Changing of the Guard 2 Ecolea Chapter 13 Their first order of business that day was to sell the dozen or so gem stones they'd brought with them. They wandered around the market -- an open air field not far from the Oracle where one day a permanent agora would be built. One with marble colonnades, shade trees, benches, fountains and statues to entice the eye and give succor to weary travelers and citizens. The current collection of tents, stalls, wagons and carts that constituted the market wasn't much more than a noisy, confusing jumble at present, but Methos moved through it with practiced ease, pausing now and again as something caught Jack's eye. There were several jewelers already in residence, he explained to O'Neill after their first walk through. But only two dealt in stones of any worth. The rest carried silver, gold and bronze trinkets for the more affluent. And only one of the two regularly showed his wares to kings. He led O'Neill back into the controlled chaos and over to the largest tent in the market. There was no stall out front, or slave to hawk the master's goods. Those desiring to buy or sell would find him, without the need for advertising. Methos approached the entrance, glancing inside to make sure the jeweler wasn't with another customer then politely scratched at the tent post when he saw the man alone. The jeweler, not much past his prime by Methos standards, lifted a hand to usher them in. "I am Methos, son of Tok'ra, who offers greetings," he said, taking a seat on the mat opposite the man. "My companion is Yanos, son of Neleus." The jeweler nodded deeply. "I am Mendanes of Achiaea, who offers welcome to all his customers." "May the gods smile favorably upon him then," Methos smiled. At least this man wasn't put off by the fact that they were obviously foreign. While O'Neill had tanned over the past few days, enough to bring him a little closer in shading to the population, Methos hadn't and never would. A sunburn was damage to the skin and as quickly as he burned he healed with disgusting regularity. "But we come to sell, not buy, good Mendanes." The jeweler smiled thoughtfully and clapped his hands. Out the shadows in the corner a slave arose and Methos waited patiently as the boy brought wine already mixed with water and a bowl of figs then returned to his corner. He took a sip and judged Mendanes honest, there being more parts water to wine. An old trick, he knew, to give the customer strong drink before making the price. With a surreptitious glance he checked on O'Neill, who was surprisingly placid, following Methos' instructions to the letter. "Do as I do and say nothing." With a slight nod of approval Methos reached into the front of his chiton and pulled out a small leather bag, removing the strap from around his neck to lay it open on the mat before him. Mendanes' quickly stifled gasp was a good sign that he was impressed, not only by the size of the stones, but by their gloss. He picked up a piece of tigers eye and held it to the light. Methos said nothing as one by one he examined the others. Uncut and polished to perfection using modern techniques, they were all exceptional pieces. Finally, Mendanes put down the last stone and gave a desultory nod. "These are fairly common stones," he said, beginning the time honored dance of the bargain. "If you aren't interested," Methos said, moving as if to sweep them back into their bag. "Wait!" the man exclaimed, laying a warm hand on Methos' arm. "Don't be so hasty, young friend. I might be able to find a use for them." So, now they were friends? Methos thought, amused. Mendanes was obviously eager to buy, but not to be taken to the cleaners. Even if, as Methos well knew, these common stones were the best representatives of their kind the man was ever likely to see. "I am in no hurry," Methos told him, sitting back. He took another sip of wine and nibbled a fig as Mendanes took another moment to examine the stones again. "Perhaps I was mistaken and they are not so common after all," Mendanes finally said when Methos made no move rush him. Here was obviously a customer who knew the worth of his wares. "Not common at all," Methos agreed, taking the hint. If the stones had a unique history, one which would please the ear, titillate the mind and increase the stones value in the eye of the beholder Mendanes would certainly feel better about shelling out a small fortune for them. He'd make at least twice that from the uneducated, but hideously rich aristocracy, who were always trying to keep up with their wealthy friends and neighbors. "The stones you see before you," Methos said, making up the tale as he went. "Come from the land of Khemet, brought there by the Pharaoh Imhotep from fabled Nubia and washed in the desert sands for twenty years by a thousand slaves until they shone as bright as the stars in the heavens." "They do have a nice polish," Mendanes allowed. "A nice polish?!" Methos feigned shock. "Each of these stones was worn for a year in the warm bosom of the pharaoh's beloved daughter, Nefreti. She who killed herself after the death of her lover, Ahknaten -- executed by her father for daring to offer the princess a lotus blossom in the garden! A nice polish indeed!" Mendanes' eyes widened as he drew an awestruck breath. An hour later, after some cursory haggling and the expected sharing of wine and gossip, Methos and Jack left the jeweler's tent. The little sack around his neck was heavy with gold and silver, but Methos was extraordinarily pleased. "In the warm bosom of the pharaoh's daughter?" O'Neill finally asked when they were far enough away. Methos shrugged. "What did you want me to say? That they were blasted out of a rock formation by a Goa'uld staff weapon, polished in a gravel filled tumbler by an archaeologist and given luster in a weak solution of bicarbonate acid by Major Carter?" "Doesn't quite have the same ring to it, does it?" O'Neill agreed. "Not quite," Methos nodded. "Yeah, but is it enough to get us to Egypt?" Methos felt the weight against his chest and smiled. "More than enough to give us a damn good start." *** "Where to next?" O'Neill asked as they headed down a side street. "Flesh market's on the other side of town," Methos said, licking his sticky fingers. For lunch, they'd found a stall where an early version of the shish-kabob was sold, using goat instead of lamb. Then they'd stopped at a kiosk where an old woman made dough balls, deep fried in oil and drizzled with warm honey. "Flesh?" O'Neill repeated. "Meat of every kind," Methos explained. "Two legged and four. They keep it out of town because of the stench." "Thanks for the warning," O'Neill grimaced as they headed in that direction. Even this far away the scent of animals was redolent in the warm, heavy air. "Oh, the slave sales are over for the day," Methos told him lightly. "Those are held in the morning when their bodies are clean and fresh. Wouldn't do to have the merchandise looking wilted and smelling of the pens. Might lower the price." "Sweet," O'Neill muttered. "Let's just get this over with." Methos didn't bother to respond. He was sorry to have to be so blunt. To rip away all the illusions of the bright white history books O'Neill had grown up with. But there was no other way. No matter what O'Neill thought of himself and his capabilities as a tough as nails covert operative, the man had still been gently raised. If he was going to survive in this world and help his people to survive along with him, then he had to understand the simple facts of everyday life. The pens, a mere quarter mile away as they reached the edge of town, were quiet at the moment, and Methos did nothing to draw O'Neill's attention to them. In the heat of the day this part of the market was never busy. And given a choice, had Methos been alone, he'd certainly have waited and gone the next morning. But he wasn't, and not trusting O'Neill's gut reaction to the sight of a slave auction, he'd decided not to put it off. They moved across the wide field where temporary paddocks had been set up. Just some wooden posts and rope to keep the animals from wandering off. There were goats, sheep, chickens, geese and ducks for sale near the front, but the larger animals were all towards the back. Donkeys, mules and cows came next then the paddocks spread out further apart and Methos nodded to himself as he saw a fine pair of oxen being watered and fed. The man in charge of them was obviously an overseer for one of the larger estates. Only the very wealthy could afford to keep these animals given the amounts they ate. But the wealthy rarely sold such riches, using the beasts both in the fields and to draw their wagons, though on rare occasions they might sacrifice one for a wedding. If they were selling then it clearly meant trouble at home. A poor crop that threatened to affect the family's social status, or an illness which had spread among the other animals and reduced their income. Still, what was trouble for one was often good fortune for another. Methos didn't spend time on pleasantries with this man, who was no doubt tired from having spent the day talking to potential buyers and wouldn't have appreciated the waste of his time. The overseer named a price, which Methos refused, offering another amount far less than they were worth. They haggled for half an hour and when the man stood firm at six silver drachma for the pair, Methos knew that this was the lowest price set by the owner and accepted. He gave the overseer a quarter of the amount as earnest money to show his master, then asked the man if he wanted to make something extra. The overseer, glad to be of service now that his job was done, and always willing to help out a paying customer if it put something in his purse, accepted Methos' charge to buy them a good, sturdy ox cart and enough feed to last the journey home. He gave the man his smallest silver coin and named a fee. Not very much, but then the man would likely pocket most of the money left over from the purchase. It was expected and they both knew it. After making arrangements to meet the following day to complete the transaction, Methos paused on the way to the horses to drink some water. "That looked expensive," O'Neill commented as Methos offered him some. "Very," he agreed. "But they're just for cover. We'll sell them once we get to the coast. Should even make a bit of money off the sale." O'Neill shook his head, giving Methos back his canteen. "Are you ever going to tell me what this plan of yours is?" "And spoil the surprise?" Methos looked shocked. "I'm living just to see the expression on your face when it's revealed." The colonel gave him a wry smile. "Let's hope it's one you can live with." "The risk is half the fun," Methos grinned, moving toward the nearest corral. He liked only one of the animals he saw there and wandered further afield, hoping for better, then way off in the distance heard the panicked, angry whinnying of a terrified horse. "Come on, let's see what the ruckus is about," Methos said as frenzied shouts and at least two other horses joined in to trumpet anger and alarm. "You're not thinking of helping anyone, are you?" Jack called after him. "Methos?!" The Immortal ignored him, moving easily through the crowd which had gathered to watch. At the front, he found a waist high fence, more sturdy than the rest, and given the current behavior of the occupants Methos could guess why. An unbroken white stallion, taller than most Greek horses, though nowhere near the height of an Arabian, ran the length and breadth of the area followed by his equally wild consorts. A pair of fine mares, one a reddish brown color, the other black with white hocks. "They're perfect," he whispered as O'Neill came up beside him. "They just kicked the shit out of that guy over there," the colonel responded, discreetly pointing toward a man being carried from the field by his companions. "Don't be a wuss, Yanos." "You're calling me a wuss?!" Methos rolled his eyes and turned to look for the owner. He found him as the crowd dispersed. A tired looking man, who seemed extremely agitated as the buyer he'd thought he'd had furiously shook his head, shouted a few choice curses and left. "Hey, friend!" Methos called to one of the men still milling about. "What's the story on that lot?" He nodded at the horses and the man shrugged. "The sire was mad. Bad blood, if you ask me. But old Archimedes," he nodded toward the owner. "He figured he could make back his money if he bred the bastard to gentle dams. Instead, they bred true. Now he'll have to put them down, like he did the sire last summer after it killed a groom." "That would be a shame," Methos murmured thoughtfully as the man walked away. "Are you out of what's left of your mind?!" O'Neill demanded. "Didn't you hear? Those things are dangerous!" "Nonsense," Methos responded lightly. "They just haven't been handled right." O'Neill's face went blank. "That wasn't an invitation for discussion, Captain." Methos glared at him to no effect then finally sighed. "Colonel, who are you going to trust? Some illiterate peasant who's probably never even sat a horse? Or me?" he asked snidely. "You know, there's a reason we were called The Horsemen and not Those Four Running Guys in Scary Masks. I've never once had to put down a steed for bad behavior -- even when I specifically trained them to kill with their hooves." For a long moment O'Neill stared at him then paused to watch the horses. They'd calmed down a bit and were resting after their run. "You think you can handle them?" he finally asked. "I don't think I can. I know it! Look at them," Methos pleaded. "They've got strength and endurance and that fool Archimedes can't even see it! We can buy them for a song and sell them when we get to Egypt for ten times what he'll charge us here." "I must be losing it," O'Neill finally muttered. "All right, Methos. Permission granted. Go buy the horses." It wasn't quite that easy as they soon discovered. Archimedes, already fearful of charges being brought against him by the man who'd been injured, was loath to allow Methos into the corral. He was so young and couldn't possibly have enough experience to handle The Beast as Archimedes called the white stallion. Look what had happened to Anoos. A man twice his age who'd spent his whole life around horses. Finally, Methos made him an offer he couldn't refuse. He'd pay him for one horse, in advance, and if he couldn't sit the animal Archimedes could keep the money. The old man laughed long and hard at that. "If you can sit The Beast, boy, you can have the others for the price of the one." "That's a deal," Methos grinned as they shook forearms. He looked at Jack who simply rolled his eyes and shook his head as the Immortal handed over the money. "Do me a favor, Yanos?" he asked as he shrugged off his himation and folded it neatly. "Carry your broken body off the field of battle?" O'Neill asked sarcastically. Methos chuckled. "That too when the time comes. Right now, just hold onto these." He handed over his cloak and sword then quickly stripped off his long chiton which would only get in the way, tossing it casually over his shoulder. Then, naked but for his sandals, Methos approached the animal cautiously. Around the paddock a crowd gathered, probably eager for more blood and violence. But Methos knew better. He moved and as the stallion followed turned him into the sun, quickly darting around to wrap the tunic about its head, covering his eyes. The Beast moved nervously for a few moments until he finally settled. Then, quick as he could, Methos grabbed the horse's mane and jumped on his back, knotting his fingers deeply into the full tufts at his neck. The stallion remained quiescent for an instant then shook his head in confusion. The loosely wrapped chiton fell away and the horse suddenly went wild. Methos held on for what seemed like endless hours as the stallion bucked and twisted. His shoulders burned with the effort to keep his hands in place while his spine seemed to jar further out of alignment with every painful second. Long minutes later the horse finally understood that he couldn't throw his rider and Methos heaved a sigh of relief as the animal quieted. He leaned forward, wincing as his raw backside slid against the rough brush of the stallion's coat, wrapping stiff arms around the animal's neck while whispering soft words of encouragement into his ear. Stifling a groan of agony he slid off, then pulled the stallion's head down and gently blew in his nostrils. There were more soft words and a brief time spent patting the animal's nose, until Methos judged him calm enough to release. A roar of applause sprang up as The Beast trotted off to graze -- a beast no longer -- but Methos simply ignored it to find and put on his dusty but undamaged chiton, and hide his quickly healing posterior. The rest he would pay for later, he knew with painful certainty as he headed for the exit and Archimedes, who looked both pleased and disappointed all at once. He might be quit of three obstreperous horses, but he was also out a good sum of money. A well deserved loss, in Methos' opinion. "I'll be by to collect my horses tomorrow!" he called to the old man, who simply waved a hand in acceptance and nodded, then he grabbed Jack's arm and hurriedly led him away. "What's the rush?" O'Neill asked as they reached the town proper and Methos ducked around the corner. He caught the Immortal just as he fell, lowering him gently to the ground as he groaned in agony, every muscle in his body suddenly seizing up. "Shit! Shit!" Methos hissed as he writhed and curled, pressing his legs together as his thigh muscles cramped so tightly he thought he'd scream. "What the hell is wrong?!" O'Neill demanded. "What the hell do you think is wrong?!" Methos managed to gasp. "That hurt!" "Well, yeah," O'Neill nodded. "Especially the bare ass routine. But you're Immortal. So..." "So nothing," Methos choked. "I just pulled every muscle in my body. But they aren't damaged! Stretching them is a natural process, like heartburn. I may not get an ulcer, but it sure as hell hurts!" "Oh, brother!" O'Neill muttered, throwing down his pack as he knelt beside the Immortal. He quickly found what he wanted and pulled out a large white tablet. "Here," he said, getting an arm around Methos' shoulders. "Get this down." "I'm an Immortal! Don't be absurd," Methos whispered as he quickly became exhausted. "Give me a few minutes and I'll get moving. If I stay warm tonight it might not be too bad in the morning." "Unacceptable," O'Neill responded flatly. "I need you on your feet now, not in a couple of days. Besides, I'm making it an order.And what do you mean you can't take pain meds because you're immortal? What kind of idiotic idea is that?" Methos stared at Jack in astonishment then glanced at the tablet. It certainly couldn't hurt. And he'd prescribed similar pain relief for countless others, though he'd never once considered it for himself. In truth, the idea had never occurred to him. With a faint sense of trepidation Methos took the pill and stuck it in his mouth, grimacing an instant later as the bitter medicinal taste of the thing made him want to wretch. "Ech!" He spat out the tablet as O'Neill laughed, giving him some water. "Don't tell me you've never done drugs?!" he chortled, picking up the tablet and cleaning it off. "Only the really good pharmaceuticals," Methos grimaced as he wiped his mouth. "But I never popped pills or used needles. My last foray into the ozone layer came in a sugar cube and went by the curious name of Mellow Yellow." "You've never taken a pill?!" Methos shook his head, struggling to sit up. "And after that, I never want to. That's awful!" O'Neill's shoulders shook with mirth. "You're not supposed to bite and swallow. Just swallow." Methos shrank back as he offered it again, until O'Neill sighed in disgust and grabbed his face. "Tilt back, open wide, tongue down," he ordered. He could barely move a muscle to walk, let alone fight, so Methos simply squeezed his eyes shut and gave in to the horror. It felt too big for his throat as the tablet touched the back of his tongue and he nearly gagged. But there was water being sloshed into his mouth and O'Neill shouting the unhelpful phrase, "Think oyster!" as he shoved Methos' jaws closed, rubbed a thumb across his Adam's apple and forced him to swallow. At last, Jack released him and Methos fell back, coughing hard. "Your bedside manner sucks!" he hissed when he'd finally caught his breath, wiping his face with the back of a hand. "And you're a lousy patient," O'Neill shrugged. "Now eat this," he added, shoving one of the leftover honeyed dough balls at Methos. "I'm not a child," Methos grimaced. "The spoonful of sugar technique won't work with me. I'm still pissed at you!" "This isn't a treat," O'Neill explained calmly. "I just put eighteen hundred milligrams of Ibuprofen in your stomach. You need to eat something to keep from puking it up." "Eighteen hundred?!" Methos exclaimed, horrified as he quickly accepted the food. "Yeah, we use it for gun shot," O'Neill told him. "Now, just sit back. Takes about twenty minutes before it really kicks in." "Sit back?" he asked around the food in his mouth. "In another twenty minutes I won't be able to walk at all! I have to keep moving!" "No, you don't have to keep moving. You have to sit back and rest." "But--" "Who are you going to trust?" O'Neill grinned. "A bunch of ignorant Immortals who've never thought of using modern medicine? Or me?" he asked smugly. "You know, there's a reason Doc Fraiser is always nearby when I come through the Stargate." Chapter 14 "How y' feelin', sport?" Methos yawned and stretched luxuriously in his bed roll, sighing in contentment as not a single twinge interfered with his pleasure. When O'Neill had helped him back to the field where they'd planned to camp he'd been sore, but thankfully, not in what he'd consider a great deal of pain. He'd figured he'd still be a bit stiff come morning, but there wasn't even that. "I feel fine," he murmured in amazement, recalling the night before. "In fact, I feel great." "Good," O'Neill grinned, throwing Methos his chiton. "Next time, don't argue so much and I'll give you a lollipop." Methos rolled his eyes and slipped the tunic over his head. "There won't be a next time," he said. "We can't replace Ibuprofen. I won't let you empty the med kit just because I have a few aches and pains." "Wasn't from the kit," O'Neill told him as he rolled up his blankets. "That came from my own personal stash." Methos looked up, surprised. As he recollected, modern soldiers never gave up their private caches of pain killers -- not unless the Sergeant was dying, or their best buddy was gut shot, or something equally horrendous. For themselves, there was always a little more pain they could tolerate, a bit more discomfort they were willing to endure. And O'Neill went on to confirm this observation. "I never take all the pain meds Fraiser gives me. But I've learned over the years to keep some stuff on hand. Just in case." "Smart," Methos nodded, vaguely wondering how he'd managed to achieve best buddy status, because from the way O'Neill generally treated him, he certainly wasn't the feared and revered Drill Sergeant. Unless, of course, one considered the other option. Perhaps the colonel thought of him as the annoying kid brother who needed lots of looking after. Now there was an unsettling thought. "We done here?" O'Neill asked, grabbing his pack as Methos stood, tossing his cloak over his shoulders. "Almost," he responded, pinning his himation about his shoulders. "We need supplies for the road and a few more things to complete our little ruse, then we can leave." O'Neill heaved a sigh of resignation as they started back toward the market and Methos hid a smile. He imagined the colonel was dreaming of nice airy shopping malls with food courts and canned music. Instead, Methos found an open stall selling a proper farmer's breakfast of hard boiled eggs, goat cheese, bread, raw onions and wine mixed with three parts water. They ate it hunkered against a wall watching the sun come up and the town come to life. Shops opened, slaves came down to the wells to fetch water for the households, farmers with tools on their shoulders headed out into the fields, and pack animals with their burdens carried goods to and fro while sleepy children rode their backs making their morning deliveries. A day like any other Methos had seen repeated in a thousand variations for as long as he could remember. And, he supposed, it was the same in the future. Though the shops opened at the slothful hour of nine or ten, the farmers had tractors or trucks, and goods came to brightly lit, scrupulously clean supermarkets in big rigs driven by adults. Still, it was the same old dance, if dressed in new clothes. They finished eating and stood, Methos rubbing his stomach to ease the passage of the onion. He still loved the taste of them raw, but he'd forgotten just what a whole one, even as small as that one had been, did to him. O'Neill caught the movement and shook his head. "Don't tell me," he sighed. "You've got heartburn." Methos only shrugged. "Onions were thought to be good for the digestion," he explained as the colonel once again delved into his pack. "Meet Mr. Tums," O'Neill said, handing him a very large pink tablet. "He's an old friend. Remind me to introduce you to his good buddy, Uncle Pepcid, when we get home." Methos looked aghast at the size of the thing. "I can't swallow that!" "Trust me, if it's pink and smells like a cherry you can chew the sucker." Well, it didn't smell like a cherry to Methos, but he nibbled the edge and didn't find it too horrible. It was chalky, but sweet and slightly tart so he ate it. A few minutes later he was astonished to find the burning in his stomach gone. "You know," he said as they reached the open market. "I'm beginning to rethink my stance on the usefulness of modern medicine for Immortals. If it won't kill us permanently, we tend to just tough it out. Now I'm not so sure. I might even go back to medical school," he added enthusiastically. "You know, I've always wanted to do a heart transplant. Or maybe kidneys. Those are interesting, too." O'Neill just stared at him. "Could we focus here," the colonel pointedly reminded. "Remember? Mission. Egypt. End of world. Kinda puts a damper on the whole Ben Casey thing, don't y' think?" "But we're here," Methos smiled, nodding at the nearest stall. "We came back to buy jewelry?!" O'Neill whispered angrily. "But it's for Daniel, Teal'c and Carter," Methos told him, looking wounded. O'Neill rubbed his face with a hand. "Is this something I need to be here for?" he finally asked. "Not really," Methos responded, hiding a smile. "I also have to buy more clothes for us. Something really ostentatious this time." "Great, more skirts," O'Neill sighed. "You have fun. I'm gonna watch the big sweaty guys making armor." Methos laughed and hurriedly reached under his chiton to pull out a few coins for Jack. "Enjoy yourself," he smiled. "And don't pay more than half what I just gave you, unless it's a full set of armor with a thick quilted padding and good leather straps." He'd never buy it, Methos knew as the colonel sauntered off looking relieved. Not when he learned he'd have to strip for the measuring and have parts of his body shaved for the molding -- then wait several weeks to get the finished product back. But they could always use a couple of good shields and O'Neill was sensible enough to do just that. Besides, he thought, turning to examine a set of earrings he'd had his eye on, learning how to handle money and be at ease in a crowd was just as important as knowing how to trounce the enemy on the field of battle. *** The sun was just beginning to dip into the western sky as Methos stood watching the slaves bring a steady stream of goods and supplies out to the ox cart. It stood just a quarter mile from the last house that could be considered a part of the town, but the streets had been too narrow for Methos to even consider bringing it inside. Still, it was a common enough occurrence for the shopkeepers not to worry over, especially during the spring market. As soon as the cart was loaded the overseer who'd sold them the oxen came by and Methos handed him a coin. The man had done a very good job buying the cart, which even had it's own small awning for when the women were traveling. And after giving the overseer the rest of the money for the oxen along with his fee, the man had offered to direct the slaves bringing out their supplies. Certainly, Methos could have done it himself, but he wasn't much interested in directing slaves at the moment. He was thinking about his new horses. Five days, maybe six to get back to camp since they'd have to stick to the main roads, and at least two weeks to get the horses ready. Not to mention teaching the others how to ride virtually bareback. A leather saddle pad was not at all the same as a modern saddle. And without stirrups, which hadn't yet been invented, sitting a horse meant the knees did most of the painful work of holding the rider up. When both the overseer and the slaves were gone, he looked over at O'Neill, who was lying on his back sprawled across the grain sacks, playing with a long blade of sweet grass stuck between his teeth. He'd done well at the armorer's. Buying a decent pair of shields, plain enough for real soldiers to be carrying, and one ridiculously ornamental one covered in flying sea creatures chased in silver, with wings and tails that swept up and away from its surface. Not the least bit useful in a real fight, where all those pretty fetishes could easily catch a sword tip. If Methos hadn't known better he'd have thought Jack knew exactly what he was planning. "Hey, Yanos!" Methos called up and Jack glanced down. "Think you can watch the cart for a while?" "Oh, yeah!" O'Neill said as he sat up and nodded, fingering one of a pair of small daggers he'd also purchased. The other was strapped to the inside of his forearm. "Not a problem." At that, Methos grinned and hurried off to fetch his prize. Chapter 15 O'Neill watched with one eye half open as Methos stole out of his bed roll just before dawn the next morning and slipped behind the wagon. Bemused, he settled back, wondering just whom the Immortal thought he was fooling. They'd left Delphi sometime after noon by his estimate and put a good ten miles between them and the town before pulling off the road. And all the while Methos had walked behind the cart talking to the horses, pressing against them, and in general making friends with the objects of his obsession. He'd fed and watered them when they'd stopped for the night, giving Jack a few cursory instructions on how to tend the oxen then staked them out to graze. And when he'd finally gotten them settled down, joining O'Neill by the fire, Methos was more chatty and talkative than the colonel had ever seen him. He'd been a Master of Horses dozens of times over the ages. For kings and queens and nobles across most of Europe and Asia. He'd bred and broken horses on and off for a good part of his life. The last time in 1898 on a ranch in New Mexico somewhere south of Santa Fe. He not only knew horses, but understood them as well. All the little tricks and foibles they were wont to get up to when a strong hand was not present to guide and care for them. Not knowing much about horses, O'Neill had simply listened -- more to Methos' tone of voice than what he'd actually been saying. And somewhere in that long soliloquy Methos forgot he was giving, Jack had finally reached the conclusion that Methos lacked a real childhood. It was understandable, O'Neill admitted silently as he watched the Immortal quietly lead the white stallion out into the field where they'd camped. Given the circumstances surrounding his first death and his revival five thousand years later, he could imagine the kind of emotional loss and devastation he would have been feeling, even if Methos himself hadn't been able to comprehend why he felt that way. As a good commander it was O'Neill's job to look for that kind of thing. To judge and estimate the best way to handle his people based on their emotional wants and needs. Shouting worked for some, while a kind word and gentle encouragement worked better with others. Methos on the other hand, needed to be teased and cajoled into acting. Despite his great age, he was still a playful twenty-something whenever he forgot to be the ancient Immortal striding fearlessly through history. With a sigh, O'Neill rose up on an elbow and found his binoculars, watching through the half light peeking over the horizon as Methos belted his chiton with a piece of rope, blousing the material until it hung above his knees. Then he ran the horse in circles for a while, finally jumping on its back before the animal knew what was happening. O'Neill chuckled as the stallion bucked and Methos went flying. But in a moment he was back on his feet and at it again. At least this time, O'Neill thought wryly, he didn't have to play super macho bronco buster in order to make a point. And from where he sat, it looked as though the Immortal was staying loose, keeping those muscles fluid and his limbs relaxed as he rolled with the punches. In a way, O'Neill thought, putting aside the binoculars to begin the familiar process of breaking camp, he had to admire the man's persistence. Not only with the horses, but in his own life. Had Methos ever once really given up on himself? O'Neill didn't think so -- but he had. In his short little life he had on occasion contemplated ending what was left of it. He couldn't begin to imagine Methos ever seriously considering that option, no matter what Duncan MacLeod said. And, if after fifty centuries of war, famine, heartbreak and slaughter Methos still wanted to go on, that was certainly something for a mere mortal of less than fifty to reflect on. *** "Hey, Pale Rider, how's Trigger doing?" "You named my horse?!" Methos responded angrily, pointedly ignoring the more accurate jibe. "You're horse?" O'Neill retorted. "When did it get to be your horse? Listen, Bronco Billy, if those are anyone's horses they're mine. So, bite me!" "But Trigger!" Methos sighed disgustedly as he knelt beside the fire to grab some cheese and an apple. It was night again and all day he had worked the horses, alternating between them whenever they'd stopped to eat and water the oxen. O'Neill had been pretty decent about it once he'd explained that by breaking them on the road they could save time once they got back to camp. It also meant that Methos was worn out now, though he'd rested in the cart between sessions. "Couldn't you have picked something more dignified?" he grumbled. O'Neill rolled his eyes. "So, pick something else," he told the sulking Immortal. "I can't now!" Methos complained, wincing as he really started to feel the long day in his muscles. "It's sort of a tradition, you know. Like naming a kid. The first thing you call them after you get them home sticks in your mind forever. Doesn't matter what's on the birth certificate." "I get it," O'Neill nodded. He'd been Jack for so long that he often forgot his real name was John. And his son had been Charlie, never Chuck or Charles. "So, Wilma and Betty won't do for the girls, huh?" "Damn it, Jack!" Methos shouted, throwing the rest of his apple at O'Neill, who fell back laughing. "Those poor, noble creatures," he added mournfully, rubbing his aching shoulder. "Forever to be remembered as cartoon characters and an overfed, dandified plow horse!" "Think of it as something to live down to," O'Neill replied as he reached into his pack and pulled out a small pill bottle. "No," Methos waved a hand as he saw what Jack offered. "I'm tired and sore, but it's nothing I can't handle." "This isn't a democracy, Captain Pierson," O'Neill responded quietly. Methos frowned but held out his hand. The colonel was correct and he knew it. Any military was for all intents and purposes a contained dictatorship -- its first order of business to keep its weapons, which consisted mainly of the soldiers who directed the implements of war, at peak performance. Anything which interfered with that was bad and therefore had to be stopped. He looked curiously at the little yellow pill O'Neill handed him. "What is it?" The colonel looked at the label and shrugged. "Dilaud. Ten milligrams. Also for gun shot, but in this case as I seem to recall, it was for getting blasted with staff fire. Works the same as the Ibuprofen, but I was kind of hoping for a lot less fuss getting it down that skinny neck of yours." Methos grimaced. "I know what Dilaud is," he said, finally putting the pill in his mouth and accepting the canteen O'Neill handed him. "So, what else have you got in that magic sack of yours?" he asked after swallowing. This time it was much easier, he thought with relief. "Some Vicodin, a few Compazine, maybe some codeine. Why? You planning to open a pharmacy?" "You never know," Methos grinned, easing back on his bedroll and closing his eyes. A moment later something struck him in the face and he sat up, startled and looking anxiously around until his eyes fell on a piece of cellophane glittering near the fire. "Enjoy your lolly," O'Neill told him. "Oh. And Zorro," he added, laying back down in his own blankets. "I'm tired of playing Gunga Din, water boy of oxen. You can look after Fred and Ethel tomorrow in between rounds. I intend to sleep in." Methos stared at Jack then at the candy. With a shrug he picked it up. After all, he'd never eaten a lollipop before. Not that he didn't know what it was. They'd been around for quite a while. Still, no one had ever thought to offer him one and he wasn't much of a sweet eater to seek them out. Methos shrugged and unwrapped it. Might as well try this one, he thought, amused by his own curiosity as he gave the little disk of hardened sugar a tentative lick before happily sticking it in his mouth -- especially since Jack would probably think to quiz him on it in the morning. Chapter 16 The days of travel passed swiftly after that. Once the horses learned that their lot in life was to carry a rider, Methos adapted back into the saddle almost as if he'd never left it. By the time they reached the small narrow valley below the temple he was racing ahead of the wagon and with O'Neill's bemused permission scouting the forest on all sides. As expected, he found signs of traffic around the villages they passed through. People were moving again. The men going out to hunt for game to replenish their supplies as they waited for the harvest, the women seeking fresh new shoots of wild herbs and anything they couldn't grow in their gardens. The common folk mostly stuck close to home, the world outside being fraught with dangers unknown. So, it was with some surprise as they moved up the road leading to the temple that Methos found the remains of someone's cook fire. O'Neill halted the cart as Methos dismounted. "Trouble?" the colonel asked as he climbed down, joining Methos where he squatted by the cold ashes. There were several broken arrow shafts lying on the ground nearby which was heavily stained with blood. "Hunters," Methos nodded as he stood. "Probably rich kids from the bigger farms out looking for any sign of incursions from up north. Happens a lot. Nomads looking for better grazing lands find a good spot to settle down and the locals want to run them off. Doesn't matter that their ancestors did exactly the same thing. They were here first. So they think it's their duty to root them out. Kill whoever fights, sell whoever survives and split the spoils of war." "Sweet," O'Neill muttered, reaching under his cloak to pull out his zat gun as something moved in the trees beyond the clearing. "It's just us, Colonel!" Major Carter called down, moving out into the open followed by Daniel and Teal'c. "You kids all right?" he asked, putting away his weapon. "We're fine," Daniel nodded. "These guys just showed up last week. About a dozen or so with horses. We laid low and kept an eye on them until a couple started moving to explore the temple. Then Sam sent up a flare from inside and they all packed up and left in a hurry. That was about three days ago." Methos frowned. "That might not have been the wisest thing to do," he told them. "You may have frightened them off, but they now have a wondrous tale to tell. And there's always some joker who'll take it into his head that the gods should be appeased, or that this is where you should come to ask a favor. Or maybe he's got some time to waste and wants his own wondrous tale to tell so he can get free meals for life out of his friends and neighbors. Safer just to let them look around and frighten themselves off with stories of angry spirits and whatever they do to trespassers." "We didn't consider that," Daniel admitted ruefully. "Of course you didn't," Methos said amiably. "It's not like you've ever interacted for long periods of time with most of the cultures you've come across. And knowing about the people," he offered gently. "Doesn't mean you can gauge their reactions to random events." "But I should have," he responded quietly. "Why? You aren't an anthropologist or a sociologist. And the whole mindset of the SGC isn't one of non-interference with the local cultures. It's the exact opposite. Which is not to say," Methos added. "That what the SGC does is wrong. It's just a case of me and mine first, you and yours we'll worry about when we have the time. The Goa'uld haven't given us the luxury of making a more humane choice. And frankly, I always thought the non-interference directive on Star Trek was idiotic. Lots of things interfere with the natural growth of cultures. And unless the underpinnings of the society in question are already on shaky ground just meeting a handful of space travelers isn't going to destroy it, just make it expand its horizons." "That's a wonderful theory, Pierson, but do we really have time to discuss the whole Kirk versus Picard issue?" O'Neill asked sarcastically. "There's always time for intelligent discussion," Methos responded haughtily. "And there's no contest there. Kirk above all others." "Not all," O'Neill smirked. "Janeway's pretty hot." "To each his own," Methos grinned, leaping back into the saddle. "And where do you think you're going?" "To scout the area," he responded, giving O'Neill a bemused glance. "With your permission, of course. I'd like to make sure there aren't any others roaming around who might cause trouble for us." O'Neill nodded. "Make it so, Tonto." Methos rolled his eyes in disgust as he turned the horse and headed out. If O'Neill kept up the western name calling for much longer, he was going to start missing the minion thing after all. *** It was nearing sunset when Methos finally returned to camp after settling Wilma in the small, makeshift stable the others had built while they were gone. It wasn't much, just half a dozen covered stalls and a little rail fence enclosed paddock. Still, it was enough to suit his purposes and Methos was pleased with what he'd found when he'd arrived. Despite all of Jack's grumbling at being reduced to water carrier and stable boy he'd at least taken the care of the animals to heart. The stalls were clean with fresh hay, and clear water filled the hollowed out log they'd used for a trough. The other horses had been fed and curried, the oxen left to graze in the field nearby -- even Amelia, the donkey, was looking fat and happy. The cabin was warm and cozy as Methos stepped inside and the wonderful aroma of warm stew filled the room. The others were sitting comfortably around the place in various states of dress, mostly consisting of uniform pants and tee shirts. "Are you guys sure you want to leave?" Methos asked. "'Cause this place is really nice for the times." Pillows, a handful of wet clay and a rock all came sailing in his direction as Methos ducked under the table. "I was joking!" he shouted as cries of outrage reached his ears. Apparently they still wanted cable TV, pizza dinners, and a working toilet more than the hardy, but character building pioneer life of their ancestors. Even Teal'c was glaring at him as he poked his head out to make sure nothing else was about to start flying. "Sorry," he grinned. "Just making sure we're all together on this." "Home isn't where the hearth is," O'Neill muttered sullenly. "It's where the Chinese place knows to deliver on Sundays." "A most astute observation," Methos agreed, finally making his point. "Which is why tonight is the last night we will all be able to wear modern clothing, use modern appliances, or speak anything other than Greek unless absolutely necessary." Stunned silence greeted him as it at last sank in. They were almost ready to escape the boredom and isolation of their little haven and head out into the larger world where danger awaited. "Pierson's right," O'Neill said quietly. "We've only got one chance. Let's make sure we get this thing right." Chapter 17 "What do you mean we aren't going to Athens?" Daniel asked as they were loading the wagon. "Megara is closer and it'll be just as easy to find a ship there, if not easier," Methos told him brusquely. "Athenians aren't always welcome on the islands. The Megarans tend to be a lot friendlier with their neighbors." "But it's Athens!" Daniel exclaimed. "At a time when--" "When it's still a backwater fishing port just like any other," Methos finished disgustedly. "That's not the point," Daniel retorted. "No," Methos agreed. "The point is I don't want to go to Athens." Daniel stared at him owlishly. Methos had let him keep his glasses, but since he'd also had two pairs of contacts in his pack, Methos had insisted he wear those in public. "I thought you said the Horsemen were in Anatolia?" Daniel said quietly. "They are," Methos sighed. "And this has nothing to do with them," he explained, pausing as he started to lift one of the beds up and Daniel made no move to help him. "It's just..." he shrugged, looking off into the distance. "I'm not ready to go back to Athens. Not yet. Not in any age." "You want to talk about it?" Daniel asked, growing concerned. "Not really," Methos admitted. "Suffice to say there was a woman. Alexa. She loved Athens and I loved seeing it again through her eyes. And then she died. So, you'll forgive me if I'm not eager to revisit that memory." "I'm sorry," Daniel nodded slowly. "You're right. We should go to Megara. It's closer." Methos gave him a grateful smile as the front door opened. "That's the last of it," Carter said, putting down an armload of linens. "Except for the stuff we need every day." "Good," Methos told her. "I can load the donkey in the morning." "Daniel," Carter said. "The colonel wants to see you as soon as you're finished here." Daniel nodded as she went back inside. Methos shrugged. "Just help me with the bed and I'll get the rest," he offered. Most of the heavy work was done anyway and Methos wanted everything loaded where he could get at it when needed. They'd all been very surprised when he'd told them to empty the cabin of everything that wasn't nailed in place. But that was all part of his plan, he'd explained, and they'd know everything come morning. When it was all done to his satisfaction Methos went down to check on the animals and see that they were fed, watered and bedded down for the night, then stopped by the stream to wash. By the time he returned to camp night was falling and he suddenly realized he hadn't seen any of the others for quite some time. He opened the door to find them all huddled around the hearth. O'Neill rose first, blocking his view of whatever they'd been looking at. "Where the hell have you been?!" he demanded. "Well, Mom, Johnny asked me to come by his place for a game of catch, then Billy's dad took us for ice cream. Where the hell do you think I've been?" he asked sarcastically. "Working hard to save your ass!" "And because of that," O'Neill told him sharply. "I have to do this!" He stepped away from the others who suddenly moved back to reveal one of the finest bows Methos had ever seen, while beside it lay a quiver of arrows. His lips parted in surprise and he inhaled deeply as he knelt to examine their gift. "This is really nice!" he exclaimed testing the bow which had been made from a length of ash wood and polished to perfection. The arrows were light and tipped with new iron heads which O'Neill must have secretly purchased in Delphi. The fletchings were made of dyed feathers and arranged in a pattern he'd never seen. While the quiver itself was a masterpiece of workmanship. Deer skin stretched around wood and tooled in a running border of leaves individually dyed green with a hunting scene in the center. "Teal'c did all the carving," Daniel told him. "Carter redesigned the bow and did the fletching, so these arrows should be more aerodynamic than you might be used to. I just helped draw the hunting scene." "The rest," Carter added. "Was Colonel O'Neill's project." Methos turned wide eyes to Jack, who stood there frowning. "You did this?" he asked, holding up the quiver. "Okay, so I took a couple of art classes in college," O'Neill huffed defensively. "Sue me!" Methos swallowed hard, looking from one friendly face to another not quite sure what to say that would accurately express how he was feeling. No friend had ever gone to this much trouble to hand make him so special a gift. The amount of time each facet of its preparation must have taken was also telling. Off time was precious to soldiers, and from what he saw here they'd spent at least a good portion of theirs thinking of him. And everything was so beautifully crafted. More importantly, each one of them had used some area of their expertise to create it. In truth, he would have been satisfied with a decent bow and a serviceable quiver with a few sharply whittled arrows. "I think he's speechless," Daniel commented. "It's about time," O'Neill muttered. "You'd think somebody stuck a key in his back and wound him up too tight." Methos bowed his head, laughing softly. "Thank you," he finally said, looking from one to the other. "It's a beautiful gift. I'll keep it always." "And he means always," O'Neill nodded thoughtfully. "Which in itself is very cool." The others were smiling as they thought about that. Something they'd made would be seen and treasured for lifetimes to come. A little slice of immortality they themselves could own. "So," O'Neill asked, daintily lifting the hem of his chiton and taking a seat on the edge of the hearth. "We gonna eat or what?" For the rest of the evening they shared a lively meal interspersed with stories of home, friends and family. They laughed a lot and generally ignored the fact that there might be danger ahead. It was the only way to deal with it. To hope like hell that they could manage to make their way to Egypt and successfully accomplish their mission. As for Methos, he silently vowed that even if they failed, he would make sure his friends spent the rest of their lives in splendid comfort and safety. Chapter 18 Dawn was a tiny sliver on the eastern horizon as they rose and gathered their bedding. There wasn't much talking as they ate a cold breakfast of smoked fish and bread, just the occasional word or comment about whatever task they were focused on. While Methos secured their travel gear and supplies to the donkey, Teal'c and Daniel harnessed the oxen and O'Neill saddled the horses. "All right," Methos said when everything was loaded and ready except for the shields the colonel had purchased and one large bundle. "Places everybody." "Carter isn't here," O'Neill reminded. "She can take a little extra time," Methos told him smugly. "She's our centerpiece." "O-kay," the colonel nodded dubiously. "Hey, can I have the window seat?" "You'll get plenty of air sitting on Betty," Methos responded. "But first," he said, opening the package. "Remove your robe." "But you haven't even asked me out yet!" "And I'm not likely to once you're wearing this." Methos held up the sword he'd purchased and the deer skin belt he'd made. "Cool!" O'Neill said, removing his himation. The belt went around his waist, neatly tied with fringe at both ends. Methos took a moment to adjust his chiton so that it bloused over the belt, leaving the hem to fall just above his knees. The sword had it's own girder which went over the colonel's head to hang across one shoulder with the scabbard comfortably strapped to his back. Taking the himation, linen now because the weather was getting warmer, Methos redressed O'Neill, placing the folds carefully so that there would be no impediment if Jack need to reach for the blade. He handed O'Neill one of the shields and stood back to admire his handiwork. "Now, you're a soldier," he nodded. "Imagine that," O'Neill muttered, looking down at himself disgustedly. Methos rolled his eyes and helped him place the shield over his back so he could ride with it then turned to the other members of the team. "Teal'c," Methos gave a half bow as the Jaffa came forward and he unwrapped a fine linen cloak stitched with hundreds of tiny feathers dyed in rainbow colors. "You," he explained, removing the plain himation Teal'c had worn and replacing it with the new one, "are an ambassador from Numidia. A very important man." "Indeed," the Jaffa intoned. Methos took out several heavy gold bracelets, putting them on Teal'c's wrists and ankles then added rings for his fingers and a heavy gold neck chain and pendant. "You won't really need to do anything," he told the big man. "Just look distant and regal. Pay no attention to anyone. Not even us." "A simple request. Most easily done," Teal'c grinned wickedly. "Thought it might be," Methos chuckled. "One more thing. Two, actually," he amended. "You'll ride Trigger and carry this monstrosity." Teal'c grimaced at the hideous shield he held up. "Hey!" the colonel complained. "That is a great depiction of fish." "I believe there is a saying among the ancient peoples of the Ta're," Teal'c began. "To return from battle with one's shield or lying dead upon it." "With my shield or on it. Yes," Methos nodded. "Then please see to it. Should the worst happen, it may be any shield but this." "You have my solemn oath on that," Methos agreed emphatically as he helped the Jaffa hang the detestable armor across his back. O'Neill frowned mightily and stomped over to Betty. "We ready yet, kemosabi?" Methos sighed in despair. "Look, Jack. Just pick a name. Any nickname! Then stick to it. Even minion is better than this!" "Y' think?" O'Neill grinned, then dropped his sudden mask of affability. "Just get this show on the road, Pierson. We're not playing here." Methos nodded. O'Neill was right. He was delaying. "Sorry, Danny, but I have to pierce your ears," he told the young archaeologist. "I think I see where this is going," Jackson nodded. "Don't worry," Methos said gently, holding up a pair of earrings that looked like tiny lions' heads. "These are lighter than they look and I've got a good salve there to keep you from itching." A little alcohol and a fine needle from the med kit allowed Methos to do the work quick and neat. A pair of gold bracelets to match and a lion's head broach to hold his himation at the shoulder and Daniel was ready. "Major Carter!" Methos called. "You can come out now!" The front door opened and Carter stepped out, drawing stares from the other members of the team. Her fine blonde hair was curled high and held in place by tiny combs of beaten gold set with miniature sheaves of wheat. The same motif was repeated in all of her jewelry. From the huge dangling earrings to the small pins that held her sleeves together at various points from her shoulders to her wrists. She wasn't wearing bracelets or a necklace, but the belt that encircled the waist of her flawlessly white chiton whispered musically as the sheaves slid across her hips as she walked. "It's brilliant!" Daniel whispered as he looked to Methos. "We're untouchable!" "What's brilliant?" O'Neill asked. "She looks like an ad for the Farmer's Almanac." "She's a bride, Jack! Don't you get it?" Daniel explained. "A noble bride on her way to be married. Led by the groom's ambassador," he waved at Teal'c. "Protected by a pair of her father's soldiers. And bringing with her a dowry of such wealth her husband could only be a king!" "Don't forget your own role in our little charade," Methos grinned, bowing deeply. "The honored brother who acts as his father's emissary, driving a fine pair of oxen and his very beautiful sister." "So?" O'Neill asked again. "What's the big deal?" Methos cast his eyes to the heavens, sighing again in despair. "Do you know how much bad karma messing with anyone looking like us would bring?" "Not to mention the war it would cause," Daniel added. "Okay. So no one messes with the king's main squeeze. Got it," O'Neill nodded. "Carter, get in the wagon." "Yes, Colonel." "No!" Methos shouted. "You don't speak to her. And she doesn't speak to anybody! Daniel speaks for her and we speak to him only when necessary." "So what do I do?" Carter asked angrily. "Just sit up there looking stupid?" "No," Methos told her calmly. "You are a princess. You sit demurely with your eyes downcast and pay no attention to anybody." "The whole way to Egypt?!" she shouted. "Only when we're in public, damn it! You can chat with Danny. But only if he speaks first." Carter frowned and O'Neill looked furious. "Please," Methos said quietly. "It's only when we pass through a village, or if we're close to anyone on the roads. If you say anything then, he'll be required to beat you." "I thought princesses got special treatment?" she asked, giving Daniel an icy glare. "Only in storybooks, Samantas," Methos told her kindly. "In the real world, they may have more to eat and prettier clothing, but they get treated far worse than most other women." "He's right, Sam," Daniel added. "It's not that I like doing this to you," Methos explained. "But it's the only way we can get to Megara without running the risk of being stopped for any reason. Your very presence makes the rest of us safe. And if we do have to stop where there are people you won't have to stay with the other women. You'll have a special place with Jack and I as guards. The other women won't expect you to eat or even gossip with them. You'll be both respected and ignored by everybody." Finally, she nodded. "Okay. If it'll get us there safely, I'll play along." "Thank you," Methos heaved a sigh of relief. "Danaeus," he turned to Daniel. "Help your sister into the wagon. No one but you touches her until we get to Megara." Methos adjusted his own chiton, strapped on his sword, slid his shield over his back, and tossed the rest of the gear into the wagon. Without a backward glance at the little cabin he turned and went to his horse as Jack mounted alongside him. "Just for the record, Methos," O'Neill said quietly. "This plan sucks." Methos grimaced wryly as he kneed his horse forward. "If it gets us where we need to go in one piece, I don't care if stands up and farts." Chapter 19 The houses and fields stood empty in the bright summer sun. Whole villages depopulated in a matter of minutes. Even those unable to walk were carried to the road where the great and mighty were passing. Only once in a generation might such an event take place and those who missed it would listen in rapt awe to those who hadn't and account themselves lucky just to hear the tale. They came out of the north it was said. Rumor flew on the feet of children, who ran ahead to win sweets and praise from their neighbors. Royalty is passing, come show your respect and be entertained. People lined the roads, some having left their homes many miles away and long before dawn just to wait in the heat of the day. But none left disappointed. A man of rich exotic color, like the fine dark wood of the precious cypresses of Lebanon polished to gleaming perfection led the procession. A prince of his people, or maybe a lesser king himself, so wealthy he decorated his skin with gold emblazoned on his forehead. But who else, they whispered, would be sent to bring back so rare a prize? She was fair like the cream which rises to the top of the milk jug, with hair of sunlight to crown her glory. Even the gold she wore paled beside such beauty. And as she passed, her unblinking eyes held the road ahead as though her only thought was for the husband awaiting at the end of her long journey. Then there was the relative who accompanied her. Skin nearly as fair as the woman, his own hair dipped in gold with eyes the color of the sky at morning. Tall and stalwart, a man of honor indeed, who plied the one who might challenge a goddess with sips of cool wine and simple conversation that might keep his charge amused. Of course this wondrous entourage had guards. Only two, but did they need more than that when the two were of such frightening demeanor? They glared at the people with faces carved like granite, searching the crowds as if they could see into the hearts of men and know who might offer insult or danger. One was a hawk, the other a lion, terrifying in their coldness. It was said that together they had beaten back the Four Horsemen who'd tried to steal their lady and hacked the monsters to death. And this was believed because it was said. And why shouldn't it be true? If you could but look into the eyes of these fearless men you would know it! And as the procession passed onto the horizon the people gathered in the road behind to catch every last bit of its magnificence. Well pleased and satisfied that they had been blessed by the gods themselves, they returned to their homes and their fields to repeat the tale as often as they were able until the myth turned into legend. *** The wagon turned at a bend in the road putting a large stand of trees between SG-1 and their latest audience. Methos glanced back over his shoulder to make sure no one was following and nodded. "It's over for the moment," he told O'Neill. "At ease," Jack announced to the others, who heaved a sigh of relief. "You okay, Carter?" he asked, riding over to the wagon. Samantha was slumped in her heavily padded chair which sat beneath the awning. "Just tired of sitting, Colonel." O'Neill nodded. "This looks like a good place to stop for lunch. Why don't you get down and stretch your legs?" "Thank you, sir." She stood up and stretched in a most unladylike manner, rolling her head to ease the tension in her neck. "Come on, Daniel, help me down from here." Jackson nodded, moving stiffly off the hard bench, kneading his lower back as he reached the ground. He winced sharply as he touched a tender spot then frowned at Carter as he held out his hands and lifted her down. "Could you not kick me quite so hard next time? I'm getting a bruise there," he complained. "If you'd just speak to me, I wouldn't have to kick you at all," she replied unrepentantly, walking away to lean against a tree trunk and do some leg stretches. "We are all tired, Daniel Jackson," Teal'c said quietly as he came over. "She perhaps more than we. It is not easy for Major Carter to sit so silently on display." "Tell me about it," Daniel muttered, rubbing his sore spot again. Teal'c merely raised an eyebrow and went to find a comfortable seat in the shade beside O'Neill. On the other side of the wagon Methos easily slid off his horse, loosely hitching the mare to the cart. He pulled his canteen from the saddle bag and quenched his thirst, going over to the donkey to retrieve the basket he'd filled that morning with food for the day. He could tell by his companions' expressions that they were already weary of the game, and after three weeks of being ogled by the masses he couldn't really blame them. "Cheer up," he said as he joined them, setting down the basket. "Another three weeks, maybe a little longer if we lose another wheel, then we can ditch this whole set up and sneak into Megara like good little covert operatives." "You knew this would happen," O'Neill accused, obviously referring to the endless streams of people that came out to greet them. "I was counting on it," he agreed. "And it's to our advantage to play up to them. A few local aristocrats might be greedy, but they'll think twice if the entire district is watching. It's their crops that will burn and their families that will be slaughtered if the nobles go out of their way to make a powerful enemy needlessly. And many of the villagers can still tell stories of those same nobles whose ancestors were just as poor as they are now when they first arrived, but found a good plot of land, or killed their neighbor to get it. Blood feud is a way of life here, and you can bet that if one tribe offends us the next will want to protect themselves from our anger by taking up arms against the evildoers." "So no one is willing to do anything that might get them killed," Carter surmised as she finally joined them. "Would you if you were them?" Methos asked. "They may be poor by our standards," he explained. "But they're comfortable and content with their lot in lives. They're warm in the winter, they have food to eat and a few small luxuries. Maybe a vial of rose water for Mother once a year, or a basket of peaches from Argos the whole family can share. We might not think it's a lot, but they're happy because they don't know they aren't supposed to be." "Makes you wonder what a few innovations in technology would do here," Daniel murmured. "Not much," Methos snorted, parceling out the contents of the basket to everybody. "Especially after they killed you for even suggesting it. I remember when day laborers rioted in England when machines put them out of work in the mid 19th century. It's only in the past hundred years that people have come to see technology as a necessity -- and only in the last twenty that business had cushioned the blow to the economy by retraining workers in other fields. Innovation has never been the poor man's friend." That seemed to end the discussion and they were quiet as they ate, more cheese, olives, way bread and a handful of figs. Meat was for the evenings when O'Neill could find a quiet place and attack a tree, or when they were between distant villages and Methos felt it was safe enough to go hunting. "Did you hear what they were saying at that last village?" Carter suddenly asked. Everyone looked at her curiously. "That Colonel O'Neill and Methos had destroyed the Four Horsemen." "I'd always wondered where that tale came from," Methos admitted. "The Lion and the Hawk. Wishful thinking, I suppose." "Yeah," Daniel asked. "Whatever happened to them? The other Horsemen, I mean." "They're dead," Methos said blandly. "In the Game," Daniel nodded. "You could say that," Methos responded and kept eating. "Well, it was or it wasn't," O'Neill challenged the Immortal. "Come on, Pierson. Give." Methos thought for a moment, then gave an internal shrug. It was over and done with. Whether they enjoyed hearing the tale or the role he'd played in it wasn't really important, was it? "It happened just a few years ago our time," he explained quietly. "Kronos found me and decided we should have a sort of class reunion. Only this time he didn't want to ride through the countryside laying waste to small pockets of humanity. He wanted the entire world at its collective knees." O'Neill snorted in amusement. "And how was he going to achieve that imaginative feat?" he asked dryly. "Biological warfare," Methos answered succinctly, watching their eyes widen. "He must have spent years studying. And it's a pity really. Without realizing what he was doing he became a brilliant virologist. Created a toxin to rival Ebola -- and without a vaccine. Thought if he unleashed it on even a small part of the world they'd have to give us everything. All the power and bootlicking he'd ever dreamed of." "That would have lasted all of five seconds," O'Neill chuckled mirthlessly. "He'd have just loved that Welcome To The World Powers gift we'd have sent. You know," he confided. "Some of our nukes only make a tiny little boom and have no fall out worth mentioning." Methos nodded wryly. "It was insane," he agreed. "But he could have wiped out millions before you stopped him. Maybe more if the virus became airborne." "What happened?" Carter asked. "I left MacLeod a trail and he came after us." "You were in on it?!" Daniel looked shocked. "Of course I was in on it! Kronos would have killed me if I hadn't agreed -- and that virus would still have been out there waiting to destroy humanity. He might have liked the advantages of the modern era, but he wasn't above being spiteful and petty. He could just as easily have sent the world back to the Stone Age, found himself a good horse and started all over again -- with him in charge of whoever managed to survive the plague. And I knew how to handle biologically hazardous material. To destroy the virus so completely that not a single microbe would escape. After MacLeod took out Caspian and I knew he could take Kronos, I went for Silas and it ended." "So you only pretended to be in on it," Carter nodded thoughtfully. "Wouldn't have made a difference which if Kronos had succeeded. I would have been just as guilty in your eyes. And come to think of it," Methos cocked his head. "Knowing what I know now I probably shouldn't have been as eager to take care of it personally." "How's that?" O'Neill asked. "Well, that story," Methos responded. "The Lion and the Hawk. When Kronos showed up and MacLeod already wanted his head I thought maybe it was a bit of prophecy unfolding. I mean, you never know about that sort of thing, do you? And one of the symbols of Scotland is the Lion Rampant. I thought it meant we were destined to win." Sometimes, Methos thought ruefully as the others smiled at his childish whimsy, he amazed even himself with his own egotistical stupidity! They finished their meal in silence, then wearily resumed their places. Once they were mounted O'Neill sidled the horse over and quietly brought up the earlier conversation "You still would have done it," O'Neill said with conviction. "Even if you weren't sure you could win." Methos raised an eyebrow. "You really think so?" he asked, not at all certain he wouldn't have handled it differently. "Oh, yeah," O'Neill nodded. "You may be a cold, calculating son of a bitch to everyone else, but deep down inside you'll always be my marshmallow minion." Stunned, Methos watched as he rode to the other side of the wagon. "Kronos was right," he whispered, aghast. "I've not only gotten soft," he grimaced. "But chewy!" Chapter 20 A week later they paused in their journey to rest at a hot spring in the foothills below the Garania mountains. It was sheltered by the remains of a small shrine to Hephaestus, god of the forge, one Methos had remembered from his days with the Horsemen. But the old priest who had cared for it two centuries earlier had died and the shrine must have become lost. They set up camp for the night and took their turns, smiling as they rejoined their comrades by the fire. Going next to last, Methos sighed with pleasure as he sank into the heat of the spring and slid beneath the surface. He relaxed himself, breathing in the hot, metallic tasting water unconcerned with drowning, until every fiber of his being felt soothed and comfortable for the first time in weeks. He drowsed there, floating peacefully until he drifted off. "PIERSON!!" A hand gripped his hair, pulling him up and out of his warm cocoon, flailing and sputtering with indignation. "What?!" he shouted at O'Neill, who knelt beside the pool. "You drowned." "I was napping!" O'Neill stared at him in disbelief until Methos finally sighed in disgust and explained. "I don't know why Immortals can breath under water, we just can. Maybe it has something to do with how our Quickenings perceive our bodies. What's normal and what's not. Muscle strain is a normal function, but tearing them is not. We breath fluid in the womb, again a normal function, so perhaps it--" "Okay! Okay!" O'Neill held up a hand. "I'm down with the water breathing. Now, if you don't mind, I'd like to take a bath." Methos rolled his eyes, reaching out for the small pot of soap he'd brought with him. "Well, don't mind me, there's plenty of room. And I'm not done yet." O'Neill frowned, then shrugged and stripped off his towel, groaning with relief as he slid into the water. "God, I miss indoors plumbing," he muttered. Methos smiled as he started to wash his hair. "I know how you feel. I remember Rome. Houses had proper sewers with heated floors and baths. Then the Visigoths showed up and Europe went to hell." "Never met 'em, but I despise them on principle," O'Neill murmured laconically as he rested his head against the ledge of the pool. Methos grinned and rinsed his hair, then reached for his straight razor to shave. "So, what's on the other side of those mountains?" O'Neill suddenly asked. "Megara." The colonel sat up and frowned. "You said it was another two weeks to Megara." "It is," Methos sighed, carefully pulling the blade across his lightly soaped cheek. "But we can't take the cart into the mountains. There's no pass anywhere near here." "And how long if we just cut straight across?" "Three days maybe, but--" "Change of plan, Pierson. We dump the oxen at the nearest farm and burn the cart." "We'll lose a lot of money on the resale," Methos pointed out. "We're not here to make money," O'Neill grimaced. "If we need more we'll just send Carter and Teal'c out rock collecting." Methos shrugged. It certainly wouldn't be a problem leaving the oxen behind. Or some of the supplies they would have needed for a longer journey. The donkey could take the rest and they could double up and walk the horses some of the time. He'd planned for them to ditch their disguise on the road to Megara anyway and enter the port as a family looking for passage. "Sounds fine to me," he finally nodded, washing the rest of the soap from his face. "Wonderful," O'Neill responded. "Now, be a good minion and go find Fred and Ethel a nice home. The rest of us can empty what we need from the cart. I think I'll give Carter the pleasure of lighting that fire. Oh, and you'd better hurry it up," he added, leaning back. "We head out at sunrise." Methos frowned. "You're sure you just want to leave the oxen?" he asked. "You wouldn't rather I sacrifice them in your honor? You know, I make a wonderful ox tail stew." O'Neill sat up looking horrified. "You'd kill Fred and Ethel? For a lousy bowl of stew? What kind of sick and twisted minion are you?! Get out of my shrine!" Methos fell back laughing until O'Neill kicked him in the shin splashing him. Bemused, he hurriedly hoisted himself out of the water and grabbed his towel. If he left it to the children no doubt they'd bring all the animals back -- and turn the SGC into a petting zoo! Chapter 21 "He says he knows of a house that may be for rent," Daniel told the others as they waited near the deep fresh water spring that served the five small villages which would one day become the city of Megara. Methos glanced up from fixing his sandal strap and looked toward the man in question. A slave. And by the look of it, one sent to fetch water for the household. "Tell him to finish serving his mistress then come back and show us. We'll wait." A few moments later Daniel returned. "He says it's on the way and he lives in the next village over. He won't be able to come back." A likely story, Methos thought lacing up his sandal again, but it could be true. Either the man didn't wish to lose the chance at whatever coin he'd earn for his small service, or his mistress was one of those women who swore by the healthfulness of spring water. He'd known one Roman matron who would send a dozen slaves with carts to bring enough water for the entire family to use every day. Which might have been sane if the fool had thought to give some to her chefs for the food, rather than using it exclusively for bathing. Lead from the pipes which carried water into the city from the great aqueduct had poisoned thousands. "All right," Methos nodded. "We'll follow. Just let me get the others." They gathered up the few things they'd removed from the packs for their morning meal then Methos lifted Carter back onto the donkey. Like all women traveling she was wrapped head to toe in swaths of linen. "Almost there," he told her softly. She was hot and tired as they all were, but the restrictions imposed on the major by this culture were definitely getting on her nerves. A normally even tempered woman, she'd been snapping at everyone since they'd come out of the mountains three days earlier. They'd all agreed to get her laptop out of storage as soon as they were safely indoors. O'Neill and Teal'c brought up the horses while he took charge of the donkey and Daniel walked beside the slave chatting amiably. Methos watched in silence, wondering absently if the boy knew the kind of gift he offered this man. Or maybe it was torture, to be treated for a brief time as a man and not a piece of chattel. In any case, he doubted Daniel understood what he was doing. The archaeologist in him would probably be more fascinated by the wealth of knowledge the man's presence offered and he'd be up half the night scribbling notes in his journal. Not that Methos couldn't have offered him the same information, but like any good scientist he wanted corroboration from a variety of sources. They reached the house which was down the narrow lane from the owner's, a man whose brother had once lived there with his wife and two children according to the slave. The man had gone out fishing one morning about a month ago and not returned after a storm. As was customary, the care of the wife, her children and all her spouse's property had gone to the husband's nearest male relative. Methos handed the slave a small sliver of bronze, cut from a much larger coin and given as change from an earlier purchase. It was enough to buy a good meal, or a cheap pair of sandals and he popped it in his mouth to hide under his tongue. With a nod of thanks the slave took off, seeming to carry his burden a little more lightly as he called to someone in the owner's house that custom, or trade awaited at their door. The owner, a man called Theophrates, a dealer in fish oils, came out a few minutes later to unlatch the door and show Methos the house. It was a typical home for the times. Two large rooms sectioned off into numerous small chambers with a low walled courtyard in the back where there were pens for the goats and chickens. The kitchen was a tiny room off the courtyard with a good sized oven, though now that it was summer most of the cooking would be done outdoors. The place came furnished with a few old pieces and at the cost of one drachma a month it was more than a little steep. "We may not need it for a month," Methos explained. "My family and I seek passage to the island of Crete." "Crete?" Theophrates asked, surprised. "You won't find any here to take you that far. Those who were going even half such distance have long since gone. And none that I know of have ever traveled there." Methos nodded, he'd expected as much and the others knew it as well. The only way to get there would be to island hop from Megara to Salamis, or maybe Aigina, and from there down the rest of the Attic coast. They'd need to winter on Crete, but from there they could easily obtain passage to Egypt. Without explaining his business to the man, Methos made him an offer. "I will pay you one third that for two weeks. If we find passage to the islands before then you may keep the rest. If not then I will pay you by the week." "One month full payment at my original price," he countered. "In addition to which, I will send a slave to clean the house and cook two meals a day. If you leave before the two weeks are up I will return one quarter of the money. If you stay longer, it will be the same arrangement monthly until you leave." Methos considered the offer. It was fair and the food might just be edible. "Done," Methos agreed and pulled out the coin. "Send the slave in the morning. My sister will oversee her work." "As you wish," Theophrates nodded, accepting the coin then politely wished him well in his search for a ship before leaving. "All set," Methos grinned as he rejoined the others. "There's a courtyard around back where we can keep the animals," he added, leading the way. "It's a little cramped," O'Neill commented as they entered through the kitchen. Everyone but Samantha had to duck in order to get inside, and Teal'c had to keep his shoulders hunched in order to avoid hitting his head on the ceiling. "It is what it is," Methos shrugged. "Of course, if you're not happy with it there's always the other alternative." "Which is?" O'Neill asked suspiciously. "I'm sure one of the local brothels would be pleased to let us a room, though it might be small and rather noisy from time to time." "There aren't any hotels," Daniel reminded him quietly as O'Neill glowered. "And this place comes with a bonus," Methos explained as he showed them the rest of the house. "Theophrates is going to send someone to cook and clean for us." Daniel stared at him, appalled. "You got us a slave?" Methos raised an eyebrow at that. "It's a big house. Would you rather Major Carter do all the work?" Samantha shoved back her mantle and frowned. "Major Carter would have preferred that you consult her first before deciding to help her out, Captain!" "And if we were anywhere but here I would have," Methos acknowledged soothingly. "But here we are and there you have it." "I do not need or want a slave!" she stated angrily. "Fine," he told her coolly. "Then you cook and clean while she sleeps in the corner. Feed her three meals a day if you like and it assuages your conscience. But don't complain to me when the local housewives beat you bloody for showing them up to their men folk. They like having slaves." "We can all work," O'Neill announced trying to be diplomatic. "Just like before." "Are you out of your mind?" Methos asked. "If you think the women are bad just wait until the men come after us for daring to upset the natural order. The Megarans may be a little more cosmopolitan than their country cousins, but not by much." "But--" Daniel began. "No!" Methos declared, having heard enough. "No more complaints! I told you all there were things you'd have to do that you weren't going to like. Well, consider this one of them." "He did indeed warn us," Teal'c reminded them. "And this world is not unlike many others we have visited," he added quietly. "But with one difference. These people are long since dead and forgotten in our time. Therefore, anything we do here cannot be held against us. We did not enslave them. Perhaps it would be well to think of those who suffer as merely shadows of a past injustice long since overcome." "Teal'c's right," O'Neill sighed, crossing his arms. "We all knew this might happen. So just suck it up and deal with it." "Yes, sir," Carter answered quietly as Daniel nodded. "Good. Now, let's get the gear unpacked and properly stowed. I don't want this girl coming across anything we don't want seen." Methos heaved a silent sigh of relief as he went to help in the unpacking. He didn't really understand what all the fuss was about anyway. Yes, slavery was a terrible thing. It had always been terrible and everyone knew it, which was why no one wanted to be a slave. Of course, until the industrial revolution no one had ever taken the idea of completely ending slavery seriously either. As long as it happened to someone else the practice was considered a necessity. And it wasn't as if he'd gone out and made the purchase himself. The slave was just a loaner. A girl to help out around the house. Surely they'd all contacted a cleaning service from time to time and had someone come in to do the floors and laundry? He knew damn well that Carter ordered her groceries online and had them delivered to her apartment. Did she think the women who cleaned and the students who brought the food to her door and put it in her cabinets earned more than the equivalent of modern slave wages? They got just enough to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table and warm clothes on their backs with nothing left over for the luxury of having someone come to their house and clean their floors when they were tired from work. It was all relative, Methos supposed as he removed the saddle bags from the horses. Payment in coin as opposed to a space in the corner and enough food to keep body and soul together meant modern children didn't have to trouble their consciences when the service personnel walked out the door and went home. Not to a nice, loft style condo in the city, but to a drab, run down apartment block in a marginally safe neighborhood, if they even had that. And did these children of the modern age think their temporary servants were any freer than slaves to pick up and go where they wanted? A few with courage and opportunity might throw caution to the wind and give up the security of even a low paying job. Most, he knew, were too afraid of ending up in far worse circumstances than before. The modern equivalent of slavery, he thought wryly, was euphemistically described as 'honest' work. With a mental shrug of dismissal Methos gave up this line of thought. Carter could coddle the girl all she liked as long as the major made at least a token effort to have her work. And the others? Well, they would just have to deal with it in their own way and on their own time. He had more important business to worry over than someone else's conscience. Chapter 22 Methos left the harbor not long before sunset, stopping once to purchase a little basket of sweets as he reached the edge of the port. For the second unsuccessful week in a row he'd tried to find passage. Still, he wasn't worried. It was only mid-June and many of the larger boats that had gone out when the weather finally cleared in April would soon be returning. They'd make at least two, maybe three more runs out to the islands before putting in for the winter to wait out the fierce Mediterranean storms. The point of going down to the harbor now was to talk to fishermen and sailors about which captains were trustworthy and who might be willing to take on passengers. By the same token, it also got the word of mouth out that someone was looking to travel. At the end of the street he saw the house they'd rented, looking much the same as a thousand others homes he'd ever lived in. The only difference being that behind those doors were four people who didn't belong in that house or anywhere else on this planet. He hid a smile as he stepped inside. Samantha still might not be speaking to him after their conversation the week before, but she'd obviously listened. The place was swept clean and fragrant rushes had been spread on the dirt floor in the main rooms. Bees wax had been used to polish the furniture, while dust and cobwebs no longer resided in the corners. The lamps had been filled with scented oil then lit for the evening. And the aroma of fresh fish cooked to perfection wafted through the house. With a nod to O'Neill, Methos went to his room, since they now had enough space for everyone and stripped off his clothes. His bed was made and on a low table in the corner he found a wash basin and an urn filled with water set beside a clean towel. Now this was how a proper house in this place and time should look, he thought smugly, washing the dust from his body. Poor Carter hadn't even known where to start. Having the girl take their travel stained clothes and bedding to the river to be washed the first day had been a good idea, but Samantha hadn't figured out that there were actually worse jobs. Dumping and cleaning chamber pots wasn't something she was accustomed to, let alone had thought about until he'd mentioned it to her. There were straw mats to be shaken, beds to be made, dishes to be cleaned and a host of other daily tasks that a slave would be surprised to find already done before she started working. And Samantha had quietly been doing all of them, leaving the girl to do the laundry, sweeping and cooking. Shopping for food was another chore, but he'd assigned that to Daniel, since men did that anyway. Giving the boy leave to talk to the natives and look around as much as he liked. Megara was one of any number of historic cities which had continuously occupied the same spot -- though very little archaeological work had ever been done at the site. It kept him busy and out of the house and for that, he knew, the others were grateful. O'Neill had volunteered to look after the animals, while Methos took care of the difficult business of visiting wine shops and chatting to sailors down in the port. Teal'c had agreed with everyone else that the less he was seen in public the better. Dark skinned men and women were not unheard of in any sea town along the Aegean, but rarely seen this far north. As far as Methos knew, he'd spent most of his time either meditating in private or whittling bits of wood in the common rooms. Methos took a fresh chiton out of his chest, dressed himself and left the old one with his himation on a peg by the door. In the morning, the girl could shake out the dust and see if they needed washing. If not, she'd hang them out in the courtyard to air. There was a soft knock at the door post to his room and Methos moved the thick leather curtain aside to find O'Neill standing in the narrow corridor. "Got a minute?" the colonel asked as he stepped inside. "Of course," he responded. "I was on my way to report. Nothing new I'm afraid, but that's to be expected right now." "Understood," the colonel nodded, moving to stand at the tiny window that looked out onto the courtyard. He turned slowly, looking around the barren room. "Something on your mind?" Methos prodded, when Jack remained silent. "I need to know what you said to Carter," he said, keep his tone neutral. Methos didn't have to ask, he knew what O'Neill wanted. "I told her there was gossip," he said bluntly which there had been. "I told her the women were wondering why we didn't beat her. That the slaves in their houses were getting sloppy because they saw how hard she was working, and that her kindness to one slave was getting dozens more punished." Methos gave a half shrug at O'Neill's disbelieving expression. "Even if it wasn't true they were still getting beaten because the women were angry with Carter. More importantly, they said all this loudly enough for me to hear as I was passing. It was meant as a warning for her. So, I simply explained exactly what her duties as mistress of the house were -- and that they didn't include emptying chamber pots." "And you took it upon yourself to explain all that without coming to me first." "Do you know how an ancient household functions?" Methos asked coolly. "That's not the point," O'Neill retorted. "Protocol says you come to me and I talk to her." "You'd gone fishing and it couldn't wait," Methos shrugged. "I was afraid she'd walk out of the house and get stoned to death, or at the very least badly hurt. The idea that it takes a village to raise a child is a very ancient one, Colonel. And if I hadn't done something the women would have taken it upon themselves to correct what they perceived as Carter's poor performance. I'm sorry if I breached protocol, but it needed to be done and quickly." O'Neill nodded slowly. "That may be true, but Carter can take care of herself. And I'd have liked to see her kick those bitches butts." "Oh, now that would have been lovely," Methos grimaced. "Attract a lot of the wrong kind of attention. The kind that gets the men to thinking what a feisty woman like that could do under the covers." "She'd have kicked their asses too!" O'Neill grinned nastily. Methos shook his head. "Do you want to get out of here alive, Colonel?" "I never expect to get out of anywhere alive," O'Neill said flatly. "In fact, I'm usually pretty surprised when it happens. Why should now be any different?" "Never mind," Methos sighed. "What's really bothering you is that Carter is sulking." "Yeah, that," O'Neill agreed as he walked to the door. "And thanks to you she's also stopped eating." O'Neill paused and turned, staring into Methos' eyes as he noted the Immortal's stunned expression. "I know you didn't mean for that to happen, but it did. So now it's your turn to suck it up and fix it. Any way you can." At that O'Neill turned on his heel, leaving Methos to wonder what could have possibly gone wrong. He hurriedly found the little basket of sweets he'd purchased, more of the deep fried dough balls in honey though these had a variety of fruit preserves in their centers -- the ancient equivalent of the jelly donut. He'd bought them for Carter in any case, since most women weren't allowed out of the house unless they were visiting friends or going to the temple at festivals. It was a difficult lifestyle for a woman as independent as Carter had been, but she'd done as he'd asked and Methos had hoped to show her how much he appreciated it. He picked up a small lamp and left, heading down the corridor to the women's rooms -- a nod towards the decorum that an ancient household required and that a female slave would have been shocked to find absent. Men other than husbands and sons were supposed to be forbidden entry, but when the slave returned to her master's house after preparing their evening meal no one paid that little custom any attention, except when it came to Carter's bedroom. Quietly, he opened the heavy wooden door that separated the two sections of the house. At night, Carter generally retired early and as far as he knew worked at her computer. Luckily, every piece of equipment the military provided came with solar powered batteries, so they'd never had to worry about losing those resources. True, he admitted as he silently approached her bedroom, he hadn't been around much during mealtimes, so he couldn't contradict what O'Neill had told him. But he'd believed her the few times she'd avoided sitting down to dinner when they were all together -- claiming, of course, that she'd already eaten. And after the way she'd befriended the little slave girl, he'd thought it very likely she was sharing her meals in the kitchen. He paused at the door, seeing the room curtain wasn't completely closed and surreptitiously peeked inside. Carter sat on the floor with her back to the entrance. No lamps had been lit though her body was partially illuminated by the steady light from her view screen. She was wearing a simple linen bed gown, thin enough for the light to silhouette her figure against the cloth -- and enough for Methos to see that O'Neill hadn't been mistaken as he'd thought. Always a slim woman, Samantha's ribs were now hard against the back of her gown. Shocked, Methos rapped lightly against the door post and watched in dismay as she started, moving hurriedly to shut the laptop, but not before he saw that she'd been staring at a blank screen. "May I come in?" he asked softly as the room plunged into semi-darkness lit only by his single lamp. "I'm really tired," Carter responded dully. "Can it wait until morning?" "This won't take long," he offered. "Please?" She sighed deeply and shrugged, moving to stand and replace her computer in the large chest at the foot of her bed. The only one with a lock where they kept most of their modern gear. She picked up her himation and wrapped it around her shoulders as she went to sit on the bed and told him to come in. Without a word Methos stepped inside, using his own lamp to light the one set in the wall niche beside her bed then went around the room and lit the rest, ignoring her frown. "I got these for you," he finally said, coming back to stand next to the bed. She took the little rush basket and peeked under the small bit of scrap cloth that covered its contents. "Thanks, " she said, putting it aside and looking as though she'd be ill. "I'll have them for breakfast." He doubted that, but said nothing as he fetched a stool from the corner and without asking took a seat beside her bed. "Did I ever tell you I was a slave?" he began lightly. "Several times, in fact." Her eyes went wide. "Then how...?" She didn't even have to finish the sentence. He knew what Carter was asking. "How can I even indirectly own one?" She nodded and Methos smiled sadly. "Because until quite recently I never really thought the institution of slavery would ever end. I always believed that men would continue enslaving others just because they could. And then I ran into Harriet Tubman. Or more exactly, she ran into me like the veritable Underground Railroad she was." "You knew Harriet Tubman?" Samantha asked, more than a little awe struck. Methos smiled wryly and nodded. "1853. I had a little medical practice," he explained. "In Georgia just north of the Louisiana border. It was well known that I would treat slaves, but the plantation owners looked the other way. I was the only doctor in the county and they needed me. One night, Mother Tubman showed up on my door step with half a dozen runaways. I hid them, fed them, treated whatever ailments they had and sent her on her way -- hoping I'd seen the last of it," he added ruefully. "But you didn't argue with Harriet. When she wanted something you gave it to her and were glad to come out of it with just a tongue lashing. I once heard she met an avowed slaver, who after an hour in her presence came out of the conversation an ardent abolitionist. I'm inclined to believe the story." "You were a stop on the Underground Railroad," Carter surmised, quietly astonished. "For a few years, until I was hung for it," Methos admitted. Samantha rubbed the crease between her eyes and sighed. "I don't understand," she finally said. "You obviously despise slavery. And yet..." "And yet I accept the practice in the here and now," he finished and she nodded. "It's how I've survived, Major. Just think Stone Age and put a computer in my hands. What does that tell you about me?" For a long moment she simply stared at him until Methos gently explained it to her. "I blend in, Samantha. I accept the moral teachings and social values of those around me and I become a part of the culture. It doesn't matter whether I personally agree with what they espouse, I accept it because there is no other choice for me. And in all honesty, I don't believe I have the right to condemn anybody for their beliefs. Immortals have no culture, no social organization which can rightfully be called a society. Mortals make the world what it is and we don't have the right to interfere." "Well, I can't accept it. Slavery. It's... It's... Ich!" she shuddered in disgust as if something nasty had crawled across her spine. Ich?! Methos thought, surprised. He expected Ich! from O'Neill. But Carter? She used twenty dollar words as if she minted them herself. Ich?! And then it hit him. He'd seen this before. With Alexa. He just hadn't recognized it. They'd stayed in hotels wherever they'd gone during his one spectacular year with her. And every morning she'd get up and clean. At first he'd teased her, telling her to let the maid take care of all that -- it was what he was paying for. Her response had been to tell him not to be silly. That she was quite capable of picking up after herself. He'd thought it very brave. A refusal to give in to her illness. Even when she'd been too weak to walk she'd clean the little area by her hospital bed until the time finally came when she couldn't even lift her arms. Embarrassment and shame had marred her features every time one of the cleaning staff would come by to wash the floor in her room or change her linen. Again he'd thought it was her pride, but maybe it had been something much deeper. A thoroughly modern mindset against servitude, perhaps? "May I ask you something?" Methos swallowed hard as he broached the subject. "Have you ever hired a cleaning woman?" he asked softly. "Of course not!" Samantha responded angrily as if she'd just been insulted. "I can look after myself." "Ever sent the laundry out?" "Only the dry cleaning," she told him, staring at him curiously. "I don't like the idea of strangers touching my personal things. It's...disgusting." "You order groceries online though." Samantha frowned. "Only when I absolutely have to. It's my job to take care of me, not anyone else's," she added emphatically. Oh lord! he thought. I've screwed this up royally! He'd totally misread the situation. Carter didn't need persuading, she needed relief. No wonder she wasn't eating. She was so revolted by the idea of slavery that having a slave in the house made her feel... Unclean. And by virtue of that everything around her that was touched by slavery also became tainted and filthy. Yes, she'd done her duty. Sucked it up and played the lady of the house -- but it was killing her by inches. "I'm truly sorry," he told her honestly. "Would you prefer if one of us directed the girl in her duties?" "I wouldn't do that to the others!" she whispered, appalled at his suggestion. He had to think about that a minute. If Carter hated it, what were the others feeling? O'Neill avoided the house as much as possible and Daniel kept himself busy with other things. Only Teal'c remained, and he'd already decided that nothing in this place applied to him anyway. They were obviously just as disgusted as she, but dealing with it in their own ways. He had to get them out of here, and quickly! Methos picked up the little basket of sweets. "These were made by a free woman. No slave touched them. She doesn't have any male relatives to take her in, so she sells them to support her son until he's old enough to take up the trade of sailing. Do you think you can eat them?" Samantha looked faintly embarrassed to discover that someone else had noticed there was a problem. She took the basket and nodded. "I'll try." "Thanks," he smiled kindly. "And will you tell O'Neill, if he asks, that I've gone back down to the harbor?" She nodded again, only vaguely curious as she nibbled the edge of a pastry. "I promise, Major. If I have to buy a boat and row us all to Salamis I'll get us out of here before the end of the week." Surprised, she gave him a grateful smile and took a larger bite. "And no more house slaves," he added, standing and putting the stool back where he'd found it. "That I guarantee." She seemed to relax as her face flooded with relief. "I'd really appreciate that," she nodded. Methos turned to leave, smiling sadly as she finished only one of the sweets and put the rest aside. Still, it was better than nothing. He'd find something more substantial for her at the harbor and make up another nice story she'd believe. Chapter 23 The port of Nisaea, like any port in any century, was still lively after dark. It stood a mile or so below the villages and was almost a village in itself. Sailors, fishermen, tradesmen and the occasional farmer all congregated in the wine shops and taverns at night. Prostitutes sat in their windows, or had a man outside the house hawking their talents. Very few wandered the streets actually searching for trade. While slaves looking to make extra coin waited near the shops with torches to light the way home for those too inebriated to manage the task themselves. Methos passed a clutch of young men bargaining with a pimp, sons of the wealthy out for a night of disreputable fun. He smiled to himself as he passed them, recalling his own youthful indiscretions. Never quite so young as his companions, but sometimes being taken at face value had its merits. He went back to the largest and cleanest of the taverns where the wine, like the food, was of better quality -- as were the patrons. Not really expecting to find a ship, though he saw quite a few new faces in the thin crowd that filled the low planked tables and benches, Methos found a place in the corner and signaled to the proprietor to send him a meal. A few minutes later a slave brought a plate of fish in a thick sauce and bread, placing a jug and a wine cup at his elbow. He was just finishing when a commotion sounded near the door. Not trouble from the laughter surrounding the new arrival, but a welcome addition apparently. Methos looked up as the men called out their greetings. "Hail Gyganes! That shrew of a daughter-in-law drove you out again tonight, eh?!" The newcomer, a stout man of some years with a face so seamed with lines and wrinkles that he could have personified the term weather beaten nodded sadly. "My friends," he told them. "It is a wonderful thing to have the wealth of five sons, but never let your eldest marry a harpy!" Even Methos chuckled under his breath at that as a few nodded their agreement. He watched in surprise as the tavern owner himself served the old man, then said something quietly and pointed to Methos. Excusing himself from his friends, Gyganes took his plate and cup and came to sit at Methos' table. "My friend says you are called Methos and are looking for passage to the islands," Gyganes stated. Methos nodded, ignoring the abruptness of his words. The sea created a different kind of society. One less apt to be tolerant of the extreme politeness more commonly used. "My family and I are traveling south," he explained quietly. "Have you a ship?" "I have five ships," Gyganes said proudly. "One for each son to sail for me." A man of wealth indeed, Methos thought admiringly. It was not easy to extract riches from the sea and to have been so successful meant Gyganes was a man of some daring. "Would one of those ships be headed where we are going?" "And where exactly would that be?" "To Crete, eventually." "Crete," Gyganes echoed with a wistful sigh. "I have always wanted to go there. No reason. But it would be nice to die having seen the island of the Minotaur." Methos hid his surprise. Whimsical ideas of traveling to far away places for the sake of adventure were not widely accepted yet. Not here anyway. "If you had a ship I could pay you well for the voyage," Methos offered. Gyganes laughed. "Now that would be something. To be paid for having a foolish dream." "Why is it foolish?" he asked. "If you can make the journey why not do it?" Gyganes sat back and stared at him. "I never thought of it that way. And an old man should have some say in the manner of his dying." "Every man should," Methos agreed. "Very true," he nodded. "But all my sons are on their ships and my eldest grandson, a fine young man, has only a small boat for the short trade with Athens." Methos nodded slowly. The old man seemed willing if he could only be persuaded. "If you knew of a ship for sale I would buy it. Then," he added as Gyganes stared in amazement. "I would give it to you in payment for taking us there." Methos watched as the numbers clicked inside Gyganes' head. A big ship with only passengers and their belongings going to Crete and an empty ship on the way back. Room enough in the hold to store all manner of trade goods that would fetch a fantastic price at towns along the coast. And when it was over his grandson would have his own ship and the family wealth would grow. "You are very eager to go," the old man asked warily. "You have not offended the gods or committed some sin for which I might be punished by offering you passage?" Like most sailors, Gyganes was obviously superstitious. "No sin or crime taints my family," Methos told him earnestly. "But we need to go." "What will you do on Crete?" It was not a fair question, but Methos liked Gyganes so he answered it. "Eventually, find a ship to Egypt." The old man's mouth hung open. A whole family traveling to fabled lands was unheard of, but Gyganes had his own dreams and Methos was playing to them. Finally, Gyganes nodded. "No one needs to go so far to escape the gods if they are guilty of sin. Why you go is not important. But I would like to see Crete -- and escape the harpy for a season!" Methos grinned. "Then you know of someone who wants to sell their ship?" "No, but I know of a new ship made for an old friend who died last winter. The shipwright hasn't had any takers and isn't likely to until the harvest trade is over. I was waiting till then to offer for it, but the vessel is sea worthy. I'll fetch you in the morning and we will visit him together." "Agreed," Methos nodded and told him where they lived. He stayed a little longer just to be sociable then excused himself, saying his family expected him. On the way out he remembered Samantha and stopped to purchase an extra meal. Maybe she'd be so excited at the thought of leaving she wouldn't need a happy little story in order to eat. With another little basket under his arm Methos left, buying a small torch from one of the slaves. He walked the two and a half miles home in well under an hour, smiling broadly as he opened the door to find Jack, Teal'c and Daniel waiting up for him. "You'll want to get Major Carter," he told them. "I have good news." O'Neill shouted for her and Methos rolled his eyes, closing the door behind him as he found himself a stool. She came into the front of the house wiping sleep from her eyes. "Yes, Colonel?" He pointed to Methos and the Immortal nodded. "I've found us a captain willing to take us to Crete." The others were jubilant as he explained the deal he'd made with Gyganes. "And the best part," he finished. "Is that we can move out of here and onto the ship as soon as it's ready. Even before he's hired a crew. As the owners, no one will question anything we do." "How long before we can sail?" Daniel asked. "A week, maybe two to get her fully stocked for a long voyage. We won't be able to take everything we need because of spoilage, but we'll be able to replace things as we go. And it's a big expenditure," he warned. "What with having to buy food for the crew and pay them off, but it'll be worth it. This way we're sure to get to Crete before the winter storms." O'Neill nodded. "Good work, Pierson. All right campers, let's get some rest." "Major!" Methos called softly as the others headed for their rooms to turn in. Carter paused as he got up to bring her the basket of fish and bread. "Smells good," she smiled as she took it. "Do I get a clever bedtime story with it?" Methos had the grace to look embarrassed. "Do you need it?" he asked gently. She shook her head. "No. But if you're in the mood to talk I could use some company while I eat." Methos grinned. "How about I tell you the tale of The Ship That Wouldn't Sink?" "Is that like The Thing That Wouldn't Die?" "The what?" he asked putting out all but one lamp to bring with him. "You know, that old B movie. The Thing That Wouldn't Die." "Must have missed that one," Methos murmured as he followed Samantha down the corridor. "Anyway, what was The Thing That Wouldn't Die?" he asked curiously. "The usual," Carter shrugged. "Some guy in scary monster mask chasing after a lot of screaming bikini clad women." "Now that's not fair," Methos put on his most insulted expression. "They weren't screaming because I chased them -- they were just delighted to see me!" *** There was a light breeze off the water early the next morning as Methos, O'Neill and Gyganes walked along the beach. The old man had been pleased to meet the family he'd be transporting and even more pleased to be invited to break his fast with them. He'd been a little surprised at the sight of Teal'c, but Daniel's story of how Uncle Teulokos had fallen asleep in a hot spring dedicated to Hephaestus, only to awaken and find himself colorfully blessed by the god of the forge had deeply impressed the man. The added inference that they had visited the Oracle at Delphi and been told to go to Egypt for reasons unknown only excited Gyganes' imagination further. They were on a quest like the great heroes of old and he would be blessed for helping them. Just to be certain, of course, he would sacrifice an unblemished goat to Poseidon and have the entrails read. But he didn't think the god of the sea had ever been angry with Hephaestus, so there should be no trouble there. They reached the shipyard, primitive by modern standards, but a good sized factory by ancient ones where boats from large to small were built by skilled craftsmen. There were no slips or docks, just an old house where the master ship builder lived and his works in progress scattered over the beach. Gyganes led them to Metosthenes, whose family had been building ships for more than a century. With little in the way of formal greetings they headed over to the ship Gyganes' late friend had intended to purchase. Methos stood back saying nothing as he walked around the vessel, impressed by the quality of the workmanship. Some thirty feet in length and approximately ten feet wide, it was fairly typical of most Greek ships that would be built over the next millennia. It might displace some fourteen tons of water and hold perhaps twenty tons of goods or stones as ballast weight. There were small decks both fore and aft, and a narrow walkway ran to either side above an open hold with rails along most of the length. One giant oar steered the ship and of course, there was a single mast for the large square sail that would be raised. "I'll want modifications," O'Neill whispered as Methos paused to consider what kind of offer he'd make. "What sort of modifications?" he asked, confused. O'Neill looked at Methos as if he'd suddenly gone stupid. "You know, lifeboats, extra rigging above the hold, extended decks, maybe a nice little cabin with a wet bar and Jacuzzi for Carter, a fishing chair for me." Methos nodded slowly. Jack was right. They were going to have to live on this thing for nearly three months and the Mediterranean was a dangerous ocean. "Gyganes," he called, waving the captain over. "What would you say if we wanted most of the hold covered over with sturdy planking? Then, for the sake of my sister, built a small house atop it." The old man look surprised, but nodded. "If it did not interfere with the running of the ship or its sea worthiness I would have nothing to say, would I?" Methos smiled. "It would not. We'd leave openings near the prow and stern giving access to the hold. And there would be plenty of room for the crew." Gyganes shrugged. "Draw a picture for Metosthenes and I am sure he will do his best." "Not necessary," Methos explained. "Uncle Teulokos has told us what to do and we are fair hands at building ourselves." Gyganes appeared astonished, but nodded emphatically. "If the god says this is how it must be done, then so it must be. Whatever help I can offer, it is yours." Methos smiled gratefully. Now they would have free reign to do as they pleased. And once the story got around the villagers wouldn't even dream of interfering. He only wished he could have done this before, but coming into any town claiming religious favor was a good way to get one killed. Subtlety in presentation was everything. Methos glanced at O'Neill, who nodded. This way, doing all the work themselves, they would also be able to reinforce the ship using modern techniques and no one could say anything. He went over to Metosthenes, bargaining hard for the ship and extra materials. The builder was clever, but had no head for business and Methos felt no pity when he raked him over the coals. Three small row boats and a ton of extra lumber were added to the bill as well as a promise allowing them to live and work on his beach for as long as they needed and all for just a few more pieces of bronze. When Metosthenes left, counting himself lucky, Methos turned to Jack and caught Gyganes smiling. Business sense was not much appreciated among the Greeks yet. The economy of investing in the future or hedging ones bets almost completely unknown. "A fine son you have there, Yanos," the old man said proudly. "He speaks well for his family." O'Neill raised an eyebrow. The only familial designations they'd given Gyganes so far were for Teal'c and Carter. For all the old man knew, Methos and Daniel could have been his brothers. On the other hand, this could make things interesting. "Yes, he's a good boy," Jack agreed enthusiastically, reaching out to hug Methos shoulders and ruffle his hair mercilessly. "Sometimes he's a handful, but I think I'll keep him." "Thank you, Father," Methos gritted as O'Neill wetly kissed his forehead and the old man grinned. "Now, if you'll excuse us, Gyganes," the colonel said. "I need to inform the rest of the family to begin packing. Come on, son," he added expansively, leading Methos away by the back of the neck. "I'll buy you some candy." Chapter 24 Methos stared in dismay as O'Neill ladled another helping of fish onto his platter, but with Gyganes and his crew joining them for dinner there was really nothing he could do to stop him. It had taken nearly two weeks to make the necessary alterations to the ship, boiling olive oil down to make pitch, redesigning the hold to carry the horses and donkey which O'Neill had decided they should keep as well, then building the center deck and cabin. "Go on, son, eat hearty," the colonel grinned. "You're mother always said you were too thin." Silently, the ancient Immortal vowed that if it was the last thing he did he'd get Jack for this. Daniel gave him a wide smile as Methos savagely bit the head off his fish and spat it into the fire. "Tough being the baby of the family, isn't it?" the young archaeologist snickered. Beside him, Carter's shoulders shook with silent laughter. "Apparently, our fearless leader has developed a deep atavistic need to torment really old people," Methos muttered angrily, picking absently at the unwanted fish. "And you two infants aren't far behind." "It's not his fault Gyganes made an assumption," Carter whispered. "Well, he could have corrected him," Methos retorted. "We're unmarried, remember? And while it might be good for your ego to be considered a child in public, mine isn't doing handstands over it." "Something wrong, kids?" O'Neill asked across the fire. He and Gyganes had been discussing the joys of fishing. "Nothing, Father," Samantha responded cheerfully. "Methos was just fussing." The Immortal groaned silently. He should never have suggested the family motif. On second thought, he probably should never have signed those damned documents at the SGC. "Fussing, is he?" O'Neill nodded thoughtfully, getting up. "Come on, son. Let's take a walk." With a heartfelt sigh at the absurdity of it all, Methos put down his plate and followed Jack along the beach. The moon was going down now and as soon as the tide turned they would be leaving. Gyganes had been very impressed with their modifications and with a crew of four hand- picked men the old captain knew and trusted, Methos felt they were in good hands. O'Neill paused at the edge of the water staring out toward Salamis. "There a problem, Methos?" The Immortal thought for a moment then shook his head. It wasn't a problem, he realized, just an annoyance. "No," he answered quietly. O'Neill nodded. "Because if there is, I think we need to talk about it." "I don't need a father-son lecture," Methos sneered. "It's just...irritating." The colonel gave him a sardonic smile. "That's generally what family is. Irritating." "Lest you forget, Yanos," Methos pointed out stonily. "We are not a family." "No, we're not," O'Neill agreed. "We're more than that. We're a team. Ever been part of a team, Methos?" "Of course I have!" Methos snapped. "No, I don't think so," the colonel said with a slow shake of his head. "You've been a member of a team and a team player, but I don't think you've ever been part of a team." "Oh really?" the Immortal began snidely. "Did I ever tell you," O'Neill interrupted, clearly ignoring Methos' attempt to deny the accusation. "That way back when I went to the Academy? You know, Officers' School. I learned a lot of fancy words there -- and a lot of weird head shrinker shit. Mostly about team building and group dynamics. But what it all boiled down to was one single word that pretty much said it all. Enmeshment. Know what that is?" "I've heard the word," Methos agreed cautiously. "Yeah, but have you ever felt it? Been enmeshed in a group so deeply you forgot where they ended and you began?" Methos remained silent, not sure where O'Neill was going with this. He'd certainly forgotten who he was on occasion. Lost himself in a persona so completely that he'd had to stop for a moment and remember that he was not who he pretended to be. "What are you trying to say?" he finally asked. "I'm saying that you aren't Adam Pierson anymore. That you haven't been Adam Pierson for a long time. Maybe since that first trip to Delphi. Pierson might have left camp, but Methos came back. And somewhere along the way home he forgot to pick a new identity to hide behind." "I don't--" Methos paused as he started to speak. He'd been about to say he didn't hide behind his personas, simply showed only the aspects of himself he felt others could accept. But something stopped him. What O'Neill said felt right and that surprised him. "You do hide," O'Neill offered gently. "You hide so well you even hid the fact that you were hiding from yourself. Which is understandable," he nodded. "I'd guess there aren't many people willing to accept who you are and what you've been all at the same time. And then you found us," Jack grinned wryly. "Think you're bad? Think again," he added bitterly. "I've killed a hundred thousand to your measly ten. Teal'c's slaughtered millions and enslaved even more." "So we're none of us good guys," Methos frowned. "Make your point." "My point is, that for the first time in five thousand years Methos doesn't have to hide. And for someone whose life has been one long covert operation that's a scary thought. You've become enmeshed in a way you never expected. It's easy to care about someone, then mourn their loss. But it hurts like hell when they care just as much about you and you can't hold onto them. So you push them away. You make it easy on yourself. Can't blame you really," he sighed. "I'd probably do the same. But then, I'd lose so much. Sometimes," O'Neill added, finally looking Methos in the eye, "living in the moment and suffering the consequences is the only thing we really have time for." Methos sat heavily on the sand as O'Neill walked away. Sometimes he really hated it when the children were right. He did push people away. Mortals. Immortals. It didn't matter. None could even begin to fathom who he was or what he'd been. And he'd felt that loss O'Neill spoke of, knowing he could never truly be himself with anyone. Most recently, he'd felt it with the Highlander. MacLeod, who'd seen only Adam Pierson -- not Methos, the survivor. Somehow imagining that the ancient Immortal had existed throughout his life as some sort of wandering scholar -- not the warrior he would have had to have been. But that had been easier for the Scot to accept, so that was who Methos had been. And yet, the scholar was a part of him. Well, one aspect at least. So, he'd shown only that part of himself, knowing MacLeod could never accept the whole. No one, he suddenly realized, ever had. In all his long life he'd never once completely shown himself to anyone, not even the Horsemen had seen the buried pieces of the puzzle he was. And now? Who was he playing at? Methos thought hard, cataloging his past lives and personas but couldn't put a name to this act. Which had to mean it wasn't. And the others had seen that before he'd even realized it was showing. More importantly, they obviously liked what they saw. Now that shocked him. And O'Neill had been right. It scared the hell out of him more than he wanted to admit. To know and be known was dangerous. It meant...enmeshment. His life entangled with other lives that meant as much to him as his own. He'd have to live with their deaths in a way that not even Alexa's loss or Joe's eventual demise could affect him. And some part of him had known it all along. He was mourning them even now. Pushing them away to keep himself safely cocooned against the loss. They were all dying and he could feel the pain of it even as he sat and stared up at the void of the stars. But that's what Jack had meant when he'd talked about the consequences of living one's life. Living in the now without anticipating the future. They teased him because they liked him, and he both loved and hated them for it. Hated the fact that they'd die and he could do nothing to stop it. Hated the fact that he'd go on and maybe never share that wonderful sense of totally belonging with anyone again. It hurt so bad he wanted to rail against the curse of his Immortality, instead of seeing it as the blessing he'd always thought it was. And he loved them because they saw him. A terrifying concept. He was known. But instead of running, some part of him wanted to stay and let it all hang out. Be the warrior and the scholar. The complex, many- faceted individual he was. Soak up their approval and revel in it. But to do that, he'd have to live in the moment. Accept the consequences of living life, instead of peeking through a tiny tear in the fabric of the tent wall. Most of all, he'd have to stop mourning them before they were gone and get on with the business of sharing the same space and time. They weren't walking corpses -- and he wasn't either. Distantly, Methos heard a voice call out from the fire that the tide was turning. Indeed it was, he thought with a hint of self-mockery. It was time to go. And time to live, however briefly, with the strange little family the fates had thrown his way. Because, if he really thought about it, that was all he really had time for. Chapter 25 With each passing day Gyganes and his crew grew more familiar with the strange customs of their passengers. They did not interfere, merely watched, bemused, as Yanos fished from a chair nailed to the stern, or Danaeus made scratches in the thing he called a book. Samantas also drew strange pictures, but on a slate, making her own scratch marks which she often discussed with Danaeus. And while they were thus occupied, Uncle Teulokos fashioned new toys to amuse his favorite nephew, Methos, who spent an inordinate amount of time avoiding his family and eagerly helping the crew. As was the way of sailing in these days, the ship kept within sight of land whenever possible, stopping at islands large and small along the way to take on water, fresh food and fruit. At night, and again when possible, they would pause in their journey, pulling into one of the thousands of tiny bays and inlets that dotted the coast. It gave Methos a chance to exercise the horses and hunt to supplement their food, though many of the places they stayed were no more than rocky atolls with a surplus of birds. Weeks then months passed in this way as their slow journey south continued. Sometimes the winds were good. Sometimes there were days when they barely moved at all. Storms came and went slowing their progress even further as they made for land and anchored themselves tight each time. And it was mid-September when they finally came within weeks of their goal... *** I really do hate the sea, Methos thought sickly, lurching forward as the ship rolled drunkenly in another swell. He made it to the rail, bracing himself as he breathed in the cool clean air. It wasn't so much the weather that was bothering him, he knew, but the stench slowly creeping up into the cabin from the hold. They'd tried their best to keep it sanitary, but try as they might with the ship so unsettled the muck strewn floor was impossible to clean -- not without first getting the animals off -- and that wasn't likely to happen for a while. "Good morning, son!" O'Neill called ebulliently as he strolled around the deck, ignoring the fine mist of rain. The colonel seemed to positively thrive in bad weather. Methos closed his eyes, sighing in despair. He really didn't want to deal with this right now. "Morning," he muttered sullenly. "You look awful!" O'Neill commented as he came up beside the Immortal. "I'm fine," Methos lied. "Just had a bad night." The last thing he needed was to be fussed at by the others. They were still having way too much fun with the baby brother routine, though he did rather like all the amusing little toys Teal'c made to while away the hours of boredom aboard ship. He just enjoyed baiting the others with frowns and snide remarks ever so much more. "Poor kid," O'Neill told him sympathetically. "Why don't you go check on your pets then take a little nap? Looks like we're going to be here a while." The mere mention of the animals made Methos grip the rail until his knuckles turned white, biting his lip to keep the nausea under control. "Sure," he nodded, turning away and completely missing O'Neill's look of concern when he didn't come back with a smart ass remark. He headed for the trap door that led to the hold. He could do this, Methos told himself firmly. This was the Mediterranean, not the Atlantic. He wasn't in a row boat covered in filth and excrement with a handful of chanting Irish monks on his way to Iceland. Horse dung smelled different. Oh, shit! he thought desperately as he opened the door and the hot, fetid air from below hit him. Not different enough, apparently. Methos was at the rail heaving painfully before he even realized he was moving. Behind him, O'Neill was suddenly holding his shoulders and rubbing his back in slow comforting circles which eased the knotted muscles even as he tensed for another bout. A few minutes later he went limp, not caring when O'Neill slowly led him back to the cabin and gently helped him to a bed roll. "We got any Dramamine?" the colonel asked quietly and Samantha nodded, going to fetch the med kit. "I'm not sea sick," Methos whispered, wiping his face with a damp rag someone handed him. "Could have fooled me," O'Neill muttered. "Well, not very," he admitted tiredly as the boat rose and fell, turning his stomach. "It's a combination. The sea and the smell from below. Reminds me of a bad trip I once took." Daniel brought water as Samantha handed O'Neill the little foil packet of pills. "Whatever it is," the colonel told him. "You're down for the count. Take these." "I'll be fine," Methos said, the very idea of ingesting anything making him wince. "Just don't start singing hymns in Latin," he joked weakly. "Latin?" Daniel asked, confused. "Went with the bad trip," Methos sighed, then briefly explained the problem. "I could have lived without that fascinating bit of trivia," O'Neill grimaced. "Now I need Dramamine." Methos chuckled, stopping abruptly as he tried to suppress another bout of dry heaving when the ship rolled and pitched. "Take the pills," Samantha told him kindly. "They really do help." He suddenly caught a strong whiff of animal scent and groaned. Nothing could be worse than this, he thought, retching softly as he took the damn things then choked them down with water. A while later, as Methos felt the worst of the illness passing, he finally drifted off to sleep. Nearby, the others watched with concern as the wind rose and the ship rocked strongly. O'Neill shook his head and gently tossed a blanket over him. "A sea sick Immortal. Who'd a thunk?" he muttered. "Sounds like more of a psychological problem," Carter sighed "Yeah, well. Who cares," O'Neill shrugged. "Just keep him sedated until the weather clears. We need him alert and well rested." "Yes, sir," she agreed. It would put a dent in the med kit, especially if he needed more for the rest of the journey to Egypt. But if there was one thing aviators knew, it was how to treat nausea. If necessary, she'd corner Methos and make him give her a recipe for whatever ancient sea sickness potions he knew. And given what lay ahead, they were going to need it sooner or later anyway. Chapter 26 The sound of shouting on deck filtered easily through the thin walls of the cabin. Frightened, angry cries punctuated by thunder, lightening and the ever present rocking of the ship. Methos was alone in the cabin, still groggy and weak from the drugs, but he knew danger when he heard it. Ignoring his body's protest, Methos hurriedly retrieved his sword, staggering outside just in time to see the last of the crew leaping over the rails. The cold air seemed to clear his head and he moved forward against the storm, catching sight of another figure outlined against night. "What the hell happened?!" he shouted as he caught Samantha, holding her against the rail as another wave pummeled the ship. "Don't know!" she called against the roar of the wind and water. "Something set them off. They started screaming about Poseidon and being cursed. Gyganes tried to calm them and one of them knocked him down! He's hurt, but Teal'c and Daniel are with him!" Damn it! Methos thought angrily. He should have known better than to allow himself to be drugged!. A few days in a storm like this would have been enough to worry most seamen in this day and age. If even one mistook a wave for a sea monster the rest would have panicked and followed along. Wouldn't have mattered that their greatest safety lay in staying put, they'd be swimming for land in a minute. "Get inside!" he told her as Daniel and Teal'c appeared carrying the injured captain. "See what you can do for him!" "You go!" she shouted back. "He needs a doctor and I need to help Colonel O'Neill secure the ship!" She was right, Methos realized and nodded. The rough sea was dragging them closer to the rocky shoreline and O'Neill was probably trying to get another anchor over the side. "Wait!" he called as she turned and started to make her way toward the stern. With the edge of his sword he cut the hem of her chiton and ripped away the bottom half of it so she wouldn't trip, leaving it as short as the sailors' had been. "Do the same for the others! Screw propriety! We're running this ship!" She grinned and went to help O'Neill as he and the others got Gyganes into the cabin. Teal'c left immediately while Daniel helped him find the med kit. Then he too disappeared, leaving Methos to tend to the injured man alone. It was hours later when the storm finally began to subside and O'Neill, Carter and Daniel finally reappeared looking utterly exhausted. They were soaked and chilled to the bone, but Methos had nothing to offer except dry blankets and water. All their stores were down below and inaccessible at the moment. "How's Gyga--" O'Neill began then stopped as he saw the blanket covered corpse. "He died a few minutes ago," Methos said quietly. "Acute head trauma. There was nothing anyone could have done." O'Neill nodded and sank down against the wall. "The ship okay?" Methos asked, slowly putting away the medical supplies. "We've got her stabilized," Carter responded, moving behind the wooden partition that served as her bedroom and a dressing area. "Teal'c's keeping an eye on things." Methos nodded. "If you guys are okay on your own for a bit, I'll go down below. I need to check the animals. Get some food out of the hold." "I'll do it," Daniel said tiredly, taking a deep breath as he turned toward the door. Methos gave him a grateful smile. "Thanks." "So, what next?" Carter asked as she came out dressed in her old uniform. No need to hide anymore, Methos realized with a shock, glancing at Gyganes' still form. A pity, he thought sadly. He'd liked the old man with his whimsical dreams and notions. The others were likely dead as well. Not many sailors learned to swim. It was thought impudent and a temptation to the gods to wash them overboard at the first big swell. "First we bury our dead," O'Neill said as he rose stiffly and went behind the partition to change. "Then we sail to Crete." "Not at sea," Methos said quietly, shaking his head. "He'd have been afraid of that." Samantha gave him a curious glance. "If the fish eat him, his soul won't go down to Hades," Methos explained. "There should be another island about thirty miles south. It's where we were headed before we dropped anchor here. The village is small, but it'll have a cemetery and we can leave his name with some of the sailors there. They'll pass it on to any ship headed toward Megara. Word of mouth will eventually reach the family. They won't have payment," he shrugged. "But they'll have that comfort at least." "What about the others?" Carter asked. "They might have--" "They can rot for all I care!" Methos snarled, shoving the med kit back into her pack. "They didn't have to hit him. He was an old man. He couldn't have stopped them from jumping." O'Neill said nothing as he stepped from behind the screen and the major stared hopefully at him. Hoping for what, Methos didn't know. Probably some grand humanitarian gesture more in keeping with their modern sensibilities. If so, she was disappointed. "We head for the island," O'Neill ordered curtly, shrugging into his jacket. "And bury the old guy proper. We can restock if we need to and go from there." Methos nodded, refusing to look at Carter. He'd hire the mourners and see to it that the funeral procession was befitting a man of Gyganes' wealth and status. He could even, Methos thought, feeling his spirits lift a little, perform the burial rite himself. It was usually left to the nearest male relative of the deceased, but he didn't think Gyganes would mind. It was after all, the least he could do -- especially after taking such unfair advantage of the man. Chapter 27 "Okay, campers, Admiral O'Neill is now in charge!" Jack shouted, striding happily across the deck giving orders. "Up that anchor. Unfurl that sail. And no sea chanteys!" he added as the team moved to take their positions. "I hate those. Everyone named Jack has a peg leg, an eye patch and swigs rum like a sponge." Methos laughed. The day was bright and beautiful and not even Jack's taciturn command style could put a damper on his good spirits. After six days in port the hold was clean and they were fully stocked with enough food and water to carry them all the way to Crete. And more to the point, without the pretense of having to stop for fresh water, since they could now purify what they had at will. Or the need to anchor every night for fear of sea monsters and rocks, they could set sail for deep water and make the great island in less than two weeks. "You look happy," O'Neill said as he joined the Immortal beside the rudder. "I am," Methos smiled. "I like Crete. Of all the islands, it's my favorite." "It's nice," O'Neill said blandly. "Good beaches, okay fishing. A little touristy, but nice. "You're thinking of modern Crete," Methos grinned. "Wait till you see it now. It used to be better when the Minoans had it all, but where we're going... Let's just say it's the last bastion of civilization left on the island." "You're the tour guide," O'Neill shrugged. "But none of that two for one Club Med shit, Pierson. I'm paying top dollar for this." "Top dollar it is," Methos grinned. "And I know just the right hotel," he murmured to himself softly as O'Neill went to check the riggings. "The Kronos Isn't Inn..." *** The breeze was good and the sea calm as they approached the eastern tip of the island. They were too far out to be spotted, but through their binoculars they could see at least a dozen ships in the distance. "Looks busy," Carter said as she put away her field glasses and went back to cleaning fish. "It is," Methos agreed, giving her a hand. They were anchored here until nightfall when they'd land in a quiet cove he knew of and go ashore. "That's Zakoros. One of the best harbors on the island. Nicely sheltered from the winds off the cape. It used to be one of the four great administrative centers on Crete. Had it's own palace, too. Not quite as big as Knossos or Phaistos, but it controlled all the eastern trade with Egypt and the Levant. To a certain extent it still does, even without the central organization of the palace." The major tossed another fish onto a nearby platter. "It'll be nice to be on land again," she commented, glancing toward the high forested peaks of the island. Methos only smiled in agreement. The rest of the trip had been relatively easy with only one brief squall to mar their passage. And thankfully, no need for O'Neill to get out the Dramamine. "When my father was stationed in Athens I visited here," she went on offhandedly. "One of the tour books said that Minoan women were pretty much treated as equals." "They were," Methos nodded, calming her unspoken fears. No one wanted a repeat of what had happened in Megara. "And in Zakoros that's still pretty much the case. Not a lot of Dorian influence in this area yet. It's always been pretty inaccessible from the rest of Crete. Like Egypt, women have property rights, own businesses, bring lawsuits -- and since god is a woman here they control the religious hierarchy as well. In the old days, when the palaces still stood," he smiled wistfully. "They could bull jump and box with the best of 'em. It'll change later," Methos added with a sigh. "But right now, this part of the island is still very much a Minoan society." "That's good to hear," Samantha nodded distractedly. "And the, uh...native costume?" she inquired delicately. Methos chuckled. "Those wall paintings are deceiving, Major. Except, of course, for the men," he amended with a wicked grin. "We really did run around in mini skirts and not much else. The only women who went around truly bare breasted were the priestesses. Unless it was a festival day, of course, then all the unmarried women went bare." "And now?" Methos shrugged. "That's up to you. We won't be staying in the city. So, you can do what you like. The local girls still keep the old ways of course. But with more strangers coming into town they've learned not to go into the foreign quarter without an escort. A shame too, because Minoan women were always quite open and forthright when they spoke to men. I rather liked that about them. As I recall," he added thoughtfully, gutting one last fish and tossing it onto the pile. "Four of my wives were Minoan." "You were married?" Samantha asked, very much surprised as Methos grabbed the tray and stood. "When you were a Horseman?" "Yes, I was married," Methos shrugged as Carter got to her feet and followed. "You know, we weren't always out wreaking havoc on the countryside. A couple of generations on the road and we'd settle down for a bit, wait until the stories passed into legend then go back out in a couple more. Pretty scary when your granddad tells you the tale of the Four Horsemen when you're a kid and you wake up one morning to see them galloping over the ridge. Helps too," he added sardonically. "If you spread the joy across a couple of continents -- just so the villagers don't get the idea to band together and finish you off." "And in between all this, you just...went on vacation? Found a pretty girl and got married? "That about sums it up," Methos said as they joined the others, who were sorting through what stores they would be taking with them. "Sums what up?" O'Neill asked as he neatly tied a bed roll. "The story of how I thrived and wived," Methos said, setting the fish aside as he knelt to pull out a baking dish. "Wived?" O'Neill asked curiously. "You never said you were married," Daniel added. Methos rolled his eyes in disgust and stood. "Is everyone here? Where's Teal'c?!" He looked around as the big Jaffa poked his head in the cabin door, hearing his name called. "Good. Get in here. Because what I'm about to say is of the utmost importance. Absolutely necessary information without which you might all come to a bad end and have no one but yourselves to blame. Everyone listening?" They nodded, trying not to laugh as Methos frowned, hands on hips and sternly told them the truth. "Since this is obviously information none of you can live without, and for your sublime edification, let it be known that I have been married a grand total of sixty-eight times -- not counting slaves and concubines. Are we happy now? Can you at last live with yourselves knowing this ultimate revelation?!" Teal'c merely raised a disinterested brow and left as Daniel nodded confusedly, no doubt averaging out the number of wives needed per century. Carter merely ducked her head, refusing to laugh aloud. "That wasn't like, you know, all at once?" O'Neill asked dubiously. Methos closed his eyes briefly and shook his head. "No, Jack. The most I've ever had to handle at once was in China. Eight wives, eleven concubines. All of them gifts I might add. Nearly drove me insane." O'Neill frowned, looking from Methos to Daniel and back. "Am I doing something wrong? What is it? The geek always gets the girl?" Daniel nodded, trying not to laugh. "Sorry, Jack. He who has the sharpest pencil rules." Chapter 28 The tiny inlet above the small bay was completely isolated, shielded by trees reaching nearly to the water's edge. They beached the ship using the horses and the donkey to drag her into the tree line, carefully camouflaging the hull with palm fronds and sand. Though they had no plans to come back here, ever cautious, they all agreed that sinking her might turn out to be a mistake. Then, once again dressed in their ancient world costumes, they loaded their few possessions onto the donkey and set out. Methos led the way up through the trees toward the narrow gorge that marked the steep road to the city above. "This is the Ravine of the Dead, isn't it?" Daniel asked as they reached the wide path that ran beside it. "The what?!" Jack exclaimed. "It's just an old Minoan burial ground," Methos explained soothingly, mounting his horse then giving Carter a hand up behind him. Teal'c did the same for Daniel then Methos started them moving, attaching the donkey's lead to his saddle. "The gorge is chock full of sacred caves, so this is where the locals come to bury their dead." "Cool," O'Neill muttered, glancing over the edge toward the rocky ground below. "So," he asked. "How far are we going this time? I noticed you didn't pack a lunch." "About twenty miles inland. We should be there by morning. Kronos has a little palace tucked into one of the hillsides." "Kronos?" Daniel asked nervously. "The other Horseman?" "The very same," Methos nodded. "Which one was he, by the way?" O'Neill queried. "Kronos was Hell," Methos grimaced. "Always dogging my heels. Did I ever tell you he was Minoan?" he asked, deftly changing the subject. "The son of a king, actually." "Kronos was a prince!" Samantha's eyes grew wide with surprise. Methos smiled wryly. "Raised in the belief that he had the right to exert his power over anyone simply because he was Kronos." "But if he was a foundling...?" she asked. "His mother was a minor wife to one of the Minos line in Knossos," Methos explained. "With infant mortality rates so high, adoption was a very common practice even in royal households. If she couldn't conceive and found a baby it would have been seen as a gift from the Mother Goddess. The king wouldn't have objected if she raised him. And he'd have been just as pleased because it pleased her. Trust me, when you have multiple wives and concubines keeping all of them happy at once is a logistical nightmare." "So, what happened?" Daniel asked as the road curved around a large outcropping of rock. "I mean, why did he become Hades?" "Ah, well, that's his whole story, isn't it?" Methos sighed. "Child of privilege gets a taste for battle. Likes the fear and terror that comes from dominating your enemy. Put him in a suit and give him a seat on the stock exchange and he would have lived for the deal. Instead, like all the boys he went out with the men folk and raided the Karians, the tribes who originally inhabited the Cyclades. They were considered pirates hereabouts. Eventually, he ended up dead on one of those islands. They buried him with all the honors and left him there. When he finally got back -- no doubt expecting the welcome of a man gifted by the Goddess -- they promptly rejected him. As you might imagine, Kronos didn't take it very well." "Everyone was fair game after that," O'Neill nodded slowly. "Exactly," Methos agreed. "He was pretty pissed, but he headed for Asia Minor where the Minoans had a few trading colonies. We met a few centuries later at Troy. He'd picked up Silas somewhere along the way, and Caspian showed up later with a contingent of mercenaries. After the Greeks sacked our employers we decided to head out together." "You fought on the Trojan side?" Daniel asked, a little surprised. Methos chuckled softly. "They paid better. And besides, the Greeks weren't really that upset about Helen. I mean, she was okay to look at -- sharp as a tack, too, which was her best feature, in my opinion -- but not the kind of woman you'd go to war over. Menalaus was just miffed. Because while Paris was there to tell him Troy was reneging on full payment for several shiploads of wool, and in addition, seizing the ships that carried it for failure to provide a quality item, he also seduced Helen -- then ran off with her and the royal jewels. One or the other the old man could have stood. But both at the same time?" Methos shook his head. "And Troy had been getting over on the Greeks for the longest time. Sometimes they'd pay, sometimes they wouldn't -- depending on whether they thought there'd be any real consequences if they didn't. Usually there weren't. A deal gone sour for one king would have delighted the others, but running off with his wife -- and her dowry -- that was just too much. It could as easily have been them. The Trojans made the ultimate mistake," he commented sagely. "They gave their enemies a chance to think -- and the one good reason they needed to put aside their differences and join forces." "So what does all this have to do with Kronos?" O'Neill asked exasperated. "Nothing," Methos shrugged. "Except that after ten years of raiding the Egyptian coast with the rest of the Greek and Trojan hooligans, who had a ship or two and decided to have a little more fun before going home to the wife and kids, he invited the three of us here. That was during the first palace period. I'd been to Crete before, but not in style," he sighed. "Kronos never went back to Knossos, but when we got here he commissioned a house to be built. Thirty rooms on a hillside in Phaistos -- Knossos' long time rival and most hated enemy," he added with a grin. "Very grand and ornate. We hung for a while, then hit the road as the Horsemen. About a century later, after the first big quake, the Myceneans showed up, but Kronos eventually came back and rebuilt. When the volcano in Akritiri blew we were on the mainland in Greece. There wasn't much left after that, but Kronos was adamant about keeping a house here. Said not even the gods could drive him out of his home. But he did take my advice and moved his little project to a more secure location before the Dorians invaded as we all knew they would. It's up there," Methos pointed to the low foot hills of the mountains just beyond the city. "The only true Minoan palace left on the entire island." "Fantastic," Daniel murmured, staring off into the distance. "And you're sure he isn't going to show up anytime soon?" O'Neill asked worriedly. "Not a chance," Methos told him smugly. "We just left -- relatively speaking. The Horsemen won't be coming back this way for at least another century." He didn't bother to mention what the Horsemen would be doing in all that time. Not that it mattered anyway, Methos imagined. He'd thought himself very clever in those days. For centuries they'd simply been known as The Horsemen. In the next hundred years, by listening for news of trouble in various regions he'd lead them into hot spots and earn them the appellation 'Harbingers of the Apocalypse'. How many wars they'd directly or indirectly caused Methos didn't know, but he guessed the number was pretty high. By causing turmoil in already politically unstable areas, whether their actions were attributed to the enemy or considered an omen that war was inevitable, they'd invariably softened up the countryside for whatever army eventually swept through. Armies they themselves would later join as mercenaries and thereby share in the looting of the cities as well. Of course, he'd never dreamed they were the actual cause of all those wars. Mortals battled each other regardless, same as Immortals. But in hindsight, he could see that many of those conflicts might have been averted by whatever negotiations were taking place, or smaller localized military actions. If not for their presence and the heightened fear and anger it caused among the participants, the greater conquests of entire nations might never have occurred. But such was life and the arrogance of youth, Methos thought regretfully. They rode in silence after that. Well rested from their sea journey, the horses kept up a good pace, stepping sure footed around rocks and other obstacles that might impede their movement. By dawn they had long since passed the old ruins of Zakoros palace, which like all the other Minoan strongholds on the island would eventually disappear into history. Unlike their predecessors, the Myceneans, the Dorians had no use for great cities. Not yet, anyway. Their descendants would one day build up Athens, Corinth and the other great centers of culture on the mainland. But here, most of that was now forever lost. As the sun touched the high peaks further inland, Methos led the little group into a narrow ravine alongside a sheer cliff. It wound downward, curving as they neared the bottom. Turning sharply, Methos seemed to disappear into the cliff face and the others followed, passing briefly through a cramped tunnel into a tiny clearing. Cut into the stone on this side of the cliff were a series of steps winding upward until they reached a spur on the side of the mountain facing the sea. Set back against the cliff wall stood a three story mansion wrapped in colonnaded porticos and verandahs. "Wow," Samantha breathed. "Think you used enough red?" O'Neill asked, staring at the brightly painted edifice. "It's what they used," Daniel pointed out. "A good non-reflective shade that helps keep the house cool." "Actually, we just liked the color," Methos told them blandly. "Whatever," Jack muttered. "So, where is everybody? No caretaker?" Methos shook his head as he led them along the cobble stone path past landscaped trees and gardens filled with late summer blooms. "Kronos would buy slaves whenever we got here, then sell them on the mainland, Egypt or Greece, whenever we left. No one knows about this place and the angle's all wrong for anyone looking up to see the house. The further out you get, it just blends into the mountain." "How did you find it?" Samantha asked as he took them around the side of the house to the stables. "I followed a goat," Methos grinned. "They're wild around here. Of course, we cut the steps to make it easy to transport all the materials. The goats were just fine without them." They took some time to get the animals settled then Methos led them back around to the main entrance. "Most of the place stayed unused even when we were here," he told them, opening the front door to reveal a long colonnaded courtyard just past the entry hall. "I think Kronos used to dream he could restore the throne of Minos with himself as Great King." "Sweet," O'Neill grimaced as they followed Methos to the far end of the courtyard where two sets of stairs brightened by light wells above led to the upper floors. "My apartments were this way," he explained, going to the right. "Kronos' quarters were above mine on the top floor, but the others lived there," he pointed left. "I'd stay away from their living areas, if I were you. There's no telling what might have been left behind." "Like what?" Daniel asked, avidly taking in the frescos that decorated the walls of the second floor. Methos frowned distractedly. "Caspian was a serial killer, Daniel. He never manifested that with us, though I could be wrong. At least, I never saw any sign of methodical stalking of victims. But he was a death fetishist. Liked to decorate his tent inside and out with the skulls and bones of those he killed in battle. I never saw the inside of his rooms here, but I can't imagine that his taste in objets de art suddenly improved because he had four solid walls and a hearth." The others looked appalled, but Methos doggedly went on. "As for Kronos," he shrugged. "His pleasures were a little more sedentary, though he often left a mess when he was done. Liked to send in the new slaves to clean it up whenever we arrived just to scare them into docility. And Silas," Methos sighed sadly. "There are some nice wall paintings of mythical animals in there, but nothing else of much interest. Off the battlefield, he was fairly docile." "What about you?" O'Neill asked quietly. Methos raised an eyebrow as he paused before a door. "See for yourself," he said, flinging it open. A long central corridor overlooked an open air peristyle set with statuary and a fountain to one side. "This is the men's hall," Methos explained, leading them through the first of several rooms. "Pink marble?" O'Neill asked, staring at the floor and walls. "Rose," Methos condescend stiffly. "And it's gypsum." "Right," O'Neill patted his shoulder as he stepped inside. "You just keep tellin' yourself that." "Well, I like it," Samantha smiled. Three sides of the room were wrapped in stone benches and at the far end a large high backed chair carved from a solid block of granite stood on a raised platform. A pair of limestone pedestal lamps sat on either side while behind, shields, swords and a pair of battle axes decorated the wall. "Nice throne," O'Neill remarked, taking in the contents of the room. "Isn't that your desk chair?" Daniel asked, voice tinged with startled recognition. "Yes to both," Methos murmured. "I told you we had delusions of grandeur." "Had?" O'Neill smirked as he went over and sat down, casually hooking a leg over one chair arm as he lounged. "Comfy." "Incredibly," Methos agreed, hiding a smile. "Now, if you'll just follow me, I'll show you to the real seat of power -- the water closet." "Yes!" Jack shouted gleefully, leaping to his feet. "Indoor plumbing!" *** "Nifty setup," O'Neill sighed as he settled back into the plush softness of a dining couch. Feather pillows and carpets abounded in bright colorful shades, giving the dining hall a decadent, sybaritic atmosphere. "It suited me at the time," Methos murmured, sipping wine from a thin alabaster goblet. They'd prepared a proper meal, bringing it back to his apartments, then eaten well of the dried meats and other foodstuffs carefully stored in large stone pithoi within the villa's magazines. "And now you have to do your own laundry and wash your own floors," Carter grinned, recalling Methos' complaints as they'd searched for where the linens and bedding had been kept as the others cleaned and aired out the rooms. "Adam Pierson does his own housework," Methos condescended. "I get someone in." "But you are Adam Pierson," Teal'c pointed out. "He's right," Daniel grinned. "Even if you are just playing a part. I've seen those hands picking lint off the carpet, remember?" "Fraud," O'Neill teased. "Oh, all right," Methos frowned. "Bunch of party poopers. I think next time I'll be Matt Adams. Now he was a real slob. Never did housework." "Matt Adams?" Samantha asked curiously. "My last incarnation. Long haired hippie rock star wannabe roadie. Smoked a lot of dope, did a lot of groupies and toured with the Stones, among others." "You mentioned that," Daniel nodded. "Why'd you stop?" Methos sighed heavily and rolled onto his back, staring up at the ceiling. "It was great until Altamont. Then Mick hired those thugs to work security -- the Hell's Angels. Guess who showed up in the entourage?" "Kronos," Samantha guessed. "Yup," Methos nodded and sat up, looking mournful. "Three hours later I was on the first plane to New York looking like a poster child for the Young Republicans." "My heart bleeds for you, Pierson." O'Neill smirked. "Now, campers," he clapped his hands. "Back to business. We've only got six months to get ready for Egypt and I want us prepared. Report." Carter nodded, raising up on her elbows. "I've been working on some ideas for a containment unit if we can locate the Ark Shishak received before it's opened. We'll also need some form of protective gear. I can work with Methos on what's available locally. Anything we might be able to use to manufacture what we need. Then there's the extra power we'll have to have to charge the gate to get us home. Teal'c and I can figure something out there. Maybe tie in to the ship's main engine." "Good," O'Neill nodded. "Pierson?" "We need to synthesize some form of medication to treat radiation sickness," Methos responded. "I noticed a couple of items in the med kit designed for that, but we'll need more. And dyes, we'll need those too. Our skin and hair have to be darkened sufficiently to pass for native to the casual eye." Teal'c raised an eyebrow. "Not you, my friend, but the rest of us need to blend in. We're safe enough here," he added. "Crete's always had a good mix of different races, though I'd prefer it if Carter and Daniel colored their hair before going into town." "And moi?" O'Neill asked, feigning hurt. Methos shrugged. "Sorry, Dad, you're too old to get hit on by anyone sober enough to notice the blonde in all that gray." A large pillow slammed him hard and Methos fell back laughing. "Daniel?" O'Neill sharply asked the young archaeologist, who was grinning from ear to ear. "You have anything to report? And remember," he threatened. "I have lots more pillows where that came from." "Yeah," Daniel chuckled. "I do. Actually," he qualified. "It's more of a request really. I'd like to find out as much as I can about the present state of Egyptian affairs. Secular and religious politics, possible military actions we don't know about." "And this is because?" "I probably know as much about Ancient Egypt as any modern scholar can," Daniel explained. "But I can't know everything that went on. There are things in the historical record that are missing or wildly inaccurate depending on whose viewpoint you read." "Can't Pierson help?" O'Neill looked at the Immortal who was frowning. "Not really," Methos responded. "After our nasty experience with the other Ark in Ethiopia we came here for a bit. In this time, we'd only just left for Asia Minor a couple of years ago. I didn't even hear about Shishak's visit to Jerusalem until long after. And Egypt is different in every reign. The bureaucracy stays the same, but the treatment of foreigners and how much graft is acceptable, that changes with each pharaoh's administration. Which priesthood is plotting and who's likely to be the target are also important things we need to be aware of. Daniel's right. We can't walk in there blind." "So we study the area and not just the lay of the land, got it," O'Neill nodded. "Teal'c?" "I must create a model of the Goa'uld ship we found," he told them quietly. "Great," O'Neill sighed. "More visits to the talking trees." The Jaffa merely narrowed his eyes and went on. "You must all learn every detail of the ship. Stealth and quickness are required if we are to succeed." O'Neill nodded. "So, campers, the plan is, we grab the Ark, bury it somewhere safe, then just sneak aboard and use the gate?" "Doesn't seem like we have much of a choice," Methos responded. "By the time we get there those living nearest the Ark will already be dying." "What about all those other villages, Adam?" Daniel asked softly. "All the people taken from the area who just disappeared." "We can't change that much history," Methos insisted. "He's right," Carter added. "If we try to stop it there's no telling what repercussions might occur down the line." "But history's already changed," Daniel pointed out. "Gyganes and his crew are dead because of us." Methos shook his head slowly. "They'd already lived their lives, Danny. Had families and children. Their deaths came too soon, but not before their time." "I hate to say it," Samantha nodded. "But I have to agree. Any changes to the timeline caused by their deaths would be negligible." "What if they're not?" "Then we've already failed and all this is pointless," Methos stated flatly. "We will live here until you all die then I will find the gate, make sure it ends up in some bottomless pit under the sea and stop anyone from ever going through it." "What?!" O'Neill asked, startled. Methos' expression went stony. "If Daniel never translates those tablets, you'll never open the Stargate and Ra won't die. The Goa'uld will have no reason to come back to Earth while she's weak. Once that's done, I'll find the other Methos and let him take my head. Because this time," he grinned ruefully, "there really should be only one." "So, I'll go to work for NASA," Carter said quietly. "Daniel will live in obscurity teaching at some second rate community college, Teal'c will remain as Apophis' First Prime and..." she paused, glancing at O'Neill who sat staring at nothing. "And I'll put a gun in my mouth and blow the back of my head off," Jack said calmly. "Which is what I was planning to do the day I got called back to duty." "You're right, Adam." Daniel swallowed hard and looked away. "We can't change history." Methos said nothing. It had been a cruel example, but he'd done what was needed. O'Neill suddenly yawned and stood up. "Okay, kids, shut eye time. Big bedroom's mine." Methos started to argue then closed his mouth. Fair enough pay back, he thought, for forcing that confession out of Jack and they both knew it. On the other hand, giving in gracefully wasn't in his nature. "Mind if I get some things first?" he asked sourly as the others went to find the rooms they'd chosen. "No problem," Jack told him magnanimously as he led the way down the hall to Methos' bedroom, laying down with a heartfelt sigh on the oversized bed. "Take your time." "You're a real pal," Methos grimaced, opening the chest that stood at the foot of his bed and gathering up his favorite bed robe, the one he'd been missing for nearly three thousand years. This was going home in his pack if it was the last thing he did. Of course, that also meant he'd stolen it from himself in the first place and he probably shouldn't have accused Caspian of taking it out of spitefulness. Ah well, he shrugged silently. Live and learn. "So, where are you going to sleep?" O'Neill asked, smiling. "The wife's room down the hall," Methos jerked his head in that direction. "Bed's twice the size of this one. And," he added smugly. "She had a private bath." O'Neill leaned back thoughtfully, shoving his hands under the pillows to prop up his head. "What's this?" he asked as his hand thumped something hard. Methos raised an eyebrow, the glimmer of an idea taking hold. "Bed box," he explained casually. "Kept a few odds and ends in there." "Yeah?" O'Neill asked, sitting up and examining the item. "Mind if I look?" "Not at all," Methos told him lightly, grabbing his favorite slippers as he prepared to leave. "Just don't use the ointment in the green jar. Tends to burn if you're not used to it." O'Neill's eyes went wide. "I wouldn't play with the Medusa Head Vulva of Happiness, either." "The what?!" "It's got a broken hasp and the spiked teeth tend to tear the skin more than usual." O'Neill dropped the box and jumped off the bed. "The wife's room's got a private bath?" he asked, looking desperate for any excuse to leave. Methos nodded innocently. "Colonels are entitled to that. And the biggest bed. We have to have that. It's a rule," O'Neill added hastily as he fled. "All the way down the hall, second corridor to your right," Methos called to O'Neill's back. "It's the first room on the left!" Methos closed the door and threw himself on the bed laughing then picked up the box and laid it on his chest. He opened the lid and searched through its contents, smiling as he found the item he wanted then put the box back in its place behind his head. "Poisons and Potions for Healing," he murmured as he punched up the pillow, partially unrolled the scroll and sat back to read. No doubt O'Neill would be back crying foul as soon as he discovered he'd been had. Then again, maybe not. Zekna's rooms certainly were nicer than his, even if they hadn't been aired out in nearly a century. He just hoped Jack heeded his words about the green jar in her bed box. Otherwise, O'Neill would be sitting in a cold tub screaming for a week -- and not just the half hour's worth of sensual agony he'd experienced. And of course, he smirked wickedly, no beautiful Zekna afterwards to soothe away the pain and replace it with voluptuous pleasure. The same pleasures for which he'd married the delightful witch.