With heavy steps and an even heavier heart, Iolaus headed back to his farm. The anguish of his best friend’s loss tore at his heart as if it was his own pain, and in a way, it was. Iolaus loved Deianeira and the children too. Oh not in the same manner as Hercules of course, but still, he did love them and their untimely deaths were a great sadness on his soul.
‘Come on Iolaus,’ his conscience prodded at him. ‘Now, admit the real truth.’
The blonde hunter refused to move down the path that his conscience was trying to lead him. Instead, he deliberately traveled in a different direction, trying to keep his focus on Hercules’ lose. How was Hercules going to cope? What would the grief-stricken demi-god do? Iolaus told himself not to be hurt by Hercules rejection of his help; the hero wasgrieving and wasn’t thinking clearly. He didn’t really mean what he said, the compact hunter told himself.
As he continued down the path that led to his farm, Iolaus congratulated himself on his success in avoiding his nagging conscience. However, a simple sight in the meadow he was crossing, became his downfall and caused the floodgates to break loose. The usually stoic warrior sunk to his knees in the lush spring grass and started to weep.
Where his knees met the earth, grew a flower. It didn’t appear to be anything special, and in fact it appeared more to be a gangly weed than a flower. It had dusky green over-sized leaves that had a slightly fuzzy appearance. The blossoms, not yet opened, were large and covered by an outer shell that gave no hint to the color that lay underneath.
Iolaus physically tried to stem the flow of memories assaulting his brain by pounding his scarred fists on the hard dirt but only succeeded in bruising his knuckles. The memories would not be stopped. Finally, he gave in and allowed himself to be carried away on the tidal wave of emotional remembrance.
The spindly weed was actually a moonflower. The mysterious plant that waited for the beams of the earth’s luminescent sister orb to cause its’ fragment white blooms to burst forth in the dead of the night. The flower that she had loved. The one that---
Iolaus dashed a dirt-streaked hand across tear-rimmed eyes. He remembered it like it was only yesterday, how excited Ania had been when she had first spied this same type of plant growing in the field along side their barn. His lovely wife had let out a squeal, and at first, Iolaus had thought that the unsightly weed had upset her. Being the ever gallant solider he had offered to pull it up by its ugly roots if it so offended her.
A small chuckle escaped through his tears. Ania had really thrown a fit then and threatened her husband with bodily harm if he touched one of its precious green leaves. Iolaus had shrugged it off as a ‘woman’s thing’ and left the plant alone to continue its growth.
That night at dinner, she had told him the legend of the moonflower; that it was magical; its perfume held the secret of life; and that it only bloomed by the light of the moon. The blonde hunter had nearly fallen off his chair with laughter. ‘Only blooms by the light of the moon?’ he had chuckled in disbelief. Ania had glared at him and told him to wait--- and be prepared to eat crow. And eat crow he did; a whole darn flock of them.
Everyday Ania would check on her precious flower. She would carry a pitcher of water, from the house, specifically for the plant. Iolaus’ suggestion that the water would be better used on the vegetable garden was met with an icy stare. His comment that she took better care of that flower than her husband met with the same frigid reception. Eventually he learned to keep his mouth shuts in regards to her habits with the plant.
As the spring advanced into summer, Ania’s visit to the plant increased, especially at night. She would often check on her charge two or three times an evening. What the heck, Iolaus had figured. He supposed there were worse activities his wife could partake in than tromping outside each night at the first sign of moonrise to check on a plant. She did not spend all night with the weed and still came back to his bed, so he had no real complaints.
Then one night, it finally happened. A slight breeze wafted in the evening air and Artemis’ moon glowed full and bright. Ania had made her habitual pilgrimage to the plant. Iolaus had remained in the cabin, whittling on a piece of wood. The poor woodsman had nearly sliced his finger off when Ania came screaming through the front door. After a quick curse at the shallow cut he inflicted on his palm from the sharp carving knife, Iolaus had leapt to his feet instinctively reaching for his sword. Surely something horrible must be happening; bandits, wild animals attacking; a God run amuck, something horrendous to make his wife scream so.
The warrior raced out the front door, his eagle eye scanning the surrounding countryside for danger. His palms felt sweaty and his heart pounded recklessly in his chest. “Stay in the house,” he commanded his wife as he continued to scan for the threat. ‘Damn,’ he swore to himself under his breath. Where were they, or it, or---
Never taking his eyes off the landscape around him, Iolaus queried his wife. “Ania, where are they?”
“Where are who?”
“The bandits. The wild animals. The Gods running amuck. Whatever frightened you. Don’t worry, I’ll protect you. It is just that it would be a little easier if I knew what I was protecting you from.”
Iolaus felt his broad shoulders cringe. He recognized that tone his wife had just used to say ‘Oh Iolaus.’ It was the tone that meant ‘Oh Iolaus, you loveable but foolish man. You have just made an ass out of yourself again.’
Still remaining in his warrior stance he asked in a rather pitiful voice, “There are no bandits are there? Or wild animals?”
“Or even Gods running amuck,” his helpful wife added.
The blonde hunter let the tip of his sword fall dejectedly to the ground. He was happy there was not danger but still---. Ania walked over to the deflated warrior, wrapped her arms around his torso and leaned her head on his shoulder. “My brave protector,” she cooed.
In spite of himself, Iolaus grinned and placed a kiss on his wife’s head. “Ok, I give. Why did you make that--- well, that noise?” he questioned.
Ania took a step back and gazed into his sea-blue eyes. “Come, my love. I’ll show you. And leave the sword on the porch. You won’t need it. I promise.”
After leaning his weapon against the side of the cabin, Iolaus let his young wife lead him across the moonlit meadow. There was something magical in the air that night, he mused as he inhaled a deep lung-full of fresh air. Iolaus pulled Ania closer to him, wrapping his muscular arm around her petite waist. He buried his nose in her clean hair, enjoying her fresh scent.
Iolaus was so absorbed that it took a moment for him to realize that they had ceased to move. Finally, he lifted his face from his wife’s long, thick tresses and peered around. Ania slowly dropped to her knees pulling him down next to her. Iolaus found himself staring at the biggest, whitest flower he had ever seen. From its milky depths, it admitted the most heavenly scent he had ever encountered.
“The moonflower,” Ania had whispered in his ear, her breath tickling his ear lob. She moved ever so slightly so she could wrap her hands around his muscular chest. She playful rubbed his nipple as she whispered in his ear again. “Can you feel its’ magic?”
Iolaus could feel something that was for sure, and under the moon’s bright glow, in the soft summer grass, with the heady scent of the moonflower enveloping them with its’ mystical powers, they had made the most passionate love that he had ever experienced in his entire life time. A love that nine months later brought forth his first-born son.
Hot, fresh tears sprang unbidden from his eyes as he thought of his only son, Telaus. Dead now, as was Ania. Both taken far too young by a plaque; Iolaus, helpless to stop it. A low moan escaped his lips. Still, after 3 years, the pain of their deaths seemed as fresh as the day it happened. ‘Oh Hercules,’ he thought. ‘I do know what you are going through. I do buddy.’
Iolaus sighed as he looked down at the gangly flower with its blooms tightly furled against the afternoon sunlight. “I wish your magical powers could bring my wife and child back,” he whispered wistfully. As he continued to stare at the plant and idea rooted in his mind. With new resolve, he climbed to his feet, brushed the dirt from his knees and turned his tear-streaked face towards home. He knew what he need to do and it felt very right.
When he reached the farm, he routed around in the tool shed until he found anything he needed. Gathering all the supplies, he hefted them on his sturdy back and headed back to the meadow. When he arrived, he set about his work with a deliberateness that relayed how important this task had become to him.
When he was completed, he gathered up his supplies and headed back to his homestead. He walked past the cabin towards the large oak tree where two carefully tended grave markers stood. The weary worker placed his burdens on the ground and ran a loving hand over the tops of the markers. He stood there for a few moments, lost in thought or perhaps prayer before shaking himself and setting about his task.
After surveying the area, he dug a large hole equidistant between the two markers. When the hollow was of satisfactory size, he took the shovel and went to the barn. He returned a few minutes later with a shovel full of manure, which he proceeded to dump in the hole. He mixed the dirt and manure in the hole together until he was satisfied. Laying the shovel aside, he carefully went over to the burlap sack he had carried from the meadow. Gently picking up the contents of the sack, he placed it lovingly in the depression in the mother earth. With exaggerated care, he filled in the cavity with loose dirt, being careful not to harm the object he placed in the hole. When the hole was nearly filled, he dropped to his knees and added the last few scoopfuls of dirt with his bare hands, tenderly patting it down and around the hole’s occupant.
At last satisfied, he rocked back on his heels and studied his handiwork. ‘Yes, Ania would be proud of me,’ he thought. While he definitely did not have a green thumb, he thought that in this instance he’d got it right. The final step was water, and like his wife use to do years ago, the hunter got a pitcher from the house, filled it with water and carefully carried it out to the gravesite.
A few more stray tears mingled with the water as he poured the liquid on the newly replanted moonflower plant. When the greedy earth soaked up the last drop of water, Iolaus placed the empty container on the ground. He somehow felt better for having completed this task. In an odd sort of way, it made him very content to have the moonflower planted on the site of his wife’s and his son’s grave; like he had finally completed the last chapter of a particularly long novel. The book was finished and he could move on with his life.
Iolaus scanned the sky, his sea blue eyes noting how far the sun had traveled in its daily rounds while he was completing his mission. Soon the moon would be peeking its head over the darkening horizon. His stomach grumbled mightily, drawing his attention back to the practical world. He was hungry. Actually, he was hungry and thirsty, and therein lay the problem. He had nothing in the house to eat.
The trip to the market that he had planned to accomplish had gotten pushed aside, as had his hunting trip. Since the market place was closed by now, if he wanted to eat tonight, he either had to hunt for food (clean it and cook it, he thought wearily), find a friend who would invite him for dinner, or go to the local tavern. As much as he loved to hunt, he was tired, mentally and physically and the thought of the work hunting would entail did not thrill him. He also did not feel like socializing and that basically negated the idea of ‘accidentally’ showing up on someone’s doorstep at dinnertime and hoping for an invitation. Not eating was not even an option he would consider. Therefore, the only option left was the tavern, which if the truth be told, sounded pretty appealing at the moment. A few ales, a plate of stew, and people he could ignore if he so chose sounded just about right. He gave one last loving glance at his handiwork and then went up to the house to cleanup before heading out. Little did Iolaus know that his choice to sup at the tavern would have such an impact on his life, and bring about his first visit with death.
19 Aug 99
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