It began as an ordinary day, and Hercules believed it would end that way too. He'd spent months with absolutely ordinary days without Iolaus. Now that his new friend Iolaus had gone into the sea, and his buddy, Iolaus, was visiting his mother, Hercules found himself alone again on an ordinary day. An ordinary, rainy day that is for it had poured for days, and the demigod was lucky to find shelter in a nearby cave. He sighed as he rolled over and opted to sleep in as opposed to his intense exercise routine in the downpour. He laughed, "What Iolaus doesn't know won't hurt him."
So it was almost midday when the demigod headed for Corinth to visit with Iphicles before he met up with Iolaus once more. He was glad that Erythea would gain such comfort in seeing her son. He remembered the intense regret that ran through her when he had to tell her about what happened. True, an official message had been sent; however, Hercules had a need to explain what had happened to his best friend. He also remembered when he traveled back to tell her that her son was finally at peace. He grinned as he chunked a rock across the road. He was glad he convinced Iolaus to jot a letter to her first instead of just popping up and saying, "Hi Mom, I'm hungry; is there anything to eat in the house?" He laughed as the image of a very young Iolaus doing just that to Alcmene. His countenance dropped a bit once he thought of his own mother. It would be good to visit Iphicles for a few days and spend some time reminiscing with him about their mother.
Then it began as it always did. A frightened man running towards the hero with a plea. "Hercules! Hercules! Thank the gods, I've found you! We need your help in Sicyon! It's that blasted Armeon's cistern. I swear, Hercules, if it breaks, the whole town will be flooded, people will lose their homes, and quite possibly their lives. Please, Hercules, you've just got to help us!" begged the messenger.
Hercules smiled and nodded. Of course he'd help the town. It's what he did, and if Iphicles or Iolaus were a little disappointed that he was late, well, they'd understand. So, Hercules ran toward the city of Sicyon instead of turning off to Corinth. When Hercules arrived it had finally stopped raining. The magistrate was pacing at the entrance to town. He frantically ran down the road to meet them. "Oh, thank the gods, you're here. Hercules, you're our only hope. We've been trying to evacuate the city, but we're having little luck. I'm afraid there's no where we can go to protect us from this. Please, Hercules, tell us you can save us from Armeon's folly."
"I assume, you're Armeon," Hercules said to a small nervous man.
"Yes, I am he, and it wasn't a folly. If it weren't for that blasted crack, you all would have been singing my praises for decades to come. Hercules, it was to be the town water supply that would never run dry. Here, I'll take you to it," he chattered away as he pulled the hero to a deep ravine. He looked on with pride as he showed Hercules the cistern. "See, it's quite impressive isn't it?"
Hercules stood there with his chin dropped to his chest. It was impressive; he'd never seen anything like it. It was a huge cistern made up of a brick wall that was proclaimed to be 10 feet thick in a huge cylinder that had to be at least as tall as the state of Zeus in Athens. Hercules could attest to the fact that it would indeed supply all the water needed for generations for along with the water naturally trapped from Helisson, the rain had built the store of water to the very brim. It would have supplied all the city's needs if it hadn't been for that one little crack. "Uh-oh!" gasped the demigod.
"Yeah, uh-oh," sighed Armeon. I'm afraid the crack is going to break in a matter of hours. The water is starting to pour through the crack. What can be done, Hercules. If one person drowns from this...I'll never be able to sleep for the rest of my life." Armeon turned from his great monument and sobbed. "Armeon the Drowner. That's what I'll go down in the scrolls as!"
"No one's going down as that because I see the solution. Look, there's the sister crack on the other side. All we have to do is punch a hole in it, and let the water flow out to the Helisson. It might flood, but that shouldn't be a problem," Hercules stated calmly.
"But, Hercules, what if some innocent fisherman is down in the river?" asked the magistrate.
"No, there won't be anyone down there. Look I grew up not far from here, and nobody goes there. The ravine dug by the river is too steep and deep. And by the time the waters get to its tributaries where people do fish, it will just be a slightly swifter current. Now, how to do this?" Hercules questioned. Illumination struck as he grasped a huge boulder and moved to the crack on the side next to the river and threw the projectile with his full strength. No catapult could have matched the force with which the demigod used. And according to plan, it punched a gaping hole in the cistern. In a matter of moments the open drain became a huge wall of water. Hercules managed to get everyone to back away as they were all in shock to see how high the water wall was. It splashed menacingly at the bystanders. When the water charged away from the town, the magistrate and spectators cheered greatly at the demigod's triumph. Armeon just sighed and headed back for the village.
The people of the village threw a huge feast celebrating their hero. Hercules really didn't like this kind of adulation, but it was late, and he decided it would be better sleeping in the soft bed of the best inn in town than sleeping on the damp ground. Iolaus would understand. "In fact," the demigod thought with a slightly guilty grin, "Iolaus would be proud of me. I've even flirted with a tavern wench. Granted, I didn't take her up on her proposal, but she didn't seem insulted. It was a good evening." Hercules stretched out on the comfortable bed very pleased that he'd been able to help these people and possibly save their lives.
When he reached Corinth the next day late in the afternoon, Hercules was puzzled at the almost deserted marketplace. He'd stopped by Erythea's house first to apologize for missing the supper she had promised him. Oddly, no one was there. Hercules walked steadily to the castle to offer his regrets for being late and perhaps to get some answers. It was eerily deserted as well, except for a single courtier. "Hi, um...can you tell Iphicles I'm here?"
The courtier averted his eyes and nodded. Hercules looked around the outer hallway and wondered why the courtier couldn't wait to take his leave of him. Just then he heard his brother bellowing, "I SAID, I will see NO one until the body is found! Who?" Hercules heard a sort of whispered silence when a very pale Iphicles swung open the door. "By the gods, Hercules. Where have you been? This is awful."
Hercules was confused that his brother would be this disturbed by his tardiness, and he started to explain, "See, there was someone who needed me and.."
"Someone who needed you? Hercules, someone needed you yesterday," Iphicles muttered as he stumbled against the wall. "I'm sorry, obviously you don't know, and by Olympus, I didn't want to have to be the one to tell you."
"Tell me what? Who's body were you..oh gods....oh gods, no...tell me it wasn't him...tell me it wasn't him. Gods! I can't go through this again! I can't. TELL ME!" he shouted as he grabbed Iphicles by the shoulders and pinned him to the wall. But one look into his brother's eyes confirmed what his heart would deny. Hercules released him as his legs released his body, and the demigod sank to his knees. "Gods, tell me it wasn't him."
Iphicles knelt and tenderly laid a comforting hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, Hercules. It happened so quickly, and there was nothing we could do. Come, Erythea has refused to leave the river bed until they find him. She needs us now. Maybe you can help find...find him," he whispered avoiding the word body. Hercules looked up blankly and rose to his feet.
"Iolaus," he gasped. "I can't do this again," he muttered as they walked out of the castle. He would find his friend; it was the very least he could do. This time, he'd give him a proper warrior's funeral...no Dahak...no mummification. He'd get his friends there for the ceremony "I'll do it right this time, Iolaus. Please, Iphicles, tell me how...how did it happen?"
Iphicles guided Hercules down the road as the story unfolded. He cleared his throat and began, "It was just an ordinary day, Hercules. It had been raining forever, and finally the sun burst through the clouds. Iolaus and his mother along with Pandion came to the castle. Iolaus insisted that the day was too beautiful for me to spend it with my dusty old scrolls and dusty old diplomats. He proposed a picnic. Oh gods, that I would have stuck to the dusty old diplomats. Maybe he wouldn't have gone, but that's not true, is it, brother? He'd have gone anyway."
Hercules nodded, "That's Iolaus. The outdoors was his siren. What happened? Bandits?"
"No, it was nothing violent like that. We were having a terrific lunch, and after lunch we were wrestling, shooting arrows at a tree, and singing songs. Iolaus blushed when he started off a rather bawdy one, and his mother finished it for him. Zeus! You should have seen his face. Anyway, it was not too long before dusk when Iolaus said he knew where some fresh water clams were. He knew how much Erythea loved those., so, he started for the ravine..."
"Gods! No! Not the ravine....no one goes in the ravine...it's too steep and too ..." he said frantically as he hurried down the pathway.
"Deep, yeah, I know. Nobody but Iolaus anyway. Don't you remember when we were kids how he used to scramble down those cliffs with ease and bring back up a dozen clams? Erythea was getting pretty nervous; I mean, after all, Hercules, she'd never seen him do it. I had so I wasn't worried. Though with the rain the river seemed to be moving a little more rapidly than usual. Anyway, he was down in the ravine when we heard it. Hercules, it was like nothing I'd ever seen before. This huge wall of water racing toward him. He heard it too, and started climbing up the side of the cliff; he almost made it. But..," Iphicles stopped as the knot in his throat tightened and tears started to fall. "Oh Hercules, I had his HAND! He was almost at the top, but the water advanced too swiftly, and its force carried him away. Swept him away like he was a leaf. Hercules, I'm so sorry. I should have held on tighter; I should have forbade him to climb down in the ravine. Gods, Hercules...it's my fault he's dead. How can I ever get through this? How can I ever look her in the eyes again?" he gasped as they came upon a weeping Erythea.
Pandion was trying to comfort her, but she just kept rocking back and forth holding his beloved vest. He'd asked her to hold onto it for him. She looked up and saw her son's best friend, and she jumped up and ran to him. "Oh Hercules...Hercules...how could he be brought back to me only to be ripped away again. It hurts even more this time because it's my fault....If I hadn't mentioned how much I loved clams, he wouldn't have gone down there. What kind of mother causes the death of her child for something like clams?!" She buried her face in Hercules' chest and wept bitterly.
It was this that tore Hercules apart. Hearing his brother, and Iolaus' mother blaming themselves for his friend's death. He pried Erythea from his chest and backed away from everyone. "STOP...STOP! It was ME! I caused his death! None of you were responsible...my heroism was!" he yelled as he punched a hole through a huge tree. "My strength, my desire to help man. Some joke huh? It wasn't Dahak, the Enforcer, or the She-demon who destroyed Iolaus...it was his BEST friend."
Iphicles motioned for his healer to see to his brother and tried to approach him as well, "Hercules, please...don't do this to yourself. You weren't even here. How could you be responsible?"
"Just back off, Brother! Where do you think that wall of water came from? A gigantic cistern was threatening a town, and it was my brilliant idea to save it by sending the water down the river. A place where no one would ever go down into. I forgot...HOW could I FORGET?! Oh, Iphicles, what kind of curse am I under? I can't do this!" he shouted as he collapsed to his knees.
Erythea rushed over to him like a wild woman. Hercules braced himself for the slap sure to come. He felt her hand on his face and winced. But it wasn't a hand of contempt she laid on him, it was a hand of compassion. "Hercules," she said tenderly in a voice laced with pain. "Hercules, look at me."
He raised his tear filled eyes to her and sobbed into her embrace. "I'm so sorry, Erythea. I'm so sorry. I would never hurt him on purpose. I didn't know...I didn't know."
"Oh Hercules, you did a noble thing. You saved a whole village. Are you telling me that you'd have let it be destroyed to save Iolaus? What do you think my boy would say to that?" She said sadly through her own tears.
"Erythea...I...I," he groaned.
"Hercules, what do you think my son would do if he heard you talking like this?"she asked again.
"I'd kick your semi-divine butt!" gasped a soggy exhausted hunter.
"Iolaus? IOLAUS!" cried Hercules, Iphicles, and Erythea in unison. The poor man was almost crushed instead of drown by three people hugging him.
"I really appreciate all this attention, and don't get me wrong, I'm thrilled to be here with you, actually I'm thrilled to be anywhere, but you won't mind if I...pass," suddenly Iolaus' raw voice silenced, and he went limp in their arms.
"Iolaus?" asked the small voice of his mother. When there was no answer, they took care to back out of the hug to see his head roll back. "He's hurt. Please Iphicles, Hercules, help him."
Iphicles ordered his healer to take care of the man at once. Salmian tried to get to the man and said, "Sire, it would be easier to attend to his injuries if you and your brother would release him." Iphicles and Hercules looked up and felt very stupid. The gently laid Iolaus down in the grass, and the healer immediately went to work. The few grunts and grumbles caused worried looks all around until the healer stood and said, "Well, he'll live if he doesn't get sick from the chill," he was interrupted when Iphicles grabbed the blanked off his chamberlain's steed and covered him up. "As I was saying, he has swallowed quite a lot of the river water so we can expect him to become quite sick to his stomach very soon. His ankle looks swollen, but I don't think it's broken, but to be safe, I suggest we splint it and restrict his movements. His cuts and scrapes, not doubt from the rocks of the cliff and the debris from the river could easily get infected. He needs rest and these injuries attended to properly which I could do at the palace. So, if you would mind, Your Highness, we should get him to the palace as quickly as possible."
Before the healer could suggest a litter, Hercules scooped him up, blanket and all, swung up on the chamberlain's horse and rode off to the palace. "It would have been helpful to take me along as well, "Salmian muttered. Before he knew it, his king had grabbed him up by the nape of his neck and slung him in the back of the cart they'd used for the picnic. He looked down at Erythea and held out a hand to her. She smiled tearfully and climbed up next to the King of Corinth. Pandion just piled into the back of the cart with the healer and smiled.
Three days later, Iolaus was still lying in bed. In the last few days, the hunter had lost his lunch, so to speak more than he ever had before, had fevers spike and retreat, and watched his ankle swell twice its normal size. Finally, he began to feel normal. And yet this normal did not include testing his limits. Hercules was worried at the complacency of his usually stubborn friend, and remarked to Iphicles, "Are you sure that healer of yours is first rate? Have you ever known Iolaus to do what a physician says? Yet, he's still lying in bed; I don't even think he's tried to get up."
Iphicles was about to defend his healer to his brother until he thought about the rationale behind it. "No, Iolaus was always the worst patient known to this world. Hercules, you don't think there's something else wrong? SALMIAN!" he yelled.
The healer popped in and looked confused, "Is there something you wanted?"
"Are you sure Iolaus is okay?" asked Hercules ignoring protocol.
"Of course sir. His fevers are gone; I believe his stomach has settled, and none of the cuts and scrapes are infected. I believe this lucky young man will escape this relatively scar-free. His ankle has returned to its normal size, but I've insisted that he use a cane for a bit and to keep the splint for at least a week. Other than that, I've told him it was okay to get up and about now. I'm rather concerned that he doesn't seem too keen on getting out of the bed. myself," he remarked equally puzzled. "Have any of you asked him why he remains in bed?"
Just then Erythea brushed past them carrying a tray of honey cakes, soup, warm fresh bread, and a small flask of wine. "Excuse me, feeding time at the zoo," she giggled. The three men stood and watched as she pushed through the door.
"You don't think? Nah, Iolaus would never milk something like this," Hercules muttered.
When Iphicles and Hercules finally entered the room, Erythea was wiping his mouth and placing a loving kiss on his forehead before ruffling through his wild curls. "It does a mother proud, gentlemen to be able to take care of her little one," she said through tear bright eyes.
"Iolaus..," began Hercules. Iolaus put his finger up to his mouth until Erythea left the room.
"I'm sorry, Herc. I know I should have been out of bed a long time ago, but Mother...well, she likes to dote. And I feel kind of guilty at, you know, not being there for her when I was a kid. So, if she wants to take care...," he said almost apologetically.
"Hey, not another word, we understand, don't we?" asked Hercules turning to Iphicles.
"Yeah, I think I'd give away my crown in a heartbeat if I could have mother fuss over me once again," the king said with bittersweet longing in his eyes. "Still, you know you're going to have to get out sometime."
Suddenly a very beautiful chambermaid backed into the room carrying a basin of warm water, soap, and oil. "Now, sir, did you want almond oil with your bath tonight, or jasmine?" she asked with an enticing giggle.
Iolaus was frantically trying to shush her when Iphicles cleared his throat, "Just put the basin down, Adena. Iolaus will be bathing alone tonight." She blushed furiously as she rushed out of the room.
"Doting my eye! The care of a loving mother keeping you in bed, are you sure that's the only reason?" asked Hercules trying to hold back the laughter.
"Well...but enough about me...tell me about the huge cistern again. That must have been something to see!" Iolaus felt somewhat guilty to see his friend's joyful mood dampened at the mention of the instrument of his almost destruction. "Hey! We've discussed this before, Hercules. You did what you had to do...I wouldn't have expected anything less from you. I'm proud that you saved that city, and Iphicles, it was my own fault for shimmying down that cliff like I was 11 years old again. I don't think I can take all this...'It's all my fault' thing going here. I make my own choices, and this time bad timing, a fluke, and a silly stunt resulted in my injuries. You two are just cut from the same cloth...always blaming yourselves. Sheesh! Let a guy be responsible for his own semi-death once in awhile. Now. No more talk about fault, I want to hear the part about the festival. Sit down, Iphicles, you've got to hear the part about Herc flirting with a tavern wench."
"Flirting?" gasped Iphicles before dissolving into hysterical laughter.
Hercules sighed and clasped his hand to his forehead as Iolaus continued, "Yep, did me proud, he did. Don't leave anything out this time. Remember...it started out as an ordinary day...."
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