Iolaus is the same man inside. I’ve no doubt about that. Just his memory is gone. He doesn’t remember me. But he’s still the same, even if he has become hooked up with Zeno’s crime organization. I saw it when he proved his loyalty to the man, risking his life to dive into the swamp and save Zeno from drowning. I don’t know all the details, yet, but I’m sure I’ll figure it out. What I do know is Iolaus needs my help in more ways than just getting his memory back.
I watched with anticipation as Iolaus dove into the swamp to retrieve Zeno from a certain watery grave. The crime lord’s former number one man, Thanatos, seeking revenge tied Zeno up and pushed him into the water. While Iolaus and I fought Thanatos and his men, Zeno struggled to free himself of the binds. Iolaus and I fought side by side once again, and I could tell he trusted me, even when I flipped him over my back a few times. He didn’t know what I was doing, but I felt his body give in to the moment, and he allowed me…trusted me…to know what I was doing. It was different fighting with him in this way, but no different. It was unfamiliar, yet familiar. I think Iolaus felt the same way. Then when Thanatos and his followers were knocked out, Iolaus hurried to the bank of the swamp. “Zeno!” He shouted. The crime lord had gone under. He picked up a vine and handed it to me. “I ’m going in after him. Wait for my signal.”
“One pull.” I ordered. “Two pulls and I’m coming in after you.”
With only a nod of his head in agreement he dove into the water. After treading the surface a few seconds trying to remember where Zeno had last been seen, he got his bearings and dove under.
For a matter of moments, I watched his bubbles rise to the surface, then they disappeared. “Iolaus!” I called out, worried that my friend had been pulled under by some creature, or had gotten tangled up in the vine. When I didn’t see any sign of bodies breaking the surface I tensed. “IOLAUS!” I shouted, about ready to dive in after them. Then to my great relief there was one tug. I began to pull on the vine. Iolaus tore through the water, dragging a conscious but decidedly weak man with him. I pulled them both to the bank of the swamp, letting out my held breath.
Iolaus and I dragged Zeno to the top of the bank and let him lay there, coughing up the water he had swallowed. Iolaus was on his knees beside the man, trying with desperate attempt to remove the ropes binding Zeno’s hands. When he couldn’t do it, I knelt beside him and grabbed the ropes. “Let me.” I said, softly. He looked at me strangely. “You would help a criminal?”
As I took the ropes and broke them off, I smiled at my confused friend. “He ’s your friend, isn’t he? Besides, I owe him for looking after you.”
“Hercules.” Zeno looked at me with amazement. “Of course. I should have known. But…”
“Should have known what?” Iolaus asked Zeno as he helped the man to sit up.
“I’ve heard the stories about the Son of Zeus and his best friend…Iolaus.” He looked at Iolaus with a faint smile hidden beneath his eyes.
“What are you talking about?” Iolaus said, mildly appalled. “I’ve never seen this man before in my life.”
“Yes you have, Iolaus.” Zeno said, looking me square in the eyes. He knew. “You just don’t remember. Is that it, Hercules? He’s lost his memory?”
I looked at my friend who gazed at both Zeno and myself, incredulously. “That’s it.” I replied.
“So that’s why Iolaus didn’t flinch at all when I mentioned that the wagon of dinars would be guarded by you. He had no idea who you were. I took that to mean the Iolaus in the stories of Hercules was a different man all together.”
“No.” I said. “This is him all right, lost memory and all.”
Iolaus stood, wiping his soaked hair from his face. “You both are crazy.” He said, starting to walk away.
I stood. “Am I? Why didn’t you kill me at the wagon, Iolaus? How did you think I knew your name? What happened when I told you that you were my best friend?”
He stopped, his back to me. I could tell my questions hit something, something deep inside of him, but still so far away as to escape his grasp. He turned to me, this time the incredulous look was replaced by one of confusion. “I told you then I didn’t know why I didn’t kill you. I still don’t.”
“It’s because my words to you…hit you in some way. You know you have no memory. I don’t know about you, but if I were in your place, I would want to find out how someone I took to be a total stranger would treat me like a best friend. I know about your past, my friend. You need someone to fill in the blanks.”
“Hercules is right, Iolaus.” Zeno said as he slowly got to his feet. “If anyone can help you, this man can.”
Iolaus took a few more steps off away from us. After a few moments he turned back to me. “You and I…we’re really best friends?”
I smiled. “Yes. We grew up together. Learned to fight together. Vowed we would fight back to back…always.”
“But you’re…some type of hero. Me? I’m a criminal.”
“No, Iolaus. You’re a hero, too. I’ve gone into many battles with you, fought against much evil with you at my side. Will you let me help you?”
Zeno went up to Iolaus and took his arms. “Son, the man you think you are right now, is not the man you truly are. It is not what you were destined to be. Listen to Hercules. He can help you make the pieces fit.”
Iolaus looked at Zeno, unsure. “I need time, Zeno. All of this is too much for me. Right now, all I want is to take Thanatos and his men to the Magistrate for what they tried to do to you.”
I took the rope I had pulled from around Zeno and handed it to Iolaus. “Then we’ll take this one step at a time, Iolaus. Get them tied up before they come around. I need to talk to Zeno for a minute.”
“About me?” Iolaus asked, his eyes wary.
I met those eyes and with as much compassion as possible I replied, “Yes…about you. Don’t worry. I’ll explain it all to you when we get back to town.”
Iolaus squared his shoulders. “Fine. I can take a hint.” He traipsed off to the fallen men and began to tie their hands behind them.
I watched him for a few moments. I knew he would get his memory back. That was not my concern at that moment. It was something else. “He’s confused, Zeno.”
“Yes. But if I know anything of friendship, yours to him will be the light that brings him home.”
I looked at Zeno unable to hide my admiration. “What are your plans, now, Zeno?”
“I’ve lived the life of a criminal, Hercules. When Thanatos betrayed me, I knew then that my time was running short. I’m a man of common sense. When I see the fork in the road, I know I have to make a decision.”
“Then when we meet up with the Magistrate…”
“I’m turning myself in.” Zeno said. “I can’t allow myself to continue on in this manner.”
I sighed. “You do owe a debt to society. I won’t argue that point.” My attention turned back to my confused friend. “It’s Iolaus…”
“I won’t allow him to go to prison, Hercules, if that’s what you’re worried about. I’ll talk with the Magistrate. Unfortunately Iolaus is an honorable man. If I turn myself in, I’m counting on you to keep him from doing the same thing. We both know he doesn’t have a criminal’s heart. He is what you said. He has a hero’s heart. And if you ask a certain merchant that Iolaus helped save from Thanatos’ rage, I’m sure Iolaus will be given a reprieve.”
I was extremely interested in this piece of news. “A merchant, you say? Tell me about it.”
Iolaus was walking over to us, his face grim. “Finished talking about me, yet?”
Zeno gestured to Iolaus with an amused expression. “I’ll let him tell you. The mongrels are waking up. Let’s start heading them back to town.” Zeno left us to gather together the men who would be meeting up with the magistrate later. Iolaus, his hands on his hips, looked at me expectantly. “Tell you what?”
“A story, Iolaus. I’d like to hear about the merchant you saved from Thanatos.” I went over to help keep Thanatos and his men in line. Iolaus just stood where he was, looking at me as if I’d gone crazy. “What do I look like, a bard?”
I grinned as I tested the prisoner’s binds. “As a matter of fact, you would be stiff competition for a certain blond haired warrior bard we both know.”
Iolaus’ eyes widened. “Blond haired…warrior…? Uh, Hercules, by any chance would this blond haired warrior bard be…a woman?”
I just grinned at him. “You tell me what I want to know, and I’ll tell you what you want to know.”
I could tell that got him, he instantly hurried to my side and started waving his arms around as he relayed his tale.
As we walked the journey back to the Magistrates’ office, Iolaus and I had shared some stories. I did, indeed, inform him of Gabriel and their special friendship. I also told him of my mother and how he and I met as kids, how he had turned to thievery, and how our friendship had been tested at Cheiron’s Warrior Academy.
“You’re kidding? A centaur actually taught humans how to fight?”
“Yes, he did. He was the best teacher you or I ever had.”
I noticed him looking down at his amulet. “What is this? Why do I wear it?”
“Your father’s.” I replied. “It was given to you at his death.”
He stopped. “His death? How did he die?”
“The way he lived, Iolaus. He died in battle. A warrior’s death.” “I remember him…not a lot, but enough.” The look in his eyes told me I needed to change the subject right away. “Iolaus, when we get to the magistrates quarters, I would appreciate it if you would stay outside and guard the prisoners for me. Zeno and I have to talk with the magistrate first.”
Iolaus looked behind him to where Zeno was walking beside Thanatos. “Oh, sure. He has to give his statement. Yeah, I can stand guard. No problem.”
I rested my hand on his shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “I know I can count on you.”
I felt him stiffen under my touch, and I instantly removed my hand. “Sorry. I keep forgetting you don’t remember us.”
He looked up at me as if something was tugging at his memory, but wasn’t quite reaching the recesses of his mind. “That’s…all right, Hercules. It just surprised me, that’s all. No man ever…touched me like…well, you know. Usually they use their hands to beat my face in. My father did that. I don ’t remember much about him, but I remember that.”
I began to reach my hand to his shoulder again, hesitated when I remembered how he had reacted before, then I went ahead and did it. This time he didn’ t stiffen up. I could swear there was a glimmer of a smile on his face, even if he was looking down.
“Awww, how touching!” Thanatos mocked. “Look, guys, Zeno’s number one man likes to be touched! Maybe he became number one for reasons other than his loyalty!”
I exploded. I turned on Thanatos and grabbed him by the throat, lifting him off the ground. “I suppose you like to be touched, too, Thanatos? How do you like it? Huh?! WELL?!”
“Hercules! Don’t!” Iolaus shouted, throwing his arms around mine and pulling it down. “It’s all right, Hercules. Let him go!”
I looked down at my friend’s pleading face, so much like the many times he would plead with me not to go over the edge. And for a moment there I thought he was truly back with me, memory and all. I let Thanatos drop, and he crumpled to the ground coughing. Zeno helped him up. “If I were you, Thanatos, I wouldn’t make any more uncalled for comments. You’re lucky the Son of Zeus didn’t break your neck just now.”
“Shut up, Old Man!” Thanatos spewed at him as he pulled himself away from his former employers helping hand. “You’ve helped me enough!”
I looked at Zeno who gazed at his attempted murderer with sorrow. “No, Thanatos. I don’t think I’ve helped you at all. If anything I’ve helped you become what you are today. Evil.”
“Spare me the philosophical debates, Old Man! You’ll have plenty of time to debate me when we’re in prison.”
Iolaus fumed. He stormed up to Thanatos and grabbed the man's leather vest. “You’ll have to go through me first before you get to Zeno!”
Thanatos grinned down at Iolaus with sadistic pleasure. “If you insist. I’ll enjoy getting you alone once we’re in prison, Iolaus. I’ll make your life a living Tartarus.”
I could see the rage boiling behind my friend’s eyes. And like he did for me I stopped him from tearing into the criminal. Pulling him away, he struggled against me, his face a mass of snarls and furry. “I’ll take you on, Thanatos!” He shouted, his fists flying. I kept my arm securely around his torso. “Stop it, Iolaus!” I urged.
He stopped struggling and looked up at me. When I was certain he wouldn’t fly into physical battle with the bound criminal, I eased my hold and he tore away from me, his body shaking with rage. He glared at Thanatos. “I suggest you better watch over your own shoulder, Thanatos. If you try anything with me, I’ll take you down.”
“Enough!” Zeno yelled. He went up to Thanatos, and placed a finger to his chest. “Iolaus isn’t your problem, Thanatos. It’s me. Whatever man I am in the eyes of the law, I know one thing. How to accept responsibility for my actions. I took you in, made you my right hand man. Then you betrayed me. I have to live with that choice, and I accept my fate. But Iolaus…if you chose to deal with him…you’ll have to accept yours as well. You won’t have much of a choice.” He turned to me. “Let’s go.”
I looked at Iolaus who was still breathing heavy over his encounter with Thanatos. I clapped his shoulder. “Still the fiery one, aren’t you?” I chuckled. “Well, you may have lost your memory, but you certainly haven’t lost your courage.” I started on after Zeno, bringing up the rear of the convoy, again. In a few moments, I sensed Iolaus behind me. I chanced a look over my shoulder and caught him staring at me. He quickly turned away, but not before I saw in his eyes a look of…amazement? Awe? I turned back to the road and smiled. “What is it, my Friend?”
“I don’t know.” He replied softly. “Everything inside me tells me that I’ve never known you. At least everything in my mind tells me that.”
“And your heart?” I asked, prodding him on.
When he didn’t answer right away, I stopped and turned to look at him. He was rubbing his mouth and chin, in that pondering way of his, and he looked at me. He shrugged. “I don’t know. I haven’t been listening to my heart a lot lately.”
I started on, again. “Maybe you should.” I replied. “The stories it could tell.”
We reached the Magistrate’s courtyard. The bound men were ordered by Iolaus to sit down by a wall. When they had taken their seats, Zeno looked at me. “Let’s get this over with, Hercules.” I turned to Iolaus. “Don’t let them taunt you, Iolaus. Just ignore whatever they say to you.”
“Why would you worry about that?” He asked, genuinely curious.
I smiled. “I know you. You have a tendency to fly off into battle without thinking. I don’t want to have to come out here and see that you’ve taken matters into your own hands.”
He leaned back against the rim of a well and crossed his arms. “Don’t worry. I’m in trouble enough with the Magistrate.”
I looked at Zeno who gazed at me knowingly. Iolaus had all ready resigned himself to following after Zeno to prison. Suddenly a man walked by and Zeno pointed him out to me. He whispered into my ear, “That’s the man Iolaus saved from Thanatos.” I looked over at the merchant and nodded. “Wait here.” I said and took off after the man.
The merchant at first started running off. He had seen me talking with Zeno and had assumed I was with his gang. “Wait!” I shouted after him. “I just want to talk to you!”
“I have nothing to say!” He shouted back. “I gave you all the money I have. Now you want more. I can’t pay it!”
I ran after him, and after a few strides was in arms reach. I grabbed the man by his shoulder and turned him around. “That’s not what this is about. I don’t work for Zeno.”
“You…you don’t? Then what were you doing talking to him? He was pointing me out to you.”
“I’m Hercules. And…I need your help.”
The man’s mouth dropped to the ground. “My help? How can I help you?”
“Well, it’s like this. My best friend is in trouble, and I could use your help in getting him out of it.”
“Me? Help the Mighty Hercules? How?”
I began to pour out my plan to the man. Soon, Zeno, the merchant, Mattias, and I were in the magistrate’s chamber discussing the entire situation.
The Magistrate looked at me with scrupulous indecision. “Are you certain Iolaus would never have gotten involved with Zeno had he retained his memory?”
“I’m positive, your honor. He’s confused, he woke up with no memory of his last fifteen or twenty years. He was once a thief when he was younger, but he changed, turned his life around. He’s fought by my side ever since.”
The magistrate looked thoughtful. He stood from his desk and walked over to the window gazing out at where Iolaus was still resting against the rim of the well, keeping watch over the prisoners. He sighed and turned to the merchant. “What say you, Mattias?”
Mattias looked nervous. He looked at me and I nodded to him to proceed. He cleared his throat. “Your Honor, Iolaus did save me from Thanatos. I can vouch for his being an honorable man, in spite of the fact that he hooked up with Zeno. If Hercules says Iolaus isn’t truly a criminal, then…I’m willing to drop all charges against him for taking my money.”
The magistrate turned to Zeno. “And what is your opinion, Zeno? You will be going to prison. You’ve confessed to your crimes and to those of Thanatos and his followers. You are willing to let one of your own walk?”
“Iolaus was following my instructions, your Honor. I take full responsibility for his actions while under my employment. The only man he took money from was Mattias. If Mattias is willing to drop the charges, I would be forever grateful if you overlooked Iolaus’ involvement with me.”
The Magistrate turned to me. “He did break the law, but since no one is willing to charge him, then I have no reason to sentence him along with the others.”
I didn’t realize I had been holding my breath until I let out a grateful sigh. “Thank you, your Honor.”
“That being taken care of, there is still the charges and processing of prisoners to be dealt with. Hercules, I will not need you for this. You are free to leave. My men will go out with you and bring in the prisoners. Zeno, Mattias, I’ll need you both to testify against Thanatos. It seems this trial won’t take but a few hours, what with Zeno’s confession.”
“Will you need Iolaus’ testimony?” I asked.
“No, that won’t be necessary. Zeno’s will suffice and you’ve already given your statement regarding Thanatos attempting to kill him. You both are free to leave.”
I nodded, then walked over to Zeno. I held out my arm and he clasped it with a strong grip. “Take care of him, Hercules. He’s truly a good man. You’re lucky to have his friendship and loyalty.”
I looked out the window and saw my friend patiently waiting. “I know.” I replied with a smile. “Thank you, Zeno, for helping him get out of this.”
“His honor reminded me that there is always another choice besides taking the wrong path. I owe him a debt of honor. It’s the least I could do.”
I smiled, gripped his arm one last time, then turned and headed out of the chamber. I stopped and turned to Mattias. “Thank you, Mattias, for your help. If Iolaus or I can help you in any way…”
“You brought Zeno and his men to justice, Hercules. That’s thanks enough for me.”
I nodded in acknowledgment and headed out of the chamber with the guards following me. I noticed Iolaus standing from the well when I stepped out. He was looking at me questioningly. I took the guards over to the prisoners and gestured to them. The guards pulled the men to their feet and herded them off back into the chamber. Iolaus walked up to me. “What’s going on? Where’s Zeno? Why wasn’t I taken in with the rest?”
I rested a hand on my friend’s shoulder. “Iolaus? We have to talk.” I knew this wasn’t going to be easy. Regardless of his lost memory, there was still a sense of honor abiding inside Iolaus’ heart. He would be angry with me for helping him to escape the fate that awaited Zeno and his men, but I didn’t care. Iolaus didn’t deserve to go to prison. He had truly done nothing wrong. I needed to help him understand that.
When I told him of the arrangement and that he would not be going to prison with Zeno, he glared at me. “I am a criminal, Hercules. Whatever you may remember about us, I don’t! All I know is I was and always have been a thief! I have to pay my debt right along with Zeno. And if I don’t go with him who is going to watch his back? Thanatos meant what he said. He’ll finish what he attempted at the swamp!”
“Iolaus, listen to me…”
“To what? Stories about how good a man I am? Stories about our friendship, how I fight with you against criminals and monsters? I don’t remember any of those things, Hercules! I don’t remember you! The only friend I know is Zeno! I can’t walk away from him!”
“He wants you to, Iolaus. He knows you are an honorable man. Just as I do.”
Iolaus stared at me with confusion etching over his face. He was struggling. “What if I confessed to everything? What if I demand I go to prison with Zeno!”
“Iolaus, listen to yourself! It’s not for the crimes you committed that makes you want to go to prison with Zeno, to share his fate. It’s because you want to protect him from Thanatos. You want to be there at his side and keep him safe. And the Iolaus I know would make the same sacrifice for anyone he called ‘friend’. You’ve risked your life for mine hundreds of times. You’ve even lost out on chances to have a family because of our friendship. You’ve been placed in harms way so many times, I’ve lost count, and all because of your ability to be compassionate to those in your life, to be loyal. Zeno asked me to be sure you don’t try anything foolish and follow him into prison. He asked me to take care of you. He knows the man you are on the inside. He doesn’t want you to go where you don’t really belong. Prison isn’t for you. I know you want to help Zeno, but Zeno will be sent to a separate prison, one far away from Thanatos. It was a deal I arranged with the Magistrate. You won’t have to worry about Zeno being killed by Thanatos.”
He jerked his eyes up at me with this news. “You…you would do that? You would help Zeno? Forgive me, Hercules, but to use your words to me earlier, he’s a criminal.”
I walked up to Iolaus and placed a hand on his shoulder again. “And you are my best friend. He watched out for you when you lost your memory. You didn’t end up in the streets or dead, or put into slavery. He may have lost his honor a long time ago, but meeting up with you showed him that there was still honor in his heart. He knew that the merchant’s testimony to set you free would put him in prison. He was willing to accept that, to make sure you were all right. I owed him. So, Zeno will be going to another prison. Thanatos won’t be able to get near him. It’s as simple as that.”
Iolaus turned away from me. He went to stand by the well, again. Crossing his arms, he lowered his head. I could tell he was finding all of this new and strange, and it was coming into him too fast. “I need time.” He whispered.
I went to sit on the rim of the well and looked up at his tortured face. “I can help you get your memory back, Iolaus. I’ve got connections. I think I know how you lost it to begin with. I need for you to trust me. And I think, if you listen close enough to your heart, you will believe that you can trust me.”
He shook his head. “I’ve never…at least as far as I remember…I’ve never had anyone other than Zeno look out for me. And you’re saying you and I have been looking out for each other all our lives.”
I smiled. Even with amnesia he still found it difficult to believe others could care for him. “And what do you get out of this?” He asked. “Why would you care to bring me back to my memories?”
“Because…I would miss you terribly, that’s why. As for what I get out of this…I get my best friend back.”
“You could have let me go, you know.” He said, his tone full of warning. “You could have walked away, knowing I didn’t remember you. You could have let me slip out of your life without a second thought.”
I nodded. “I could have. But…what would that have gotten me? A life without my best friend? The friend I grew up with? All of those memories remembered solely by myself? Like you, Iolaus, that would have been half a life for me.”
He looked at me then. Studying me, contemplating my words to him. What was behind those eyes, I don’t think I will ever know. But it seemed he wanted to remember what I was telling him. That my memories of our friendship were dangling in front of him and he wanted very much to reach out and grab them for himself. Then, without warning, he shook his head. “Please, I need some time…alone.”
I nodded. “Okay. I’m not going anywhere.”
He turned and walked off towards Nemiea’s gates, where he stood and leaned against the wall. I sat on the well, waiting for him to sort all of the pieces out and put them back together. When a few hours had passed, the Magistrate’s doors opened and guards stepped out leading manacled prisoners.
Iolaus walked up to Zeno, whose hands were manacled to a wooden yoke over his shoulders. The two looked at each other. Iolaus was truly sorry for what Zeno would be facing. But Zeno seemed content in his decision to put his life straight. He looked at Iolaus with a deep respect. “I was right about you from the start. You’re a stand up man. I owe you my life.”
“I didn’t pull you out of that swamp just so you could spend the rest of your life in prison.” Iolaus’ tone was full of regret, and anger. I could tell he was still feeling like he had betrayed Zeno by not going to prison with him.
“Hercules said I have a lot to answer for…things I’ve done. And he’s right. I have a debt. And I have to pay it.”
Iolaus gazed at his friend with worry. “I just wish there was some way I could help you.”
“There is,” Zeno held a hint of a smile behind his eyes. “Find yourself another line of work. This one’s a dead end.”
Iolaus just looked at the man as he was led away.
“Good advice.” I said. He turned to me with that lost look still in his eyes. But the determination he always held inside him sprang forth. “Another line of work?” He shrugged. “Maybe.”
“I’ve got something in mind.” I said, smiling. I clutched the dinar in my hand, the key to Iolaus’ memory coming back. “Ready to get your life back?”
“I don’t know. What’s it going to cost me?”
I stood as he came up to my side. “How about one dinar?”
He looked exasperated. “Great. My life is worth one dinar.”
What Iolaus didn’t know and what I didn’t say was that this was a very special dinar. It was a dinar that would bring Iolaus back to me completely. And as far as I was concerned that made its value…priceless.
And that…is the flip side of the coin.
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