What does a hero do when his strength, used to help people, winds up getting his best friend injured? Will the reason they’re best friends to begin with be enough to remedy both the injury and their ‘Broken Connection’?
(Author’s note: Our boys don’t show up until page six. So, don’t say I didn ’t warn you. Also, this story contains graphic ‘owies’. If you have a sensitive stomach, brace yourself. Parts 2,3 and 4 contain the graphic scenes. -WR-)
Part 1 of 8
Damius had a problem.
It wasn’t that he was unable to do the task set before him by the magistrate. After all, it had been his idea to begin with. The problem was that he despised the necessity of such a task.
Interfering with another man’s domestic situation was something he avoided doing like the plague, even though he was the town’s healer. This time, however, was one time he couldn’t ignore the danger signs. Cletus was too young to risk his promising life simply because his drunken excuse for a father wasn’t willing to make the necessary repairs to his house. Today it had been stitches in the temple because of a warped floorboard tripping him up. What would tonight bring, or the next day?
Damius shook his head as he walked the dirt road to the tavern. “Toletha is too good a woman to be subjected, along with her children, to the dangers of that house. Claudius has the money to make repairs, but he would rather spend it on ale.” Damius stopped just outside the entrance to the tavern. Looking over the swinging doors he saw what he expected. Claudius was sitting at the bar on his way to a good drunk.
Phillipas, the tavern owner, was behind the bar, reluctantly pouring the ale.
Damius took a deep breath. He remembered the stitches in Cletus’ head and stormed into the inn. “No more ale for that man, Phillipas! The magistrate concurs and has sent me to deliver the decree. No more service is to be given to Claudius from this tavern.”
Phillipas, a balding, middle-aged man with a hefty build, almost grinned with relief. He set the pitcher of ale on the counter behind him and pulled Claudius’ cup from the bewildered man’s hands. “Hey, what is this?” Claudius, a man in his early forties with gray-tinged hair and beard, stood and turned to Damius. “You got no right telling a man he can’t have a drink.”
Damius stood his ground. He knew if Claudius began to cause trouble, Phillipas would put a stop to it. The tavern owner wasn’t respected in this town simply because of the service he gave. “As the healer of this town, I have every right. We’ve turned the other way for far too long, Claudius. It’s time to take a stand.”
“A stand?” Claudius almost laughed. “A stand for what?”
“For the health of your family. Until your house is repaired, you will not be able to buy your drinks anymore. This establishment is closed to you as of this moment.”
Claudius stormed up to Damius who didn’t back down one iota. The healer stared the oncoming man straight in the eye. Even when Claudius was shaking a fist at him, Damius didn’t flinch. “What I do with my money is my business, Damius. I didn’t come to this town to be dictated to.”
“No, Claudius, you didn’t. But it’s your wife’s money, not yours. And when it comes to the health of those in this community, including your children, I make it my business to report negligence.”
“What do you mean the health of my children? My children are fine.”
“Really? Tell that to your fourteen-year-old. I just finished putting stitches in Cletus’ head because of broken floorboards that tripped him up. He fell against the kitchen table. The sharp corner almost killed him. Fortunately he turned his head in time, but not in time to avoid injury.”
“Ah, the boy’s just clumsy, that’s all.” Claudius began to laugh nervously. “You know how boys are at that age. They’re awkward and--,”
“And what about Toletha? She sprained her ankle after her foot fell through one of the holes in the floor. What happens if she gets too injured to work? No work, no money, Claudius. Then where will you get your ale? Phillipas can only credit you so much.”
“So, the floor needs work, so what? I can fix that in a day.”
“Then why don’t you? While you’re at it, you can fix the roof. I’ve examined the rafters and they’re rotting through. Your roof won’t last the next rainfall. The hooks on your fireplace mantle need to be replaced. One has already broken off. It’s amazing Lysea hasn’t poked out an eye, since she comes right up to it.”
Claudius grew livid with rage. “My house, my family, my business, Damius. You have no right to interfere.”
“Claudius, when the people of this town are in danger it is my responsibility to see not only to their injuries and sickness, but to their safety as well. I’ve treated your children so many times this past month I’ ve lost count. The decision has been made by the Council, Claudius.”
“You can’t do that!” Claudius retorted.
“It’s been done,” Phillipas said. “I, for one, don’t want to go up against the Council.”
Damius put a hand on Claudius’ shoulder. “It’s for the best, Claudius. I’m sorry.”
Claudius glared at him. “You think I’m a no good drunk. You think I can’t take care of my family. I’ll show you.” He stumbled out of the tavern and into the street.
Damius turned to Phillipas, sighing with a shake of his head.
“You can’t help people like that, Damius.” Phillipas encouraged.
“It’s not him I’m worried about. He’s made his choice. But, when I see the danger his family is in because of his foolishness--,” he shook his head. “Maybe I can make a difference in their lives.”
“Well, Hestia be with you on that mission.”
“Thank you, Phillipas. Good night to you.”
“And to you, Damius.”
Claudius rummaged through the kitchen shelves and cabinets. “Where is it?” he yelled. “Tell me!”
His wife, Toletha, stood in the middle of the house, her children crouching in a corner, huddled together. Cletus, the oldest, with his arms wrapped around the younger ones. It wasn’t the first time they had seen their father like this. They could only pray it would be the last.
“Claudius, please!” Toletha wept. “We have no money! You used what was left at the tavern all ready!”
“Don’t give me that, Woman! I know you stash some away for emergencies. Give it to me!”
“I’ve---I’ve used it all ready, Claudius.” Toletha sounded defeated as her shoulders sagged. “I had to buy food.”
He slapped her in rage. “I need that money! Damius has cut off my credit at the tavern! I won’t be able to go there until he sees I’ve repaired this place!”
Toletha rubbed her reddened cheek and with courage and anger she never knew she had she squared her shoulders and glared at her husband. “Well, then--it looks as if you’ll have to find a job, doesn’t it? My seamstress money can only go so far, Claudius!”
He stopped his rummaging and slowly turned dominant eyes to her. “You dare talk to me that way?” He walked up to her and she began to shake, but she kept her eyes locked with his. She was tired of not standing up for herself or her children. "I dare when my children are at stake. You never even noticed the gash on Cletus’ head! By the gods, Claudius! He’s your first born son and your negligence almost cost him his life today!”
Claudius backhanded her and she landed on the floor. “Burdens! That’s all you and the kids are to me! Burdens!”
Toletha wiped the blood from her lip as she pushed herself into a sitting position. “You don’t want to fix this place up, Claudius. You just want the money to go to another tavern in the next village.”
In anger Claudius stormed out of the house and in the process tore the door off its hinges. It crashed to the porch. Cursing to the sky, Claudius angrily hurried down the road. As he walked away from his village he saw the outline of the temple on the hill just on the outskirts of town. He realized something. There was money within his reach. All he had to do was be thirsty enough to take it.
The temple rested on the hill, over looking the valley. The guards stood sentry at the entrance.
Claudius knew the offerings of the day were just inside. There would have to be money lying on the altar just ready to be swiped. Sure, he risked the wrath of Hera by stealing from her temple, but his thirst and craving was too strong to ignore. He put on his cloak hood and thought of what he could use to distract the guards. Picking up a rock he hid it in his tunic belt pouch and approached the temple guards. “I wish to make an offering to the great goddess.”
“The temple is closed, Pilgrim. Make your offering tomorrow when the Priests are here to receive it,” the tallest of the two guards replied.
“Please, my wife is having trouble with her pregnancy. I must plead on her behalf to the most worthy goddess. I promise, I won’t take long. Without Hera’s intervention, I fear my wife will lose the baby.”
The two guards looked at each other and shrugged. “Very well, Pilgrim, but be quick about it.” The shorter of the two guards opened the temple door and lit a torch just inside the wall.
Claudius bowed out of respect as he approached the altar. He took stock of the offerings made. Trinkets, jewelry, goblets of gold and silver and---money. He decided it was time. He lifted his head in surprise. Going to the guard he looked all around. “Did you hear that?”
“Listen.” Claudius put his hand to the guards arm and looked around the top of the temple. Then he pointed to behind the guard. “Look!”
The guard turned and while his back was to him, Claudius threw the rock to the window above them. It crashed through, spraying glass everywhere. Claudius cowered under his cloak.
The other guard heard the crash and ran inside. “What’s going on?”
“I saw a prowler!” Claudius said. He pointed. “Out there. Someone is trying to desecrate the temple!”
The two guards nodded to each other. The shorter one turned to Claudius. “Stay here!” Then the two guards ran out of the temple to investigate.
Claudius waited for the guards to leave then he ran to the altar and poured the bowl of money into his inside cloak pouch. He then took some Jewelry and stuck the booty into a pouch on his other side. He then crumpled to the floor. “Help!” He called out! “Help me! In here!”
The two guards hurried inside. They ran to where Claudius was pulling himself to his feet. “Three men!” he gasped and pointed to the front entrance. “They came in, stole from the altar. I tried to stop them.”
“Let’s go!” The guards headed out to search the surrounding area. Claudius waited for them to be gone before he slipped out of the temple unnoticed. Making sure to avoid meeting up with the guards he crept back down the hill, smiling at himself. “Even the King of Thieves couldn’t have executed such a masterful job.”
When the guards returned, they found the stranger gone and the altar practically emptied. “We’ve been tricked!”
The glowing peacock eyes appeared above their heads. “Yes, you fools! Punishment for failing to guard my temple is death!”
The two guards shook with fear. “We didn’t know, Great Hera! He seemed sincere in his desire to petition you!”
“Yes, and you were stupid enough to fall for his ploy! Let your sacrifices be a warning to others.” Fire engulfed the two men and all that were left were ashes.
“And as for that would be thief, I have special plans for him.”
Claudius entered the village the next morning, drunk and stumbling over his own feet.
Damius approached him in the middle of the town square. “Claudius! What’s the meaning of this?”
“Of what?” Claudius replied, his body barely able to stand.
Phillipas approached. “Not from my tavern. He must have gone to a neighboring village.”
Claudius lifted a shaking finger, “Tha’s right. And---and they exshtended their hands---in hossssspitality.”
Damius rolled his eyes and moaned in exasperation. “Claudius, where did you get the money?”
At that moment a woman screamed. “It’s Hera’s death squad!”
Everyone looked to the other end of town where the woman who had screamed was pointing. Ten red armor clad figures stood side by side and began to march towards the village their swords and axes drawn and ready.
“No! We’ve done nothing to deserve a visit from these guys!” Phillipas said. He chanced a glance at Claudius. “That we know of anyway.”
Damius looked from Claudius to the guards. “Let’s try to reason with them.”
“And if that doesn’t work?” Phillipas asked.
“You’re the ex-soldier, you tell me.”
Phillipas sighed. “That’s what I was afraid of.” He took in a deep breath and yelled: “Everyone! Run for cover!”
The day had started out clear and breezy. The blue sky was spotted with white clouds here and there, but nothing to block out the sun. The two men walked the dirt path heading wherever the wind led them. Two days of fishing before this and they were more than ready to take on the world again.
The smaller man inhaled as he maintained his stride alongside the taller man. “Ah, Hercules, it’s a beautiful day. Listen to those birds singing. Have you ever heard a more beautiful sound?”
The taller man grinned. It was good to see Iolaus in such a good mood. “I guess we’re going to have to take you fishing more often, Iolaus. You always walk away from vacation in a more tolerable disposition.”
“Tolerable? What do you mean by that? I’m always in a good mood. That’s why you keep me around. I brighten your day.” Iolaus bowed chivalrously to his larger friend a mischievous smile crossing his lips.
Hercules chuckled. “No argument, but a few days ago you were starting to drag your heels when we were called on to battle that warlord in Parthia. Not even the prospect of seeing Evanthia brightened your spirits.”
“Hercules, Evanthia got married,” Iolaus said, reminding his larger friend of why he had no particular desire to enter the domain of a former love that was no longer available.
Hercules shrugged. “Ah.”
“Just ‘ah’. Why do I have to explain every time I say ‘ah’ or ‘uh-oh’, or ‘uh-huh’. You always question my responses.”
“And you always change the subject.” Iolaus jabbed a finger at him.
“I do that when the subject has reached its end.”
Iolaus nodded. “Ah.”
“See? You do it, too.”
The screams came at them from beyond the next hill. They looked at each other. “No rest for the weary,” Hercules shrugged, and the two friends ran up the side of the hill. Looking down into the valley below they saw a village being attacked by Hera’s goons. “Death squad. Man, I really hate these guys.” Hercules complained.
“Yeah, talk about bad dispositions. No wonder they wear red, that’s all they see.”
“Come on.” Hercules urged and headed down the side of the hill to the village.
Iolaus drew his sword and followed after him. “Right behind ya’, Herc!”
Part 2 of 8
Without discussion the two men acted as one. Fighting off the death squad, Hercules kept them occupied while Iolaus helped to get the people of the village to safety, fighting off whatever red clad soldiers that came after them.
People ran by Iolaus, searching for cover. Children were pushed into hiding places, and one man, Phillipas, stopped a few feet short of where Iolaus was fighting off a soldier with his sword and a few brazen kicks. Another of the death squad came up from behind Iolaus, ready to thrust an ax into the blond man’s back. Phillipas found a huge rock and threw it at the soldier, just as Iolaus rammed his sword into the chest of the one in front of him. Iolaus heard the sound of rock hitting metal and turned to see the soldier. The soldier shook his head and lifted his ax once again to plunge into Iolaus, but Iolaus was quicker and thrust his sword home into the soldier’s gut. When the soldier went down, he disappeared, like Hera’s soldiers always did when they were defeated. He looked up to see the man who had helped him. “Phillipas!” Iolaus grinned.
The large man came up to Iolaus’ side. “Welcome to my village, Iolaus. Sorry for the reception you’re getting.”
The two saw, and heard, a soldier screaming as he flew through the air, over a rooftop. “Hercules?” Phillipas asked.
“Hercules,” Iolaus confirmed with a chuckle. “Phillipas, why this attack?”
“Nothing conclusive, Iolaus. But, I have reason to believe Hera’s not too thrilled with one of our citizens. Why, I have no idea.”
“Come on then, we’ve got to get your people to safety.”
“There’s an alley back here, it will serve to keep the people out of harms way.” Phillipas pointed to behind him and the two hurried through town gathering up people. Iolaus saw Hercules ram a fist into another soldier and send him flying into a merchant’s tent. “Herc! Take it easy! We’re going to have to help these people rebuild enough as it is!”
Hercules smiled at Iolaus’ comment, which made the smaller man giggle at his own joke. “You love it, Iolaus, and you know it!”
“Sure, the fighting, not the repercussions!” Iolaus gathered a group of children to follow him.
“Just get these people to safety and let me worry about these guys.”
“Not a problem, Herc. They’re all yours.”
Hercules saw Phillipas and grinned as he slugged another soldier. “How you doing, you old dog?”
“Better now that you and Iolaus are here helping me kick butt!” Phillipas grinned back. Then without another word the two led the people to the back alley.
Hercules continued fighting.
It was the scream that stopped Iolaus. He turned toward the sound of it and saw a woman in the middle of a street gathering three children to her. A soldier was bearing down on them. “Hera wants justice! Return the offerings!”
“I have no offerings! I swear! I don’t know anything about offerings!”
“Your husband does. Where is he?” The soldier grabbed the woman by the front of her dress.
Iolaus ran up to the soldier and pushed him off of the woman. “Leave her alone! Don’t blame her because you have no direction in your life!”
The soldier roared and raised his ax, Iolaus kicked him in the gut and swung his sword around as Phillipas came up to the woman and pulled her away from the fighting. “My son!” The woman cried. “Lysius! He’s in the house!”
Iolaus finished off the soldier and turned to Phillipas. “Her son?”
Phillipas gestured to the house. “In there. Probably too scared to move! He’s only four.”
Iolaus handed Phillipas his sword. “Take her and the others and hide them. Use my sword to guard them.” He turned to the woman. “Your son’s name is Lysius?”
“Don’t worry, if he’s in that house, I’ll get him out.” Iolaus tore off toward the house.
Phillipas watched him leave and then turned to the woman. “Don’t worry, Toletha. I’ve known Iolaus for a long time. He won’t let anything happen to Lysius.”
Toletha sighed out gratefully as Phillipas ushered her and her other children into the alley with the other people. “Where’s Claudius?” he asked.
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him since last night.”
“Damius isn’t going to like this,” he gestured to the recent bruise on her cheek. “When did Claudius do that?”
“He didn’t, Phillipas, honest. I---just ran into a door.”
Phillipas nodded curtly. “Sure you did.” If the woman refused to seek help, there was really nothing he could do. He stood at the mouth of the alley and pulled people in as they ran by. “Stay in here!” He called out to them, gripping Iolaus’ sword and keeping watch on the house Iolaus had disappeared into.
Iolaus headed into the house. “Lysias!” He called out. “Lysias! Your mother needs you! Where are you? I’ve come to help! I’m a friend of Phillipas!”
He heard the sound of a child sobbing. Looking into a back room he found Lysius crouched in a corner. “Hey, there.” Iolaus forced a smile. He hated to see children so scared. “Lysius, I’m Iolaus. Your mother sent me to find you.”
“Bad men, outside.”
“Yes, there are, but Hercules is taking care of them.”
“Her---Hercules is here? Really?” The child began to brighten a bit at this news. “You mean you won’t hurt me?”
“No, I won’t hurt you. Hercules and I, we don’t like the bad men, so we’re sending them away. Your mom asked me to come and get you and take you to her. Do you want me to take you to her?”
Iolaus held out his hand, when he heard a yell behind him. He turned to see one of Hera’s soldiers standing there. He reacted instantly. He saw an open window and scooped Lysius into his arms. He pushed him through the window. “Go to your mom in the back alley, Lysius. Run! Phillipas is with her. Go!”
When Lysius took off, Iolaus felt a hand on his shoulder.
Hercules saw four soldiers coming at him, their swords and ax’s waving around them. He looked all around him for some sort of weapon. He found a large wooden pole from a scaffold that had been knocked down during the fight. He grinned.
Iolaus found a large walking stick by Lysius’ bed. ‘The kid must like to hike,’ he thought, then he felt the soldier pull him up off the ground. ‘More pertinent things to think about, Iolaus.’ He squirmed out of the hold and grabbed the stick. Swinging it left he sideswiped the soldier across the face. Then he scrambled across Lysius’ bed, just barely escaping the soldier’s grab. He ran out towards the living room.
Hercules rammed the pole into the stomachs of the oncoming soldiers. Raising them up in the air, he pushed with every ounce of strength he possessed. The four guards and pole went flying towards a house. Landing on the roof, the impact broke the roof and they fell through.
Iolaus ran into the living area. He heard the crash from the roof. Looking up he saw the guards toppling towards him. “Uh-oh,” he said.
Lysius ran toward the alley, screaming. “Bad man! Bad man!”
Phillipas grabbed him up. “Whoa, there, little guy! Iolaus isn’t a bad man. He’s my friend.”
“Not Iolaus. Red man!” He pointed to house.
Phillipas handed Lysius to Toletha. He turned to the house, but Iolaus was no where to be seen. “He must have stayed behind to fight. I’ve got to go see what I can do.” Phillipas started to run out into the fray when Toletha grabbed his arm. “No! We need you here! You have to watch over us.”
Phillipas sighed. She was right. Iolaus had given him an assignment. Protect the innocent. As much as he wanted to be in the fighting, he knew he had a greater responsibility in that alley.
It was over.
The squad of Hera’s soldiers had disappeared after being defeated. Confusion hung in the air as people came out of hiding. Why had they been targeted for attack? Who was responsible? Questions were asked that would take a few days to find the answer to. Hercules looked around him at the destruction. It looked as if no one had been killed, but there were some severely wounded. A young man was tending to those people.
People gathered around and cheered Hercules as they recognized who he was. He took the cheers in stride, wondering where Iolaus was. Then he saw Phillipas approaching with Iolaus’ sword hanging over his shoulder. He grinned. “Phillipas! Now I can greet you properly!” Hercules held out his arm and Phillipas gripped it. “Hercules, how in Tartarus are you? Good to see you. You’re timing, of course, couldn’t be better.”
“Yeah, well, you know I live to make Hera’s life miserable.”
The two laughed. “Say, have you seen Iolaus?” Hercules asked. “It’s not like him to miss out on the cheers and thanks.”
“You mean he didn’t come back here? We got separated. I thought he came back here to help you fight those goons off.”
Hercules looked around one more time but saw no sign of his friend. “Ah, he ’ll show up. He’s probably casting his hero’s charm on some woman.”
Phillipas laughed. “Still the same old Iolaus, huh? Does he ever change?”
“Nope. He’s one of the constants in life.”
The woman’s scream pierced the air.
Hercules sagged. “Now what? With Hera it never ends.”
Phillipas looked in the direction the scream came from. He found Toletha running out of her house. He intercepted her. “What is it, Toletha? Are the children all right?”
“Not the children,” she turned to Phillipas. “Your friend,” she pointed to the house. “He’s been hurt.”
Phillipas and Hercules both looked at the house. “Iolaus,” Phillipas informed. “He went in to get one of Toletha’s children out.”
Hercules noticed the hole in the roof of the house and a sinking feeling crept into him. Without a glance to either Phillipas or Toletha he ran to the house. “IOLAUS!”
‘This isn’t happening,’ Iolaus thought as pain filled his body. ‘Hercules, gods! He’s going to blame himself. Have to convince him it was an accident. Not---his fault. He’ll never let me travel with him again, fight with him again. Iolaus, you idiot, why couldn’t you have just dodged them?’ He looked down at the blood forming a puddle on the floor. ‘Not bleeding a lot, but enough. Oh, gods, does this hurt.’
Then he heard Hercules shout out his name. “Uh-oh, here it comes,” he spoke out loud. He listened as Hercules ran into the house.
Hercules ran into the cottage, he found Iolaus leaning back against the fireplace. “Iolaus?”
His friend lifted a pale face to him, his pallid lips forming a shaky smile. “Hey, Herc. You finish off the bad guys?”
Hercules slowly walked over to his friend. Why was Iolaus standing so awkwardly? “Yes,” he replied softly. As he drew nearer, he saw the pole he had used on the four guards lying on the floor in front of Iolaus’ feet. There was no sign of the soldiers. Then Hercules saw the blood on the floor. “Iolaus?” he choked. He took a cautious step closer and saw the metal, barbed spike sticking out of Iolaus’ left shoulder, underneath the collar bone.
Part 3 of 8
All ready suspecting what had happened, but hoping he was wrong, Hercules put a hand to Iolaus’ face, offering some gesture of comfort. “What happened?” he asked, his throat dry and sounding hoarse.
“Strangest thing,” Iolaus tried to laugh but winced at the effort. “Four guys plummeted through the roof and pushed me against the wall. Next thing I know, I’m a wall decoration. Funny, I don’t recall growing antlers.”
Hercules winced. He knew, then, what had happened---what *he* had done. “Tartarus, Iolaus,” he whispered, looking at the spike. It was part of the fireplace mantle. “I have to get you off the hook.”
Iolaus tried to chuckle. “Always the comedy man, aren’t you?”
“Iolaus, please! This is going to hurt you more than when it impaled you!” Hercules’ tone was full of anger, full of anguish, full of despair. He had seen the other spike at the opposite end of the fireplace mantle. It, too, was barbed, all the way down.
Iolaus turned solemn eyes to his friend, gazing into the taller man’s sorrowful expression. “You didn’t know, Hercules. Don’t blame yourself.”
Hercules swallowed back the tears. He stood, placing a hand on Iolaus’ good shoulder. “You know what I have to do, right?”
Iolaus nodded. “Give me a hug, Big Guy.” He held out his right arm.
“First I have to knock off some of this length.” He grabbed the spike with his right hand. “Herc?” Iolaus looked up at him with pleading eyes.
Hercules saw the look Iolaus was pouring into him. There was trust, resignation and begging---so many expressions in one look. How could this man be so open in the midst of excruciating pain?
Hercules looked down and saw a stack of kindling on the other side of the fireplace. He quickly reached down and grabbed a small wooden stick. He held it in front of Iolaus’ mouth. “Bite down, buddy.”
Iolaus wrapped his mouth around the stick. He braced his head back. Hercules put his left hand on Iolaus’ left shoulder, his right hand back on the spike. “Scream, Iolaus.”
Iolaus shook his head and grabbed Hercules’ left shoulder with his right hand. He closed his eyes and nodded once. He was ready.
Hercules, fighting back the tears of remorse and empathy, broke off the length of barbed spike sticking out in front. The sudden motion forced Iolaus to dig his fingers into Hercules’ shoulder and he forced back a scream.
Hercules threw the bloodied piece of metal to the side as Iolaus allowed the stick to fall from his mouth, “Herc!” He cried, tears of pain pouring down his face.
“Pass out, Iolaus. Please!” Hercules begged, putting his hand back to Iolaus’ face. “Please. It will hurt less.”
“I really want to, Herc. Honest. I don’t seem to be able to at the moment, though.” Iolaus was taking deep breaths. “You’re going to have to do this with me awake.”
Hercules shut his eyes, making no excuses for the tears that flowed. He put his forehead to Iolaus’. “Ready for that hug, now?” he whispered.
Iolaus, never letting go of Hercules’ shoulder, tightened his grip. He was as ready as he was ever going to be.
Hercules gently put one arm around Iolaus’ torso, the other around his waist. “Rest against me. Let me do all the work. Just concentrate on breathing.”
“Okay, but I gotta tell you, Herc. I might just pass out during the separation.”
“If that’s what it takes, buddy, then you do what you have to do.” Hercules sensed eyes on him. He turned his face to where he looked over Iolaus’ head. Seeing Phillipas with the woman who had told him of Iolaus’ plight, he knew he didn’t want her to witness what was about to happen. He shouted at his old friend, “Get her out of here and bring me the healer! Now!”
Phillipas jumped and hurried out of the house, taking Toletha with him.
Iolaus flinched. “Ow! Hercules, please! Some warning would have allowed me time to plug up my ears.”
Hercules tightened his hold around Iolaus. “You can scream back at me if you want, buddy. You ready?”
Iolaus rested his head against Hercules’ chest and reached around, gripping the back of the demigod’s tunic. “Do it fast, Herc. Please?”
“Fast and smooth, buddy. I promise.”
“Wait, I lost my stick.”
“Bite on my tunic, Iolaus.”
Iolaus took some of the cloth into his mouth and bit down.
“Uh-huh.” Iolaus gripped Hercules tighter.
Hercules gripped his friend tighter. “Forgive me, Iolaus.” He pulled.
Iolaus screamed. His body tensed. He felt himself being lowered down and Hercules’ arms cradling him. He released the cloth from his mouth and gazed up at his friend through bleary eyes. “That one hurt,” he said and passed out.
The woman, Phillipas and the healer ran inside and saw Hercules holding the unconscious man in his arms. Hercules looked up at them, quiet tears flowing down his face. “Help him. Please. He’s---he’s hurt.”
The healer, a young man in his early thirties, dressed in light brown trousers and a gray tunic, knelt on the other side of Iolaus. “What happened?”
“He was pushed against the fireplace. The spike---,” he couldn’t bring himself to finish. The healer looked at the spike, then at the wound in Iolaus’ shoulder. “Can you carry him? We need to get him to my cottage.”
Hercules gently lifted Iolaus into his arms and stood. Iolaus’ head rested against the demigod’s chest and the healer could see the depth of friendship the two men shared in this simple act. “This way, Hercules.” The healer turned to the woman, “Where’s Claudius?”
“I don’t know. I haven’t seen him since last night,” she replied apologetically.
“This is the last straw, Toletha! What happened to this man could have happened to you, or Cletus!”
“I know! I know!” Toletha looked at Hercules. “I’m sorry.”
Hercules shut his eyes. “It’s not your fault,” he whispered as he followed the healer out the door.
Phillipas took Toletha’s shoulder. “Where are the kids?”
“I left them with a friend. I didn’t want them to see this.”
“Good thinking. I have to see to Hercules and Iolaus. Go to my wife, Toletha. She’ll take you and the children until we can work this out.”
Toletha nodded and left the house while Phillipas followed after Hercules.
Damius introduced himself to Hercules as they rested Iolaus on the examining table in his cottage. He spoke softly to the demigod as the larger man stayed at his friend’s side. “First we have to cleanse the wound. Help me remove his vest and amulet, would you?”
Iolaus was still unconscious. Hercules lifted him up high enough to remove the purple vest from Iolaus’ right arm. Damius gently pulled it from his left side, resting it over the back of a chair in the corner of the sick room. As Hercules held Iolaus he gently removed the dark green amulet from the blond man’s neck. He put it around his own neck as he laid Iolaus back down. “The spike was barbed,” Hercules whispered.
Damius took a bowl of water and a cloth and began to clean the wound of the blood. “Yes, I know.”
Damius cleansed the wound as much as possible.
Hercules stood on the other side of the table, holding Iolaus’ limp hand and continuously brushing back the golden hair from the pale, sweaty forehead.
“We have a problem, Hercules.” Damius said, softly.
Hercules looked up at him. “What is it?”
“The wound is not bleeding freely. I can’t clean it out thoroughly, because it’s clear through his shoulder. Without some bleeding the wound can not cleanse itself. I can use poultices to draw out any disease humors that reach the surface. It’s those deep inside the wound I won’t be able to reach. Teas and poultices are all we can do right now. I’ve cleaned out the wound as best I can, but infection will be a danger. We’ll have to watch over him carefully.”
“What about cutting the wound open more, cleaning it that way?”
“I dare not risk it. I’m not a surgeon. But, I can possibly construct an instrument that can be inserted into the wound. I can probably flush out the wound that way. It will be painful, however, very painful. Iolaus would have to be drugged heavily. Also, there would be no guarantee I would get the wound clean enough to thwart infection. The loss of blood is a very scary thing, but bleeding is a natural cleansing process. A wound can only be benefited by it.”
“This instrument you’re thinking of to flush the wound---how long until it’s ready?”
“A few hours, why? Do you want me to try it?”
“I want Iolaus to get well. Please, anything you can do.”
Damius nodded. “Very well.”
Part 4 of 8
Phillipas came into the healer’s cottage while Damius was working on the instrument he would use to cleanse Iolaus’ wound. Hercules looked up to see the pale face of his old war time friend.
“Damius?” Phillipas spoke. His panting and his sweating face showed he had been running.
“Yes, Phillipas, what is it?”
Phillipas looked down. “I found this---,” he pulled out a golden chalice. “It was on---Claudius’ body.”
Damius turned from where he was working at the mention of Claudius. “Body? Claudius is dead?”
“Yes. We found him in an alley. When we tried to move the body, this fell out of his robe.”
“Let me see that,” Hercules said. He walked over and took the chalice from Phillipas. He examined it carefully and discovered the three swirls on the bottom. “Hera,” he whispered. “This is a chalice from Hera’s temple. There’s one near here isn’t there?”
“That’s right,” Damius responded. “There’s one a few leagues from here. Are you saying Claudius stole from Hera’s temple?”
Phillipas caught Damius’ arm, as he remembered something. “That’s exactly what he’s saying. I heard one of the guards ask Toletha where the offering was, that her husband knew.”
“Who is this Claudius any way? And why would he steal from the temple?” Hercules asked.
“He’s a regular patron of my tavern,” Phillipas replied. “The town drunk. Yesterday the governing council heeded Damius’ warnings here regarding Claudius’ family. We’re a small community, Hercules. We don’t really have much, but we are proud of what we do have. And taking care of each other is part of that pride. We’ve been worried about Claudius’ neglect of his family. The house is in dire need of repair. Well, you saw for yourself. Look what happened to Iolaus. That could easily have happened to one of Claudius’ children.”
“Don’t forget to mention the injuries I’ve all ready treated,” Damius put in.
Phillipas nodded. “Cletus, that’s Claudius’ oldest boy, he received a head injury due to a faulty floor board. He should have been killed. He would have if he hadn’t turned his head in time. Anyway, the council decreed that until Claudius’ house was fixed, he was not to be served spirits---of any kind. He had no money. What little money that family sees, is brought in by Toletha, and that isn’t much. Claudius must have gone to the temple, stolen the money and got drunk in a neighboring village. He stumbled into town this morning just before the death squad showed up.”
Damius looked at Phillipas. “Toletha, by the gods, here I am trying to figure out why all this happened and how I can help Hercules’ friend here, and I completely forgot about her. Has anyone told her about Claudius?”
Phillipas nodded. “The magistrate is informing her, now.”
Hercules looked at the two men incredulous. “Then the death squad attacked your village because this Claudius stole from Hera---and Iolaus was injured in Claudius’ house.” He turned to look at his unconscious friend. “She’s probably gloating over what I did to Iolaus, too.”
“Hercules, it wasn’t your fault,” Phillipas said.
Hercules gazed down at the chalice without responding to Phillipas. “Do what you can for Iolaus, Damius. I’ll be back as soon as I return this to her temple. If I don’t, there’s a good chance she’ll attack the village again.”
“Hercules, do you think you should leave Iolaus right now?” Damius asked. “He may need you.”
Hercules gazed at Iolaus’ sleeping form again. “Phillipas, stand in for me. Tell him I’ll be back.” Without another word, Hercules left, clutching the chalice in his hand, dangerously close to shattering it.
Phillipas watched him leave and sighed.
“What happened, Phillipas? If Iolaus is his best friend why is he distancing himself?”
“Because it was something Hercules did that caused Iolaus’ injury. He used his strength to help strangers and in the process he injured his best friend.”
Damius looked down at the instrument in his hand. Shaking his head, he sighed. “The guilt must be awful for him.”
“If I know these two friends the way I think I do, the guilt is tearing Hercules apart.”
Hercules wanted to retch when he approached the temple.
The sheer thought of gracing any one of his stepmother’s places of worship churned his stomach. But, he also didn’t want the villagers of Phillipas’ town to suffer her wrath, either.
Slowly, he approached the steps leading up to the entrance, when the peacock eyes filled the sky around him. “So, you aren’t so full of pride after all, are you, Hercules.”
Hercules set the chalice on the porch of the temple. “I can’t return everything, Hera. The man your goons killed spent most of it. This was all that was found on his body.”
“Yet you risked your life to bring me a mere chalice. One has to wonder why? Could it be because you simply don’t want me to attack the villagers again?”
Hercules chuckled with mock amusement. “I don’t care what they say, Hera. You’re not as dumb as you look.” He saluted to her sarcastically and turned to leave the way he had come.
The wind began to kick up into major gusts. Lightning filled the air along with darkening clouds. Hera’s furious roar echoed all around him. He put his arms up to keep the swirling dust out of his face. “Tell me, Hercules. Don’t you really want to know what happened to your friend?”
Hercules squinted up at her. “I all ready *know* what happened!”
“Do you? Allow me to fill in the details.”
As she spoke, Hercules saw images forming in the sky. Him, throwing the four death squad soldiers through the air. Them, crashing through the roof of that house. And then he saw what he had not seen before---Iolaus being pushed against the fireplace mantle. Hercules saw the spike pierce through his friends’ shoulder. He saw the grimace of pain, the normally tanned face, draining of color. He saw the clouded look of agony in Iolaus’ eyes. “NOOOOOO!” Hercules shouted.
“Yes, Hercules! Your friend lies near death and it’s all *your* fault! You and your vaunted strength!”
The images in the sky played over and over, again as Hercules tried to run away from them. But Hera refused to ease up on him. She followed the demigod down the mountain, the images surrounding him so that no matter where he looked, all he could see was Iolaus’ torment.
“It’s truly amazing, Hercules. Here I’ve been trying to destroy the ones you love in order to make your life miserable, and in the end your closest friend is dying due to something *you* did! How utterly ironic, wouldn’t you say?” Her laughter grew in its intensity as the images forced Hercules to his knees, covering his head with his arms. “NNNOOOOOOOO!”
“Yes, *you* hurt him. Your action will only succeed in killing him. How can you live with the knowledge of this, Hercules? How can you possibly face your friend as he lays dying?”
Hercules struggled to his feet. His arms over his face he broke into a run. “Go to Tartarus, Hera!”
A lightning bolt struck the ground near him and he was thrown twenty feet, landing in thick brush. “You first,” Hera’s voice was filled with disgust.
Hercules shook his head and looked around him. The images were gone, Hera was gone, but the memory of Iolaus being pierced remained. He pulled himself to his knees and looked down as his hands began to shake. “Iolaus, I’m sorry,” he muttered. “How in the world will you ever forgive me for this?”
By the time he had reached the outskirts of town, Hera’s plan had succeeded and Hercules succumbed to the guilt he had fought so hard to ignore. It was of no matter that Hera had forced him to see what he had done. Hercules could not deny his responsibility. For the first time in his entire life, Hera had not lied to him. He knew that as surely as he knew he was breathing. Iolaus was dying---and it was his fault.
The screams hit his ears as he approached Damius’ cottage. He ran in and found Phillipas standing behind Iolaus at the head of the table, trying to hold him down. Damius was working on trying to insert a tube like instrument into the wound.
Phillipas looked up to see Hercules standing there. “He won’t calm down. We’ve tried drugging him, but the pain must be too unbearable. He won’t stay under.”
Hercules stepped up to Phillipas’ side. “Let me,” he said.
Phillipas stepped aside and let Hercules stand behind Iolaus. The larger man placed both hands to Iolaus’ temples. He looked down. He began to massage the temples gently. “Hey, buddy.”
His friend gazed up at him with pain-filled eyes. “Herc,” Iolaus wheezed out in a whispered scream.
“Iolaus, they only want to clean out the wound. Try to relax.”
“I can’t. The pain---,”
Hercules got down on one knee and leaned his face close to Iolaus’ ear. “Remember, Iolaus, when we met Nebula?” he gently spoke.
Iolaus chuckled a bit, but his body was starting to relax. “Yeah, I remember.”
“I can never remember what she called you. What was that nick-name?”
Iolaus chuckled some more. “It was Prince Charming.”
“Is that so?” Hercules stole a glance with Damius, giving him a quick nod. “I thought it was Monkey-boy.”
Damius stepped closer and gently eased the tube into Iolaus’ wound. The blond man winced. “It--it was. Just--testing you.” Iolaus cringed and hissed, trying to hold back a scream.
“Iolaus,” Hercules continued to massage his friend’s temples. “Look at me. Just look at me.”
Iolaus slowly opened his eyes. “Herc, help me. You know what you need to do.”
“I can’t hurt you anymore than I have, Iolaus. Don’t ask me to do that.”
“Please!” Iolaus reached up and grabbed Hercules’ right wrist. He gripped it imploringly. “It’s the only way!”
“Iolaus, no! We’ll give you a stronger dose of sleeping potion.”
“No! They don’t work!”
“It’s true, Hercules.” Phillipas said. “Damius has tried his strongest potion. Iolaus awoke while trying to insert the tube. The pain is just too much.”
“Herc, please! I’m asking you---I’m *begging* you.”
Hercules lowered his forehead to the table. He slowly stood and looked down at his friend. “Iolaus,” he tried one more time.
“Now! The pain, Herc, please!”
“Damius, please stand back,” Hercules said.
“Why? What are you going to do?” Damius asked as he took a few steps back.
“The only thing he can do,” Phillipas replied as he stood back as well.
Hercules acted in one swift motion. He slugged Iolaus across the face, the force of the blow knocking him unconscious. Hercules nodded to Damius to hurry and he turned, stumbling out of the room. Phillipas went up to him. “Hercules?”
“Alone.” Hercules waved Phillipas away. “Alone.”
Phillipas watched as Hercules drifted out of the cottage and off down the street. It was as if the strongest man in the world had suddenly become as weak as a kitten.
Parts 5 of 8
Hercules returned an hour later, his eyes red and puffy from weeping. He had managed to regain some composure, but the sense of sorrow still held him dangerously close to the abyss of loss. He walked into the cottage and found the examining table empty. “Phillipas? Damius?”
Phillipas came out of a room off to Hercules’ right. “Hercules, in here.”
Hercules followed him into the room and found Iolaus in a bed with poultices over his wound.
Phillipas walked over to the chair next to Iolaus’ bed he had been sitting in. He grabbed the back of it and looked at Hercules. “He’s sleeping, now. Damius was able to clean out the wound as best he could. The only thing we can do now is wait.”
Hercules walked over to look down at Iolaus. “Where’s Damius?” His voice was low, almost quiet. Phillipas didn’t like the sound of it. “He’s tending to the other injured. Toletha is taking the news of her husband’s death badly. She feels guilty over what has happened to the village and to your friend because of Claudius. She feels if she had just given him the money when he asked for it, none of this would have happened.”
Hercules, his attention never leaving his sleeping friend, slowly shook his head. “She has no reason to feel guilty. Her husband made his choice. And sometimes those choices come with consequences.” As he had spoken, he had reached down and took Iolaus’ wrist, emphasizing his point.
“Hercules, it was an accident. We all know you would never hurt Iolaus intentionally. Iolaus knows that best of all.” He gestured to the chair and Hercules sat down, but it was as if his motions were based on reflex, not on will.
Phillipas moved to where Hercules had been standing. He saw how tortured Hercules was and wished he could do something or say something that would pull the demigod out of his slump.
“I should have used my head,” Hercules said. He took the compress over Iolaus’ forehead and began to wipe away his friends’ hair from his face. “I never thought someone would still be in the house. I never thought the roof wouldn’t hold. That’s where I failed, Phillipas. I reacted instead of thinking. Using my strength has become a habit. I forget sometimes, that I can kill with just a punch. So many times I’ve had to pull my punches, to keep my rage in check. By doing what I’ve done, today, I’ve proven I can be just as dangerous as those I fight against.”
Phillipas snorted, crossing his arms over his chest. “And this is news to you?”
Hercules glared up at him for a moment.
Phillipas sighed and took another chair from against a far wall. He brought it up and sat facing Hercules. “Hercules, we are all capable of flying off the handle. We are all capable of inflicting injury, even death on another human being. That fact was brought home to me time and time again on the battlefield. None of us are immune to letting our rage get the better of us. Even the mighty Son of Zeus has his limits as to how far he can keep his strength -- or his rage -- in check. I’ve seen you fight with incredible self-control, Hercules. A self control that shows how much you know your own strength.”
Hercules replaced the compress on Iolaus’ forehead and leaned back in the chair, letting out a tired breath. “It’s not self-control I’m talking about, Phillipas. It’s arrogance. There’s a Problem? That’s okay, I’ll take care of it. I used to be able to see the people around me during the fights. Iolaus takes them to safety so I can concentrate on fighting. I never stopped to think he would get hurt. I’ve taken him for granted so many times, Phillipas. Today made it one too many times. I lost sight of what I was fighting for, what good versus evil really means. This,” he gestured to Iolaus’ wound. “This happened because of my arrogance, Phillipas. I lost my focus. And the resulting cost could be Iolaus’ life.”
“He’ll pull through, Hercules. He’s ornery enough to do that just to prove you wrong.”
“But I’m not wrong, am I, Phillipas.” It was asked more to confirm than to question.
“Hercules, if what you’re saying is true, and right now it’s just mere speculation stemming from a guilt-ridden conscience, but if it is true, then you made a mistake. I for one am grateful to see the mighty Hercules reveal his human side for a change. Something Iolaus sees every day of his life. He knows you better than anyone. Your imperfections may be a surprise to you, but I’ll guarantee they’re not a surprise to him. And *he’s* the one you hurt. You should be talking to him, saying to him what you’ve said to me. Maybe he can talk some sense into you. You made a mistake, which resulted in Iolaus’ injury, but it sounds to me like you’re second-guessing your ability to help people. Do you honestly think Iolaus would want you to beat yourself up like this? It happened. Deal with it, learn from it and move on.”
Phillipas sighed as he leaned forward and rested a hand on Hercules’ wrist. “I know you love him, Hercules. He’s your best friend. I know how I would feel if something happened to Damius as a result of something I did. But I also know I could survive because he would forgive me. The way Iolaus will forgive you -- *has* forgiven you.”
“Maybe, Phillipas. I only know one thing. I can’t take a chance of it happening again.”
“What? What are you saying?”
Hercules stood from his chair. He looked at Phillipas who stood to face him, his gaze questioning. “Hercules?”
“Take care of him for me. I need time alone. I have a lot to think about.” Hercules started out of the room, when Phillipas caught his arm. “You’re not just leaving?” he asked in disbelief. “Iolaus needs you, and you’re just going to take off? I can’t believe you!”
“Iolaus will be safer this way, Phillipas. I have to do this.”
“Wait a moment. Did Hera threaten you when you went to her temple today?”
“She’s always threatened me by threatening those I love.” Hercules looked back to Iolaus. He then looked down at the amulet he had put around his own neck. Removing it, he handed it to Phillipas. “Give this to him when he can wear it again. And don’t look at me like that. I know what I’m doing, Phillipas. For his sake let me do this.”
Phillipas let him go with a swift motion. “Fine! But you can give him his amulet back yourself. I won’t help someone run away from his problems. Running away from your problems never solves anything.”
“So I’ve been told,” Hercules said as he started out of the room. He saw the cabinet of medicines that Damius used and rested the amulet on its surface. Without looking back he walked out of the room and out of the cottage.
Phillipas could hear the thunder in the sky. He looked out the window in the room and saw the dark clouds rolling in. “Somebody’s not happy,” he muttered.
Night fell and with it, the rain.
Damius would return every few hours to see how Iolaus was doing. The last time he came in, Phillipas told him what happened with Hercules.
Damius took one of the chairs next to Iolaus and examined his patient as Phillipas held a lantern over them. “He just left? No word as to where was going, or when he would be back?”
“Nothing. And from the way he was talking, I’d say he wasn’t just talking about a few days. I got the feeling that he was leaving Iolaus behind---for good.”
Damius jerked his head up at that. “Well, I suggest you put together a search party and find him.”
“Why? What is it?”
“Iolaus has developed a fever. Infection has set in. We’re going to need Hercules here. And what’s more important---Iolaus is going to need him.”
Phillipas took a step towards the door, when thunder crashed and lightning lit up the sky. Seconds later the rain began to pour down.
Phillipas looked out the window again as he reached out to close the wooden panels. He sighed. “Looks like nobody’s going anywhere.”
“Well then I hope you don’t have any pressing plans for the evening. I still have injured to tend to. I’m going to need you to take care of Iolaus while I make my rounds.”
“Iolaus is an old friend. Of course I’ll stay.”
The fever had taken hold quickly. Iolaus tossed his head back and forth as Phillipas applied the compresses, wiping sweat off his face, neck and chest. “Easy, Iolaus. Try to relax.” He would whisper soothing words, but Iolaus would open his eyes and look at him. The eyes scared Phillipas. Glazed over with fever and delirium, Iolaus would look at him and think it was Hercules. “Herc, it’s hot. Where in Tartarus are we?” He closed his eyes and tossed and turned some more. The wound still would not bleed. “Damn it!” Phillipas swore as he rested a fresh poultice over the wound. “What’ s it going to take for you to bleed?” He looked over his shoulder to the front entrance of the cottage. “Damius, where in Hades are you?”
“Herc?” Iolaus grabbed Phillipas’ arm. “Where’s Hercules?”
“He’s coming, Iolaus. Just hold on.”
Iolaus closed his eyes, shaking his head. The sweat was pouring off of him like the rain outside. “No---not coming. Don’t feel him near. Not here, not coming. Hercules? Hercules, why did you leave me?” Iolaus almost yelled out the plea.
Phillipas tried to hold Iolaus down as the feverish man tossed and turned, moaning. ‘How did Iolaus know?’ Phillipas wondered. ‘Is their bond that strong?’ He continued to apply the compresses in an effort to fight the fever back.
Damius felt Iolaus’ neck to check the pulse rate. “It’s fast, Phillipas. His body is succumbing quickly to the infection. His fever is ravaging. I’ ve tried teas, I’ve tried poultices, nothing is working! If he continues on like this, he’ll die before morning.”
“He knows Hercules isn’t here. He knows Hercules has abandoned him. I don’ t know what it is, Damius, but it’s like their connection is broken. Without Hercules here, Iolaus doesn’t have the will to fight. And Hercules doesn’t have the will to fight because he’s too overcome with guilt that Iolaus is wounded.”
“We’ve got to find Hercules. Iolaus needs him!”
Phillipas shook his head, sadly. “There’s no way, Damius. I don’t even know what direction he took. And with the rain, there’s no way to track him.”
Damius began to pace. “Curse the guilt that is running rampant in this town! Toletha, Hercules, where is it going to end?”
Phillipas lowered his head, as Iolaus’ moans of pain filled the cottage.
“Try to keep him calm, Phillipas. I’m going to see if Toletha can help me. We’re going to have to drain this wound, try to get it to bleed.”
Damius put on his cloak and headed out into the rain. Phillipas went to Iolaus’ side and continued to apply more compresses. “Easy, Iolaus. Hercules will be here, my friend. Just hold on.”
Iolaus, his feverish brain non-coherent, shook his head from side to side. “No, not coming. Gone. Gone. Not---coming.”
Phillipas sighed with anger. “You sure picked a hell of a time to feel sorry for yourself, Hercules.”
It was when Phillipas went out to the barrel to get more water that the real trouble began. On his way back to the cottage, he slipped in a mud patch and dropped the water. Cursing, he went back for more. He never saw the image slipping into the cottage.
The hunter jerked his eyes open at the voice. He heard it again. “Iolaus.”
He turned to the source of the sound. “Hercules?”
“I need your help, Iolaus. Help me.”
Iolaus forced himself to sit up. Sweat continued to pour down his face. The poultice fell off onto the floor, but he didn’t even notice. “Hercules, what is it?”
“Follow me, Iolaus. I need your help.”
Iolaus pulled himself weakly out of bed. “I can’t, Herc. No---no strength.”
“Iolaus, I’ll die without your help. Please, hurry.”
Iolaus didn’t understand this request. Wasn’t Hercules standing right in front of him? He reached out but his hand passed through the image. “Herc--ules?”
“I’m dying, Iolaus. Follow me. Only you can help me.”
The image of Hercules turned and headed out of the room towards the back door.
Though weak and stumbling, Iolaus followed after ‘it’.
When Phillipas entered the room he saw the empty bed and dropped the pail of water again. “Iolaus?”
He searched the other rooms, but found nothing. That is he found nothing until he saw the back door wide open. “IOLAUS!” He yelled. He hurried to the opening and looked all around, but there was no sign of the hunter. And with all the rain the tracks would be washed away. “Oh, gods, no! Hercules is going to kill me when he finds out about this.” Turning, he ran down the road towards his house. “DAMIUS!” he called out.
Part 7 of 8
Hercules stirred the fire with a stick. The small cave was enough to give him shelter from the storm, but nothing he did for his physical needs seemed to help his emotional or mental pain. All his thoughts continued to run the image of Iolaus being impaled.
Hercules gave up on doing anymore for the fire. It was hot enough. He pulled his knees up resting his arms over them. He lowered his head. ‘Iolaus, my dearest friend in the world. I can’t forget what I’ve done to you. It’s best I leave you now when you’re in no condition to follow me. I won’t be responsible for your death. I don’t want to feel this way, ever again.’
For a moment, he thought he was hearing things. He looked up, but saw no one. Then he heard it again. “I’m coming, Herc! Don’t worry!”
“Iolaus?” He stood and went to the cave opening. He looked out but saw nothing within the trees surrounding the mountain cave. “Iolaus?”
“Herc! Hang on! I won’t let you down!”
He followed the voice until he saw Iolaus breaking through the trees. The smaller man was still only dressed in his pants. Bare feet covered with mud, and blood, mixing with water, flowed down his chest from the wound. “Herc! I won’t let you down.” Iolaus took a couple of steps closer to Hercules who ran out to him. “Iolaus! By the gods! What are you doing?!”
“You---you needed me. I followed you! I couldn’t---let you down.” Iolaus’ eyes rolled up into his head and he fell forward into Hercules’ arms.
Hercules, too stunned to move, gazed down at his limp, unconscious friend. “How in Tartarus?” he asked. Then realizing they were still out in the rain, he repositioned Iolaus and lifted him into his arms. “Iolaus, how in the world will you be able to explain this one to me? Or do you even know the explanation?”
He carried him back into the cave where he proceeded to lay him by the fire. That was when he got a good look at the wound. It was bleeding freely, the infection draining as it did so.
When the wound had drained of the infection, Hercules proceeded to cauterize it with the fiery end of a stick while his friend was still unconscious. Both the entrance wound and the exit received this treatment. Iolaus was still feverish, but now that the infection had been dealt with, all Hercules had to do was wait for the fever to break. He sat beside his friend. He had found a hollowed rock inside the cave that he used to carry in some rainwater. He had no cloth to use as a compress, so he removed his undershirt and tore off a piece of it to use.
It was then that he felt the presence in the cave. And he knew who it was. “Hello, Artemis.”
The goddess approached him from the front and gazed down at him. She held her bow in one hand, her quiver of arrows hung over her back. “Hello, Hercules.”
He looked up at her. “You did this, didn’t you? You led him here.”
“Why? Couldn’t you see he was wounded, sick? He could have died out there!”
“The wound needed to bleed. It wasn’t bleeding back in that cottage. The physical exertion was necessary to cause the bleeding to take place. Also, there was the issue of the two of you being separated that I simply could not stomach.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Hercules, do you realize that because you weren’t there for Iolaus, his condition worsened? He knew you weren’t there for him. Even in his delirium he knew you weren’t there, and he was starting to lose the fight against the infection. The fever was getting dangerously high. I had to get him out to where his body could cool. The only way I could do that was masquerade as you and lead him to where you were doing a fair amount of losing the fight as well.”
“What do you mean, losing the fight?”
“The guilt Hera intensified within you, Hercules. You were drowning in it to the point where you couldn’t think clearly. You took off and left your best friend when he needed you to be by his side the most. You thought you were helping Iolaus, but in the end you were only making it worse for him. The connection you both share, is not something to be taken lightly, Brother. Without it, neither one of you are completely whole. The guilt inside you was beginning to break the connection. It wasn’t Iolaus’ time to die. If I hadn’t interfered, he would have.”
“I thought gods weren’t supposed to interfere.”
“They aren’t. The Fates weren’t too happy with Hera’s gloating over what you did to Iolaus, so they gave me a little leeway to stick it to Hera where it hurts the most. Iolaus will get better, now, and the two of you can work out what’s bothering you. You will of course have to deal with the fact that Iolaus knows you abandoned him.”
“He’s known since the moment you left the cottage to come up here. He won’t be too thrilled about it when he comes to himself. Be prepared.”
Hercules allowed a small grin and nodded. “I wouldn’t expect anything different from him.”
“Good. Well, my work here is done. Take care of him, Hercules, and if this should ever happen again, remember the word ‘connection’ and see if that doesn’t change your mind about leaving him behind.” In a flash, Artemis left the cave.
Hercules looked down at his feverish friend and continued to wipe the sweat from his forehead. “I’ll remember.”
Hercules awoke the next morning to the sound of birds singing and bright sunlight at the mouth of the cave. He turned from where he had slept and saw Iolaus still sleeping. He stood and stretched, letting out a yawn as he did so.
“Good morning,” Iolaus’ voice surprised him. He started back and turned to see his friend gazing up at him with clear blue eyes and he noticed there was no more sweat, but his face was still very pale. “Good morning yourself, sleepy head.” He walked over and knelt down beside Iolaus, feeling his forehead. “Yep, fever’s broken. How do you feel?”
“Disoriented mostly. As far as the pain goes, it’s there.”
Hercules went to the rock bowl and lifted Iolaus’ head so that he could drink from it. When the water was practically gone, Hercules gently rested Iolaus’ head back down. “You’re still weak so I want you to rest. I’m going to the stream and get some more water. I’m sure I can find some herbs to help the pain as well.”
Hercules started to get up when Iolaus grabbed his arm. “Herc, when I’m stronger, we have to talk.”
Hercules looked down, his face going solemn. “You’re right, Iolaus. We do. But like you said. When you’re stronger.”
Iolaus let him go. Hercules nodded to him, then left the cave.
Part 8 of 8
While Hercules was down at the stream he heard voices coming through the trees. “I thought I saw a flash of yellow through here.”
Phillipas? Hercules turned to see Phillipas and Damius along with one other man from their village who was carrying a blanket, as they broke through the trees. “Hercules!” Phillipas called out in joyous surprise. “Thank the gods we found you! It’s Iolaus! He was so delirious with fever last night, that when I went out to get some water, I came back and he was gone. We’ve got search teams out, but I’m not sure how much good they’re going to do without any tracks to follow. That storm pretty much---,”
“Phillipas,” Hercules smiled and waved his hand. “Iolaus is fine. He’s with me. I found him last night, or rather, we found each other. Damius, the wound bled out the infection. I cauterized it but he’s too weak to move right now. We’ll be staying up here until he’s strong enough. Then we’ll be back down.”
“Thank Asclepius,” Damius whispered. “That’s good news, Hercules. Is there anything we can bring you?”
“Yes, his boots if you can. Also, I take it that blanket is for Iolaus?”
“Yes. I made sure to bring one, not knowing what condition we would find Iolaus in if we managed to find him at all.” Damius reached out to the other villager who was carrying the blanket. He handed it to Hercules. “Anything else?”
Hercules saw the water skin on Phillipas’ belt. “And that, if you don’t mind? Having Iolaus drinking water from a rock, is a bit awkward.”
Phillipas handed him the water skin. “I’ll bring the boots later on today and leave them by this boulder.” He pointed to a boulder off to their side.
“Good. I don’t want to have to carry Iolaus down the mountain because of his bare feet. He’d complain all the way.”
“Also, what do you want me to do with this?” He reached into his pouch on his belt and pulled out Iolaus’ amulet. Hercules took it and smiled. “I’ll take it to him. Thanks.”
“Bresius,” Damius turned to the other man. “Go back to town and tell the others we found both Hercules and Iolaus. Call off the search,” he instructed.
The villager nodded once and hurried off back to the village.
Damius turned back to Hercules. “How long do you think you’ll be up here?”
“A couple of days.”
“Do you need any medicines from me?”
“No, I can pretty well find the herbs I need up here. His wound is cleansed and it’s healing. I just need to help him get his strength back.”
“I’m glad things worked out, Hercules.” Phillipas said as he held out his arm. Hercules shook it. “Thanks, Phillipas. Me, too.”
“And you, Hercules? Are you doing better?”
Hercules sighed. “I’ll tell you after Iolaus and I talk things out, Phillipas. I have to get back to him now. Excuse me and thanks for all you ’ve done.”
He turned and walked back into the trees.
Phillipas sighed. “He looks better than when he left.”
“Yes, but the guilt is still there. I could see it in his eyes.”
“Let’s head back to town. Whatever their problem is, they’ll work it out. They always do.”
The two friends walked the other direction back to town. They were exhausted but the need for repairs to the town would not wait.
Two days later:
Iolaus sat outside the mouth of the cave. Hercules had torn the rest of his undershirt into bandages and a sling. And that was what Iolaus was wearing now along with his amulet. He wrapped the blanket tighter around his shoulders. It was a chilly morning, but no sign of bad weather was in the air. The sun would burn off the chill as it rose higher.
Hercules came out of the cave and looked at his friend. “Good morning. How are you feeling?”
Iolaus, his gazed locked ahead on the trees of the forest, did not hesitate to respond. “Angry,” he replied.
Hercules took a seat on a rock at the opposite end of the cave entrance. He faced Iolaus. This was it. Iolaus was stronger now and he knew the smaller man would not let this conversation fall by the wayside. “I know,” he replied softly. “You’ve barely spoken five words to me in the last two days. Are you sure you want to talk about it, now?”
“I have to, Hercules. The more I think about it, the more angrier I get. I hate feeling that way toward you. I can’t not talk about it.”
Hercules crossed his arms over his chest and stretched out his legs, crossing his ankles. “So---talk. I’m listening.”
Iolaus took a moment. He had known what he wanted to say. The problem was, could he say it and still walk away from the conversation with his friendship with Hercules intact?
Being the type to never run from a battle, Iolaus dove in. “You abandoned me.” There. Opening statement. Short, to the point. Dead center. Can we say, ‘this hurts worse than the damn spike’?
Hercules said nothing.
“How could you do that, Hercules? After all these years of fighting back to back, is that how little you think of me?”
“No! You let me finish! This has been boiling up inside of me these last few days and I need to get rid of it, before it eats me alive.”
Hercules looked down, his arms still crossed. “Go on,” he whispered.
Iolaus took in a deep breath and slowly let it out. “I know you’re feeling guilty over what happened, Hercules. But do you think so little of my friendship to you that you would truly believe that I could believe you would intentionally hurt me? Do you honestly believe that I can’t forgive you for a--a *mistake*?”
Hercules did not raise his eyes. He said nothing.
Iolaus looked at him, the pain of his words reaching the surface. He had never been good at hiding his feelings. Emotions ran close to the surface for him, so unlike the larger man sitting across from him. “It hurts to think that *you* could even think that, Herc! Do you honestly think that little of me, or my ability to forgive you? Do you honestly think I would throw away all these years of friendship because you made an error in judgment?”
“An error that almost cost you your life!” Hercules retorted in a furious rejoinder. This time he looked up and locked eyes with his friend, and Iolaus was surprised to see tears in those eyes.
“And what if I *had* died, Herc? Would you have let the guilt swallow you to the point of hiding away forever?”
Hercules stood in a furious leap. “You don’t know what I’m going through, Iolaus! You don’t know that what happened to you is killing *me*!”
“So leaving me to die, alone, was the answer?!” Iolaus shouted back.
“I didn’t leave you alone, Iolaus.” Hercules quieted down as he walked away. “Phillipas and Damius were there.”
“And what about my best friend? What if I wanted to say ‘good-bye’, Herc? You would have robbed me of that chance. I would have gone to Elysium feeling as if my life had been left unfinished. What does that tell me about you? It tells me that your guilt was more important than my needing you at my side. And that hurts worse than any accident you caused.” Iolaus ’ voice was choking back the emotion, but Hercules didn’t have to look at his friend to know that the tears were in his eyes. “You abandoned me, Hercules!” Iolaus shouted. “You couldn’t handle the fact that you caused this wound! You couldn’t handle the fact that I may have died because of something you did! And so you ran! You ran like a scared rabbit!”
Hercules turned on him and grabbed him by the back of the neck. “YES, I RAN!” He yelled. “I RAN BECAUSE I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT ELSE TO DO! You want me to admit I was scared? All right, then, damn it! I was terrified! I – almost – killed you! I almost – killed my best friend.” Hercules choked on the words. He turned away and yelled out the rage that had slowly bedded itself into his soul as the sobs broke out.
Iolaus slowly slid off the rock, letting the blanket fall, and walked up to Hercules, putting his right hand to his friend’s back. Hercules lowered his head as shame engulfed him. “How can I ever help people again, after what I did?” He turned to look at Iolaus. Iolaus was looking down. “Are you saying you want to give up? Just take your guilt and run?”
Hercules was shaking now as he fought the sobs wracking his body. “I don’t know how to handle this, Iolaus. I knew my strength could kill, but I never thought it would come close to killing you. The thought of losing you to some sort of tragedy or senseless act of violence is painful enough to think about, but for you to be killed because of me---,”
“I didn’t die, Hercules.”
“You almost did. One inch either way and that spike would have killed you.”
“But it didn’t. The Fates were kind.”
Hercules raised his eyes to the sky, the tears still streaming down his face. “Why did this have to happen? Why? I don’t understand any of it.”
“Maybe it was---to show you that you’re human after all. That you are capable of making mistakes. And maybe it was to show both of us---that our friendship is able to survive something like this. Let me ask you something. If the circumstances were reversed, if I had done something that would cause you injury, bring you to the point of death, would you be able to forgive me?”
Hercules looked down at the skeptical eyes, the questioning gaze. “How could you even question that, Iolaus? Of course I would.”
“Then how can you doubt *me*? Take my forgiveness and let this guilt go. It’s ripping you apart inside. Please, Hercules. If I have to say it then so be it. I forgive you.”
Hercules let a small, trembling smile grace his lips as he carefully pulled Iolaus into a hug. “I would never hurt you, Iolaus. I would never---,”
“Stop it, Hercules. I know you would never hurt me. That’s why they call them accidents. And that’s all this was. It was an accident. If our friendship means anything to you, then you’ve got to let this go, or its going to rip us apart. And frankly, to tell you the truth, that’s something I really, really don’t want to go through. I’ll take a broken body any day over a broken friendship.”
Hercules gave him a final squeeze then let him go. He walked away from him a few steps, “It’s not that easy, Iolaus. I saw exactly what I can do, what my *strength* can do. I didn’t like what I saw. I didn’t like knowing exactly what kind of responsibility this strength carries with it. If you end up getting killed someday because of something I do, I’ll never be able to forgive myself.”
“You’re not able to forgive yourself, now, and I’m still alive.”
Hercules looked away, saying nothing.
“So, where does that leave us, Hercules? Are we to part and go our separate ways now? Are we to just throw away everything we’ve shared? That would be like throwing away my life! Is that what you want? To just throw our entire lifetime friendship down the river? I can forgive you for this,” he gestured to his wound. “But if you walk away from our friendship, that I can never forgive.”
Hercules shut his eyes, the tears streaming down more steadily. “I--I almost killed you.”
“But you didn’t.”
Hercules raised his face to the sky, as if searching it for answers. “This is hard, Iolaus. I’ve never felt so unsure of myself before.”
Iolaus went up to his side and put an arm around his waist. “Then let me help you.”
Hercules, his mouth trembling with emotion, shook his head. “Who am I, now, Iolaus? I’ve lost my edge. My confidence is gone. I don’t know who I am anymore.”
Iolaus lowered his head. “Then the gods win, Hercules. Hera wins. And I lose my best friend, my brother. Is that what you want to happen? To surrender? To admit defeat?”
“No!” Hercules shut his eyes again, clenching his fists. “By the gods, no! But I’ve never felt this way before. I’ve never had to face this before. And I don’t know how to deal with it.”
Iolaus tightened his hold around his friend. “Then let me help you, Damn it! We’re best friends, let’s put that friendship to work!”
Hercules’ gaze locked on the ground below him. “Even after what I’ve done to you – you still trust me with your life?”
“I will *always* trust you. I’m not about to let almost thirty years of friendship go by the wayside. And if you are willing to let that happen – then you have to ask yourself -- were we ever really friends?”
Hercules turned to Iolaus, his pain blazing from his eyes. “I want to let this go, Iolaus. Help me.”
“It’s simple, Hercules. All you have to do is reach out and accept my forgiveness. That’s the first step.”
Hercules slowly, carefully reached out and embraced his friend. “Iolaus, what would I ever do without you?”
Iolaus shrugged. “Ahh, you’d lose your balance and fall flat on your face.”
The town succeeded in banning together and repairing Toletha’s roof and house. Cletus got a job to help pay the bills and Toletha and Damius are planning their wedding, with Phillipas as the best man. Hercules and Iolaus were invited and they promised they would attend. This is a round about way of saying there will be no sequel to this story. –White Raven-
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