The Threat - a Fragment

by Owlharp

Note:Blame this one on Valentin! In her outstanding Orestes/Iolaus story, she touched on something that had always lurked in the back of my mind as a rather nasty potential aftermath of "King for a Day" - the fact that Iolaus' resemblance to Orestes could trigger a lot of bad reactions. Phryne focused on fatal jealousy in Orestes (most nobly overcome and expiated!). I looked at it from a more strategic standpoint - probably the result of me reading way too much history! Anyway, here is a little fragment that slithered out of my dark and dirty mind!

[This takes place shortly after the events of "King for a Day"].

"He's a threat."

"What do you mean, he's a threat?! He's a hero! He rescued me and saved my kingdom! How, in the name of all the gods, can you say that he's a threat?!"

Orestes had never in his life seen Hector looking so stern and grim - not even when the old soldier had come to fetch him following that unfortunate incident in the local brothel. His back as straight as if he stood addressing the troops, Hector addressed his king.

"I would be failing in my duty to you if I did not point out just what a threat Iolaus constitutes. We have seen the resemblance between the two of you. We have seen just how well he plays the King - " Orestes went white and then flushed red, but Hector continued relentlessly - "and we know he is a man of great intelligence and resourcefulness. What we do not know is whether he is a man of ambition. He's had a taste of kingship - and he would not be the first bastard royal relation to want more, and take steps to get it! "

The breath hissed out of Orestes' nostrils and his blue eyes went cold and narrow. "Say on."

"Your majesty, even if Iolaus himself is not ambitious, there will always be others that are, who would seek to use him. Who knows what pressures could be brought to bear on him, to impersonate a king once more, if not for his own purposes, then for those of others like General Archaeus?"

"He would never - !"

"Your majesty, you cannot take that chance!" insisted Hector, looming suddenly over his royal charge. "Your father would have understood this immediately! "

"I am NOT my father!"

"No - you are not! By now your father would have ordered Iolaus' immediate assassination - swiftly and painlessly, I might add - and there would be one less threat to your throne and your kingdom! Your father understood the grim realities of defending his crown!"

Orestes crossed to the window and gripped the sill with white-knuckled hands, looking out over the bustling marketplace of his capital. Without turning around, he spoke. "So this is to be the measure of my royal greatness. To order the murder of the man who saved my life...". He snatched the heavy golden circlet from his head and brushed his equally golden hair back from his anguished face.

Hector waited in the thick, poisoned silence. Finally, he said, in a low and level voice, "Will you give the order, your majesty? It is for the good of Attica. So your father would have said. "

Orestes' shoulders slumped. "Yes - he would have, wouldn't he?" Slowly he turned around and leaned his head back against the wall. The crown of Attica dangled loosely from his fingers. His eyes were closed.

Hector stood patiently. For a long time there was no sound in the room but the faint sounds from the square, far below the open window.

"Very well," came Orestes' voice, very soft. "I will give you an order." His eyes opened, he straightened up and set the golden circlet once more upon his head. "I will give you an order, and then we will forget that this conversation ever took place. Do you understand, Hector?"

The soldier looked his king square in the eyes. "Yes, your majesty. I understand perfectly."

"Very well. This is my order. If harm comes to even a single hair on my cousin's head, I will have YOUR head on the block within the hour! Do I make myself clear?!!!!" Orestes was suddenly shouting. "If murder is the price of my crown, that price is too high! I will not pay it! And I will NOT have anyone else pay it, either! If Iolaus tries to take my throne, I will deal with him - but he will not! By the gods, Hector, I may be scum, but I recognize an honorable man when I see one! And I THOUGHT I saw an honorable man in you!" He grasped the front of Hector's armor, pulled him close and snarled. "Not a hair on his head - do you understand?!!! My father may have given that order but I WILL NOT!!!!" He shoved Hector away, and the older man took several steps back.

Panting, Orestes fell silent, never taking his eyes from Hector's face. After a moment, he saw the old soldier's features relax and lighten - a change which would have been imperceptible to anyone but Orestes.

Hector bowed slightly. "I hear and obey, your majesty. In this, I see that you are NOT your father's son - and for that, I thank the gods."

The breath went out of Orestes and he stood for several heartbeats simply staring. And unexpectedly he began to laugh. He laughed until the tears ran down his face and he leaned once again with his back against the wall, until his laughter sounded more like sobbing. Finally the words came out. "You ... were testing me!"

"No." Hector shook his head. "Had you given the order, I would have made sure it was carried out."

A shudder shook Orestes. "Am I going to be faced with choices like this all my life, Hector?"

"Yes," replied the general somberly."You are the king. You will often have to choose between the wise course of action - and the honorable one. But let me assure you of one thing, your majesty - I, too, can recognize an honorable man when I see one."

"My cousin IS an honorable man, Hector!"

"Yes. I believe he is. But I was not speaking of Iolaus."

Orestes stared at him in surprise. "I think that's the first nice thing you've ever said to me."

"I speak nothing but the truth - and the truth is, being honorable may get you killed."

Orestes settled the golden circlet more comfortably on his brow. "There are worse things to die for!" he said, confidently.

The End

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