Chapter 17

The sword whispered quietly to Methos. It seemed to be aware of its purpose and be eager to be about it. It whispered images of death and desruction. It whispered of the sweet taste of blood across its blade and the bitter tang of marrow. It was frustrated but inanimate, unable to accomplish these things on its own and talking, cajoling its wielder to greater feats than he could have managed. Somehow it knew its time of glory was at hand and it found a way to stirr human emotions to match its own. Methos felt weak from the death and awakenning but under the enchanted sword’s urging he straightenned his posture. The whispers were urgent. Insistent images encouraged his flagging spirits and spoke of victory through bloodshed. Yes, he could do this.

He straightenned his back, rotating his shoulders trying to loosen them. Slowly he turned around to look at the barely concealed troops who were watching the spectacle and he raised his sword in salute. From the quarry floor he cheered his defiance. Someone fired a bow. The arrow would have taken most men down but in his case the sword claimed it from the air and it skittered to a halt on the rocky floor in two pieces. That was it, the crowd roared. The soldiers cheered and beat their shields. The sound echoed across the bowl of the quarry filling it with deafening approval.

In Methos hands the sword warmed. It knew. He felt a small wave of pride sweep out from the blade and he found himself grinning too. Now that battle was here he felt an affinity with the weapon. They made an truce in the face of a common foe.

The roaring cheer rose in pitch as two men picked their way down the quarry to join him. Their armour gleamed in the sunlight. Both were clean shaven, one close to Methos in height, the other shorter by a handspan. The tell-tale buzz began but he already knew the identity of the men: Tiglath Pileser III and his second in command, Tabal the Hittite. The roaring of the crowd abruptly stopped as the shorter man raised his hand.

“My people. Am I not merciful?”

There was a shout. Methos shook his head slowly, imagining that each man knew the consequences of answering that question truthfully. All of the assembled troops knew their lands and family would be forfeit in addition to their lives should they anger the king.

“This one lone foe I face today is armed but I see no armour. Watch the mercy of your king.” the king began removing the gleaming armour. It formed a shiny pile as it was taken piece by piece from his body, Tabal helping in the process. Methos noted that the king was wearing sandals and there was nowhere he could conceal a knife. Good. This would be one-on-one, swords only, as it should be. By the time the last piece of the armour had made it to the ground a deathly hush had fallen. Methos realized that the whispers of the sword in his hand had subsided, had merged with his own thoughts, strategies and awareness mixing with his own.

Methos relaxed, worked a kink out of his neck, and watched the shorter man as he picked his way close to him. His opponent’s sword was fine workmanship and its pommel glinted. A large facetted gem. The Methuselah Stone! Methos had never been this close to the thing. It was a myth given form. Supposedly in the hands of a mortal human it would grant long life – Methuselah waited until he was over 180 years old before fathering children, and lived a total of 969 years thanks to the influence of the stone. He passed the stone to his grandson Noah. Rumours circulated that the stone was lost overboard when they sailed in the ark. Others say that he safeguarded the treasure and after a time broke it into pieces passing it on to all of his descendents after they fought to be the one to take it next. Methos laughed to himself – squabbling kids – that sounded the most likely of all stories.

“I am Pul, called Tiglath Pileser III as I reign, feared throughout the known world.”

“Well, I am Death. Nice to meet you.” Methos shot back, voice tinged with sarcasm.

Swords met and the men circled testing each other’s defenses. Both favoured a similar style, single handed swords and a swinging, cutting style of blow. Methos parried and cut. His opponent was good but seemed to have become sloppy since having the stone. It was influencing his style in subtle ways. A whisper in his head urged him to press the advantage. The king clearly believed that Methos blade would not harm him. His guard was down.

Methos began a dangerous game. As the men exchanged powerful blows he let the king press what he believed to be his advantage. He drew him to ever greater excess of over extension. Methos stumbled on the rocky ground and a thrill passed through the assembled mass watching. The king clearly had ordered the beating and was trusting Methos to be weak. He saw the small cuts he’d landed to Methos arms and face and knew his own to be unmarred. Reason left him and he swung wildly forcing his opponent backward where he tripped and fell over a small boulder. The king leaped. Methos hastily rolled and brought his sword up to parry, his blade angled to slide up his opponents weapon. The ploy worked better than he could have expected: the king staggered back clutching at his sword hand, leaving the severed thumb on the ground.

Fear entered his eyes. How? He held his sword in an unsteady off-handed grip. How had an ordinary looking bronze sword cut so cleanly through his flesh? His thoughts were written all over his face. Had the stone lost its power? He paled as Methos advanced on him again. The king’s left-handed sword strokes were swatted aside easily but he found parrying incoming blows harder and harder. He closed on his opponent grappling with him. The close his short blade was deadly if he could bring it … he gasped as he felt the deadly kiss of his opponents blade to his body, a thrust that entered low and emerged through his back high. A push and kick sent him sprawling backward. His sword was kicked out of his grasp.

The king lay prone before him. Aleric had been right: the sorceror had given him the means to counter the effects of the Methuselah Stone.

“You may have won, old man, but in death I will claim all that you hold dear. I have people, even now, poised to kill your friends. My son – oh you didnt know that about the Stone? I fathered a mortal son and he will destroy your precious Judah.”

Methos took his head to shut up the gloating. A mist surrounded the body and it appeared to glow from within. Small blue flames erupted from the king’s wounds. Flesh blackenned and burned. Methos was wrapped in cool mist for mere moments before the first electrical arc struck him. It knocked the sword from his hand. The next arc dropped him to his knees. They slammed into him faster and faster, the accumulated power of the harvesting Pul had been doing over the years transfering to Methos. Flames consumed the king’s body utterly. The quickenning causing winds that lifted the fine ash to the heavens.

Methos gradually became aware of a second sword battle in progress. Aleric and Tabal! He turned and looked. It was not going well, Aleric was limping and his left arm hung limply at his side. Tabal seemed unharmed. Methos grabbed the closest sword and would have raced over save for the residual stiffness in his limbs from the quickenning. He made best speed watching as Tabal landed a graceful stroke across Aleric’s abdomen, spinning and following up with an upward strike that knocked the sword from his hand. Aleric fell forward. The final blow fell that would have taken the head from his shoulders but there was another sword in the way. Methos. Aleric crumpled to the ground.

“Not today. There’s been enough death on this field. If you dont want to face the fate as…”

Tabal whirled to deliver a killing blow to Methos. By rights it should have cleanly eviscerated him but even as the blade passed through his flesh a glowing power melded the wound back together. Both men gasped with surprise, their eyes going to the glowing gem in the pommel of the sword Methos held. The Methuselah Stone.

“You cheat me of my prize, but I am a patient man. The shepherd’s time will come.”

Tabal turned and stalked out of the rocky arena leaving Methos to wait for Aleric’s recovery. He considered taking his head for the trouble he’d caused but decided against it.

—-

The journey back to Judah was far easier than Methos expected. Aleric found clothing and armour for him and they rode claiming to be carrying an urgent message for the frontline commanders.

Over a campfire they discussed what to do with the stone. It was clearly too powerful to be left in the hands of just one man. Aleric held the stone in his outstretched hands and closed his eyes and to Methos great surprise it blossomed and bulged. The facetted gem grew to palm size then cracked into a handful of rough crystal pieces. Aleric opened his eyes and nodded.

“It knows it must be distributed but yearns for the day it will be reunited again. Spread the pieces far and wide but give them only to those you trust.” Aleric said, handing him half of the crystal shards.

They parted ways when they reached Samaria. Aleric turned his attentions west, saying he wanted to take a ship to the very ends of the earth. Methos continued south to Judah strangely eager to see Isaiah and Ela-Jehu again.

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