Hercules realized he was once again standing alone. The woman who had shown up out of seemingly nowhere was gone. And he found himself still standing in the same spot amazed at what he had seen her do for the small boy, who had just moments before been dying in his arms. He was astonished at this encounter with this beautiful woman who had so quickly come into his life and then just as quickly disappeared. Questions. He had many questions. 'Who was she? Where had she come from? Where had she gone so swiftly?' So many strange feelings started building up inside of him. He couldn't explain them or understand them. But suddenly he was pulled out of his revelry with the sounds of men shouting and of men moving in the distance through the brush. He once again remembered what he was out here for. To find and protect the hind. He started out once again putting the thoughts of Serena temporarily aside. He started weaving in and out of the trees and tall bushes that snagged and grabbed at him.
As he moved toward a small clearing, he heard a noise of someone or something moving toward him through the brush. He stopped and listened. It wasn't a human step. He moved cautiously and silently toward it and all of a sudden between the branches of a rather large bush, saw something also moving very cautiously. He stopped and held his breath. He saw first the head and horns of gold shinning in the bright sunlight, filtering in through the trees. The golden hind. As she came into view between the trees in front of him, he sighed relief. However, the keen hearing of the hind picked up the sound and immediately looked up. Their eyes locked for a just a moment before she turned and took off back the way she had come.
Hercules shouted after her retreating form. "Wait!! Wait!! I've come to help. Don't go!"
But it was too late, she had already vanished. With a shake of his head, he dashed off after her. She was swift, but he was able to follow easily, getting closer and closer. He could see her at a distance. He refrained from shouting because he was not sure who was around this particular area and he did not want to alert Nestor or his men to his find.
As he ran, he wondered vaguely where Iolaus was. It had been awhile since they had split up. Iolaus was an expert tracker and he wondered if he would soon run into Iolaus tracking from the other direction.
Finally, he seemed to be closing up the distance between them. She was close enough to hear him and he risked one last plea. "Wait! Please stop!" But the hind kept running and went streaking through another clearing and on into the forest on the other side. Hercules, too, came bounding out from between some tall shrubbery into the opening, thinking that he was going to lose the hind if he didn't hurry up. But as soon as he broke into the open, he was stopped dead in his tracks by a terrifying sight. There laying off to the left of where the hind had cut through, was Iolaus. His heart stopped for a minute and he just stood there unable to move. It was only for a few seconds, but it seemed as if time had stopped as he watched his friend laying so still. He could see a trickle of blood coming from an arrow wound in his shoulder.
He flew to his friend's side and gently lifted him up into his arms. "Iolaus!! Iolaus, can you hear me!! IOLAUS!!"
Slowly the blue eyes opened up towards Hercules' anxious face. Hercules breathed a small sigh of relief.
"Herc!" came the faint words from Iolaus. And the eyes closed momentarily and his body stiffened in pain.
Hercules clasped his friend tighter. "Iolaus, who did this to you? I swear, if Nestor or his men did this, I'll ..."
"No, Herc, ... it wasn't Nestor, ... it was the ... the hind." Iolaus breathed out.
"The hind?" hissed Hercules angrily.
Iolaus nodded slightly. "I came on her ... in this clearing." He stopped for a moment before continuing on. "I tried to .... tell her ... I was ... here to help. I don't think ... she believed me." His head rolled back a little into Hercules' arm.
Hercules' eyes took on a panicked look, Iolaus' words putting a fear into his heart. He had heard the stories of the hind's arrows being dipped in poison and about others who had had encounters with her -- none had survived. Speed was of the essence right now. He needed to get that arrow out to stop any further flow of its poison, but he also knew the minute he extracted the arrow the bleeding would start.
Hercules gently lay Iolaus back down on the ground. "Iolaus, don't move. Lay as still as you can, alright?"
"I need to get that arrow out right away. Are you ready?"
Iolaus looked up into Hercules' fearful eyes. "Do it!"
Hercules hesitated for only a moment before reaching down, grasping the arrow securely and pulling with one swift movement. The muffled scream from Iolaus' lips, tore through Hercules' heart and there were tears close to the surface. But he didn't have time to indulge his feelings. The bleeding had started for real now. He grabbed Iolaus' right hand and pressed it firmly on the wound hoping to slow down some of the bleeding. "Hold it as tight as you can, Iolaus. I'll be right back."
Hercules looked all around. He didn't see at first what he was looking for, and then finally a little farther into the forest he could barely see a bush he thought he recognized containing what he needed. He moved off swiftly to his objective. He grabbed the branches, breaking them off roughly. He also tore off some long, thin vines from another nearby bush. These would serve to keep the leaves in place. Within a matter of minutes he was back at Iolaus' side. The blue eyes were closed and he heard the ragged and forced breathing. "Iolaus!! Iolaus, are you still with me!!!"
He was relieved when the eyes opened. There was a slight nod of the head.
"Just stay here with me, my friend." Hercules spoke softly and gently as he quickly stripped some of the branches of their leaves. He continued to speak to Iolaus as he worked, trying to keep his attention, fearing Iolaus would slip off into unconsciousness. Iolaus never spoke at first but watched his friend's face and eyes the whole time.
Suddenly Iolaus broke in. "I'm sorry, Herc ..."
"Sorry? What do you have to be sorry about?" He held his friend's eyes.
"First the trap ... and now ... this. The hind is still ... out there ... and in danger. ... If I hadn't been so careless, we ..."
"It's wasn't your fault, Iolaus, and it isn't important." Hercules interrupted. "All that's important right now is to get you back to the village and to help."
"Guess this ... just isn't ... my day, huh?" Iolaus smiled weakly.
Hercules smiled back down at the man before him. "Doesn't look like it, does it? But, you'll be okay. I little arrow in the shoulder isn't going to be slowing you down for long. I've seen you take worse."
"Yeah! ... Yeah, ... you're right. ... Something like this ... isn't going to .... to stop me. I'll be good ... as new ... in a few days." He gave his best imitation of his blinding smile.
Hercules smiled back. "I told you once before you're too ornery to die!!!"
But Hercules was aware that Iolaus also knew about the danger that he was in, about the poisoned arrows. However, true to form, Iolaus' eternal optimism was working full force. Hercules knew it would be and was ever grateful for that quality borne within his friend.
Hercules finally finished his task of stripping a few of the branches. The leaves of this bush would possibly slow down the progress of this poison. It was temporary at best. But would give him time to get Iolaus back to the village and to some help. There had to be someone who could do something. He refused to allow the possibility of losing Iolaus to even enter his mind. His smiled at the thought, Iolaus 'optimism' was catching.
He gently mopped up the blood with some of the leaves and threw them away, then swiftly crushed some of the leaves and placed them directly on the wound. Then Hercules lay the remaining leaves and branches across the wound. He took the vines and carefully lifted Iolaus up a little ways so he could get them under his back. Iolaus was limp in his arms now, heat already starting to radiate from his body -- the first throws of fever -- his body's attempt to rid itself of this poison. Iolaus' eyes were still open but seemed to be unfocused and he didn't even seem to know Hercules was there.
Hercules swiftly tied the remaining branches in place and picked up his precious charge. The drops of perspiration were already beading up around Iolaus' forehead. The blond hair was damp and matting and laying in curling ringlets around his face and neck. Hercules looked down at his friend. "You're going to make it, do you hear me? Don't you even think about leaving me!!" Then with a sure step he took off running as fast as he could back towards the village and hopefully to the help needed to keep his best friend alive.
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