply with orderly dawn starting times for battles, after all. A fortunate turn of events given that there was nothing a Scythian liked better than surprise attacks and night-time raids.

"The wolves will howl, and there will be a raven's feast," Methos whispered, pulling his visor over his face and spurring his bay stallion into the melee.

"We will make sure the Scythians provide a better meal for them, than we do," Ortho replied, riding up next to him.

The war-chariots of the Scythians pulled up in front of his battle-lines, in rough v-shape. They were light vehicles drawn by two or three horses. The car was little more than a platform floor with a waist-high semi-circular guard in the front. Only chiefs were allowed to ride in the war-chariots pulled by a matched set of roan horses. The distinctive ring of metal on metal as weapons were drawn, spears smacking onto the ground, echoed in the chill dawn air.

The sky lightened, and lancing rays of sunlight pierced through the clouds. Methos raised himself up in his saddle with his left fist clenched: That was the signal. Both armies rushed forward and weapons met each other with a shuddering jolt of steel on steel. After that, the river valley echoed with shouts, screams, and thuds. The battle swirled around them. Hoof beats pounded across the ground, boots slogged in mud and bloodied dirt, somewhere in the melee he lost track of Ortho, but it did not matter He could faintly hear the scrape of steel and the hiss of arrows that criss-crossed in the air before finding their targets. Methos remotely heard the screams of a thousand horses and their riders, men shouting curses, begging for mercy, but it had already been determined to give no quarter.

**

The battle quickly disintegrated into a raging sea of men and horses, Methos pulled his stirrups higher to survey the immediate area, but men in armor and helms look very much alike. He gave up, cursing the helmet that blocked his peripheral vision; swearing, he yanked it off and stuffed into his saddlebag. At that moment, a hairy Scythian armed with a speak thrust at his stallion's unprotected legs.

A glancing blow to his left check, with the blue tattoo, sent Methos reeling on his horse, and he nearly fell off. He grasped at the reins and regained his balance. He drew his sword, the one that he had carried for years was now buried somewhere in the copper mines, but this would suit him just fine. "Rather inglorious way to go," he muttered, "staring up a small, hairy brute with the ground and the sky switching places on me."

The Scythian, even without the benefit of words could understand when he had the business end of a spear level with his opponent's beating heart, and in his native language, "Now, little man, you die." he said, stabbing downward with the spear, and was about to deliver the killing blow and in the next instant Methos was the track of the enemy's weapon as it crashed to the ground followed by it's owner heavy corpse in the next few heartbeats. The enemy's eyes rolled back in his head with shock, a sword blade stabbed into his back with enough force to come out on the other side. He fell on top of Methos and both horse and man went tumbling onto the ground in tangle of arms and legs. When they came to a halt, Methos was sore, bloody, and feeling several bruised, if not broken, ribs. Rolling to the side, he stood up and tried to ignore the pain.

Ortho appeared on his blind side, and Methos blinked in the bright sunlight, wondering what happened to his sword. The other rider dismounted and removed his helmet. It was Ortho, he grinned, "Mount up. It will never do to have our general accept the enemy's surrender on his own two feet."

"We won?" Methos asked, gingerly accepting the hand up and mounting behind the other man.

"When all else fails, overwhelm them with superior numbers, and pound them into submission," Ortho grinned. "Yeah, we won. Come on."

Conclusion:

Methos knelt on the churned up ground, his new sword's hilt planted in the mud. One hand wrapped around the now-familiar two-handed grip, the other held his chin. He glanced around at the field where only hours before men had contested over something that was now a moot point. The wind blew his lank dark hair over his eyes. War was Chaos, and death, but, by an odd contrast, while he was hammering at the enemy, pounding at his armor, striking and parrying sword blows, and dodging armor, slipping and sliding in the mud, he felt supremely alive. Not that he was looking forward to going through it all again right this instant. He did not like Ares, but war, as Kronos was wont to say, made strange bedfellows. He had to admit that Ares offer was compelling. And he still knew he had an ace up his sleeve, Ares just thought he was the by-blow between some Minor Greek deity and a mortal, Methos coughed and spit out a bloody tooth. He wiped his mouth, and tossed his head back, thinking in the back of his mind, that it would be a fine joke if Ares knew the real truth, that he was an Immortal. He would agree to play along with Ares, command his armies, for a time, but he would damned if he would be anyone's slave, even a so-called `God of War,' he thought. "Let Ares believe what he wants, but I've been "Death on Horse,' and I still am. I live and die by my own rules."

Thanks, Karrenia aka Karen

Chapter 2 : "Vicious Circles"

Chapter 3 " Endless Waltz"