By Adrienne Willis
Rating: PG – Remembered beating, self-inflicted violence, war-time violence,
Summary: Duncan brings a new Immortal with a tragic past to Darius, who discovers that they have much in common.
Disclaimer: Darius, Duncan MacLeod and the Highlander concepts belong to Panzer/Davis. I’m not making any money from this whatsoever. Wilhelm Friedrich is mine. This will be the first in a series of stories about him. Images are used with permission.
I’d like to give a special thanks to my Beta readers:
Darius tensed and looked up from his chessboard as the signature of a powerful Immortal presence swept over him. Even though he was on Holy Ground, safe within the ancient stone walls of St. Julien le Pauvre, instinct still kicked in. He got up from his desk and headed toward the main hall of the church, wondering who had come seeking sanctuary this time.
As soon as he stepped into the sanctuary, he smiled in recognition at the sight of Duncan MacLeod walking down the nave toward him. Duncan’s hair was cut short and his face clean-shaven. He was also dressed in a British military uniform, that although was clean, had obviously seen action. Around his left arm was a Red Cross badge.
Darius’ smile abruptly faded when he noticed the grim look on Duncan’s face and the condition of the other Immortal walking beside him. He appeared young, but Darius couldn’t see his face because his head was bowed. It was late June, but the stranger was wrapped in a blanket and was shivering.
Some Immortals had certain talents that others lacked, and during his almost two thousand years of life, Darius had become skilled at sensing and sorting out the signatures of other Immortals. Even though Duncan’s presence was almost overpowering, Darius could still, albeit barely, sense the other man. It was quiet, almost whispered and not much stronger than a Pre-Immortal’s. Whoever he was, he was very young.
“Duncan,” Darius said in a cheerful tone he did not at all feel. “It’s good to see you. It’s been too long.”
“I know,” Duncan said quietly. “But I need your help, Darius.”
“Of course, always.” Darius turned to the other Immortal, who was obviously the reason Duncan needed help. “I see you’ve brought a friend,” he prompted.
“Yes. This is Wilhelm,” Duncan answered. “Wilhelm Friedrich, from Vienna.”
The young man didn’t look up even when his name was mentioned. Duncan gave him a troubled look, and Darius knew immediately that strong measures were called for. “Why don’t we all have some tea?”
Once in the rectory, Darius headed toward the kitchen to boil the tea. Duncan gently took the youth by the shoulders and pointed him toward the tea table. “Darius and I need to talk. Have a seat, we’ll be with you in a moment.” The young Immortal sat down without a word.
As Duncan joined him in the kitchen, Darius looked at him in with concern. “Who is he, Duncan?”
Darius nodded as he put the kettle on the stove and turned on the gas. “When?”
“I’m not exactly sure. He’s been very vague, but I think it happened late last year.”
“Do you know how?” Darius had some definite ideas, but he would let Duncan tell him.
Duncan was quiet for several moments as he watched the tea water begin to boil. “He hasn't told me and I haven't asked. But I have... several ideas.” He shuddered. “I found him in Germany two months ago.”
Darius glanced over toward the study. “And you’re teaching him?”
Duncan paused again. “Not exactly. When I found him he was in a bad way, Darius. A very bad way and in absolutely no shape for any sort of training. I’ve told him what he is...but frankly I’m probably the last thing that he needs right now.”
Darius nodded, he was fairly certain now where the young man had come from.
The Highlander's eyes were haunted, and when he spoke next his voice sounded hollow. You...don't know what he's been through, Darius. I’m sure you heard the rumors and the reports. But you weren’t actually there. You didn’t see it. If you had seen that place where I found him. If...if you had seen what he was like...”
That was all the confirmation Darius needed.
Duncan abruptly stopped talking and busied himself with setting out cups and spoons on the tray.
With a concerned frown, Darius reentered the study and looked at the newcomer, who was sitting quietly, still wrapped in his blanket, head still bowed. He hurried over and knelt beside his chair.
“Wilhelm,” Duncan spoke quietly as he came up and placed the tea tray on the table. “This is Darius, the friend I told you about.”
Finally, the young man slowly looked up into Darius' face. He was in his early twenties, but although his head was also partially covered with his blanket, Darius could see that his short blond hair was streaked with gray at the temples. He would have been handsome, but he was pale and gaunt.
His eyes were a deep, intense blue, but –– Oh, Lord! Darius winced at the sight, they were the eyes of an old man; weary, haunted, and filled with pain.
Darius had met many Immortals and he knew that one could never tell how old they were by appearance. Some could look like they were in their twenties, but be hundreds or thousands of years old. Their eyes alone gave a hint of their true age.
But this Immortal! This Immortal actually was in his twenties, but from his eyes one would think that he had lived for millennia.
As he stared into those ancient, haunted eyes, Darius felt tears forming in his own. “Greetings, my son,” he whispered.
For several moments the youth was silent. Then slowly tears began to form and silently stream down his face. Darius gently put his arms around the young/old Immortal and held him.
For almost an hour the three Immortals simply sat like that: Darius holding the youth, tears in his eyes; Wilhelm leaning quietly against the ancient priest, tears streaming down his face; and Duncan MacLeod sitting by the forgotten tea, watching silently.
One Week Later
Darius jerked up at the sound of the moans. He quickly moved out from under his blankets and hurried to his guest’s side.
The young Austrian was shivering and moaning on the pallet that Darius had spread out for him on the floor. “Nein...” he moaned softly. “Nein...nein...” He shivered more and his cries grew louder. “Nein! Nein! Bitte! Nein!!!”
“Wilhelm!” Darius knelt beside him and shook him gently. “Wilhelm, wake up!”
Wilhelm jerked awake. He didn’t sit up, just looked wildly around.
Darius gently clutched his shoulder. “It’s all right, Wilhelm,” he said softly. “You’re safe.”
The young Austrian’s eyes focused and he sat up, looking around to either side of him. “Daniel?” he murmured, confusion in his voice. He looked around, his apprehension rising. “Daniel? Eva? Where are they?”
“Shhh,” Darius said reassuringly. “They’re safe. You and Duncan left them with their families back in Amsterdam, remember?”
“Amsterdam,” Wilhelm mumbled. “Yes...yes...they’re....” He took a breath. “Forgive me. I forgot.”
Darius smiled. “There is nothing to forgive. You’d been taking care of them for so long you’re not going to be used to them not being with you for a while. But they’re safe and so are you.”
“But the others weren’t...” Wilhelm’s haunted eyes were anguished. “The others. I’m safe but the others...” His voice trailed off, and his face contorted as he wrapped his arms around himself and began to tremble violently.
Close to tears, Darius put his arms around him and held him close. This young Austrian: so pale, so thin, and so heartbreaking. Darius had lost count of how many times his heart had broken and how many silent tears he had shed as he had thought of all the young man had suffered. Him and all the others...
Darius gave a deep sigh and silently steeled himself. His young guest needed him to be strong, so he would be. “Wilhelm,” he said gently, “This floor is hard and it’s drafty at night. Will you please reconsider and get into the bed?” Even as the youth turned his pale haunted eyes to his, Darius knew what the answer would be. He recalled Wilhelm’s first night one week before.
The young Austrian had spoken very little since Duncan MacLeod had left him at St. Julien, but when Darius told him that for the duration of his stay he would have his bed, the youth immediately protested, albeit in a soft, little more than whispered, voice.
“Where will you sleep, Father Darius?”
“Don’t worry,” Darius said with a gentle smile. “I will spread some blankets on the floor.”
“No.” Wilhelm shook his head. “This is your home. I am not going to take yours or anyone’s bed. I will sleep on the floor.” He lowered his eyes. “I’ve slept in far worse.”
Darius’ face darkened with pain as he considered just how true those words must have been for the young Immortal. “I have no doubt of that, Wilhelm,” he said gently. “That is why you need to take the bed.”
“No.” Wilhelm’s voice was whispered, anguished. “I can’t, Father Darius. I...I...can’t.”
“Wilhelm,” Darius whispered, filled with concern. “Why can’t y–?”
“I can’t!” Wilhelm practically shouted. “I don’t de–” His voice broke, his eyes brim full of anguish and guilt. “Please,” he continued brokenly. “Please don’t order me.”
Order him? This young man was afraid that he would order him? And then he remembered again where Wilhelm had been. Oh yes, he would have heard too many orders, seen what happened to those who didn’t obey...or obey fast enough.
“Very well, Wilhelm,” Darius said finally. “I will spread out a pallet for you, and one for myself as well.”
Wilhelm’s eyes widened in dismay “But, Father Darius–”
Darius cut him off. “Wilhelm, you are my guest; I will neither order nor command you. But I cannot and will not sleep in a bed while you sleep on the floor! If you insist on sleeping there, I will as well.” He gave a brief smile “After all, I’ve slept on the ground before.”
“No more arguments, Wilhelm.”
At that quiet command, Wilhelm instantly become silent and lowered his eyes. Darius’ heart broke again as he realized that he had just inadvertently given the young man an order. He reached out and held the youth tightly. How? he thought frantically, how can I help free him from the guilt which consumes him and the obedience beaten into him?
Now, as he held the trembling youth for the seventh night in a row, the question once again came back to haunt him.
And how to help to help him cope with the demons that haunt him?
Wilhelm had been having nightmares almost every night. Darius had noticed that he never screamed, just moaned and cried softly. And even when it was obvious that the dreams were horrible, he almost never thrashed. It was almost as if even in sleep, he was afraid to move.
“Wilhelm,” Darius asked softly. “Would you like to tell me what you were dreaming about?” Darius knew that it was important for Wilhelm talk about it, but so far the youth never had.
This time though, Wilhelm gave a shuddering sigh and began to speak. “Back at ... the first place I was taken. They – two of the guards...” he paused, “I hadn’t done anything. They did it for no reason... no reason.”
The cruel often need none, Darius thought sadly.
“They started beating me,” Wilhelm whispered. “They beat me... kicked me, over and over... All while they were doing it...they cursed me. They called me a stupid swine, a stupid son of a whore.” He swallowed and his trembling increased. “I was screaming in pain...but they kept beating me. The other guards were watching and... laughing.”
Heart breaking, Darius held Wilhelm tighter.
Wilhelm paused again. “They beat me...over and over and over....” He swallowed hard. “They kept beating me. They beat me until I couldn’t cry out any more.” He squeezed his eyes tightly shut and began to violently tremble. “They...they wouldn’t stop even when....” His trembling increased even more and he grew sobbing, gulping breaths.
Even when what, Wilhelm? Darius wondered.
“They ... they didn’t stop.”
There’s something you’re not telling me.
“They kept on beating me and they were still laughing. They beat me until I passed out.”
Darius’ heart tightened. Was that how it happened, Wilhelm? Was that your First Death?
Wilhelm continued softly. "When I woke up...it hurt. It hurt so much. I was lying in the mud...covered with my own blood. And I saw...” he drew more sobbing breaths. “I couldn't stand up. I almost couldn't move. Everything hurt. I wanted to die, just so that it would stop. I wanted to die.”
His shuddering continued. “I limped for days afterward. I was in pain for weeks.”
No, that hadn’t been it; you would have had no injuries. His heart breaking for the youth, Darius hugged him until the trembling had finally ceased.
When it did at last, he gently lay the youth back down. “Wilhelm would you like for me to sit beside you until you go back to sleep?”
The young Austrian nodded. Darius held his hand and sat with him for nearly an hour, until his eyes finally closed and his breathing became soft and even.
When he was satisfied that his guest was asleep, Darius went back to his own pallet, lay down and allowed the tears to come.
Hours later when the light of dawn came, Darius gently roused his guest. “Wake up, Wilhelm. I’ve prepared a meal for you and you need to eat to fully regain your strength.”
Darius slowly helped the young Immortal up and led him over to the table. Wilhelm had been free for three months, but he was still painfully thin and would be for quite a while. The medics who had examined him had prescribed for him what they had for all of the too many others; plenty of rest and a slow buildup of wholesome food. Darius had prepared a bowl of soup, a few slices of bread, mashed potatoes and juice.
When they reached the table, Wilhelm sat down and Darius placed the meal before him. “Remember to eat slowly,” he reminded, as Wilhelm reached for the food. “You’ve been free for a few months, but your body still needs to get used to nourishment. It will take time for you to build up muscle and fat even though you’re Immortal.”
At the word Immortal, Wilhelm flinched and dropped the spoon he had picked up. “Don't...” he whispered. “Don't call me that. Don't call anyone that. None of us are really Immortal. None of us -- least of all those who say they are.”
Darius nodded in understanding. Duncan had told him what had happened on the way from Amsterdam to Paris. Many Immortals would have considered that a good first lesson for a newcomer to the Game. But, for someone like Wilhelm, someone who had already seen far too much horror...
“We are not Immortal...we are not Immortal,” Wilhelm rambled on.
Immortal... Darius pondered grimly, what would that word mean to this youth? He had seen so much suffering, so much death. And then Duncan told him that he was Immortal. That he was Immortal when so many others had died.
“We are not Immortal,” Wilhelm had said. No, Darius thought, perhaps we’re not. Perhaps Perhaps calling ourselves Immortals is nothing but pure arrogance. We can live forever, but with the Game we seldom do. They say that in the end there can be only One and who is to say what will happen to the one?
Darius reached out and put a strong comforting hand on Wilhelm’s arm. “You’re right, Wilhelm. We’re not Immortal. We just live longer than most and are harder to kill. But we are all equal in God’s eyes.”
“God?” Wilhelm whispered. He was silent for several moments, and then looked at Darius with his ancient haunted eyes. “I...I heard some of the others say that there is no God; that He had abandoned us. Eva believes that and she's only a child. I...I didn't know what to say to her.
“All the time that I was with Daniel, I tried to keep up his spirits, his hope, his faith. But sometimes I felt like a hypocrite because I wasn’t sure where my hope and faith were. It was hard, Father Darius...so hard. So much pain...so much death.” He paused, trembling violently, his eyes pools of anguish.
Darius felt tears in his own eyes. He didn’t say a word. In his long life he had learned that sometimes in order to help someone you talked and advised. Sometimes there were no words and you simply listened. He gently squeezed Wilhelm’s arm.
After several minutes, Wilhelm whispered, “I...I still believe. I know that He is there, Father Darius. But... why? Why did He allow this? Why didn't He stop it? Why didn't He act? Why did He allow so many to...?”
The question of the ages, Darius thought ruefully. “I don’t know, Wilhelm. God gave us free will, and too often we choose to hurt our fellow man instead of help him. God does act, usually through us, but too often we refuse to let Him. Sometimes He does allow us to suffer...even die. But He is still there, always.”
“Always there,” Wilhelm murmured. “Reverend Troyer used to say the same thing.
“Reverend Troyer?” Darius asked gently.
“He was a minister. From a little town just outside of Hanover. He watched over me...at the first place I was taken. He used to say that...God walks through our pain with us, that He feels it with us.” Wilhelm drew a shuddered breath. “He said that right up to the day that he...”
“He was right,” Darius whispered.
The young Austrian was quiet, and when he spoke next his voice was both grieving and hard. “God is not the only one who works through us, Father Darius. Many times we choose to follow... another path. We all know what path my countrymen chose. And we’ve seen what happened because of it. I’ve seen what happened.” He stopped, his eyes filled with anguish. “My people chose... even my own family chose...even they...”
His voice broke. Then once again he reached for the food. He slowly ate the soup and then began to eat the potatoes at a faster pace.
“Slowly,” Darius reminded him. “You have to eat slowly.”
Wilhelm slowed his eating and although he didn’t smile, his expression lightened slightly. “After...we were freed...I was always telling Daniel and Eva the same thing.” The lighter expression faded. “I miss them.”
“I know,” Darius said. “But they’re safe now and you’ll have a chance to see them again in time.”
“They...they’re only children, Father Darius, but they’ve suffered so much. They’ve...lost so much. I wish I could have done more for them. I should have done more for them.”
“You did everything for them.” Darius said firmly. “You gave them care. You gave them love. You gave them hope. You kept them both alive. You saved their lives, Wilhelm. Never forget that.”
The young Austrian was silent before he took a deep breath. “They saved me as well. If I hadn’t had them... So many died. Part of me died every day. Part of me is still dead.”
“You will learn to live again,” Darius whispered. Please, he prayed desperately. Please let that be the case.
After breakfast, Darius watched as Wilhelm slowly got up, picked up one of his blankets, wrapped it around himself and headed into the sanctuary.
Since arriving at St. Julien, Wilhelm had spent much of his time asleep. When he was awake, however he would quietly go into the sanctuary and head for one of the aisle chairs. Then he would sit, sometimes for hours, lost in thought or simply gazing around.
He seemed especially drawn to light and would gaze silently at the beams of sunlight coming in through the windows, fascinated even by the dust motes swimming in the shining air. He would also stare intently whenever candles were lit and Darius sensed that it gave him comfort.
For hours the young Austrian would watch and listen. Listen to the echo of Darius’s footsteps as he moved about his church, listen to the priest’s quiet breathing whenever they sat together, listen to the outside sounds of cars, people and especially birds. Darius had noticed that Wilhelm would go very still and intent whenever he heard birdsong.
Early on Darius had sensed that Wilhelm didn’t like to talk during his time in the sanctuary, that he wanted to be alone with his thoughts. So after the Austrian was seated, Darius quietly went about his priestly duties, but kept constant watch.
An hour later, though, he noticed that Wilhelm was trembling again. Darius had very quickly come to recognize that as a sign of distress. Wilhelm had only cried once; the day he had arrived at St. Julien. But Darius knew that the youth was suffering terribly; he saw it every time he looked at him. He was filled to bursting with pain and grief, and every so often it came out, not in tears but in violent trembling.
“Wilhelm,” Darius said as he came over to his charge. The Austrian didn’t answer and Darius saw that he was moving his arms back and forth beneath his blanket. “Wilhelm what are you doing?”
The youth still didn’t answer and suddenly Darius noticed that parts of the blanket were sticky with blood. Abruptly he pulled the blanket apart...and stared aghast at the deep gouges on Wilhelm’s arms that ran all the way from his elbows to his wrists. Wilhelm’s own flesh was dangling in strips from under his fingernails. Fingernails that were still dragging deeply over and over across his skin.
“Wilhelm!” Darius grabbed the youth’s hands and held them tightly, feeling the warm, sticky blood on his own hands now. “Wilhelm stop!” he shouted. “You must not hurt yourself like this!”
The young man stopped his movements and turned pained eyes on him. “It will heal,” he whispered. “I’m Immortal, remember?”
“You must not do this!” Darius said firmly. “This is one instance in which I am going to command you, Wilhelm!” His eyes locked on the youth’s and his voice took on an iron hard firmness. “You are not to hurt yourself like this anymore! Do you understand me?”
The young Austrian bowed his head in submission. “Yes, Father Darius,” he whispered.
Darius helped him to his feet and led him into the bathroom. Once there, he drew warm water and gently cleaned the youth’s arms, which were already completely healed. Wilhelm stood and let him clean him without a word.
Once he was done, Darius led him into the kitchen table and sat him down at the table. “Wilhelm,” Darius sat opposite and locked his gaze with the troubled youth’s. “Wilhelm, why are you hurting yourself?”
Wilhelm was silent for several moments. “It will heal, this is nothing. I’ve seen worse... much worse. The others...” He started to tremble again and his voice began to crack. “What they did to the others!...”
His shuddering increased. “And they did it to them! They did it! My countrymen! My friends! Even my own family!” His wail echoed throughout the rectory. They all did it to them!! ”
“Wilhelm! Listen to me!” Darius reached out and clutched the youth’s hands in an iron grip. “That... was not...your fault! Your family, your friends and your countrymen all made their own choices. And you made yours! We are each responsible to God for our own choices and only our own. Our choices, Wilhelm! Not anyone else’s!”
Wilhelm was silent. He simply looked down at the table and continued to tremble. “Everyone’s choices have consequences, Father Darius,” he whispered. “Both for the ones making them and for others. Every choice that we make has consequences and every action that we take or don’t take... affects everyone else.”
All too true, Darius thought. One of Grayson’s favorite quotes is that for every action there is an equal and adverse reaction. In that regard at least, he was right. And you, Wilhelm, you had to learn that lesson so young, and in such a horrible manner. You and far too many others....
Wilhelm continued to tremble and Darius held his hands tightly. At length, the shaking ceased. “You must rest,” Darius whispered.
Wilhelm looked at him. “Please...don’t order me to take your bed, Father Darius.”
“You will have your own soon,” Darius said firmly. “I have made the arrangements; we are leaving the day after tomorrow.”
“Yes. I have arranged for an extended leave of absence from St. Julien. I have not had one in several years, and you should not be alone now. You were there for Daniel and Eva, now you need someone there for you. Duncan knew that when he brought you to me.”
“Herr MacLeod,” Wilhelm whispered. “He is a good man. He helped us so much. He helped nurse Daniel and Eva back to health. He helped us get to Amsterdam. He protected us.”
“Yes,” Darius smiled as he thought of his longtime student and friend. “He is a good man. Ordinarily a young person like yourself could have had no better friend or teacher. But these past few years have been anything but ordinary, and after what you went through...”
Wilhelm winced and lowered his eyes. Darius gently squeezed his hands. “After what you went through, you needed something different. As good and kind as he is, Duncan knew that he wasn’t what you needed. So he brought you here to me.”
“I will never be able to repay him for all that he did for us. I didn’t even thank him properly before he left.”
Duncan MacLeod had left Paris the day after he had brought Wilhelm to St Julien. He had mentioned that he was thinking about going to England. “I’m sure he knows how grateful you are, Wilhelm,” Darius said.
“No. He doesn’t. He didn’t go through what we all did. He could never know...” Wilhelm’s words trailed off.
Darius silently scolded himself. It was foolish to presume that Duncan or myself can possibly know all that was in this young Immortal’s heart. Oh, we can imagine, but we can’t know. Duncan has lived for over three centuries and I for almost two millennia. We have both seen our share of death and destruction, but neither of us went through what this young Austrian has.
“He knows that you are grateful, Wilhelm,” Darius corrected. “And for him thanks are not necessary.”
Wilhelm was silent for a moment. “Where are we going?” he asked finally.
“St. Joseph’s. It’s a small friary outside of Paris. I’ve gone there before on retreats. Now come, you must rest.” Darius escorted Wilhelm back to his pallet, lay him down and covered him.
Once Darius saw that the young Austrian was asleep, he went over to his desk. Tears streaming down his face he knelt, praying desperately for guidance.
A few hours later when Darius saw Wilhelm stirring once again, he called to him softly. “Wilhelm, would you mind helping me with something?”
Without a word the youth got up and came over to the priest, who was sitting at the table with several dozen candlesticks and some rags.
“I need to have these polished for a special mass tonight,” Darius said with a gentle smile. “Will you assist me, please?”
“Of course,” was the quiet reply. Wilhelm sat down, picked up a candlestick and a rag and silently began to clean.
The two men worked silently for almost an hour. “I’ve noticed that you like candles,” Darius said at length.
“Yes,” Wilhelm said without looking up. “I like light.”
“When I put a fire on in the fireplace though, you didn’t seem to care for it.” During Wilhelm’s first night at St. Julien’s, Darius had decided to light a fire to warm the room. Wilhelm had immediately begun to tremble violently and turned away from the sight.
“I like light, but not large fires. Not... smoke.” At the word “smoke” he shuddered.
Darius winced in grim realization. “I’ve also noticed that you’ve seemed comfortable in the sanctuary. Did your family attend church a lot when you were young?”
Wilhelm paused in his work “No. My father came from a Lutheran background and my mother was Roman Catholic. But neither sides of my family attended church, except for weddings, funerals or christenings. In fact, my father’s father despised religion. When I was older I attended a Lutheran church.”
He paused again for several moments, lost in thoughts or memories. “I have seen many churches, though. Back in Vienna there are...were hundreds of churches and cathedrals.”
His eyes took on a far away look. “When I was a small child, my mother’s Father would always take me for walks. He would point out famous buildings; the Heldenplatz, the Josefplatz, the Staatsoper, and the many cathedrals. I thought they were so wonderful. I loved to look at them.”
Wilhelm’s expression lightened again slightly. “I...remember when he took me to see the Stephansdom. Have you ever seen it, Father Darius?”
“No, Darius smiled gently.” But I have heard of it. I know St. Stephen’s was first dedicated in 1147. It is said to be the most beautiful Gothic cathedral in all of Austria.”
“It is.” Wilhelm thoughtfully turned the candlestick over in his hand. “When I saw it, I thought that it was a palace. Opa* told me that it was part of my heritage.”
“Opa,” six year old Wilhelm breathed as he looked around the cathedral in awe, “is this a palace?”
Wilhelm von Hohenburg looked fondly down at his grandson. “Some would say that it is God’s palace. This, my grandson, is Vienna’s finest gem.”
God’s Palace. Yes, Wilhelm thought in awe; this did seem like a place that God would live in. He didn’t think that he had ever seen a place so big or so beautiful. “Who does it belong to, Opa?”
Hohenburg grew solemn. “This cathedral was built by the people of Vienna. It has stood for over seven hundred years and generations of artists have worked on it. Look around and notice the different styles.”
Obediently, Wilhelm did so. His eyes grew ever wider as he took in the vastness of the interior, the many different altars with their candles, paintings, crucifixes and statues, the huge exquisitely carved stone pulpit, the red marble tomb of Emperor Frederick III. He tried to imagine the hundreds of different artists who had worked over time to build this beautiful building.
As he gazed, he noticed the different forms of architecture. As far back as he could remember, his mother had taught him to appreciate art and to notice different methods. As young as he was, he could still tell that the building’s architecture was Gothic and that most of the artwork was Baroque. He smiled, pleased with himself for knowing so much.
“Every brick and stone of this place is a reminder of our history and culture,” his grandfather continued. “It belongs to everyone who is Austrian, it belongs to you.”
It belonged to him! Wilhelm’s heart swelled with joy and wonder. This huge, beautiful building belonged to everyone who was Austrian! It belonged to him, too!
Hohenburg looked his grandson intently in the eyes. “Your father and your other grandfather always speak of Germany. Make no mistake; Germany is a great country, and they and you have every right to be proud of your German blood. But never forget that you are every bit as Austrian as you are German. Never forget your heritage.”
“I won’t, Opa.”
Paris, July 2
Darius reached out and squeezed Wilhelm’s hand gently. So far the youth had spoken very little about his past. Even Duncan had known almost nothing. Darius sensed that was going to change. His associate, Immortal psychiatrist Sean Burns, had told him that when people who had suffered began to tell their stories, they often began gradually in bits and pieces.
“My mother and her father always talked about my Austrian heritage,” Wilhelm whispered. “Austria has a long proud history, especially Vienna.
“Opa especially loved to take me to the Hofburg. I was in awe of it as a boy. It’s a huge complex of building, squares and courtyards. One could spend hours walking through it, staring at it. It was a royal residence, the official residence of the Habsburg Dynasty for seven hundred years.”
Wilhelm gave a deep sigh. “Opa, would go on for hours about the Habsburgs. Do you know much about them, Father Darius?”
Darius smiled slightly. “Oh yes, they were quite colorful. The Habsburgs ruled Austria and the Holy Roman Empire from 1437 until 1806.”
“The Holy Roman Empire,” Wilhelm whispered. “During its height that empire ruled Austria, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Italy. Vienna was virtually the capital of all Europe.
“We eventually lost our empire to Napoleon, but we did not stay down. No indeed, in 1867 our beautiful city became capital of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, which lasted until the last war.”
Wilhelm’s eyes grew far away with memories. “Ours is a glorious city,” Opa would say. “Vienna the crowning jewel of Europe; all of Austria is. We are a great country, a great people. We have been for centuries and will continue to be for centuries to come.’” His voice broke off. “A great people...”
He put the candlestick down and stood up. He stood silently for several moments, arms wrapped tightly around himself, before slowly sitting down again.
“My mother talked about Vienna all the time as well. Not so much its power, but its art and splendor.
“And we had an abundance of both. Vienna rivaled Paris in art and culture and Mother would say that our music was second to none. So many musicians and composers lived within our city; Hayden, Mozart, Schubert, Beethoven, and Mother made sure that I heard all of their music. While Opa took me to see famous buildings and museums, she took me to operas, ballets, plays and symphonies. I loved all of them.”
Wilhelm paused. “I especially loved history and when I was a child I loved to dream. I would wish that I had lived in the days when Vienna was at its height. I would imagine being a Habsburg prince. I would imagine being part of a great empire.” He stopped abruptly and shuddered. “Childish dreams.”
Yes indeed, Darius thought sadly as he gazed into the haunted blue eyes of the young/old man before him. The grand innocent dreams of a child. A child long gone. An innocence long dead.
Wilhelm was silent for several minutes gazing at the candlesticks. “Herr MacLeod mentioned that you were German?”
“Yes,” Darius said softly. “I would be considered Germanic. I was born among the Goths of the North.”
“German,” Wilhelm whispered. He was quiet for several moments before slowly looking into Darius’ face. “Then it would seem that we have a similar heritage, Father Darius.”
Darius was silent. “Yes, we do,” he whispered.
“My father was German,” Wilhelm continued. “His family line went back for over 500 years. He was an officer during the last war. Afterwards, he moved to Vienna where he met my mother.
“My mother and her father were so proud of their homeland. But that was nothing compared to how proud my father’s family was of theirs. My father never let any me or anyone forget the heritage of Germany. Ours, he would say, was a heritage of strength. A heritage of warriors.”
Wilhelm sat up in bed as his father entered his bedroom.
“What is the light doing on, Wilhelm?” Gerald Friedrich asked.
“I...I had a bad dream, Papa,” Wilhelm whispered. “I’m scared of the dark.”
“You will not be,” Gerald said sternly. “You have German blood in your veins, Wilhelm. Germans have always been strong, all the way back to the days of the Roman Empire. Even then we were a race of proud warriors who eventually succeeded in bringing that empire to its knees.
“We did not accomplish that by being fearful. I did not survive the War by being fearful. And you will not accomplish the things you need to do by being fearful. Do you understand?”
“Good,” said his father. “Now turn off the light. You will be strong and you will not fear the dark.”
After his father left, Wilhelm lay back down. He would be strong! He thought of the stories his father had told him of the German warriors of long ago. They were always strong and brave. He was their descendant so he would be too! He would be strong! He would not be afraid! He would act like a true German warrior!
Paris, July 2
Darius sighed and his hands trembled slightly, as he listened to the young man’s words. His mind briefly went back to his own days long ago. Oh yes,Wilhelm. We have a more similar heritage than you know.
Dacia, The fifth year of the reign of the Eastern Emperor Valens
Darius the Goth watched with satisfaction as his men celebrated and divided their bounty of plunder and slaves. It had been a successful raid; the village had been taken completely by surprise. They had tried to fight back of course, but they had been no match against the Goth army, no match against the man who led it.
Darius smiled, he had won. But then he always did. Like all Goths he had been trained as a warrior from the time he could walk and hold a blade. As a young man he had been renowned for his skill with the sword. At the time of his First Death he had been one of the most formidable warriors of his people.
In the three centuries since then, his skills had steadily increased. He had fought and led his warriors in countless campaigns against other tribes and in constant raids against the vaunted Romans. Everyone he fought fell to his blade, be they mortal or Immortal.
Darius sensed the approach of his student Grayson and turned as the other Immortal rode up to him.
“A successful day, Darius,” Grayson smiled proudly.
“Yes, Darius smiled, “those pathetic villagers have fallen to our blades. Just as others have fallen to my peoples’ blades for hundreds of years. Just as they have fallen to the blades of all ‘barbarians!’” He gave an amused chuckle.
“We have come a long way, Grayson. When I was a boy I often heard the stories of how our forefathers had lived in the lands of the far North, but gradually moved south east.”
“Until you settled by the Rhine and Danube Rivers!” Grayson smiled.
“Oh yes, where we soon became acquainted with our Celtic neighbors and especially with our good friends the Romans!
“The Romans despised us and called us barbarians.” Darius looked thoughtful for a moment “It was true that for a long time we lacked order and discipline. In some ways we were little more than rabble; we fought each other as often as we fought the Romans.”
“That was how you were reborn,” Grayson said softly. “You were leading your tribes’ warriors against another tribe.”
“Yes. I was reborn to my true destiny. And in time my people began to realize theirs.”
Darius surveyed his armies. “We have always been warriors, Grayson. Every able-bodied man was a warrior who considered dying in battle glorious and dying in bed shameful.
“Their warrior spirit never changed and they learned to adapt and how to make, or gain better weapons. And they learned something even more important; they learned to see past themselves and the petty interests of this or that particular tribe. They learned to form alliances. Remember this, Grayson,” Darius looked intently at his protégé, “in unity there is strength. The tribes learned that lesson and they grew stronger as a result.”
Grayson’s smile grew more feral. “They are growing stronger and the vaunted Romans are growing weaker!”
“Yes, they have been for a long time. The Pax Romana ended nearly two hundred years ago. Their empire has been rotting from within ever since.”
Tell me, Grayson,” Darius turned a testing eye on his student, “what is the danger of having too many enemies from within?”
“Grayson smiled confidently “You can’t deal properly with the enemies without!”.
Darius nodded in approval. “Yes. The poor Romans...so busy dealing with their internal conflict, that they left their borders sadly unattended. Leaving those lands to our tender mercies!”
Darius pulled his lips back in a savage wolf-like grin as he remembered the battles and the bloodshed. The thrill of defeating an enemy, the thrill of knowing that you would take what your enemy had once considered his, of knowing that you would soon take his very life and that he was powerless to prevent it!
There was no greater power, no greater joy than knowing that you had another’s life in your hands; in knowing that he would die because you chose for him to die!
“We ‘barbarians’ have come a long way indeed, Grayson. There are many different tribes now. And each has made its own gains in the former Empire. The Franks hold the lower Rhine and regularly raid Gaul and Hispania. The Alamanni control central Germania and make regular attacks into Italia itself. And the Vandals have large holdings in Germania, as well as in the lands just west of the territory of the Huns.”
“Don’t forget your own tribe,” Grayson smiled.
“I haven’t forgotten,” Darius said. “The Goths have come a long way as well.”
His tribe, the Goths, had continued to move to the south and east along the Danube. Over one hundred years after his First Death, they had settled on the steppes north of the Black Sea. While there, they had conquered and intermarried with the nomadic Alans, and had gained from them their skill with horses. Skills they had put to good use in forming their own cavalry.
Darius smiled. There was no sensation quite like racing into battle on the back of a spirited warhorse. Of racing into battle and running an enemy down. And he had run down many. He had led many attacks into Asia Minor and many raids along the Black Sea coast and into Dacia. It was during one of those raids, four years ago, that he had met Grayson.
Grayson, then called Claudianus, had been a mere farmer at the time. . His settlement had been attacked by Darius's cavalry and he had been run down and trampled. Darius often liked to imagine that it was his horse that had run him down. His hand, so to speak, that had birthed Grayson into the world of Immortality.
Darius had taken the newborn Immortal as his student. In the four years since, under his tutelage, Grayson had become a skilled warrior who had come to learn and love the art of war and the glory of bloodshed. His student was never far from his side, and Darius knew that Grayson looked upon him as a father. Indeed, the Dacian had taken the name ‘Grayson’ after the grey wolf skin that Darius always wore in battle. He was Grayson, Son of the Wolf.
But more than that, Grayson was in awe of Darius; saw him almost as his personal god. He would die for him, kill for him. He believed in him, virtually worshiped him.
Worship...that was one regard in which he and Grayson, and all the Goths differed; Grayson worshiped him. He, Darius, worshiped nothing. Many of the Goths were followers of the Arian branch of Christianity, while others still held to the old ways and revered the ancient gods, especially, Wotan, the god of war. For his part, Darius believed in no gods...Almost none.
Darius slowly drew out his blade and gazed at it in thoughtful satisfaction. He had possessed it for many years, and with it had killed countless enemies. It was as much a part of him as his arm. He moved it slowly through the air, reveling in the feel of it, admiring its deadly song.
This was the god he worshiped; cold hard steel, the strength of arm to wield it, the will to use it and the desire to conquer with it!
He was a warrior without peer. An Immortal warrior without equal. He feared nothing and nothing would stand in his way!
Darius’s gaze once again turned to the burning village below. He smiled as he watched the smoke rising and listened to the screams of the women as his men took their pleasure on them. His cruel grin grew broader, “The Goths have come a long way, indeed, Grayson, but this is only the beginning.”
Paris, July 2
Darius jerked his mind back to the present and focused again on Wilhelm’s quiet words.
“Even when I was a small child, my father was always teaching me to be strong,” the young Austrian continued, “to never tolerate fear or weakness in myself. My ancestors had always been strong. I came from a race of warriors and conquerors.”
Wilhelm looked up from his book as his father entered the study.
“It’s getting late, Wilhelm,” his father asked. “Have you finished your homework yet?”
“Yes, Papa, I’m just reading. Today Herr Schneider gave the class a new assignment; we’re all to write a report on a period of history. I wanted to start right away.”
Wilhelm always started assignments early, but then from an early age, his father had let him know that nothing less would be tolerated from him than excellence. He had actually needed very little urging in that regard; he had a fierce inborn desire to not only succeed but to excel in everything he did, whether it be hobbies, sports or schoolwork.
“And what are you going to write your report about?”
“The Holy Roman Empire,” Wilhelm grinned. “I love to read about that. It’s one of my favorite times in history.”
“Not surprising,” his father said. “That was a glorious period. If your grandfather, Herr von Hohenburg were still alive, he would no doubt give you many lessons about the Habsburgs. But remember this, Wilhelm: the Habsburgs may have ruled the Holy Roman Empire for centuries, but Germany ruled it first.”
“I know,” Wilhelm said eagerly. “Germany built it. Germany was part of Charlemagne’s empire in 800 A.D.
“And what was Charlemagne?”
“He was a Frank, one of the many Germanic tribes. A hundred years later, in 936 A.D., Otto I wanted to bring back the Roman Empire. He had the pope crown him Emperor Augustus and he built an empire like Charlemagne’s. That became the Holy Roman Empire! Germans are not only warriors, but conquerors and empire builders!”
Paris, July 2
Darius shuddered slightly as he listened to Wilhelm speak of the history his father had taught him. Oh yes, Germans had quite a bit of experience with conquering.
The southern bank of the Danube River, The thirteenth year of the reign
of the Eastern Emperor Valens
“You’re smiling,” Grayson observed as he entered the tent.
Darius looked up from the map he had drawn and noticed that the Dacian was smiling as well. Grayson was by nature a serious, intense man and almost never showed large, open-hearted smiles. Almost never except to Darius, such was the depth of his loyalty to his mentor.
Grayson joined him at the table, his eyes tracing the symbols across the map Darius had drawn, symbols that showed the locations of tribes, legions and towns.
“You always smile when you plan a campaign,” Grayson said. “You smile every bit as much as you when you fight.”
“All aspects of war are satisfying,” Darius replied. “I have learned that there is as much satisfaction in planning as there is in actual combat. And it takes less energy!” His laughed and Grayson joined him.
Darius returned to his map. “And there is great satisfaction in foreseeing the shape of things to come.”
“Even when others do not,” Grayson said as he pulled up a stool beside Darius.
“Especially when others do not,” Darius corrected. “That is how we win. Look,” he said, pointing on the map the southern shore of the Danube River, “this is where Valens, noble emperor of the eastern half of what is left of the Roman Empire, so graciously permitted us – and two hundred thousand other Visigoths to settle last year.”
“He had little choice, we were beating down his gates.”
“True. The Romans are no longer what they were, they’re divided. Two empires; West and East. Two capitals; Rome and Constantinople. Two emperors; Valentinian II and Valens. They no longer have their former strength.”
“Yes,” Grayson pointed out. “But that does not stop them from treating us with contempt. And it does not stop Valens from behaving as arrogantly as if he ruled the entire world.”
“Patience,” Darius smiled, “he will learn soon enough. Those who are the most arrogant are almost always the ones most blinded to their weaknesses.”
“But we are divided as well,” Grayson pointed out. “The Ostrogoths chose to remain in the east.”
“True.” Darius pointed to the area north of the Black Sea. “The Goths settled on these steppes a hundred years after I was reborn to Immortality. And it was here that they, in time, divided. The Visigoths settled further west and the Ostrogoths settled by the eastern shores.”
“Yes, and they stayed there,” Grayson said. “They stayed where they were and accepted the rule of the Huns when they came from the east seven years ago.” He jabbed his finger at the map. “King Ermanaric failed his people.”
“He may have failed, but the people have not,” Darius pointed out. “The Huns are fierce, as you and I both know, but the Ostrogoths are still a strong warrior race. And they may learn much from the Huns.”
“Their cavalry,” Grayson said with a grudging envy. “Never have I seen such a union of man and mount.”
“Indeed. We should go back there in a hundred years to see if the Huns still rule the Ostrogoths, or if the Ostrogoths rule the Huns. I have seen tribes combine before; just as the Goths did with the Alans.”
“I do not want to simply wait for a hundred years.”
“We have time, Grayson,” Darius smiled. “If there is one thing I have learned as an Immortal, it is that we have time. Time is both our battleground and our plaything. We need to learn to play it to our ends.
“I have learned patience. I have learned when to attack and when to withdraw. I have learned when to advance, and when to wait and bide my time. The Huns are formidable, but mortal; they will not always be in power. We can deal with them at a later time.
“But fear not, my student. We are not going to wait, for we have other things to do. Another thing I have learned is how to turn a setback into an advantage. We may have been pushed out of the east for now, but that simply means that the west now lies before us.”
Darius’s finger traced the lands of his own tribe. The Visigoths; a proud, fierce warrior people. A people smarting from the humiliation of having to flee their homeland. A people grown increasingly restless and angered by Roman contempt. The Romans may be sneering at us now, but soon...very soon...
Darius’s wolf-like smile broadened. “Constantinople awaits us.”
Paris, July 2
Wilhelm talked faster and more urgently lost in his memories. “My father wasn’t the only one who constantly drilled into me my history; my other grandfather, Herr Luther Friedrich, did as well.”
Berlin, July 1932
Wilhelm sat on the sofa beside his cousins. Every summer his family visited his father’s relatives in Berlin. He loved the visits; seeing his other grandfather Luther Friedrich and his uncle Otto Friedrich.
He especially loved to see his three cousins; Andreas, Joseph, and Otto jun. Since Wilhelm was an only child, he would often pretend that they were his brothers. The boys would spend hours playing together, or doing what they were doing now; sitting and listening to their grandfather’s stories.
“Frederick the Great was the greatest king this country had ever had,” Luther Friedrich was saying. “My great-great-great grandfather served under him and was so impressed with his king that he changed his last name to Friedrich to honor him. We have been ever proud to bear that name ever since.
“Frederick was a brilliant military commander and strategist and his armies were among the most disciplined in the world. When he became the King of Prussia in 1740, Germany was a divided country made up of hundreds of different states, including Prussia. By the time he died, Prussia was the most powerful state in Germany and one of the most powerful kingdoms in Europe! He understood well that discipline and focus are the keys to power.
“He was not only a brilliant commander he was also a patron of arts, philosophy and culture, and a leading figure in the Enlightenment. Remember this, boys; true brilliance comes not only in physical prowess and military might, but in appreciation for the sciences and arts as well. Not only must one’s body be honed, but one’s mind as well.
“Frederick the Great understood that well, as did Otto von Bismarck. Ah...Bismarck!” Luther Friedrich’s smile grew wider. “Now there was a leader! Serving under him was the greatest honor of my life!
“Frederick had made Prussia the most powerful state in Germany. In 1867, five years after he became Prime Minister of Prussia, Bismarck had united all of Germany under Prussian rule! He built an empire!; the Second German Empire, with himself as Chancellor and Wilhelm I as the first Kaiser!”
Wilhelm sat up slightly straighter. He had always known who he had been named after.
His grandfather noticed. “That’s correct, Wilhelm. You share your name not only with your other grandfather, but with rulers as well:
“Frederick William the Great Elector, an ancestor of Frederick the Great, who mightily strengthened Prussia and paved the way for its future greatness.
“Wilhelm I, the first Kaiser of a united Germany.
“And Wilhelm II, whom your father served under during the Great War. Wilhelm II's ambitions were even greater than Bismarck's. He built up a huge military force and was determined to make Germany one of the greatest powers in Europe!”
Luther smiled as he looked at each of his grandsons. “You boys come from German stock; a proud, enlightened, warrior race destined for greatness! Never forget that.”
Paris, July 2
And I didn’t forget,” Wilhelm said shivering. “Oh, Father Darius, you should have seen the dreams I dreamed as a child when I would imagine Germany’s history.
“Warriors, always warriors. I would imagine that I was one of the many Germanic tribes that pushed back and defeated the Roman Empire.
“I would imagine that I was a great general king like Fredrick the Great, making my country strong and proud. I would imagine being like Charlemagne, Chancellor Bismarck or Kaiser Wilhelm; building a great empire.”
Oh yes, Darius thought sadly. You are not the only person who has dreamed such things, Wilhelm.
Rome, The fifteenth year of the reign of the Western Emperor Honorius
Darius surveyed the scene with satisfaction. He smiled as he watched the fires burning and the smoke rising to the sky. He smiled as he heard the screams of the wounded and dying and smelled the stench of death from his fallen foes. He smiled as he watched the fall of the city of Rome.
For the past three decades he had watched it all come to fruition. Two years after settling by the southern banks of the Danube, the Visigoths had shown the Romans the folly of underestimating them. Valens, no doubt cursing himself for a fool for ever allowing the wolves within his realm, had mobilized his army and marched out against them.
He had lost.
Darius grinned as he remembered. He had fought at the Battle of Adrianople. He had ridden screaming through the ranks of his enemies, turning his sword crimson with their blood. Ah, being in the thick of battle! That was when he felt most alive!
Ever bit as satisfying was when he witnessed the success of his plans! He surveyed again the destruction before him and laughed.
He sensed Grayson coming beside him. In the years since his First Death, Grayson had become his second in command and was never far from his side.
“Rome has fallen, Darius!” Grayson said exuberantly. “It has all come to pass as you said!”
“What I say usually comes to pass, Grayson. I said that the Romans would not sneer at the Visigoth’s forever. They mocked us once. Look at them now!” He pointed to the slaves being herded along by his men. “And even as we stand here, refugees are fleeing from the city of the Seven Hills.”
“Where do you suppose they’ll go?” Grayson asked.
“Perhaps some of them will flee back east! Ironic is it not? It was in the east that this began. It was Valens who first allowed us into the remains of the once great Roman Empire.
“After we slaughtered him at Adrianople, along with two thirds of his army, the Romans practically begged General Theodosius to come out of retirement and become the new emperor of the east.”
“He was a worthy opponent, but he was never able to best us!” Grayson declared with a smile.
“True. He saw that he couldn’t defeat us, so he made a treaty instead! He allows us to settle in Roman territory, and we in turn help protect Roman lands!” Darius threw his head back and laughed. “Relying on one’s former enemies to protect one’s precious empire! One did not have to have centuries of experience to foresee the outcome!”
“Still,” Grayson sobered slightly, “he was a skilled general and a worthy emperor. He even managed to unite both East and West under his rule and become emperor of the entire Roman Empire.”
“For about four months! ” Darius put in “before he died as all mortals do!
“That, Grayson, is the advantage that we will always have over them; we are Immortal, they are not. We have infinite time; they do not. In a few decades we will still be here, they will not. To us time is an ally, to them it is a deadly enemy. No matter how worthy or dangerous a mortal might be, he will still always lose in the end!”
“And once he’s gone, the ones who follow him are usually nowhere near his equals.”
“Exactly, my friend! Theodosius died and his sons—children–were placed on the thrones of the East and West! And neither of them were any match for the Visigoths. Honorius soon found that out!”
Darius turned back looked back at the burning city. “It began in the east, but it culminated here in the west.”
The year that Theodosius died, the chieftain Alaric had forged alliances with the Visigoth tribes that had settled in the empire. When Honorius, who had only been ten when he became Emperor of the West, had stopped giving the Visigoths the ‘payment’ for their services, the conclusion was forgone.
For years Alaric’s forces had raided Greece, Macedonia and Italia. Darius, a powerful warlord himself, had frequently joined him in his campaigns.
Darius had done campaigning on his own as well. It was an ideal time to do so. The Romans had been so busy fighting Alaric’s forces that they had to leave the armies of their western provinces pathetically understaffed. Darius had even heard that the Romans had withdrawn all of their legions from Britannia.
He had gone on many raids and campaigns, sometimes alone, sometimes allied with other tribes.
Just as he had done four years ago. A huge force of Germanic tribes, under the leadership of the Vandals, had crossed the Rhine into Gaul and on into Hispania.
They had been merciless. The Vandals had left so much devastation in their wake, that people were beginning to associate the very name ‘Vandal’ with destruction. Darius smiled from the pleasant memories.
But through it all, his attention had never been far from Rome. His ally Alaric had already lain siege to Rome once before two years ago, but had withdrawn after being bribed with tribute. Now at last the job was finished!
“Rome had fallen!” Darius laughed. “The smoke from the ‘Eternal City’ now rises to the heavens, and the bodies of so many of its noble citizens are bait for the crows flying overhead!”
For three days Rome, had been burned and looted. Darius smiled as he watched the smoke spiraling upward and listened to the screams of the captives.
“The Romans can consider themselves fortunate,” Grayson said. “Alaric ordered that church buildings and temples be spared, and much of the city has been left intact. It’s not quite the end for Rome yet.”
Darius turned to his student, his eyes intent and his grin broad. “Oh, but it is the end, Grayson! Rome, the Eternal City that has stood for a thousand years! Rome, that has ruled the world for nearly four centuries! Rome has fallen! This is the end! The end of an empire, the end of an era! The Roman heart will shatter from this. It will never recover!”
He laughed uproariously. “Some of those so-called Christians might even see this as the end of the world! Others will probably see it as the gods’ way of punishing the Christians!” His laughter grew louder. I tell you, Grayson...I love religion! It is so useful against mortals and it can be quite a source of entertainment!”
Darius looked again at his men. His men! His armies! His victory! He reveled in the sense of power and his entire being burned with the desire for more. More battle! More conquest! More glory! More power! He lived for it. And he would have it!
In the centuries since his First Death, he had honed his body to become a living weapon. But he had honed much more than that. Many didn’t realize that to be a true warrior, a true conqueror; one needed to hone more than one’s weapons and body; one had to hone one’s mind to a razor’s edge. One needed order, discipline, and purpose–above all purpose.
One had to observe and anticipate and know the motivations and actions of both your subjects, supposed allies and enemies. One had to know how to inspire and how to humiliate, how to lift up and how to cast down. One had to know how to manipulate and pull strings, how to organize and, above all, to plan.
And he had plans. Oh yes, he had plans!
He turned back to his student. “Rome has fallen, Grayson. It doesn’t matter if much of this city is left intact, the heart and soul of the Empire has been cut out. Constantinople may thrive for a long time yet, but it will never be Rome. The major obstacle is gone. And this is only the beginning!
“Oh, I have plans, Grayson! The Vandals have built their own kingdom in Hispania. Alaric and his armies intend to establish a new homeland here in Italia. But I intend to have far more than that!”
Darius’s eyes blazed with ambition. “I am going to build an empire! An empire born of this! ” He drew his blade and raised it to the heavens. “And it will never fall!”
With a laugh Darius surveyed again the burning city. It had fallen, as all the accomplishments of mortals did. The kingdoms mortals built might last for centuries, but they always fell in the end.
But he was Immortal! He was a member of a superior race that was as far above these pathetic short-lived mortals as the sun was above an ember! He was a member of a race destined to rule! What he accomplished would not fall!
He was a warrior without peer. No one, mortal or Immortal could stand against him in combat. He was a leader without equal. His men were utterly loyal to him and he knew that he could...would inspire the loyalty of others.
Even other Immortals. When Grayson had first proposed the idea, he had rejected it. But now...
Grayson would die for him gladly. He could unite others to his cause. Immortals had united before; he had heard the legends of the Four Horsemen. Long ago, four Immortals had united into a Brotherhood and ridden for a thousand years.
He would form a new brotherhood of as many Immortals who would join him. And he would accomplish far more than the Horsemen ever had! They had been powerful, but shortsighted; all they had seemed interested in doing was burning, destroying and spreading terror.
Those certainly had useful purposes, and were definitely pleasurable. But he would do more than burn and destroy. He would build!
He would convince other Immortals to join him. If enough of them united, the world of mortals would be helpless. It would not be easy gaining the loyalty of other Immortals, and he would no doubt have to kill many of them. But some would join him, he was certain of that.
For all anyone knew, the Gathering might not be for hundreds or thousands years. That was hundreds or thousands of years that his kind could spend conquering and ruling.
Yes, he would make other Immortals realize that. Enough would realize that and join him.
And if in the end there could be only one, he would be that one!
Darius’s wolf-like grin grew broader...sharper as he envisioned the future; a future in which he ruled! He would created an empire that stretched from the Ural Mountains to the Sea and would shake the very foundations of the earth! He would rule for a thousand years if not more! And once he had claimed the Prize he would rule for eternity!
Paris, July 2, 1945
Shaken, Darius once again focused on Wilhelm.
“Even my name,” the youth murmured. ‘My first name, Wilhelm. I had the same name as my mother’s father. But I had been named after German kings, rulers who had built an empire.
“My last name, Friedrich, was after a great Prussian general king who had made his country strong and proud.
“I had been named after warriors, kings and emperors. My grandfather would say that every time someone even spoke my name, it would remind me of what kind of people I had come from and what they were capable of.
“I thought of myself as having two countries. I had been born in Austria, but I considered myself German as well. I came from two great countries and I had two great heritages. ‘Remember, Wilhelm,’ both of my families told me, ‘you carry the blood of Austria and Germany in your veins. On both sides you come from a great people. Always remember that and conduct yourself with pride.’”
Wilhelm stopped abruptly and then leaned forward, his whole body shaking violently. Darius quickly went to him and firmly enveloped him in his arms.
When Wilhelm had finally calmed, he was quiet for several minutes before his gaze fastened on Darius’s face. “My mother’s family always spoke of my heritage as an Austrian. Austria: historic, proud, influential, educated, artistic, and cultured.
“My father’s family always spoke of my heritage as a German. Germany: cultured, intellectual, enlightened, brilliant, organized, disciplined, efficient, proud, powerful, ambitious and determined.”
Wilhelm began to tremble again, and his voice grew ever more hollow. “My family always spoke of my heritage, Father Darius. And I was so proud of it. I was so proud to be both Austrian and German.”
Tears slowly filled his eyes and began to roll down his cheeks, and when he spoke next his voice was an icy, barely audible whisper. “I don’t think much of my heritage now, Father Darius. And I don’t think I can be proud of being Austrian or German.... ever again.”
Darius tightly squeezed Wilhelm’s hand; wordlessly looking down at the numbers tattooed on the young man’s left arm.
Personal Notes: I apologize if this story disturbs or offends anyone. I am in no way trying to imply that people of German or Austrian descent are bad. In fact I have always been an admirer of both German and Austrian culture. However, I am a student of history and I believe that all history should be dealt with honestly, both the good and the bad.
When reading about the Holocaust I have noticed that focus always seems to be on the six million Jews who perished. As terrible as that was, not everyone who died during that horrible time was Jewish.
One did not have to be Jewish to fall victim to the Nazi’s evil. Gypsies, Russian prisoners of war, Communists, Polish nationals, political opponents, outspoken unionists, Catholics, Homosexuals, criminals, physically or mentally challenged, anyone who spoke out against the Nazi’s – all of them were labeled as “undesirable” and over five million of them were murdered.
The Heldenplatz is the famous Square of Heroes. It is a huge square that was the sight of many parades and is where the location of many important museums are.
The Josephplatz is a square surrounded by 18th century buildings including the Austrian National Library.
The Staatsoper is a famous opera house and one of the most famous lyric theaters in the world.
Stephansdom is the famous Cathedral of Saint Stephen and the most beloved building in Vienna.
The Pax Romana lasted from 30 B.C.–180 A.D. Afterwards, the Roman Empire went through centuries of decline, internal conflict and foreign invasion. Until it finally collapsed altogether in 476 A.D.
Prussia was a powerful nation in northern Germany for hundreds of years. It began with the Hohenzolerns, a family of powerful German counts. In 1415 they became rulers of the district of Brandenburg. They eventually received the title Elector of Brandenburg when they first took part in the election of the Holy Roman Emperor.
Frederick William became Great Elector from 1640-1688 and greatly strengthened Prussia, adding to its territories.
Frederick’s son, Frederick I was crowned the first King of Prussia in 1701 and built up Prussia’s army.
Frederick the Great ruled Prussia from 1712-1786.
Otto von Bismarck became Prime Minister of Prussia in 1862. He united Northern Germany through, diplomacy and wars, into the North German Confederation. In 1871, after a successful war with France, he united Southern Germany as well, creating the New German Empire. Bismarck served as Chancellor (Prime Minister, Chief Minister of State) with Wilhelm I as the first Kaiser (Emperor).
Kaiser Wilhelm II became King of Prussia and Kaiser (Emperor) of the German Empire from 1888-1918. Ironically, the German word Kaiser is derived from the Latin title Caesar.
Adolf Hitler was born in Austria in 1889.
World War II
Evans, Charlotte, ed. The Kingfisher Illustrated History of the World. Kingfisher Books, 1992.
Martin, Linda, ed. 1000 Makers of the Millennium. DK Publishing Inc, 1999.
The Golden Book of Vienna. Casa Editrice Bonechi, 1989.
Willis, Adrienne. Time Chart II: From the Birth of Jesus Christ to the Fall of the Roman Empire. 1994.
Darius's Church photo copyright 1999 by A. Snow, used with permission
Stephensdom photo courtesy of Michael Reed at http://www.mike-reed.com
09/28/2002 (revised 02/04)