Hercules and Iolaus were awe struck as they looked down into this valley. The rocky and sandy soil so prevalent in this land was still abundant, but lack of rain made this valley look parched and dead. Few trees littered the valley. Stones and sticks seemed to replace them there.
Sharp stones dug into their feet as they walked down into the valley. As they past a stone outcrop, Hercules and Iolaus were able to get a clearer view of the valley. Iolaus was still somewhat awed at the desolate valley, it was if a sickness had entered the valley and made a home. The rest of their land was rocky but this land was truly shingled with rocks. A breeze that had blown earlier had all but ceased here.
Iolaus bent down and picked up some dirt. The earth was light tan and hot from the midday sun. It burned and he let the earth fall quickly through his fingers as they continued walking.
Once they reached the bottom of the outcrop, both saw several strange scarecrows lining the eastern boundary of the valley. They were nothing more than long staves planted into the ground. A skull, neatly petrified from the harsh arid land adorned the top of the staff like an absurd ornament. Underneath the skull, a wreath of dried flowers lay around a would be neck as if it was a necklace.
"This is certainly a foreboding sign," Hercules said as they approached the scarecrows. "What do you think it means?"
"Somehow I don't think they're the welcoming committee," Iolaus answered. He was not a suspicious man, but these scarecrows gave him a sick feeling he wanted to forget about. "They're a warning, lets go back." He grabbed Hercules by the arm and tried to steer him in the other direction.
"If they're a warning, shouldn't we find out what they're warning us about?"
"It's a warning, Hercules. It defeats the purpose if we go to find out what the warning is about, doesn't it?" Iolaus said mockingly. He could see that Hercules had decided to lend his help in whatever fashion he could, and there was not much Iolaus could do but follow along.
Hercules turned to see a small figure at the farthest most scarecrow. He had not noticed the figure before and it seemed to appear from out of nowhere. "Maybe he can tell us," Hercules said as he brought Iolaus' attention to the figure.
The figure was wrapped in a lightweight tan hooded cloak of a remarkable knotted weave and carried a small burled staff about a yard long. The staff was decorated with a serpent winding around the stick, adorned with jeweled scales of precious green and gold stones.
The stranger seemed to take no notice of the two travelers as he reached into the folds of the cloak and pulled out a small clay vial. After touching the tip of the vial, he took a petrified skull from the top of its resting place and caressed it tenderly with the rufescent liquid. The long bony fingers moved over the dried skin lightly.
As the fingers stroked the skin, a remarkable transformation began to occur. The skin on the mummified skull began to firm up and loose its deadly gray color. In its place was pink, turgid skin. Hercules and Iolaus could see the skull had belonged to a remarkably beautiful young woman.
A plague had been present for years, but it was more insidious than any plague that mother nature could have created. Zeus, like Hera was not above vindictiveness. When Asclepius had committed the mortal sin of raising a man from the dead, Zeus took his rage on all healers. Unable to find Asclepius to exact punishment on him, it was decreed that any vile sickness, injury or pain that was administered by a healer would be transferred back to them.
For fear of retribution, those in the healing profession abandoned the healing arts for more mundane trades. As years passed, only those practicing black magic would admit to any healing skill, and although many people used the resources of the sorceress and witch, there was always considerable ambiguity toward these magical figures. With no healers or teachers of the craft, the art of healing soon became archaic.
Occasionally, healers from other dominions would lend their hand in medical administration. These healers seemed to be impervious to Zeus' edict. They were able to administer to the sick and injured without fear of retribution. But their travels were few and far between. Most healing was done by the men and women of the community.
The vial had been Asclepius', and although had come from the God of medicine, it's source was just as magical as any a sorcerer could concoct. Asclepius drew the liquid from the body of Medusa after she was slain by Perseus. The blood from the left side could be used to slay its possessor's enemies; whereas the blood from the right side of Medusa could be used to heal or raise the dead. It was rumored that it was this blood that Asclepius used to raise Hippolytes from Hades. It was this unconscionable act that caused Hades to complain to Zeus, and Zeus' quick retribution on all healers.
When the stranger saw the scarecrows, the need to investigate its powers was overwhelming. Expecting to be alone in this desolate valley, the stranger opened the vial and with a tiny drop on a finger, witnessed the very power of this liquid.
As Hercules and Iolaus walked closer they could see that the stranger behind the cloak was somewhat of an enigma. The small stature was not unlike that of a child; however the bony fingers and burled staff suggested they belonged to an elder. The figure's stature was not bent or crooked as would be expected from someone carrying a staff. The strange hooded cloak left no clue to the stranger's sex. A haversack slung over the shoulder suggested the stranger was also a traveler, but he seemed to be at ease among these sentries of scarecrows.
"I hope to put my talents to more useful purposes than restoring the dead," the stranger stated when Hercules and Iolaus were noticed.
Then the stranger concluded, "Death awaits you if you proceed further." In silence the figure cradled the skull in his right arm and began to walk toward an open area several yards from the row of scarecrows. The stranger used the staff to give support and walked with a noticeable limp.
Kneeling down, the figure pulled off the hood to the cape. Some of the stranger's secrets were revealed. Her hair was the color of the sun as it sets, a red that was indescribable. Her small face was framed by short tendrils. The rest of her hair was cropped short, lightly curled and seemed wild and untamed. Hercules suspected that it mirrored this woman's personality. Her skin was smooth, with alabaster coloring. Her eyes were large and dark and seemed to have remarkable wisdom, yet she appeared to be extremely young.
She carefully placed the skull on the burning sand. Next to it she began digging a hole with her hands. Hercules realized that she intended to bury the remaining fragments of the dead woman's life. He walked over to help.
Iolaus, not entirely insensitive, dropped his haversack and went over to the morbid scarecrows. He took another skull from its staff intending to bury it. "No, no you must not," She urged and hobbled over to Iolaus. She took the skull from his hands and gingerly placed it back on the staff. As she took the skull, he noticed a bracelet encircling her forearm. The bracelet was a gold serpent, a sign of the healing arts.
"The warning is very real, and the consequences potentially dangerous. We must keep these up to warn future visitors."
"To warn them of what?" Hercules asked joining them.
"I am on a mission for Asclepius. The skulls forewarn that death rules this valley. It is not safe for you or your companion."
"Excuse me," Iolaus interjected. "Then how can it be safe for you? No healer in their right mind would defy Zeus to try to help these people."
She shook her head in dismay. "I am a healer, and I don't have time to debate my sanity with you. I have a talisman from Asclepius. I'll be safe."
She began to walk back to the makeshift grave. After using the elixir, she felt obligated to make sure the skull was properly buried, she wouldn't dare return it to its grotesque place on top of the staff that now served as the corporal body of this young woman.
She only walked a few steps when she noticed dust rising from the west. Just inside a westernmost outcrop, there were several men on horseback. The men looked menacing as they proceeded toward the travelers at top speed.
"I sure hope they're not the welcoming committee," Hercules said. "They don't seem too happy to see us." The dust cloud loomed closer and it was clear that the men were heading toward the three. As they approached, the leader descended his mount even before it had a chance to come to a halt. He stepped forward and proceeded toward Hercules.
The stranger, standing between both Hercules and Iolaus saw the man approach and intervened.
"I am traveling to the village of Epidaurus. If you are responsible for these scarecrows then you must know they are in need of my help." She said. Her directness was somewhat disarming to the mounted patrol.
"Who are you? Didn't you see our warnings?" The leader questioned, eyeing the three suspiciously. The villagers had put up the scarecrows to keep strangers out and to possibly contain the sickness. With no healer to promote a cure, the villagers feared any travelers to the region would spread the sickness beyond the valley's boundary. The scarecrows have effectively kept all strangers away from their valley before.
Every week the patrol would ride through the valley and place fresh flower wreaths around the dead sentries in recognition of the sacrifice they paid. They also needed to make sure the scarecrows where still in place. The townspeople needed affirmation that their warnings were still there.
"Yes, I did. I am sorry for your losses," She said sincerely. "My name is Livy. I come on behalf of Asclepius. I am here to rid you of this sickness provoked by Zeus."
She turned to the two men behind her to explain. "Asclepius believes this is an act of retribution for saving Hippolytes. Since Zeus can not effectively punish Asclepius, he will punish those only he can help in hopes of drawing him out of hiding. Epidaurus has a special interest to Asclepius. He knew Asclepius would be compelled to help."
Please let me proceed to your village." She turned back to the villagers, her arms outstretched to show her sincerity.
"Who are those two with you?" The leader asked suspiciously. Any messenger of Asclepius would not bring an entourage and would be traveling alone.
She looked back feeling that her request was going to be denied. "I truly have no idea," she said after a significant pause. "They seem to be openly defying your warnings, for what purpose I do not know. I cannot imagine what honest business they may have in this valley.
Her suggestion of malice was the only invitation the mounted men needed. They were a desperate lot who had seen the destruction of half their village population in the last month. They were ready to fight for anyone not afraid of Zeus' wrath.
Livy on the other hand really didn't care about the outcome of the fight. She had no emotional involvement with the mounted men or the two wanderers. She was hedging her bets, and expected the mounted patrol would prove the victors in a fight with two men. She found a way to mollify them into neutralizing what she felt was a threat, Hercules and Iolaus.
Which ever way they fight turned out, she had intended to leave well before the final assault. Once the melee started, she would just walk away in the confusion.
The first man to approach was one on horseback. He had a sword hidden in a scabbard behind his back. He reached over his shoulder and brought the sword out, galloping toward Hercules at full speed.
Hercules took advantage of the speed and the scout's high center of gravity and pulled him from the horse. The force of the fall made his weapon tumble to the ground. The thrust of the fall caused the rider to loose his breath, effectively stopping his attack.
Another scout had already descended from his mount and was within weapon's range. Hercules seeing this ducked just in time. The scout fell unceremoniously over Hercules' back. The next pursuer was running at full speed and was not able to stop. As shear luck would have it the scout fell over the first mounted pursuer getting up after getting winded.
Iolaus was busy himself with the spokesman for the group. Iolaus reflected that he was a much better speaker than fighter. With no weapon to speak of, the leader of the group had to resort to his bare hands. A few strategically placed punches by Iolaus to his midsection and face brought him down pretty quick.
Another scout followed shortly behind his leader. He had a large sword and seem skilled in its use. Iolaus' low center of gravity made avoidance easy, he just had to find a way to disarm this man. Although not his most clever idea, he grabbed a stone from the ground and hurled it at the arm holding the sword. Reflexively the man dropped the sword when the rock hit his arm.
The surprise of being disarmed so quickly threw the scout into a mad rage. Iolaus proceeded to pummel the man into unconsciousness but not before the scout got in a few lucky blows himself.
Hercules managed to fight the last two standing scouts simultaneously. He kicked one in the midsection which sent him sprawling toward Iolaus. Iolaus had to jump to the side to avoid the projectile. A few swings to the jaw and upper body of the second man made quick work of him. He collapsed in a heap at Hercules' feet.
The horses had been skittish from all the commotion and had fled from their patrol. With the men incapacitated and no horses in sight, Hercules felt the pursuit, if they entertained the thought, would be more evenly matched. But the men seemed slow in seeking another attack.
Iolaus looked around for Livy. He had a few choice words with her about her role in the scuffle.
"That little sorceress," he exclaimed when he realized she was nowhere to be found. "She just walked away while we did her dirty work."
"She couldn't have gone far," Hercules said as he pointed to the location of the makeshift grave. "She took the time to bury the skull."
Both Hercules and Iolaus walked over to the makeshift grave. The skull was neatly interred in the burning sand. Above the grave, she had placed a marker, a charm inscribed with a name. Both somehow knew this charm was inscribed with this woman's name. They stood in silence for a moment, both pondering how this strange traveler could have known. Finally Hercules spoke up. "She's probably heading for the ravine. It's the quickest way to Epidaurus. We should be able to catch up with her before nightfall. Lets go."
With that, the two headed off toward the ravine and the town of Epidaurus.
Livy stopped for a short time at a small creek that traversed the rock strewn valley. She had seen a strand of willows and wanted to supplement her pharmacopoeia. Because of her lifetime of training, she was always unconsciously looking for plants to supplement her medicine pouch. She was halfway to the strand of trees before she realized why she had traveled there.
The willow tree bark was an excellent pain and fever reducer when boiled into a tea. Her travels through this land had been long and had significantly depleted her supply as she would dispense care and medicine for food and a warm place to sleep. Other than her medical skills, she was absent of any real trade. She had to rely only on the kindness of strangers who were in need of a good healer.
She took a pouch from her haversack and carefully unwrapped it. It was made from otter, its fur was quite waterproof and kept the herbs and plants dry, a necessity to their effectiveness. The pouch was made from a long piece of fur on the outside, with pockets of hide on the inside. Each pocket was reserved for a different herb or plant. When not in use it was carefully rolled and tied.
As she placed the bark in its special compartment she suddenly found herself reflecting on the scuffle that she had precipitated earlier in the day. She reflexively looked back expecting to see a handful of mounted scouts riding toward her. Immediately she saw another plant that she wanted to add to her pharmacopoeia. Her previously thoughts were abandoned and she rushed to the blue lupine a few yards away.
The petals on the lupine were very affective in reducing swelling when added to a poultice. Although she thought she would have no use for a poultice in combating the sickness, she couldn't resist adding it to her pharmacopoeia. She stood in the middle of the ravine slowly picking the petals off the flower and stuffing them into her medicine pouch.
Hercules and Iolaus could see Livy by the stream. Although they were still quite far away, it seemed clear to them that Livy was in no hurry. She stood by the stream pulling the petals off a blue flower like a love sick child.
"Do you think she really is going to be able to fight the sickness in Epidaurus?" Iolaus asked of Hercules. His voice was tinged with skepticism.
"Asclepius would not have sent her if she was not capable of helping the villagers, but if her encounter with us is any indication, she might do the people of Epidaurus more harm than good, " Hercules said as he noticed Iolaus' red and swollen left cheek.
Iolaus a bit self conscious of his newly acquired condition touched his cheek. "Don't remind me."
Livy decided to follow the creek which cut into the ravine at the end of the valley. The area she was heading for was quite narrow and partially blocked by a large stone escarpment on her side of the stream. She had reached the outer most limit of the outcrop and thought it might be a good place to set up camp. It was easily defensible and there would only one way in or out.
Hercules and Iolaus continued walking toward the strand of willows where they last saw Livy. They had lost sight of her when she followed the stream around a corner. The large escarpment provided an effective blind that went on for miles. After a long day of traveling both had lost their desire to catch up with Livy and the outcrop was an inviting place to camp for the evening.
They proceeded toward the outcrop with cautious speed. Since the area was such an easily protected escarpment, they suspected that the area might be used by other travelers as well, both simple folk as well as miscreants.
By the time they had reached the escarpment the sun had already set. Little light escaped the area and it seemed quiet. Hercules found an area that seemed to be suitable for camping, but their attention quickly shifted toward a small flickering campfire about a half a mile from their camp. It was clear they were not alone. They decided to double back and approach the other camper from behind.
Livy had been intent on selecting and processing her herbs and plants and did not hear Hercules and Iolaus approach. But the light from the campfire did cast an eerie shadow into a large bush just east of the camp. The luminescent plant reminded Livy of a native plant that was effective in treating stomach ailments so she decided to get up and investigate. She reached into her haversack and pulled out a knife. If the plant was the one she suspected she would need to cut one of the larger branches and scrape out the pulp.
Iolaus was crouching behind the bush and could see the stranger approach. Since the firelight was directly behind Livy, it was difficult to decipher any features, however the light from the campfire did hit the blade of the knife making it impossible to miss. In defense Iolaus pulled out his knife.
Livy found a thick tender shoot toward the middle of the plant and lunged her knife toward the shoot. Iolaus mistook this move for an attack and erupted from the bush. With his knife in his hand, he reached out from behind her and put the knife to her throat.
Normally Livy would defend herself with her cane, but it was back at her camp. Even so, her retaliation was swift. With barely time to think, she dug the heel of her right leg into his foot and bit his arm. His immediate response was to drop his knife. With her one good leg imbedded in Iolaus' foot and no support from her lame one, she lost her balance and unceremoniously fell to the ground.
Hercules had come upon the camp just as Livy proceeded toward the plant. From his vantage point, he was quickly able to identify Livy, although she looked hauntingly different in the firelight. She was wearing a loose ivory gauze dress. Hanging precariously off one shoulder, it flowed gracefully and seemed to hide her awkward gait quite favorably.
Hercules did not know that Iolaus was waiting behind the bush. When he saw the altercation begin, he ran to them not knowing which of the two to fear for most. He made it to the scene of the attack seconds after it had occurred.
"The rabid little sorceress bit me," Iolaus exclaimed. "
"Hardly rabid, but I won't argue the other two points," she said picking herself up from the ground. Once she steadied herself she continued, "What are you doing sneaking up on people?"
His attention was on rubbing his wound. "What are you doing with a knife?"
She turned and cut the shoot from the bush. "Getting this," She said and then walked back toward her encampment. Hercules and Iolaus followed her.
The light from the fire disclosed a disfigured left leg through her sheer garment, bowing out just above the knee. "I guess this means that you won the fight." She said when she sat down.
Her crippled leg emerged from the fine dress just below the bow. What was visible was perfectly formed and sinewy. Her other leg was folded under her flowing dress. She seemed to have remarkable agility for one so lame. Livy grabbed her cane and let it rest on her crossed leg for easy accessibility.
"I suppose you're following me to exact revenge?" She mocked. "No, we're not following you," Hercules laughed. "Like you, we thought this would make a good place to camp for the night. Care for some company?"
"Suit yourself," she said trying to sound disinterested. She was used to traveling alone, but the night was dark with no moon to light it and the escarpment made her feel like the walls were closing in. She needed the added distraction.
Hercules and Iolaus made themselves as comfortable as possible. Iolaus was not too pleased with Hercules for insinuating themselves at her campground. He stayed as far away from Livy as he could and still be protected from the fire.
Livy in the meantime seemed to keep herself busy. She had put a small watertight bag above the fire and was busy throwing various leaves and flowers in it. Hercules watched with quiet curiosity. Finally he could contain his curiosity no longer.
"What are you making?"
"A poultice for your friend over there," she said as she casually waved in the direction of Iolaus. "It looks like he zigged when he should have zagged."
She began working on a knot in her cloak. She unknotted it and pulled the string. A piece of tan cloth fell from her cloak. Roughly seven inches square she began to drop the boiled solution onto the cloth. She then gathered the four corners and tied a piece of twine around the bundle to seal it.
She walked over to Iolaus and knelt down. Iolaus reflexively moved away leaning back at an awkward angle.
"To spite what you think, I am a skilled healer. This should help with the pain." She gingerly touched the swollen cheek with the poultice. Her touch was so light that Iolaus could barely feel it. The warmth from the poultice immediately made the bruise feel better. With her free hand she seized his hand and guided it to the poultice.
Iolaus took a brief moment to look into her eyes. Gone was the privatism that he had seen earlier and was responsible for the fight. It was replaced by a sincere desire to reduce his pain. In those brief seconds he never suspected that she felt guilty for causing his pain, but was honor bound to bring him relief. He also knew that she would provoke a fight again if the situation warranted.
He strangely understood her motivation. Her dark eyes held such a remarkable disposition, there was an inexplicable understanding. He decided she must surely be a sorceress, to evoke such sensation in him. Livy released her hand, which was held directly above Iolaus' and quietly walked away. Iolaus laid on his side with the poultice firmly resting on his cheek.
Something has really been bothering me," Hercules said when she returned.
"What?" Livy asked, intent on packing up some of her equipment into her haversack.
"You placed an marker on the ground where you buried the skull."
Livy nodded without Hercules finishing his statement. "The amulet was placed around the skull's neck. I just removed it and placed it on her grave. Unlike what your friend thinks, I'm just a healer. And a mediocre one at that."
"Asclepius would not have brought you here if you were."
"What makes you think that? Perhaps I was the only one he could get to help the people of Epidaurus. What was it your friend said, 'No respectable healer would defy Zeus for fear of retribution.'"
"Really?" Hercules said with mock incredulity. "Somehow, I doubt that." After a moment of awkward silence, Hercules continued. "What made you decide to become a healer?"
Livy put her equipment down and began to talk to Hercules. Although she was open with the facts about her life, Hercules found that there was little emotion to the story. She told her story with all the characterization of a prescription. It was almost as if she was looking at a picture of her life and trying to describe it.
Her people were not enlightened and looked upon all healers as masters in malefecium only. For that reason they would not practice the healing arts at all. After an unfortunate encounter with warring factions, her village was annihilated. When it was all over only two were left alive. Her leg was broken and bleeding profusely.
A twisted old man, the only other villager to survive rendered aid to Livy. To stop the bleeding, the old man applied a salve that he concocted from several plants in the area. His type of medicine was deemed black magic, whether or not it cured the ailment. She watched him as his touch was gentle and his demeanor forgiving. He seemed to need her as much as she needed him.
She was young and impressionable, but mostly open to suggestion so he began teaching her the lore of plants and herbs. When he died, she was approached by Asclepius. He would continue her training. She could not count the number of years she had spent under his tutelage.
Hercules found her demeanor to be pleasing when she wasn't feeling threatened. He likened her to a small cat. When threatened she would try to make herself appear less vulnerable. Not that she was vulnerable, Hercules could see that when cornered, she was very effective in taking care of herself, even if it was somewhat unorthodoxed. He was curious to find out what other secrets she held.
Hercules soon found himself talking to her about his love for his wife Daianeira and his children. She listened to him without judgment when he talked about his hatred for Hera and his relationship with Zeus.
"And what about Iolaus. What makes him so bitter?" She asked as she finally settled down to sleep.
"Iolaus? I think he was just born that way."
Livy woke from a restless sleep. The sun had yet to rise and the sky was a deep blue. She watched quietly from her bedding as the sky unfolded to twilight. It was her favorite time of day, and she wanted to spend just a little time enjoying it. Livy absently rubbed her left cheek and felt a large bruise the size of a fist. Although not yet able to see in this light, she suspected that it was an ugly sight indeed.
She mulled over the possibility of relieving the pain. If she had decided to do some medical administrations on herself, the bruise and the pain would only come back later.
Sometimes she found that this was necessary. It was difficult to treat an illness or an injury, especially a long term illness, knowing that the symptoms would visit her hours or even days after her medical administration. Sometimes she would relieve the symptoms, in order to finish her commitment, and then wander off for a time to let herself heal.
If the people under her care suspected that she was subjected to the same spell as other healers of their land, they would often release her of her obligation, not allowing her to treat their illness or injury. If those same people suspected that she was a sorceress, so much the better.
She walked over to Iolaus. He was on his back, one arm slung over his chest and the other over his head. She bent down and touched the bruise on his cheek. Still asleep, he swatted her hand away as if it were a fly. The poultice was effective in reducing the swelling and the discoloration. She could now leave without being concerned about the possibility of a fracture.
She quickly packed her haversack with the soft skin she used as a bed roll and other supplies she had not packed during the night. She had always traveled alone, and due to her questionable upbringing she found companionship to be perturbing, never knowing how people really felt about being around her.
She wanted to leave before the two men woke up. Although she felt easy around Hercules, and would enjoy his company, she felt sure that Iolaus did not feel the same about her. She decided to eat breakfast on the road, it was late spring, and fruit was heavy on vines and trees. She looked back at the two men still asleep and headed out of the ravine.
She arrived at the town of Epidaurus in midmorning. The funeral pyre was on the edge of the village. Although most small towns did not conventionally cremate their dead, she was relieved to see the pyre in use. It took too much time to bury the massive amounts of dead, and the threat of decaying flesh could pose just as serious health concerns.
The villagers decided to burn the bodies, and set up a memorial. As the bodies were placed into the pyre, the necklaces, bracelets and rings from the deceased would be placed in a small cauldron by the pyre to be melted down. Several men and women were attending to the fire and stared at Livy as she walked toward the main street. She was quite used to coming into a village with the accompanying stares due to her likeness or her physical limitations, but this greeting was far from normal and made her very self-conscious.
She continued to walk toward the main street obstensively oblivious to the villager's stares. But the villagers from the pyre began to follow her as she made her way into the street. What would normally be a busy square at this time of day was now absent of any people.
The town itself seemed ancient. The square was surrounded by buildings of all types and sizes, made of wood with roofs thatched with hay. The square itself was inlayed with an intricate pattern of cobble stones. In the center of the square, the stones formed a serpent. The pattern was a tribute to Asclepius who used the image of the serpent to represent his healing art. This village was a favorite of Asclepius, which was one reason its illness was suspect. A lone call of a raven echoed from one of the taller buildings.
She stopped for a moment to reflect on the undaunting task ahead of her. She realized that with so few people in the street that the illness may be out of control. She may not be able to help these people. In fact, the village seemed to be empty of everyone except the small throng behind her. One old matron, evidently a leader in some sense, placed her hand on Livy's forearm.
"You are the one that was foretold to us. The one that will deliver us from the sickness."
A much younger woman with a child in tow walked up beside Livy. By this time the small throng that was following her had now enveloped her. "Please can you help my little girl, she's been sick for a week," the woman asked stroking the child's wet head tenderly.
Livy knelt down to the height of the small fragile child. The child's long blonde hair was cemented to her forehead by perspiration and her complexion was ruddy, as if she just finished running a race. Her eyes were glassy, and from mere appearances she could tell this child was very sick.
Livy moved her wet bangs aside and with the slight touch of her hand she recognized a high fever. She turned and speaking to the matron asked if there was a place she could treat the child.
"My home is right over there." The mother pointed to a small home to the south of the square. She seemed rather abashed that Livy was suggesting her home was not good enough for the child.
"No, you don't understand. If I am to treat the people of this village, I will need a place where they are all centrally located, quarantined if you will. Is there a large meeting hall, or a temple that I can use as a infirmary?"
"There is the stoa of Hygeia?" The matron questioned pointing to a large wooden building on the outskirts of the village.
Livy surveyed the building from the distance and determined that it should be large enough to house the sick villagers. She felt somewhat inept at doing so, since she didn't know how many were sick, or for that fact how many villagers were left alive.
"That will do," she said finding it rather ironic that they were using the stoa for the goddess of health as an infirmary.
The stoa was a large cavernous structure enclosed on three sides. Although it would not provide an effective quarantine, it was going to be used primarily as an infirmary and Livy could spend more time treating the illness and less time traveling from one home to another. The villagers spent the next several hours transforming the stoa into an infirmary. The floor was placed with platforms on which fresh rushes and linen covers would lay. The beds were arranged along each wall facing each other. On one side of the east wall, a large stone hearth was built to prepare medications. Most of Livy's pharmacoepia needed to be boiled, chopped or somehow extracted. This was a community area where these preparations could be made.
The alcove in the back, which used to serve as the alter was placed with Livy's personal belongings and a platform for her to sleep. She expected it to get little use.
Livy allowed the young girl with the fever to remain in her family home until the infirmary was complete. Livy made some hot tea with the willow bark in hopes of reducing her fever. In addition to the usual medications, she tried to lower the child's temperature by wetting a cloth and applying it to cool her body. She instructed the mother on this procedure before checking out the final arrangements to the stoa.
She had just left the stoa when she heard some commotion in the square. She proceeded to the location of the uproar seething. There were few well men and women in this village and she did not want those to injure themselves in a scuffle. She swore under her breath. She was already consumed with trying to treat this illness, she didn't need these other distractions.
Hercules and Iolaus were greeted in the city of Epidaurus by the same mounted patrol they had met the previous day. When the mounted patrol had seen Hercules and Iolaus enter the square, they were out to settle a score. A good many of the men were still suffering from the results of the fight the day before, but those less afflicted were quick to come to the village's defense.
"Oh great, here comes the welcoming committee," Hercules said. There was no mistaking that these men were holding a grudge. The leader this time held a sword and had every intent on using it on these intruders. "Here we go again."
"Hey Herc, it's your turn to fight him, I fought him last time," Iolaus said as he shrugged off his haversack and drew the sword slung over his back.
The leader of the group quickly attacked Hercules. With no weapon on his person Hercules had to improvise. Always good with a staff, he picked up a stick and used it to block the downward trusts of the leader's sword. Iolaus was always more comfortable using his sword and skillfully countered every swing of his competitor. And to Iolaus it was a competition. The winner got to live. The group of men had just began to exchange blows when Livy proceed into the middle of the confrontation. "Stop it!" she screamed at the top of her lungs.
Rashly, she brought her cane up and used it to stop the downward thrust of the leader's sword. The thrust of the blow made a sick clanging sound as it hit the gold stones cemented into the staff.
With a quick swing of her cane, she disabled the leader by jabbing him in the throat with the cane's crooked end. The leader gasped at the sudden surge of pain. The poke was not meant to do any real harm, but Livy's knowledge of anatomy made this an effective way to stop the leader.
"She certainly knows how to make friends, doesn't she?" Iolaus commented.
"What are you trying to do here?" Livy asked to no one in particular, as she grabbed the stick Hercules had been using to defend himself.
She held her cane in one hand supporting herself, and the stick in the other hand, poking it at the midsection of the leader. "Your village is being decimated by a sickness and you're fighting men that have beaten you to a pulp once before."
"Well, not to a pulp," Hercules countered.
"Speak for yourself, " Iolaus said vindicating himself.
Livy came to the defense of Hercules and Iolaus. "Sooner or later you are going to need these men. Don't you realize people from the other villages have seen your scarecrows. They may be afraid now, but as time goes on, they will get bolder. They will come into this village, out of curiosity and to try for some ill gotten gains. What will you do then? There are not enough men in this village to carry your dead to the pyre, much less to protect the village. And mark my word Cepheus, they will come. If you want me to help the people of your village, you will welcome Hercules and Iolaus."
Cepheus slowly backed up. His eyes held on the intruders for a long time and then drifted to the pyre. At that moment, his little sister's frail body was being lifted into the pyre, the gold bracelet that he gave her on her last birthday was thrown in the cauldron for the memorial. There was no ceremony, no words of comfort for those left alive. This illness had to stop at whatever cost. Without a word he turned slowly and walked away from the crowd beckoning his men to follow him.
She threw down the stick and turned her attention to Hercules and Iolaus. "Well, if you are going to stay, I have a long list of things you can do."
"Glad to see you, too." Iolaus interjected. Hercules nudged him in the ribs. "Before we do anything, I have one question."
"What?" she asked impatient and upset.
"What happened to you?" He had noticed the large black swelling on her cheek and tried to touch it. Livy jerked away.
"I zigged when I should have zagged," Livy said, hoping that the statement would be explanation enough. "If you want to help," she continued without hesitation, "I need you to cover the community well. The sickness may be spreading through the water supply." She turned around and headed back toward the stoa. Hercules continued to follow her with Iolaus behind. "Well, get going." She urged, turning around and pointing to the well with her staff. Livy had been weary from the long trip on foot. Her crippled leg was throbbing and each step sent waves of pain akin to fire up her leg. Although somewhat hindered by her deformity, she was always able to get around without much difficulty. The trip over the stones, and the rocky terrain earlier was causing each step now to be twice as hard as the last. Her walk back to the stoa had become slow and clumsy.
Iolaus was undecided which way to go, to follow Hercules or to follow Livy. For that fact, he was not sure if the request to help seal the well was directed to him, or just to Hercules. Livy kept her distance around him which suited him just fine. But he was after all here to help and decided he deserved the same courtesy as Hercules.
He decided to follow Livy to receive his instructions. This was creating some turmoil in him since he was still trying to convince himself that he was not troubled by her well-being in the least. Part of him wanted to see her fall flat on her face, but the other part of him couldn't stand to see her get hurt. He tried to stay far enough away, so that it appeared he was not concerned about her wobbly stance, but stay close enough to catch her if she fell.
He let out a silent sigh of relief when Livy was stopped by a villager helping to administer care. They left together talking about the next round of treatment for those infirmed.
Iolaus meandered over to his friend.
Hercules had spent several minutes looking for a suitable boulder that would be the proper size for a plug. Hercules would pick up a boulder and toss it aside once he deemed it unsuitable for the well.
As Iolaus walked toward his friend, he heard the general whispering of the village people. A group was quietly discussing the arrival of the visitors. They likened the arrival of Livy, a healer chosen by the god Asclepius himself and the young hero, Hercules as a powerful omen. The young females were cooing over the muscular form tossing rocks along the river's edge. Hercules, of course, was oblivious to their wonderment.
Others were discussing Livy's medicine as no less than magic. Iolaus would have found some comfort in this if the villagers were somewhat suspicious of Livy, but the mighty God Asclepius had sent her and they seemed to be too awed by her presence to doubt her motivation.
Iolaus watched as Hercules, supporting the boulder on his back, walk to the large stone well and placed the boulder on the top, securely sealing the well from future use.
"Show off." Iolaus said a little too loud. He received some surprised looks from the villagers.
Iolaus had been feeling displaced since their encounter with the scarecrows, and especially since they arrived at the village.
Since they were kids, Iolaus was used to being differential when he was around Hercules. He was the son of Zeus, and all around the best friend he ever had, but Livy's distinguished presence was just a little too much for him to take.
He continued to listen as the villagers speculated whether Livy was indeed a mortal or a goddess.
He laughed silently thinking that the crippled leg was a convincingly mortal touch, but he wanted to remind the villagers that sorcerers like many gods, can take any form and charm them into submission. He touched the cheek that she had treated the evening before. He reluctantly had to admit that it felt better. He decided he needed a place to mope.
After Hercules had plugged the well, he walked back to the stoa to get further instructions. Livy was with the matron of the village instructing her on the care of the people in the stoa. There were other members of the village wandering around the stoa, not really sure what to do.
In addition to caring for the sick, Livy was trying to disperse these villagers and orchestrate their duties at the same time. Hercules was rather surprised at the ease and efficiency in which she did this. Somewhat incongruous, she would bark an order to one villager, while tenderly wiping the head of a sick child.
Hercules approached her. "Where's Iolaus?"
"I don't know. I thought he was with you, plugging the well."
"No. I never saw him."
"I'm sure he is making himself useful, wherever he is," she said finally, after rinsing a rag in a bowl of cool water.
Iolaus soon found himself by the river. He sat on a large boulder by the bank and absently tossed small stones into the river. The plopping sound as the stones hit the water soothed his frazzled nerves.
He was lost in his thoughts when he heard some rustling in the bushes behind him. Instinctively he pulled out his knife for defense.
A young girl, perhaps twelve or thirteen, staggered from the bush in back of him. She collapsed in unconsciousness at his feet. He felt strangely embarrassed for pulling his knife in the first place and looked around to see if his brash action was noticed. It was clear that he was in no danger from this girl.
"I've got to get another job," Iolaus said to himself as he replaced the knife.
The young girl was exquisitely beautiful. She had long chestnut colored hair, in tiny ringlettes around her face. He touched her face to move the hair away and felt the high fever. He suddenly became very frightened.
His first instinct was to run to Livy. He finally had to admit that to spite himself he trusted her medical skill.
He scooped the girl up in his arms and ran toward the stoa wondering all the time if he was doing the girl any good by jostling her.
Iolaus rushed in to the stoa and saw the elderly matron. "Where's Livy?" he asked as he looked around. "I found this girl by the river," he said lifting her in his arms as if she was some kind of sacrifice.
"She's over there with Hercules," the matron said offering to take the girl. Iolaus disregarded the gesture and immediately rushed to the back with the girl still enfolded in his arms.
Livy was on the bed sipping something from a wooden cup. Iolaus spoke with restrain. "I found this girl unconscious by the river. She has the fever."
Livy touched the girl's forehead. She was definitely suffering from a high grade fever. Livy ducked below Iolaus' outstretched arms moving toward another row of beds. With the girl still tucked in his arms, Livy beckoned Iolaus to put her down on an empty bed. Hercules, who was still in the back followed the two to the bed.
Livy grabbed a bowl from the communal area in the back. A cauldron next to the willow tea was already filled with cool water, used just for this purpose. She scooped out enough to fill the bowl and hobbled back to the sick child. Hercules handed her a soft cloth.
"What can I do to help?" Iolaus asked. His voice was tinged with an emotion that Livy could not recognized but also could not refuse. Livy handed him the cloth.
"Pat her body with this wet cloth. Start with the head and neck, going down the arms, and then the legs. When you have finished start all over again. If she regains consciousness let me know."
Iolaus nodded understanding and became intent on his duties.
Livy walked over to the matron. "She's not in good shape. Why didn't her family bring her to me sooner?" She was hurt that someone in the village did not trust her medical skill, although she had to admit that she would be no less suspicious if it had been her with the sick child.
"Livy." The matron put her hand on Livy's forearm to get her attention. She spoke low so that others could not hear the conversation. "She's not from around here."
Livy got a sick feeling in her stomach, she did not have to guess where it came from. "No, I don't want to hear that," she pleaded. "Couldn't you be mistaken?"
At that point, she chided herself for her earlier feelings. She would much rather have the villagers' distrust, at least then she had a chance to gain their confidence. If this young girl was not from the village, the repercussions were far more damaging.
"No, Livy, I'm afraid not," the matron answered. "With half the population gone, it's not hard to recognize who's left. She's not from the village," the matron said with resolve.
That news was more than Livy could take. Gripping her stomach, she left the stoa. The fever had spread beyond the confines of this village. There was nothing she could do to stop the sickness. All that was left was to treat those she could. Hercules understood the impact of the dialog, so there was no need to ask any questions. The matron was about to follow Livy to console her when Hercules stopped her by grabbing her arm. If Livy left the stoa, it was because she needed to be alone.
"What's wrong?" Iolaus asked from the girl's bed.
"The girl is not from this village," Hercules answered.
Iolaus said nothing, but busied himself to his task of cooling the young girl's body. He dare not verbalize what everyone was thinking. There was no stopping this sickness."
Livy leaned against the front of the stoa for support but if she was capable of running, she would have. She had no way of escaping what she was feeling right now and the knot in her stomach was welling into a sob.
She was weary, and that made her more vulnerable to all the emotions that she constantly tried to keep under control. She took a deep heaving breath, and pushed down the sob that was trying to escape. She willed herself not to believe it. After all, the child could be suffering a fever associated with another illness. She kept repeating this in her mind, like a mantra.
This exercise helped her deal with many of the problems in which she had no control, from her crippled leg, to Zeus' ill conceived edict. A mantra consisting only of wishes she willed upon herself continued to repeat in her mind. With another heaving breath she went back into the stoa.
She hovered in the door, surveying the group of people. Hercules was helping a boy back into bed. He was gentle and caring. She could tell he had experience relating to children. All the kids wanted his undivided attention and Hercules was not afraid of helping like many of the villagers. Of course, this was expected, Hercules was all about selflessness.
The matron was doling out medicine in the back of the stoa. Livy had realized that she was in the presence of another good healer the moment she began treating the village. She was probably one of the many healers that abandoned the craft after Zeus' decree. The matron would never admit to any formal training, but the way the old woman took care of the sick and understood the instructions given to her by Livy, there was no doubt that this woman was skilled in the art of healing.
Now the matron was putting herself in harms way by helping the people of her village. Livy had seen this before.
She decided to give the matron a break. Perhaps she could busy the old woman with some other task, keeping her out of the path of the sick.
"Carina, you've been here all day. I understand the village is fixing a community meal in the square. You will do me no good if you don't take care of yourself."
Carina beckoned through the silence of her eyes. "Are you sure you will be okay?" It was clear she was asking for more than just immediate relief. Livy understood her question. She had been watching the old woman and recognized the reluctant care Carina was giving. She was clearly afraid.
"Go. There are other things you can do to help," she urged.
Her eyes glanced over at Iolaus. He was continuing to wipe the young child with the wet cloth. His touch was gentle and absorbed with compassion. There was a familiarity about his touch. He had administered care to the sick or injured before. Probably in battle, she decided, his technique lacked finesse, although it got the job done.
Her early days of training consisted of formal study and ministrations to those that voluntarily sought her care. She had never treated the injured and the sick in a setting not entirely controlled by Asclepius or herself.
Once she struck out on her own, and was no longer affiliated with Asclepius, her administrations were soon treated with suspicion and foreboding. Asclepius had never trained her for this type of scrutiny. She never fully understood how to combat those powerful forces.
She could see the warmth and sensitivity in Iolaus. What she could not be, seemed embodied in him. She had the knowledge and skill that he lacked, but he had the empathy and trust that she so desired. Uncharacteristically, Livy cared what Iolaus thought of her.
"Iolaus needs a break. Take your friend to the square and go eat."
"What about you?" Hercules asked.
"I really can't think about eating now." She was so focused on providing care and direction, that food would only act as a distraction. She could, and had gone days without eating before.
She headed toward Iolaus. "I'll take over now," she told him, reaching out to take the rag from his hand. He obliged reluctantly.
"There is a communal meal in the square. Enjoy the company of your friend and the rest of the village. There will be plenty of work for you when you get back."
After both had left, Livy took a few moments to herself. In her room, she let her pain, both physical and emotional escape and gave it free rein. Her mindsongs were silenced if just for a few moments.
The meal in the square was attended by most of the well villagers. The atmosphere was subdued. Most families kept to themselves, segregated around tables. One of the villagers commented on the sudden promise of rain and the slight breeze that had stirred up the aroma of the food. A breeze had not entered the valley for weeks making the village feel even more like a tomb.
"Even the pyre is not being used as much." She concluded.
"Did you ever think it's because there's only a few of us left," Cepheus said bitterly, waving his arm in an exaggerated circle around the square.
He had been drinking to dull the pain of his deceased sister, and when he drank, he got belligerent. "If Livy was really as good as the God Asclepius would have us believe, there would be no need for the pyre."
"You can't expect Livy to cure everyone in one day," Iolaus said. "There are some really sick people in there, Cepheus. If you would take the time to help out maybe you would see that."
"What are you saying, little man, I do my part for this village." He was ready for another fight.
"Wait. Hold on, both of you," Hercules chided, trying to keep the peace. "As for you," he pointed to Cepheus. "Asclepius would not have sent Livy if he didn't believe she would be able to help. Give her a chance. And as for you," he whispered to Iolaus next to him, "when did you start defending Livy?"
"She's got the personality of a harpy, but I don't like anyone criticizing what they don't know."
"Well, sit down and don't pick a fight." Hercules urged his friend down with a push on his shoulder.
One of the young women had filled up Hercules' cup with more wine, lingering long enough to make her presence known. Hercules smiled at her, but his attention was not on the young woman.
Clouds that had been in the distance at the beginning of the meal were threatening to end it prematurely. The bright day had transformed into dusklike darkness. A loud clap of thunder had reverberated through the village and shook the very foundation of the square. Another clap of thunder and the accompanying lightning had stuck nearby and a plume of fire erupted on the thatched roof of a home near the village hall.
The lack of rain had made the home ripe kindling for the lightning. It only took seconds for the fire to consume the building.
Cepheus ran to the fire. He took off his tunic and began beating the fire. Others followed suit, but this was not the most effective method for combating the flames. It was also hard on the burning building. On his third pass, a support beam gave way and part of the roof collapsed onto Cepheus.
Another clap of thunder brought Livy out of the stoa. She turned toward the main square as rain began to pelt her. Hercules and Iolaus rushed to the aid of Cepheus. He was down on the muddy ground, covered by debris, struggling to get up. His shoulder was held at an awkward angle and Iolaus feared that it was broken.
Before they could reach Cepheus, debris first had to be cleared away. A female villager, scantily dressed helped Iolaus pick up the rubble. Iolaus had trouble concentrating on his task as every time the woman bent down to pick up a piece of debris, the underbodice of her dress would expose her ample breasts.
With all of the rubble was cleared away, Hercules lifted the support beam and Iolaus helped Cepheus up. He was surprised at how readily he accepted the offer.
Livy was hobbling toward the fire as quickly as her crippled leg would let her. The rain was making the path to the main square slippery and her footing even more precarious than normal. Her wet garment had cemented itself to her legs making the effort to walk even more of an obstacle. She met Iolaus as he was bringing Cepheus back to the stoa.
"What happened?" she asked.
"He was fighting the fire when the building fell on him, " Iolaus explained. Livy gingerly examined his shoulder oblivious of the downpour.
"Do you think we could do this inside," Iolaus said exasperated.
"Oh, of course." Livy conceded, helping to lead Cepheus toward the stoa. She was being as gentle as she could but even as she walked him back she was examining his shoulder trying to determine the extent of his injury. Livy led him to the empty bed closest to the door. Cepheus was writhing in pain, but Livy had determined that the shoulder was not broken. It was, however, dislocated and would have to be put back into place.
Livy did not have the physical might to accomplish the task. It required a great deal of strength, more than her small frame could muster.
Iolaus stood in the corner of the stoa, regarding Livy as she tried to deal with Cepheus.
"Iolaus I need your help."
"Me. What can I do?" He asked genuinely bewildered.
"We need to put Cepheus' shoulder back into the socket. I don't have the strength to do it myself. I need you to do it for me."
"Can I help?" Hercules asked as he walked into the stoa. He had returned to the stoa after he was sure the fire was out. He was soaked, and ran his hands through his rain soaked hair to alleviate some of the burden.
"No offense, Hercules, but I'd rather have Iolaus do this?"
"Why?" Both of them asked simultaneously, each for different reasons. Iolaus couldn't believe he could be of more help than Hercules, and Hercules could not understand why his offer was being refused.
Livy knew she could have used Hercules' help, but Iolaus would do. Livy believed his animosity toward her was rooted in his doubt about her healing skills. This was a chance to gain Iolaus' trust.
"Your extraordinary strength could do his shoulder more harm than good." She directed toward Hercules. "This time I need Iolaus."
"What should I do?" Iolaus asked. He shrugged off his vest which became uncomfortably heavy due to the rain.
Hercules detected a smug look on the face of his friend. In the back of his mind, Hercules smiled. It never hurt his pride for Iolaus to be chosen ahead of himself. It was good for Iolaus' ego, which always seemed to need stroking once in a while.
"Hercules, could you hold Cepheus down? This will be very painful for him until it is back in place." She waited for Hercules to position himself at the head of the bed before she proceeded. "Iolaus, I need for you to pull his shoulder out and push it back toward the bed. It should fall into his socket if it's done with enough force."
Cepheus' eyes became wide with fright, not believing what he was hearing. He was sure at this point that both Asclepius and Livy were quacks. Iolaus and Hercules were no smarter for agreeing to go along with this.
"You'll tell me what to do?" Iolaus asked insecure. He was expecting a smart retort.
"I'll tell you what to do." Livy said assuringly. She rested her hands on Iolaus' shoulders before she gave him instructions.
He could see her hands through the corner of his eyes. She talked with her hands, using them as tools to show him angle, grip and action.
Although he was doing all the work, Livy was orchestrating every move with her hands. She watched him carefully and guided him, working on an invisible patient as she coached.
Hercules watched as she coached, delighted by the animation in her hands and the care in her voice. The sheer confidence exuded a calming influence to all in the room.
He watched as Iolaus became increasingly at ease. He continued to hold Cepheus down. This proved more difficult that he would have imagined. Cepheus was squirming with all his might, not in pain, but wiggling trying to free himself from Hercules, Iolaus and Livy.
With a quick pull and twist, Cepheus' shoulder was back in place. Both Iolaus and Cepheus audibly sighed with relief.
Livy bent over Iolaus' shoulder and kissed his cheek. The dampness of the dress touched his naked back making him shiver. Iolaus noticed a soft feminine fragrance on her skin. Her lips were gentle against his cheek.
He was surprised by the feelings the kiss elicited. Iolaus had never really thought of Livy as a woman, his animosity clouded his senses.
"You don't know what a favor you just did for me." Livy patted his shoulder gently and then walked away.
Iolaus had expected her to make some grand exit, perceiving and taking advantage of the senses she had just evoked in him, but nonchalantly, she went to a bed and ripped off the linen covering. He was momentarily crushed suspecting that the kiss was nothing more than an innocent 'thank you'.
She ripped two strips from the sheet which she intended to use to anchor Cepheus' arm to his torso. With a great deal of care, she propped him up and secured his arm to his chest letting it bend at a sixty degree angle.
Iolaus watched as Livy's hands glided over Cepheus' chest. Her hands danced as she wound the linen around his torso. Her touch would be so light that he could see Cepheus' muscles ripple with the effect. For a moment he wondered what her hands would feel like on his chest but quickly dismissed the thought with a shutter. He was trying really hard not to like her.
Hercules walked into the stoa looking for Livy. He seemed to find everyone else instead. As it stood, the room looked more like a meeting hall and less like an infirmary. Family and friends were gathered around their loved ones, doting on them and enjoying each other's company.
There was barely room for the big man to move. He had to squeeze between two villagers as he pushed himself toward the back.
He noticed Cepheus at the bed of the young girl, wiping her head with his free hand. He acknowledged Hercules with a nod. Hercules made some pleasantries to the other villagers as he walked back to the end of the stoa.
He placed a tray of bread, cheese and wine down on the table next to Livy. Carina had taken it upon herself to watch out for Livy's health, and convinced Hercules to try to get her to eat one more time.
"What's going on here?" he asked as he approached Livy. She was sitting on her platform sorting through her medicines. This was the second night he had seen her do this and decided it must be some type of ritual.
She seemed more comfortable than he had ever witnessed her before. Her lame leg was hanging off the bed, her good leg tucked close to her body. Her head was supported by her left hand, her left elbow rested on the platform. She sorted her plants and herbs with her free hand.
"I call it visiting hour. All the children were frightened to be here tonight and all the parents were lonely without the children. I thought it might be a good idea to bring them all together for about an hour. I understand Mythopoeisis will be reciting a bed time story later. I think he chose the one about you and a monster called the Hydra. You've made quite a name for yourself. I do believe I am jealous."
Hercules saw the first hint of a smile on Livy's face. It was a crooked smile, and utterly delightful.
"You shouldn't be," he laughed.
"But I see you finally have some time to yourself. Why don't you spend it eating a little something." He added changing the subject.
He was always embarrassed by the stories that people told about his exploits. Most of them were embellished to the point he rarely recognized his part in it.
"Most of the food earlier was destroyed in the storm. Carina has taken it upon herself to make sure you take care of yourself. She baked this bread just for you and you would be hurting her feelings if you don't eat any."
He wondered to himself; had he sunk so low that he would resort to guilt to get her to eat?
"I guess I won't get any rest until I do, will I?" She said pushing her plants to the side. "Made it just for me, huh." she concluded eyeing Hercules suspiciously.
The little respite from the sick had increased her appetite and she was ready to eat.
Hercules passed a small loaf of flat bread to Livy and offered her some wine. She took the bread, tore a large piece off and shoved in into her mouth. She was truly hungrier than she had expected and had tried to swallow without benefit of chewing.
Hercules offered her the cup of wine.
She shook her head and forcing herself to swallow said, "No. I don't think so. I need to keep my wits about me."
"Do you mind if I have a glass?" Hercules asked reveling in the fact that Livy was eating.
She shook her head no again as she bit another piece of bread off the loaf. This time her throat objected to the dryness of the bread and she began to choke.
"Wine." She gasped as she held her hand out toward the cup of wine Hercules had poured earlier. "Wine." She gasped once more, this time seizing the cup from his hands.
She gulped the wine as if it were water, and coughing held up the cup for more. Hercules, not knowing what else to do filled the cup. She continued to drink, although slower this time.
Without benefit of food in her stomach, the wine went straight to Livy's head. She thought she heard Iolaus in the infirmary objecting to the way Mythopoeisis was telling the story. "What just a minute," Iolaus was protesting. "That's not the way it happened." Then everything got fuzzy. She held her head as she passed the cup back to Hercules.
"Oh, Hercules, I shouldn't have done that. I have to stay in control. What if I'm needed?" she said admonishing herself and wasn't expecting an answer.
"Mythopoeisis is keeping the villagers entertained, with a little help from Iolaus. And Carina is here to help. We'll be fine."
"Carina shouldn't help," she said and stopped a moment as if thinking. "Have we had this conversation before?" she asked rhetorically not waiting for an answer.
"Carina shouldn't help. There will be dire consequences for her if she does. She was once a healer. If she helped now, she will still be subjected to Zeus' spell. Isn't there enough suffering in this village without asking for more." Livy shook her head in an exaggerated motion. This didn't help her dizziness.
"No, Carina can't help. The kind of pain she could experience would be torture for her. It is unrelenting, and real. It consumes your body and if you're not careful takes your soul. I can't ask her to take that responsibility. I hate Asclepius for his foolish self indulgence. Look what its doing here. He's responsible. He's responsible for everything. If he would just surrender to Zeus, the suffering will stop."
She stopped. She closed her eyes, trying to think. The room seemed to be spinning. She thought that if she laid down, it would stop. It didn't, but she didn't care, because for a few brief moments her body was free from pain.
Livy forgot about the conversation she was having with Hercules and curled up in a more comfortable position. She immediately fell asleep.
"She worries too much about other people." Carina said.
She was standing by the door and had heard part of the conversation but did not want to intrude. "I wonder if she has ever had anyone to care for her well-being."
She set down on Livy's platform. Tenderly she touched her forehead, smoothing the wild hair that had collected there.
"Do you think I'm a coward?" she asked.
"Why would I think that, Carina? I know firsthand the punishments the Gods can inflict when they are angered."
"Yet you continue to help those you can. So does Livy, to spite the penalty from Zeus."
"What are you talking about?" he asked genuinely puzzled.
"That bruise on her face looks very familiar," Carina looked at Hercules before continuing, "doesn't you friend have one just like it? Although your friend's is slightly darker." She examined it more closely. "From its looks I'd say it's only about a day old. I'd guess she was treating someone who was in a fight, let's say, with a mounted patrol." She had given Hercules enough information to draw his own conclusions. She stroked Livy's forehead once more, got up and left the room.
Hercules watched her for a minute. The bruise on her left cheek was black and blue, an ugly sight on such a small face.
"You zigged when you should have zagged." He said to himself. She had answered his question even if it was in an offhanded way. He could understand why she would want to keep the punishment a secret. Few would ask for her help if they knew the type of pain she would bare.
"I don't know how I didn't recognize it earlier," he said to himself. He finally understood it was her punishment for helping his friend. He lifted the sheet at the end of the bed and covered her. He left the room letting her sleep.
Hercules walked back into the main part of the stoa, and as he had expected, Iolaus had taken over the telling of the story. He shook his head in disbelief. Although Iolaus was with him when he fought the Hydra, Iolaus could do more damage to the reality of a story than some of the best storytellers.
He watched for a moment as Iolaus put his whole body into the story. He pantomimed this scene, he acted out that scene. He hissed like the Hydra, and did a fairly good imitation of Hercules. But Hercules knew that he would be storytelling all night if he didn't stop his friend now.
He grabbed Iolaus by the back of his vest almost pulling him off his feet. "Say good-bye, Iolaus."
"Good-bye, Iolaus," Iolaus said, pleased with himself for the play on words. Hercules pushed him out the door.
Livy followed a small path outside the village and headed toward the field only a few moments away. The field was actually a small clearing that was surrounded by a thicket of stunted trees. It was barely twilight and shadows from the trees engulfed the field making it seem even more eerie. A slight breeze was blowing, helping the tall dry grass move underneath her skirt. It tickled as it brushed her bare legs.
She was alone, and she always felt more at peace alone. She never had to worry about what people were thinking; how she was being perceived.
Any other day, she would have taken Carina up on her offer to supplement her pharmacopoeia, but right now while she was feeling well, she wanted to enjoy some time to herself.
Other than a nagging headache, Livy was having no ill effects from the care she gave the day before.
The only positive observation of Zeus' edict was the length of time a healer could expect the effects to last. Generally, the effects were much more transient. However, they were cumulative, and she knew she was in for some very unsettling days as the number of people she was treating grew.
The bruise on her left cheek had paled to a sickly yellow, brown color and although looked nasty, no longer held any pain.
Other than what fit into her haversack and medicine pouch, Livy rarely carried other supplies. She used what was on her or about her to design and administer her medication.
Livy needed something to put her plants into, so she had to fashion a receptacle. She lifted her skirt exposing her good leg to mid thigh. She used a stiff reed to attach the hem to her bodice creating a pocket to put the plants she collected.
Alone and free from scrutinizing eyes, she reveled in the sounds that accompanied her in this field. A call, a single note of a bird echoed in the woods behind her. It was returned by the single chirp of a cricket.
She staked out an area where the vegetation was thick and began choosing the plants for her pharmacoepia.
Iolaus also was looking for an open area away from the village. He was hoping to dissolve some penned up anxiety. Fending off imaginary foes with his sword was always good exercise and kept his mind occupied. He walked into the field only minutes after Livy. He hid in the shadows of the trees waiting for her to leave.
Livy had settled in a spot almost in the center of the field, bending down every few minutes to gather a plant. Her search seemed very meticulous. Her head would be bent down almost as if studying each plant, and once the plant was selected she would bend at the waist and pluck it from the ground.
Sometimes she would immediately stuff it into her pocket, other times she would spend several minutes taking the leaves, or petals off before stuffing them into her pocket. Sometimes she would tenderly brush off the tan soil from the roots, keeping them and disposing the rest of the plant in abandon.
Iolaus was mesmerized. He couldn't help but notice her perfectly formed leg, which was exposed to mid thigh. She was even more alluring when the slight breeze baffled the flimsy dress, exposing every curve of her tiny body.
Iolaus decided the best thing he could do was leave. He was trying really hard not to like her and the longer he stayed, the more attached he got to the sight.
He decided that he had even more penned up anxiety than he previously thought. A little time with himself and his sword would exorcise the place in his mind that Livy was haunting.
He knew he couldn't stay within the shadows of the trees, the twilight was quickly turning into morning and Livy would be certain to see him there. He saw another small clearing just behind the row of trees. Although the area was small, it would be large enough for him to swing his sword.
He backed up into the shadows of the trees and disappeared.
Livy had her makeshift pocket stuffed with varying flowers, roots and leaves. She was about to leave when she heard a noise coming from the woods in back of her. She turned and saw some movement in the thicket.
Curious by nature, Livy could not resist the chance to see what it was. She walked through the thicket and watched from the shadow of the trees.
Iolaus' movements were graceful and intricate, not expected from such a small compact frame. He held the hilt of his sword with both hands. The blade would catch the glint of the rising sun each time he rotated it above his head. Releasing one hand he would bring the sword down and lunge at the imaginary being, slaying the foe in a crosswise motion similar to the figure eight. He would then sweep the ground with the sword flat and low, bringing it back up in an arch above his head.
Livy was mesmerized. So much so that her slight movement against a boulder caused her lame leg to buckle and she lost her balance. She fell over the boulder grunting as she landed.
Iolaus heard the fall. He walked over to the sound, his sword out in front of him, poised to strike. He expected to see a wild boar or some other such beast rooting for his breakfast. What he saw was Livy.
She was sprawled on the ground, face down and smudged with dirt. She knew Iolaus would not be pleased to know that she was spying on him, so she had to come up with a plausible excuse for being there.
She looked around and scooped up one of the flowers that dropped out of her makeshift pocket when she fell. "I was walking through the woods and noticed this. . . medicinal flower. I couldn't help but pick it up." She said.
"With your teeth?" Iolaus asked eyeing her suspiciously.
He paused for effect. "Well, I'll let you get back to your work," he said, turned around and walked away.
Iolaus walked a few yards and Livy would have been content to let him go but she heard some rustling in the thicket behind her. She tried to get up, but her crippled leg was numb. The rustling was getting closer and Livy could not assess what was making the noise. She needed to get Iolaus' attention. She was mad at herself for falling. She was also mad at Iolaus for walking away.
She needed to throw something and the natural target was the back of Iolaus' head. She found a small round stone and hurled it at him. The stone hit Iolaus squarely in the head. He reeled around.
"Iolaus, do you hear that?" She said so candidly that Iolaus had to blink twice.
He looked at her for a moment assessing the situation. Then he heard the rustling behind Livy. It was getting closer, at an alarming rate. Listening, he suspected the number to be three, maybe four. Three or four what, he could not be sure.
Iolaus brought his sword out in front of him and approached Livy.
Three lamias erupted from the thicket. The very sight of them made Iolaus sick. The lamia was a bloodthirsty demon who preyed mostly on young children but would attack anyone vulnerable.
They were generally described as having the head and torso of a woman and the lower body of any of a number of animals. Iolaus had never seen one. Not until now.
These grotesque beings had small wings protruding from the backs of their shoulder blades. They were reportedly able to fly, but these wings were too small to support the weight of these creatures denouncing that theory.
Their bodies were scaled and reptilian, their two legs truncated and clubfooted. A large thick tail followed them, and was used to help keep their balance. A scaly ridge ran up their back until it reached the small wings.
Their human hands sported not so human claws; large and nasty claws. Their hair was long and straight, greasy and matted.
Their faces were hideous. They had large pustules scattered about their face as if they were freckles. Their eyes were small and deep set, their breasts huge and undulating.
Two bolted toward Livy with uncommon speed. Like all predators, they sensed she was defenseless. Livy groped for her cane, finding it just within her reach. She strained to pick it up.
One lamia stayed just out of range, keeping Livy's attention on her. The other was coming up from behind and was poised to strike.
Iolaus jumped in front of the lamia, putting himself between the lamia and its intended victim.
He brought his sword up and held it ready to strike. Iolaus always preferred to chastise his enemies rather than kill them outright. He was rarely bloodthirsty in battle and that usually happened when it involved matters of the heart. His first concern was to get Livy away from danger, or rather get the danger away from Livy. She was still down on the ground making her the most vulnerable.
He kicked the lamia that was stalking Livy trying to keep it off balance. He then swiped the tail trying to bring the beast down so he could get to Livy.
He glanced back toward Livy. She had her cane in her hand hitting the other creature's toes and knees. This was keeping the lamia from attacking at the moment, but Livy was still on her back and was not in control. Her swatting was only defensive and was annoying the lamia more than hurting it.
The third lamia stayed well out of the reach of both Iolaus and Livy, and seemed to watch it's intended victims before setting a course of action.
Iolaus was distracted long enough to be rewarded with a swipe across his chest from the lamia's thick sharp claws. He returned the favor by slashing at its chest with his sword.
Then Iolaus thought he heard Hercules call his name.
Hercules had been looking for Iolaus ever since daybreak. When he found Iolaus' bed empty and his sword gone he had a pretty good idea where to find his friend.
Iolaus was always searching for places where he could be alone. He was rarely at ease from all the attention that Hercules would get. Even though Hercules never asked for such exalted attention, it always followed him. He could tell it bothered Iolaus, although his friend would rarely admit to it. Iolaus seemed to be especially sensitive in the here and now. Hercules knew where to find him.
"Herc, over here," Iolaus yelled. Hercules could here the commotion and followed it into the woods.
"You have impeccable timing," Iolaus called out as Hercules came to the defense of Livy. Iolaus took another swipe at the lamia, cutting it again. He followed by another kick.
Hercules held one lamia at bay by stepping on its tail while he sorted out how to engage the other.
Not happy with being penned down, it wailed with a scream that was so high pitched it hurt his ears. The lamia's back was to him so it could not use its deadly claws. This infuriated the lamia, making it even more ill tempered.
"Can I barrow this?" He asked of Livy, pointing to her cane.
"Sure," Livy said and gave the lamia one more blow before handing the cane to Hercules. Free of the job of defending herself, she rolled over and tried to get up.
Hercules proceeded to pummel the lamia in the side of the head with the cane. He continued to hit the beast until it collapsed into unconsciousness.
Hercules then turned his attention to the lamia who's tail was caught under his foot. He grabbed the lamia by the tail and began swinging the creature in a tight circle. When he had gained enough speed, he let go. The lamia sailed over Iolaus still laboring on the last of the lamias.
Hercules would have run to the aid of Iolaus, but he was handling the situation. Hercules could see the flow of blood running down his friend's chest and knew that his help would be refused. Iolaus was hurt and that made the fight with this monster personal.
Hercules looked around for Livy. She was no longer in the thicket, but stood in the field. She held her arms across her chest, close and protective. Even at this distance Hercules could see the heaving sobs that she was trying so hard to keep under control. He walked toward her.
Livy ran into the field when she was able. Having to defend herself from the lamia's attack made her vulnerable to all the destructive thoughts that she could normally keep under control.
Her mindsongs were abruptly silenced and she lost control of all those poisonous fears she kept in check. This was the only control mechanism Livy had and losing that control made her even more frightened.
Livy saw Hercules coming and she hobbled over to him, her limp exaggerated by the fall earlier. She needed comfort and wrapped her arms around him and held him as tight as she could.
Somewhat disconcerted, he returned the embrace, patting her on the back trying to soothe her.
Iolaus finished off the last lamia, pounding it senseless with the flat edge of his sword. It laid in a heap at his feet. He carefully stepped over it and walked toward Hercules as he placed the sword back into its sheath.
"Did I tell you, you had impeccable timing?" he said, somewhat embarrassed by the overt showing of affection. It wasn't the first time a defenseless woman ran to Hercules for comfort. He suspected it wouldn't be the last.
Seeing Iolaus, Livy released Hercules and ran to him. She almost knocked the breath out of Iolaus when she connected.
Livy hugged him in the same manner, her grip tight and needy. Her head rested near his shoulder, her body pressed against the cut. He winced in pain.
Hercules gave a 'what can you do' shrug.
Resolved, Iolaus started stroking her hair. It had the texture of spun silk and the fragrance of exotic spices. The scent was as intoxicating as it was appealing.
For Livy, it was a comfortable embrace. Hercules was a sizable man and hugging him was comparable to hugging the trunk of a tree. His massive torso gave her little warmth.
Her head now rested near Iolaus' shoulder. She could feel his heartbeat; strong and fast. The rhythm was soothing. It gave her the chance to collect her thoughts and put them back where they belonged.
Once she had the chance to gain her composure, she became uneasy with the embrace. She was embarrassed about losing control and needing to be consoled.
"You can let go of me now." She demanded. Her sense of urgency was more for her benefit than his. She felt that if she didn't extricate herself from his embrace, she would loose control again.
He let go, lifting his arms out so that they were perpendicular to his chest. It was a 'you can't win' gesture.
Livy backed away from Iolaus, her head down avoiding eye contact. She noticed the red stain on her linen dress. She gently touched the spot trying to figure out where it came from. She hadn't seen Iolaus' wound earlier.
"Oh, Iolaus, you're bleeding." Her voice almost cooed with sympathy. She began delicately blotting the wound with her already bloodied dress. She was more upset than she normally would have been; he had gotten hurt defending her.
"It's just a scratch." Iolaus reminded her. "Here, sit down. Let me treat it." She grabbed his hand and led him to a stump at the edge of the thicket. She had bent down on both knees, a posture that was difficult for her, but put her at the correct height to treat the wound. She dug into her makeshift pocket and started pulling out her plants and roots. When it wasn't the one she had wanted, she tossed it aside.
She continued digging into her pocket and discarding plants almost frenetic. She was losing control again and the panic showed in her face.
Hercules, acutely aware of Zeus' decree, and how it impacted Livy decided to intercede. "Iolaus is right, it's nothing more than a scratch. He's survived worse." He bent down to pick up the discarded flowers. He handed the flowers back to Livy.
Livy stopped for a moment as if considering the statement. Hercules was right. The wound really didn't need much more than a cleaning.
"Hey, I'm bleeding here." Iolaus reminded them.
Both gave him a stern look as if he was stepping out of line. The scratch was now barely seeping.
"How'd you find us anyway?" Iolaus asked, conveniently changing the subject.
"Actually, I was looking for Livy." He turned to Livy. "Carina needed you for something."
"What?" she asked visibly agitated again. "She didn't tell me. Nothing serious, I'm sure. Why don't you go back to the village. I'll take care of Iolaus." He bent down and handed her more flowers.
"I guess I have been away too long."
Hercules handed her the cane he had rested against the stump. He had bent down just low enough for her to whisper in his ear.
"Thanks." She said.
He smiled and nodded, but didn't answer back. Livy didn't expect him to.
She walked over to Iolaus, who was still sitting on the stump. She bent down slightly and whispered in his ear.
"Is it enough for me to say I'm glad you came back." She sounded thoroughly overwhelmed and beaten. "I owe you my life. Thanks."
She gently kissed his cheek.
"They were ugly monsters, weren't they?" She whispered again, recognizing the somber mood and attempting to lighten it.
It was the first hint Iolaus saw that Livy had a sense of humor. It immediately disarmed him and he laughed out loud.
Livy left him to explain the joke to Hercules and walked back toward the village alone.
Livy was beginning to feel the effects of the illness early in the afternoon. She knew it was coming, but was surprised at how early it had arrived and the degree in which it hit her. Her body ached and her low grade fever kept her miserably uncomfortable. She tried to keep it hidden as much as she could, and this meant isolating herself from observant villagers. When the activity in the stoa had slacked, Livy went outside. The stoa was blocking the light breeze so Livy walked a few paces from the door to feel its full effect. She had barely escaped the obstruction of the building when someone came up from behind and grabbed her.
Her immediate response was to fight back, but the assailant had one hand over her mouth and the other wrapped around her arms and waist. He held her against his body which restricted her movement.
The assailant was shuffling back, leading with his left leg as if he had known of her infirmity, and was purposely keeping her off balance. Her cane flailed in the air, but could not connect to anything. He released his grasp from her waist just long enough to swat the cane away. When his grip returned to her waist, it was even tighter than before.
He was taking her toward the river away from the village. If she got much farther, there would be no way of calling for help even if she could release the hold he had on her mouth. The thick brush that separated the river from the village already secured her from the villager's sight.
The assailant hesitated by the river as if he wasn't sure which way to proceed. He finally turned so that Livy was facing the current. He continued to maintain his grip, his body rigid and imposing.
Her fear got the best of her, and her imagination began to run wild. The brief seconds that transpired had her thinking of at least a dozen terrible scenarios to follow this moment. She couldn't imagine what she could have done to make him want to hurt her. She decided that this rancor, or whatever it was, might not be personal.
She had heard of zealots who would hunt down healers because they believed in the lies and suspicions of others. The kind of torture they could inflict was worse than any Zeus could concoct. The zealots would torture for no other reason than to watch their victims die slowly and painfully.
His body relaxed, and he let go of her. For a split second she thought that he must have realized he had made a mistake. Instead, he pushed her into the river.
The assailant let her thrash about for a moment before he offered his hand to help her up. She was totally bewildered and wondered what kind of game this man was playing. Then she recognized the face.
She took his proffered hand and once back on her feet, knocked the breath out of her assailant with a closed fist.
"Asclepius," she shrieked, and for good measure punched him in the abdomen once more. Her hand hurt after it connected, and she shook off the pain. "Don't ever do that again. You scared me half to Hades."
"Please Livy," He pleaded once he got his breath back. "Don't ever mention that God's name in my presence again." He coughed, as the air was still struggling to make it to his lungs.
"You know Hades is the one that got me into this mess. If he would just leave well enough alone. Honestly, complaining to Zeus because he didn't have enough...customers, to lack a better word. You would think he would have better things to do like fixing up Tartarus, or sowing the Elysian fields."
Hades and Asclepius could never get along, each feeling the other was infringing on territory reserved for him. Their battles were more squabbles than anything else, but Hades raised it to new heights when he asked Zeus for retribution.
When the feud had escalated, Asclepius went into hiding. He had been in hiding for several years before the tedium of confinement got too annoying. Asclepius felt rescuing Hippolytes from death was not wrong, and therefore, would not abide by the Gods' wishes. He was resolute, but needed his craft to get through his self imposed confinement.
He couldn't heal the sick by himself, he would surely be discovered, so he had taken it upon himself to train others in seclusion. He chose his students carefully, both for their dedication and reputation for healing, and their commitment to keep his location secret.
Livy was an impressionable teenager when she came to Asclepius. He had an overwhelming presence and she immediately became infatuated.
Livy's life experience was limited. She had not grown up around people who trusted her or who understood her passion. Asclepius immediately accepted her. He was her advisor and best friend, and Asclepius used her burgeoning sexuality to his advantage.
As the years passed, Livy's need for knowledge outgrew her lust. When she refused to continue as his paramour, Asclepius focused his attention on more youthful students. Livy empathized with Asclepius' decision to remain in hiding, but hated the idea that the sick had to suffer. Asclepius taught compassion, but showed little of it when his needs were not being met. She was no longer in favor with the god of medicine so she was forced to leave.
Her pain of abandonment still raw, she returned with a plan of recompense.
She had not seen him in months and had noticed the subtle changes in his appearance. He was looking gaunt, and Livy suspected that the subterfuge was finally catching up with him. His black raven hair was flecked with gray. It was unkempt and hung loosely around the nape of his neck.
Always meticulously dressed, his clothes draped loosely on his frame. Her low grade fever; shivering from her water logged dress; and her struggle from the abduction had taken away any reserve energy Livy had left. She felt as if she was going to collapse.
Asclepius had noticed her symptoms and became concerned. "You have not been taking care of yourself, have you Livy?" he said. He looked at her knowing, or at least suspecting that she was helping everyone she could.
It truly unnerved her, how he could see her every thought and emotion even after the months of separation. He knew she would be compelled to help, and wouldn't be able to selectively choose the ailments she would treat. He also knew she was vulnerable and probably in pain.
"If you are going to continue to defy Zeus, at least you should learn to pace yourself. You will do no good if you are ill," Asclepius continued.
"What are you doing here?" she asked diverting the subject. She knew he was taking an extreme risk coming to Epidaurus.
Asclepius, no longer wanting to demonstrate his forbearance even for Livy, remembered why he had traveled to Epidaurus. His demeanor changed immediately. "I believe you have a vial that belongs to me. I want it back."
Unlike the god of medicine, Livy was not bound by the same rules that forced Asclepius into seclusion. She was already being punished by Zeus, and she blamed Asclepius for her grievance.
She could use the vial to treat the sick without worrying about Hades. But she hadn't really intended to use the vial at all. She used its power only as a charm, to remind Asclepius that she had stole it but was not bound to it. He would be forever chained to its life giving contents.
If it was part of her plan, her stealth at stealing the vial would had gone unnoticed. But she had needed Asclepius to know she had been there, so she left unmistakable clues.
"I must applaud you for your effort to steal the vial. It was in vain however. Your curiosity for the vial never did go unnoticed, even when you were a student. It will do you no good. You don't know how to use it."
She didn't have the heart to tell him that she had already experimented with the liquid.
"You know you are taking an extreme risk to come. Is the vial so important to you that you would risk getting caught?" she asked.
Livy knew it would be. She had all along hoped Asclepius would follow her to get it back. It was part of the design; for him to follow her to Epidaurus. She hoped that his compassion would overrule his self indulgence. Once he could see the suffering, he would put a stop to it.
"I'm not planning on staying. Where is the vial."
I don't have it with me."
"What do you mean you don't have it with you?" He was clearly annoyed.
"Would I be stupid enough to keep it with me? If it is as valuable as you say. . ."
He grabbed her by the arms and pulled her to him. The force of the action almost made her loose her breath.
Gripping her left arm tightly, and holding her close to him, he frisked her. The scene may have seemed intimate from a distance, as his touch along the side of her dress was almost sensual.
Her will to slap him was overshadowed by the need to just get it over with. In short order he would know she was telling the truth.
"Where is it?" He said after the search.
"I told you I didn't have it with me. I have never lied to you Asclepius. You always knew how I felt. Did I have to get felt up for you to believe me?" She continued after she forced her hand from his grip. It took all the effort she had.
"Had I known an abduction was going to be on my agenda for today, I would have brought it. It's in the village."
"Bring it to me," he said. He had a murderous look in his eyes, and although Asclepius had never physically hurt her, she wasn't sure what this god would do.
"If you do not want to be discovered, it will have to be tonight. I'll bring it tonight."
"Here. Tonight," he said. And with that, he vanished.
Livy nodded and walked away. She had no intention of bringing it to him. If he wanted the vial he would have to come to the village to get it.
Hercules had followed Iolaus into the infirmary. The scratch Iolaus had sustained earlier in the day was beginning to itch. Hercules was so concerned about his friend's paroxysmal scratching, that he feared for Iolaus' safety.
Normally Iolaus would not have worried about it, but he had never been scratched by a Lamia before and his imagination was running amok. He wanted someone to look at it. No, better than that, he wanted someone to cure it. It would have been cured earlier, Iolaus was sure, if Hercules hadn't sent Livy away.
"Quit scratching it. It's going to get infected." Hercules said after Iolaus had another fit of itching.
"I can't Herc, it really itches," Iolaus said with resolve.
Iolaus stayed in the entrance of the building intent on scratching as another attack hit him.
"Where's Livy?" Hercules asked when he saw Carina in the back.
"She wasn't feeling very well and went outside for some fresh air," Carina said quietly.
"How long ago was that?"
"Too long. She should have been back by now. Do you think something could have happened to her?"
"I don't know. We didn't see her when we came in. Which way was she going?" Carina pointed toward the river.
Hercules walked out of the stoa and in the direction Carina was pointing. Livy was not in his immediate view so he walked around the perimeter of the building.
Some distance away from the stoa, he spotted Livy's cane. The grass around the area was broken and trampled and looked like a struggle had taken place. He looked briefly for any signs of a bloodletting. He could find none.
He picked up the cane and walked back to the stoa.
Carina had found Iolaus in the throws of an itch, and was slathering him with a pinkish salve when Hercules came back. Iolaus couldn't decide which was worse, the itch, or being seen in the village with the pink salve rubbed on his chest. His itch had been soothed for the moment, so he decided to continue to wear the salve.
"What are you doing with Livy's cane?" Iolaus asked.
"I found it by the stoa. Carina, have you ever known Livy to go anywhere without it?"
"No. Never. But Hercules, you know her better than I do. Have you seen her without it?"
"Only briefly. Livy uses it as protection. I doubt she would have gone far without it. It looks like there was a struggle outside the stoa; the same place where I found her cane. I think something may have happened to her."
"What?" Iolaus asked in disbelief. "I mean, what do you think could have happened to her? I mean, you don't think anyone would do anything to her, do you? I mean, who would want to do her harm in this village? She's here to help. You don't think the lamia's have come back for her, do you?"
His friend would always start chattering endlessly when he was hiding some deep dark secret and Iolaus' panic almost sounded like guilt. Iolaus had said some hurtful things about Livy in the past. But Hercules knew he would have never done anything to hurt Livy. This time, he feared he was hiding his true feelings. He had seen the subtle changes in his attitude toward Livy.
"Do you see her here, Iolaus?" Hercules asked perturbed.
"Where else would she be?"
"I don't know. I guess we should go look for her," Iolaus concluded. He walked out of the stoa. Hercules followed closely behind.
Hercules directed Iolaus toward the grassy area he thought was the scene of the attack. Iolaus had much more experience tracking, and might get an idea in which direction she had gone.
Iolaus had bent down and was examining the trampled blades of grass. It was hard to tell in what direction she would have gone. For that fact, the grass was so dry, the effect could have been natural.
Hercules decided on a course of action. "Iolaus, why don't you look by the river. I'll go this way, he said pointing toward the brushy area across from the stoa.
Iolaus headed off in the direction of the river.
He had been walking along the river's edge and had seen some signs of passage through the area; a few broken branches, trudge marks in the tan soil along the river. The marks were recent, but he couldn't pinpoint how long ago they were made.
Iolaus was lost in his own worried thoughts about Livy when he heard some muffled voices.
He followed the voices until he came to a clearing. He could see Livy talking with a man beside the steam. He could not hear what was being said, but he surmised that she was not in any danger.
The man was carefully running his hand down her dress. It seemed to Iolaus that this man had an intimate familiarity of Livy's body, and caressed it knowingly. Livy didn't seem to be objecting.
"Iolaus, did you find Livy?" Hercules asked when he caught up with his friend.
"Oh, I found her all right. Look over there," Iolaus said pointing to the river's edge.
Livy still stood in the man's embrace.
Iolaus had seen quite enough and chided himself for worrying about her welfare. Instead, he wanted to leave.
Hercules immediately noticed Livy's rigid posture, and although Asclepius seemed to be quite at ease in his touch, he felt sure Livy did not feel the same. He could see Livy's hand close into a fist, and was concerned that she would physically assault the god of medicine if he continued to grope her.
If Iolaus had taken the time to watch the interaction between the two, he would have seen the same signs. Iolaus could be quite blind when his pride was hurting. Iolaus was avoiding looking at the scene. He made sure his back was turned and he couldn't see the intimate touch. "I don't remember seeing him in the village before. Do you know who he is?" Iolaus asked.
"Asclepius? The god of medicine?"
"The one and the same. He's taking a big chance coming here," Hercules answered.
Iolaus' emotions were conflicting. His desire for Livy increased just by knowing how attractive she seemed to a god and yet he was hurt that she had chosen to pursue Asclepius instead of himself.
"I really don't think you have anything to worry about," Hercules said. "Livy was pretty vocal about her dislike for Asclepius. I'm sure she has a good explanation for meeting him here.
"Gee, I can't wait to hear it. You know Hercules, is there a shortage of goddesses on Mount Olympus, that you have to look for companionship here? Why can't you gods just leave us mortals alone," Iolaus said and walked away from the scene, wanting to be alone.
"Wait," Hercules said as he watched his friend leave. He considered going after him, but decided to let Iolaus work out his feelings by himself. Iolaus was not mad at Hercules but wasn't able to take his anger out on the right person, whether that be Livy or Asclepius. This was one of those times that Iolaus inevitably would strike out at Hercules. As a friend, he was a safe target.
"Sometimes, this is just not worth it," Hercules said to himself, walking back to the village.
Iolaus sat by himself at a table in a corner of the village square. The villagers had worked most of the day building a new home to replace the one that had been destroyed by the lightning the day before. They would finish the building tomorrow and would commemorate the occasion with a modest celebration later in the evening..
Iolaus wanted to be alone. The town for the most part seemed to oblige him. He had not seen Hercules since their confrontation by the river. He felt bad about that. What was worse, was that Iolaus had missed dinner.
He was absently gnawing on a piece of leftover bread when a young woman approached him.
He looked up expectantly with the piece of bread stuffed between his cheek and gums. He recognized the girl. She was the same one that was trying to get Hercules' attention at mealtime the day before. He expected that she wanted him to arrange a date or other such ludicrous action.
You're Iolaus, right?"
"Yeah, that's right," he said, finishing the bread he held in his mouth. For effect he took a drink from his cup. He didn't want to seem too interested.
"Do you mind some company while you eat?"
"Suit yourself," he said. The girl slid onto the bench and sidled up next to him. She was uncomfortably close in his estimation.
"You know, everyone in the village is talking about how you saved Livy from the lamias earlier."
"Oh, really," He said as he took another drink. This was certainly a cunning way to get his attention. He had to admit he liked it when he was the subject of everyone's conversation.
"How you rushed to the aid of Livy when she couldn't defend herself. How you put yourself between the lamia and Livy. How you managed to fight off two of those bloodthirsty beasts all by yourself."
"No, you're thinking of Hercules. Hercules was the one that fought off two of the bloodthirsty beasts by himself."
"Oh," She stood corrected. "But you managed to fight off the Lamia with only your bare hands and Livy's wooden cane, right."
No. Hercules again." He was now getting bored with the conversation. Evidently he couldn't do anything right today. Even when he was acknowledged for doing a good deed, his actions were getting mixed up with his best friend's.
"Well, what did you do, then?"
"I fought off one lamia with the blade of my sword." She looked at him blankly.
"I kicked it senseless and knocked it unconscious." She continued to stare at him without recognition.
"I'm the one that got injured."
She looked down and saw the remnants of the injury. She ran her finger down the scratch tracing it's long thin line. Her touch was meant to be seductive, he thought, but it just exasperated the itch.
"Oh. Yes. I heard about that. Does it hurt?"
"No," he said as he grabbed her hand and returned it to her lap. He was confused why she was there in the first place. Trying to seduce him to get a date with Hercules seemed, well, a bit off.
He was preoccupied with the conversation and he didn't see Livy walk up. She regarded them for a while and then took action.
"Liriope," she said addressing the girl. "I believe Carina was looking for you earlier. She seemed pretty upset. You better go see what she wanted."
"Yes, ma'am," Liriope said. She was visibly upset and ran off toward the stoa.
It seemed no matter how congenial Livy tried to be, many of the villagers still seemed to be intimidated by her. Sometimes she would use this to her advantage to get the response she desired. She knew Liriope was deathly afraid of her.
"What did Carina want with Liriope?" Iolaus asked.
"She didn't, as far as I know. It just looked like she was bothering you."
"Thanks," Iolaus said apathetically. "But I think I'm up to handling her."
"It looked more like she was up to handling you," Livy had said. She was rather irritated that he didn't seem to appreciate her gesture.
He seemed preoccupied and it was evident he didn't really enjoy Liriope's attention.
It seemed he didn't feel like verbally sparring with Livy either.
"Are you feeling okay?" Livy asked as she walked up to him. She was still weak from the events of the day and leaned heavily on her cane.
Livy's loose fitting garment fell off her shoulder exposing the slightest edge of her firm pale breast. She didn't seem to notice how it almost took Iolaus' breath away.
She placed the back of her hand against his forehead. It was cool to the touch.
He seemed flushed, however, so she decided to check his pulse. Her hand touched his neck so lightly he could barely feel it. The touch was like exquisite torture. Iolaus' heart started beating faster.
"You don't seem to have a fever," she said, although her own fever sometimes made it difficult to tell, "but you're pulse does seem to be racing a bit. Are you sure you're feeling okay?"
Livy could tell by Iolaus' demeanor that something was troubling him. She wasn't sure if she should push for an explanation. He seemed to be short on answers, avoiding every question she had asked him.
She was confounded by how to get out of this one sided conversation.
Iolaus remained pensive for a moment and then spoke. The memory of Livy and Asclepius was still clear in his mind. He didn't know how to approach the subject with Livy, but he wanted to know why she found the gangling, graying god of medicine so appealing.
"Tell me, Livy," he had prefaced, "What do the gods have that I don't? Beside the obvious? You know, the super powers, the big muscles, the good looks; women fawning all over them."
"What's this all about, Iolaus?" she asked. She had never seen Iolaus doubt himself before. In fact, for the most part she thought Iolaus was full of himself.
She was aware of Liriope's obsession with Hercules. He was practically all the young girl could talk about.
It seemed a great deal of the young girl's attention was focused on Hercules. She never really thought it bothered Iolaus until now. Liriope was an exquisite young woman. She could see how Iolaus would be attracted to her and want her attention.
He remained quiet so she decided to answer his question as best she could.
Livy had little regard for most gods. They seemed to punish mortals for their weaknesses and regard their own anthropomorphisms as mere character flaws. Few would come to the aid of a mortal in real trouble. Most would regard their problem from afar with mild curiosity.
Hercules was different. She knew of Hercules' motivations. The stories of his conquests were legendary, but she also saw how Iolaus reacted when she was attacked by the lamias. He ran into danger with little regard to his own safety.
Livy decided the conversation was going to take some time so she sat on the bench next to him.
"Iolaus, you are a remarkable man. Why would you want to compare yourself to the lot of selfish, pompous immortals who call themselves gods? You are better than they ever hope to be."
Iolaus gave her a self deprecating nod and grinned to himself. He couldn't believe the tone this conversation was taking. Did Livy really expect him to believe this drivel. He stared at his hands, firmly grasped together and laying on the table.
"You think I don't know you?" she said almost as if reading his thoughts. She saw him gazing at his hands. She grabbed his hands and forcefully turned them so they were palm side up.
"You know, healers can tell a lot by a person's hands." She traced the large calluses on his palm and his heart, head and life lines with her finger.
"These are the hands of a hero. They have the calluses born of hard work and dedication. They are strong and could kill with ease, but could also hold a baby bird without crushing it. They are gentle and compassionate. No god could have hands like this."
Livy traced the upper most line that was etched in his palm. It was longer than other heart lines she had seen. "See this line. It's the heart line. A god's hand lacks substance. it is missing that line that makes you human. They have their flaws Iolaus just like you and me, but their shortcomings are governed by their head, and not gathered by their heart.
She took both hands and folded them together. His warm hands were sandwiched between hers as she spoke. "You're a good man with a good heart and your acts of courage are just as herculean as your friend's. What woman would not be impressed with that. If Liriope could have seen you this morning she would know what a remarkable man you are. Don't let your insecurities take anything away from you."
He slid his hands from hers.
Let's face it, Livy. I haven't exactly ingratiated myself on you or the villagers," he said. His dislike for her was well known in the village and the village seemed to take personal offense to it.
Livy had to recognize it. She could hear the villagers talking. For the most part, treated him with the same courtesy and attention as the rest of the villagers. He really didn't have to ask her why she would choose Asclepius over himself. His actions toward her answered his question. To spite his efforts to alienate her, she still seemed to respect him, but that would be all she could manage. He couldn't really blame her, although he still wanted to.
"Will you be going to the celebration tonight?" He asked changing the subject, embarrassed over asking the question in the first place.
"No. Despite their acceptance now, I'll never be part of this community. My place is in the infirmary."
"Livy, I know I haven't been fair to you, but you've done a lot for this village and the villagers seem to like you. What makes you think they'll change their minds?"
"I don't know exactly when it will happen, but it will happen. Maybe today, maybe tomorrow but I will do something that will shatter their trust. Their will be no mistaking their enmity."
It was Livy's time to give a self deprecating smile. "Iolaus, I have never begrudged your distrust of me because you will soon know you were right to feel that way all along. I promise you whatever I do, the villagers will be safe, Asclepius will see to that. My only fear is that you and Hercules will suffer some fallout from my actions. You will be exercising good judgment to leave this village."
There was no malice as she spoke. She accepted what she knew would be the truth. Her plan to lure Asclepius to Epidaurus would see to that. She was resigned. She was also tired of trying to win Iolaus' approval. She got up and rested her hands on Iolaus' shoulders. "Look at it this way, Iolaus. The village will soon come to your way of thinking and you will be in favor." She patted his shoulders and walked away from him.
Iolaus watched as she went.
He was disturbed by the ominous prediction she had made. He wasn't sure where the feeling was coming from. A couple of days ago, he would have been overjoyed to see her opposed, but she had slowly kindled something in his heart. He smiled with that revelation and decided it was a good time to find Hercules and apologize to him.
The infirmary was quiet. Livy had made her last rounds before she had settled down for the night. She had not seen Asclepius that evening. She was grateful for that. Asclepius had a nasty temper was probably fuming. She had not returned to the river as she had promised.
She felt unsafe in the infirmary alone. The uneasy feeling seemed to follow her like watchful eyes as she made the last round. At any time, Asclepius might decide to find her and impose a revenge more severe than a dunking in the river. He would be exercising a good opportunity at the moment.
No other attendants were in the stoa. It was late in the evening. For once, she did not want to be alone, but she could not leave the sick without care either. She felt trapped.
She walked to her bed and unrolled her medicine bag. She always finished the day by counting her inventory. She had replenished some of her supplies earlier in the day, but many were hopelessly lost after the debacle in the field.
She was concentrating on counting her willow bark when she heard an unfamiliar voice. She turned around to see to whom it belonged.
The young girl that Iolaus had brought in was standing by the door. She was as exquisite as when Iolaus had first brought her into the infirmary. The comely image did not last long, however. The young girl was quickly changing form.
She was no longer young and yet not old; no longer female but not quite a male either. The small frame of a young girl was stretching into a sizable man. The tiny chest had added girth. The voice had changed in timbre and tone.
When the transformation was complete the young girl had mutated into a wizened old man.
She had met the man only once before.
He had approached her after she had left the confines of Asclepius. He had said he was a messenger for Zeus. The messenger explained that Zeus had grown tired of waiting for Asclepius to come to his senses. He had a plan but would need someone like Livy to implement it.
Until then, Livy had no real desire to punish Asclepius. She continued to have a strange devotion to the god of medicine even after her abandonment. But the messenger had given her an incentive that she could not resist. Something that would make it easier to help the sick and injured. Something that made it difficult for her to refuse.
What she didn't know when she agreed to help, was she was making a deal with the King of Gods himself, Zeus. "You are a remarkable healer, Livy. Look, I am cured."
"I suspect you were never sick," She said as she got up from her platform bed.
"Why are you here?" she asked with annoyed curiosity.
"I wanted to check on my investment. You do seem to be as good of a healer as you claim. Who would expect so many people still alive. And improving yet," he added.
He waved his arm in a broad expanse across the room.
The old man moved from inside the doorway into the small enclosed space. The move was meant to intimidate her, and it did. Livy had to turn around to face him.
"I must say, I was surprised how much I enjoyed the attention. You just don't get attention like that on Mount Olympus. It was almost too much fun to feign unconsciousness for such an extended time."
"This illness is not a game, Zeus. That time could have been reserved for treating someone who was really sick. Now that you have had your fun, leave."
No, I don't think so. I'm intending to stay. At least until our plan comes to fruition. It will be completed as we had planned, won't it Livy?"
"You have to give me some time. I will live up to my end of the bargain."
"And I to mine. Although it is costing me greatly. What will all the other healers say when they hear I have given you a special dispensation. The injustice of it all." He laughed out loud.
"What do you mean a special dispensation? You promised to release the spell from all healers once I delivered Asclepius."
"How else could I gain your cooperation? I must admit, it seemed a good deal at the time, but I've reconsidered. The others healers will have to suffer, well, until I decide they have suffered enough. It seems only right, Livy. After all, they did not betray the god of medicine for a chance at a reprieve."
She turned away from him, spinning so fast she got dizzy. She could control her feeling of vertigo, but she didn't want Zeus to see the rage in her face.
She had agreed to continue with the plan only when he agreed to release his edict on all healers. He was going back on his promise. She should have expected this from him, but she was in it too deep to back out now. Asclepius was already in Epidaurus and expected to get the vial. She was sure that if she backed out now, either Zeus or Asclepius would hunt her down to exact a different form of retribution.
She took another minute to get her anger back in check. Another mantra to add to her sizable collection.
When she turned back to confront him, Zeus had changed back into the little girl form and was walking to his sickbed.
Livy decided not to provoke him, knowing it would be an exercise in futility and only incite her rage. She needed to rest. She could not deal with any more emotions that night.
It had been a long time since the village of Epidaurus had a reason to celebrate. The festivities were humble in scope. Good food, music and conversation was about all the celebration the villagers could conceive.
The villagers did not want to offend the gods by forgetting all the heartache they had witnessed in the last month. The celebration was used as a chance to formalize the new memorial to the dead and celebrate those left alive.
Livy as expected was conspicuously absent from the festivities. She was where she said she'd be, in the stoa caring for the sick.
Iolaus had little time to talk to Hercules before the memorial celebration. Livy's conversation with him still weighed heavily on his mind, so he took his friend to a corner to talk to him.
Hercules listened quietly to Iolaus, and then tried to belayed some of his fears. "Don't worry, Iolaus. Livy's had a lot on her mind and is probably being a little overprotective. She's worried about the village, she won't be able to take care of them forever. But if she said she's made arrangements with Asclepius, you have nothing to worry about. From what I've heard, he cares about this village as much as Livy. But it's not the village you're worried about is it?"
"No, not really."
"You're not worried about me, are you?"
"No, I know you can take care of yourself."
"You're certainly not worried about yourself, are you?"
"No. Of course not!"
"Well, then who are you worried for?" Hercules had been trying all day to get Iolaus to talk about his feelings for Livy. He finally backed Iolaus into that proverbial corner. He had to come to terms about his feelings at least to himself, if not to Hercules.
"I hate it when you do that."
"Do what?" Hercules asked innocently.
"You know. Make me think." Iolaus said. He was concentrating on the floor, not wanting to admit the obvious. When he looked up his attention was directed toward the door.
"Uh, Oh. Liriope's coming." Iolaus said, changing the subject. He had seen that Liriope had spotted Hercules.
Liriope propelled herself as close as she could to Hercules.
"Oh, Hercules. That Livy is a godsend, isn't she?" Liriope purred. She touched his massive arm above the elbow and began stroking it as she spoke. Her eyes met his.
"Septicemius' fever broke this afternoon, and Dysenterius' stomach is feeling much better. Isn't she a godsend, Iolaus?" Her eyes never left Hercules' handsome face.
"She's something, that's for sure." Iolaus responded sardonically.
Hercules gave him a severe look.
"Sorry. Old habits are hard to break." Iolaus shrugged.
Hercules, turned his attention toward Liriope. She had pursued him endlessly the entire day. He had little peace, as Liriope seemed to find him where ever he traveled. He tried avoiding her; he tried to discuss this crush rationally with her, neither to any avail. He tried one more time to escape her pursuit.
"Excuse me." He said and walked off. He spotted Cepheus and walked immediately toward him.
"What's wrong with him?" Liriope asked.
"He likes to be the first to make the move." Iolaus said and walked toward his friend. Hercules had kept to himself most of the evening. Although several women sought his attention, he would exchange a few pleasantries with them and then head into a corner to be alone again.
"Are you feeling okay?" Iolaus whispered as he moved closer to his friend.
"I'll grant you, Liriope is a little obsessed, but she's an exquisite young girl."
"I'm fine, really. I just have a headache."
"Do you want me to get Livy?" he asked in a more serious tone. He grabbed some wine and offered Hercules a cup.
"No, I'll be fine." He said in response to the question and the offer of wine.
Carina walked by and stopped when she saw Hercules and Iolaus.
"You don't look so good," she addressed to Hercules. "Are you feeling okay?"
Iolaus gave Hercules an 'I told you so' shrug, and then guzzled some wine.
"I'm feeling fine, really," he reiterated.
"He just has a headache," Iolaus concluded.
Hercules could tell that something was on Carina's mind. He beckoned her to come closer. "What's up, Carina?"
"Hercules. Maybe you can help. We've finalized the memorial and since Asclepius can't be here, we would like Livy here as his representative. Do you think you can persuade her to come?"
"I can go get her." Iolaus volunteered. "I'd like to try, but I don't think anything I can say will change her mind. She believes her place is in the infirmary. I think we should respect that."
"But, Hercules, she respects you." Carina looked over to Iolaus. "She'll listen to you," Carina said continuing to address Hercules.
"Hey," Iolaus said in defense. It was clear Carina still harbored him some resentment.
"I'll see what I can do." Hercules said resigned. He knew Carina would not let the subject drop.
"Hercules," Iolaus said getting his attention, "you don't have to leave the party. I can go get Livy. I know you've been wanting to hook up with Liriope all night long." Iolaus looked toward Carina. "He's really shy." Iolaus whispered and then waved for Liriope to come over.
Hercules knew how unwelcome Iolaus had felt in this village, and said nothing when Iolaus' honor was called into question. He wanted some revenge on Hercules and knew Liriope would offer it perfectly.
Iolaus nodded his goodbyes, and headed out the door before Liriope could reach the demigod.
"If Iolaus can get her to come, then someone will need to watch her patients. Come to the infirmary later and I'll get you something for your headache. Carina said also making sure her conversation was concluded before Liriope arrived.
Iolaus walked into the infirmary. Most of patients were sleeping, but some were talking quietly with one another. The constant regime of medication was working as more villagers were recovering from the illness. But like any illness, some were still very sick.
Livy was no where to be seen.
Carina asked one of the patients where she might be. The sick old man pointed his thin crooked finger toward the alcove used as her private quarters.
Carina as she quietly called out Livy's name. There was no answer.
Iolaus silently walked toward the back of the room. Another patient called to Carina so she stopped to render aid.
Livy was laying on her bed, her upper body gently propped up in the corner. She seemed to be sleeping, although it didn't look like she had planned to fall asleep.
Livy's plants were scattered about the bed and she seemed to be in the middle of arranging them. Iolaus continued toward her. He saw her chest rise and fall in the rhythmic motion of sleep. Her lame leg hung down off the frame of the bed. Her small hands laid gracefully in her lap. A small pink flower rested on her palm. Iolaus plucked the flower out of her hand.
He looked at her delicate palm, remembering the conversation that they had just recently. She had said that the gods lacked the heart line that made him human. Looking at her palm, Iolaus noticed that same line was missing. Instead, one line crossed the palm from little finger to index. He took another look at her, and wondered if she really was of this earth.
The loose fitting garment that seemed to be a prisoner of gravity hung off her shoulder. The exposed shoulder seemed to be almost luminescent in the low light.
Her wild red hair had fallen in her face hiding her delicate features. He sat down on the bed and gently moved it away. When he did, he felt her fever.
"Carina. Come here," He beckoned.
Carina walked into the room inquisitive.
"Feel her forehead. She seems really hot. I think she's running a fever." He moved down so that Carina could sit next to her.
Carina touched the back of her hand to Livy's forehead. Livy's fever was no longer a minor inconvenience it was raging. She had no doubt that Iolaus could feel it.
There was a natural immunity to Zeus' edict. Healers could not catch any of the diseases they would treat. Carina surmised, if they died from an illness, their death would be perceived by Zeus as too easy. But many healers had died from the cumulative effects of treating dozens of those with an illness.
Zeus vindictiveness was to see them suffer, but even so, Livy was not insulated from death.
Carina had promised to keep Livy's situation secret. She understood what the implications would be if the villagers knew. They would refuse her help and they were just now beginning to recover from the siege of illness.
She trusted Hercules to keep her secret. He must have. From Iolaus' frightened reaction, he did not know she was suffering from Zeus' spell.
"She feels find to me."
"Are you sure?"
"I'm sure Asclepius gave her a talisman to protect her from the illness. He certainly would not let her come to the valley without some protection."
Iolaus did remember her saying she had a talisman from Asclepius.
"She could use the rest. Let's let her sleep," Carina had concluded.
Livy did look at peace sleeping. Her prediction of betrayal still worried him and his interest in the party had waned.
"Do you mind if I stay here for a while," he asked.
With a fever this high, Livy was in real danger. Carina could not watch over her without arousing suspicion, Iolaus could. She could not refuse letting him stay.
"No. Of course not. I'll be in the next room if you need me."
Iolaus pulled up a chair and sat down. In a few moments the alcohol he had consumed had taken effect, and he was asleep.
Iolaus was awakened by Livy's labored breath. Her breathing was heavy and asthmatic and she wheezed as if she couldn't get any air into her lungs.
He rushed to her side and called out to Carina in the next room. He grabbed her by the shoulders and held her. Livy woke up.
She gripped him tightly as she tried to breathe. When the air finally filled her lungs she started to sob.
"It was an awful dream, Iolaus."
He tried to soothe her by patting her back. Carina ran in, but he waved her away. Carina really couldn't do anything for a bad dream and he wanted to try to handle this on his own .
"Asclepius kidnapped me, but it wasn't Asclepius, it was the Lamias. But it wasn't the Lamias either, it was Asclepius and Hades and Zeus. Well, partially at least. I could only see their faces." She took a deep sobbing breath and remained quiet.
Livy was frightened but his holding her seemed to help. Her breathing had steadied.
"I love it when you hold me. I wish you could hold me like this forever," she said quietly.
Her head rested on his shoulder. Her delicate neck was only a few inches from his mouth. He could smell the hint of fragrance on her neck and feel the gentle rise and fall of her breast against his chest.
He released himself from the embrace.
He wanted to kiss her but was afraid that his actions would be considered shameless. He didn't want her to think he was taking advantage of her vulnerability. But it was this vulnerability that suddenly made her so desirable.
Up until that moment, Livy seemed unattainable. She never seemed to realize the intrinsic emotions that she could elicit whenever she was near Iolaus. She would always go about her business as if nothing had happened. This enraged and enticed him all in the same moment. He denied his feelings from the very beginning, but could deny them no longer.
With both hands, he gently held her face, moving the unruly bangs to the sides with his thumbs.
She still felt as if she was running a fever, but he dismissed the thought. His passion overruled his judgment.
He kissed the top of her forehead. The kiss was gentle and innocent. He was waiting for a response.
Livy did not resist the gentle kiss but seemed to welcome it as she leaned closer to him closing her eyes. She wasn't sure if her fever was making her weak or if it was his kiss. Which ever the case, she knew his touch made her feel safe.
Iolaus grew bolder. He kissed her mouth. Softly at first and then with more pressure.
His kiss was more erogenous than any she had expected. She wanted more.
Iolaus bent down and kissed the nape of her neck. He breathed in her ear. The breath made her shiver in anticipation.
One arm cradled her back as the other ran up her lame leg. He reached the bow in her thigh, and expected Livy to stop the caress. She didn't. He continued until he reached her waist. His hand curled around. He pulled her closer to him.
Iolaus continued to kiss her neck, moving down toward her partially exposed breast.
Livy moved one hand to his head. She ran it through his loosely curled hair. It was softer than she had expected. Her other hand ran up his back toward his neck. Her gentle touch seared through him like fire.
He had to extinguish the fire. His mouth was on hers again. Their kisses urgent and needy.
All at once their passion erupted into a frenzy.
Carina decided to check on Hercules before she retired for the night. It had been early in the evening when he had complained of a headache and he had not yet come to the infirmary to seek a remedy. She hoped that his headache had disappeared but she suspected that he was being stubborn and was riding it out. She decided to bring him some willow tea.
Carina left the stoa with the warm cup of tea. The atmosphere held the definite promise of rain. She could smell a storm brewing. Electricity loomed in the distance, occasionally lighting up the night sky.
Both Hercules and Iolaus were staying in the small inn located in the middle of the square. Since no visitors had been welcome in the village since the sickness, they were the inn's only guests.
The building was dark and quiet. The rooms were upstairs, above a pub that was once very popular. It had been abandoned earlier in the month when many of the frequent visitors had come down with the illness.
Carina knew the villagers had treated the innkeeper unfairly. When the patrons began getting sick, the villagers raided the pub and destroyed all the liquor and food. They beat the innkeeper to within an inch of his life.
As a healer she recognized that the innkeeper was probably not to blame. Those that overindulge in food and drink, especially drink, would often be the first to suffer from any opportunistic illness. The villagers felt little remorse when the innkeeper was one of the first to die from the illness.
She walked up the steep flight of stairs, carefully holding the flimsy handrail with her free hand. There were four rooms at the top of the stairs. She couldn't remember which one she had arranged for Hercules. She decided to try the first one to the left. She knocked.
"Come in." Hercules had invited. She walked in tentatively. Hercules was still up, but was getting ready to retire. His shirt was carefully folded on a chair in the corner of the room.
Carina was an older woman but the sight of Hercules' muscular chest awakened a desire she had not had in a while.
"If I was only thirty years younger, Hercules. You do have the body of a god," she said continuing to stare at his chest for effect.
"Oh. Sorry. I wasn't thinking. I thought you were Iolaus. Where is he, any way?" Hercules asked as he picked up his shirt and put it back on.
"Having more luck than I am. He's with Livy."
"I see," Hercules mused. "And they were getting along?"
"I suppose so. They were in a rather ardent embrace when I left," she said as she set the willow tea on a small table by the chair and sat down.
"How much do you think your friend cares for Livy?" she asked.
"I've seen his feelings for her change over the past few days. How much is not easy to say. Iolaus hasn't been sharing his feelings with me lately. Why do you ask?"
"Livy's fervor for healing is starting to take its toll. She's taken on too much by herself. She has a raging fever and is much weaker than usual."
She got up from the chair and walked up to him. "Speaking of a fever, Cepheus said you've been avoiding everyone today. Are you sure you're not suffering from more than just a headache? With this illness you can't be too careful."
"What do you mean. I just have a headache. That's all." Hercules defended.
"Then you won't mind if I check for fever, then."
"I'm fine, really."
She gave him a stern look. It reminded him of the look his mother would give when she knew he was hiding something.
"Fine," Hercules said resolved, bending down so Carina could reach his forehead.
He didn't have a fever.
"I told you. I'm fine, really."
"I'm sorry for doubting you, but you can't be too careful. So many people have died from this illness, some because we waited too late to seek help. I know I don't have to tell you this illness is easier to treat if it is caught early. But why didn't you come by the infirmary for your headache?"
"It's just a headache. You have more important things to worry about."
"No I don't. What would Asclepius say if he knew I let the son of Zeus suffer? What would Zeus say? I believe we're being punished enough." Carina said. She walked back to the chair and sat down. She wasn't going to leave until Hercules relented.
I couldn't ask you for help. I couldn't ask Livy for help. Not when I know what will happen to you if I do."
"She's made that choice. I've made that choice. Let us do what we have chosen to do."
"Even if it will kill you."
"It won't kill us. Here, have some tea," Carina beckoned. She picked up the tea from the table and held it toward him.
He waved her off.
"I had a feeling you would react this way. I suppose I should have never told you about Livy. But the damage is done." She continued to hold the cup out for Hercules to take.
"It's okay. It wasn't prepared by Livy or myself. When Liriope heard you had a headache, there was nothing I could do to stop her from preparing it for you."
"That girl does have a one track mind, doesn't she?" He laughed.
"She would make a good healer though. She needed little instruction to make this brew. Although I don't guarantee its palatability.
Hercules took the cup away from her. He tentatively tasted the tea. It was not as good as some he had tasted, but he was able to swallow it.
"What will happen if Asclepius doesn't give up? Will Zeus ever come to his senses and realize this edict is hurting everyone. . . including his son."
"I won't presume and speak for Zeus. He can be almost as stubborn as the witch he calls his wife."
Do you have any influence over your father. Can you speak in our behalf?"
"This conflict has been going on longer than I can remember, and I believe my father has taken rather a personal stake in seeing Asclepius punished. He won't listen to anything I have to say. I'm afraid the only way to solve this dilemma is for Asclepius to turn his fate over to Zeus. I'm sure Zeus will be fair."
"Well, I thought I'd ask." Carina said as she got up. "Finish your tea."
"Stop," Livy protested reluctantly. She pushed away from Iolaus.
"I can't," Iolaus responded in a throaty voice and pulled her to him again. Her voice led him to believe she wasn't entirely serious. She was a willing participant in his seduction. He wondered why she would suddenly be objecting.
He kissed her delicate mouth again and she responded with passion.
"I feel something," she answered after the lingering kiss.
"So do I," he said nuzzling her neck.
Livy's mind was no longer on his seduction. She felt something very familiar and foreboding. Unlike most humans, Livy was always a little more cognizant when gods would pop in and out of their realm.
The hair on the back of her neck would stand up, as if there was a sudden charge of electricity in the room. She was rarely wrong about this feeling and she knew someone invisible to her had just entered the room. She suspected Asclepius.
Then a disembodied voice called out.
"Honey I'm home." Asclepius said in a light hearted tone that suggested he was insane.
Iolaus could feel the muscles in Livy's back tighten, as an unholy dread seemed to grip her.
His hunter's instincts heightened, Iolaus moved slowly and deliberately from the bed. He knew the voice belonged to Asclepius, and his intrusion was more than Iolaus could take. His dislike for the god of medicine took on new meaning.
"Show yourself." He demanded. Iolaus continued to look around the room, expecting Asclepius to appear but the god of medicine was silent.
The silence in the room seemed to last an eternity when Asclepius spat out, "You had me waiting for hours by the river. You were never going to come, were you?" He was still invisible and his voice seemed to reverberate throughout the room.
Livy was concerned why Asclepius would remain in hiding. It could only mean he was plotting something.
Livy pulled herself up from the bed. She had to expose him. With Zeus in the next room, Livy knew it was time to put her plan into action. She wanted to believe she was ready for it.
"I had no intention of meeting you at the river, Asclepius. If my plan was to work, you needed to come to the village. Now, show yourself," Livy said echoing Iolaus' words.
The room remained silent.
"What plan?" He asked and then appeared a second before he clobbered Iolaus with the side of Livy's cane.
"NO!" Livy yelled, never expecting Iolaus would be the object of his attack. Iolaus turned around at the sound of her voice. He didn't have time to react. The cane connected with his head and he fell to the ground unconscious.
The force of the blow caused the cane to splinter into several pieces What was left in the hand of Asclepius was a short stick with a very dangerous point.
Asclepius marveled at what was left of the cane. "I hope he wasn't part of the plan," he said so seriously that it frightened Livy.
"Have you gone mad?" Livy asked incredulous. She was already on the ground checking on Iolaus.
"Presently, it's hard to tell. Am I mad? Madder than Hades and I'm not going to take it anymore. I have a plan of my own. Where is the vial?"
"Why did you hit him? He's never done anything to you."
"Oh, then I guess he wasn't part of the plan. Sorry," Asclepius' apologized to the unconscious form. He walked toward Livy. "Where is the vial?"
"It's not here."
"I don't believe you."
"It's safe but it's not here," she said continuing to check on Iolaus' condition. He was still unconscious. Blood was running down a cut on the side of his head.
Asclepius grabbed her by the arm and pulled her up.
"Stop, you're hurting me." She struggled to get away but his grip remained tight.
"I'll do more than that if I don't get the vial. Where is it?" He asked, pulling on Livy's arm forcing her to abandon Iolaus. She started to fight him, hitting him wherever her hands and arms could connect.
In an effort to stop the attach and gain control of her, Asclepius grabbed Livy and forced her close to him.
Her body was held tight against his; the curve of her back against his significant chest. He would often cradle Livy like that when they were together. He loved to fold his arms around her tiny waist, but this time his touch was no longer tender.
His left hand was gripping her left arm and his right arm was around her chest holding the sharp cane against the left side of her throat. He could feel her labored breathing against his arm as she recovered from her struggle. He forced her into the infirmary.
Asclepius rarely used his divine powers. He spent a great deal of his time with his human companions, even when he was welcomed in Olympus. He treated the sick, but for all his godliness, he would always be more mortal than god.
Livy was not resisting. She had a real fear of the cane by her throat. She could feel the sharp point and knew it could do real damage. She calmly walked through the stoa as best she could.
She had no idea what Asclepius was planning, but the edge in his voice made her afraid. She glanced toward Zeus as she walked by his bed. Zeus, still in his little girl form remained still. He had promised to bear witness and take part in Asclepius' retribution. He must see that at the moment, Livy was no longer in control and the plan was going very badly. Why isn't he helping me?" she wondered to herself.
She decided to turn her attention to Asclepius. He might be angry enough to divulge his plan. "Why do you want the vial anyway? It's done nothing but remind you of your unpardonable sin," she asked, as she was being led out of the stoa.
"I've made a deal with Zeus."
Livy stopped so abruptly that Asclepius almost forced her to the ground. This was a new twist. Zeus had said nothing to Livy about making a deal with Asclepius. She glanced back at his bed trying to see if there was any recognition in his face. His mask was unchanged.
She decided he must be the biggest two timing God in existence. He had already gone back on his word to her. She now wondered if he was planning to play Asclepius and herself against each other. It would have been the perfect plan. What kind of deal could he make with the god of medicine, she wondered.
Asclepius had an enmity toward Livy that he had never demonstrated before. Even during their most hurtful arguments, he was never as vehement as he was at that moment. Something drove his hatred, or rather someone orchestrated his hatred.
Suddenly, she could see it in her mind very clearly. Zeus would feign abhorrence at Livy's decision to take matters into her own hands. Zeus would offer a deal to Asclepius for Livy's condemnation and subsequent deliverance. She doubted that the deal included a full pardon, but he must have made some significant compromises for Asclepius to agree. She tried to believe he would not kill her outright, but she could see the god of medicine's desperation. Once Livy was subjugated or dead, Zeus no longer had to make good on his promise to her and Zeus would effectively have Asclepius, satisfying Hades.
She needed to find out what his plan was before she proceeded further.
As scared as she was, her voice remained calm. "What deal could you possibly make with Zeus?"
He urged her out the door and then pushed the spear higher into her throat forcing her head back even further..
"It doesn't matter, anyway. Once I get the vial, I will be gone. Where is it?"
Livy had her own dilemma to deal with. She was confounded as to what she would tell Asclepius about the location of the vial. The vial was tucked safely in her cloak in the stoa.
She surveyed the area as quickly as she could. She saw the well at the edge of the square and formulated a story.
Livy decided the square would be the best place to direct him. This was a special place to the villagers. They constructed the square to honor Asclepius. She could no longer proceed with her plan in this predicament, but it might be there where she could be able to reason with him.
She didn't know how long Asclepius had been in Epidaurus, or how much of the last days' events he had seen. What ever story she made up had to seem plausible. Asclepius' plan had something to do with the vial. That was why Zeus wanted her to steal it. It would have been Asclepius' only bargaining chip. Without it Asclepius was vulnerable and the deal with Zeus could not be made.
"What are you going to do once you have the vial? You must know, Zeus won't keep his word to you."
"Where is the vial?"
"Zeus is relentless and he doesn't make deals. He wants you to pay, Asclepius, and he won't stop until you do."
"He has to find me first to exact punishment. I'm not intending for that to happen. But he does have some definite plans for you. Do you think Zeus would tolerate any mortal's plan to vilify a god? Compared to your plan, he will come to see, I've done nothing wrong."
"Whatever deal he's made with you, he won't stick to it."
"For the last time, where is the vial?" He snarled as he pushed the spear into her throat with enough force that it drew blood.
Her head was pushed so far against the back of her neck that it made it difficult for her to speak. She struggled to get the words out and when they came, they ringed of despondency. "I put the vial in the well. Then I had Hercules plug it so no one could get to it."
Asclepius relaxed his grip and pushed her forward toward the middle of the square. He knew he was in a vulnerable position, out in the open. He was hoping to get the vial and disappear before anyone could see him. He needed Livy to walk faster, but his effort to speed her along just managed to fumble her up.
Livy tripped and tumbled forward, causing Asclepius to loose his grip on her. She fell to the ground. Livy could hear a loud crack as she landed on her crippled leg.
Livy let out a horrific scream that sent the villagers scurrying from their homes.
Carina had already left the confines of the inn when she heard the scream. She could see two shadowed figures in the square. In the dim light she could recognize neither. One was towering over the other. The smaller figure was on the ground.
She walked toward them.
Hercules also heard the scream and followed Carina out of the inn.
Cepheus was asleep when a scream suddenly jarred him awake. It was his job to protect the village. He grabbed his sword which hung carefully next to the hearth. He removed it from the sheath, It shined in the light of the fire making it seem more formidable.
He left his home and ran toward the collection of villagers in the middle of the square.
The rest of the villagers were in the square and converging on Asclepius and Livy.
Asclepius was getting even more edgy as the villagers seemed to block any possibility of escape. He could not proceed with his plan without the vial and a throng of villagers stood between him and the vial.
Asclepius could only guess what Livy's plan was and he made every effort for it to fail. He suspected the little guy was part of the plan, so he eliminated the threat, but Livy had mentioned Hercules and he wondered what part of the plan the son of Zeus was involved in.
Asclepius had seen the tall demigod approach. Although he may have been out of circulation for a while, he had heard the stories of his cousin. He knew Hercules to be a good man and he perceived Livy would have to misrepresent him as sinister to get Hercules to aid in this plot.
When Zeus told him she was the instigator of the plan, Asclepius was incredulous. She had always had a noninterference attitude when it came to dealing with Zeus and his noxious retribution. Even as a victim herself, she rarely discussed his role in healing Hippolytes or the subject of Zeus' retribution with him. He couldn't believe the truth, not until Livy stole the blood of Medusa.
Livy was still on the ground. Her tear stained face looked up at Asclepius.
"Asclepius, please, I don't want to do this here. Not like this." Livy pleaded with him.
"Are you concerned about what the village will think of me or you, Livy?" He answered back.
Asclepius saw the sword wielding man approach and determined he was a real threat. He was desperate and decided a hostage would keep this man from interfering. He still intended to get the vial.
He looked around for an effective hostage. Livy would no longer do. She would slow him down with her now broken left leg.
Lightning heralding the impending storm, distracted the villagers long enough for him to gain a new hostage.
He grabbed Liriope, who was the closest woman available to him. He still held Livy's cane in his hand and forced the dangerous spear to her throat.
Asclepius waved the spear across Liriope's neck. Any advance from Cepheus would prove fatal to the young woman.
Hercules could see the desperation in his cousin's eyes and held the brash young man back.
Asclepius yelled so the villagers could hear."Don't you get it. Livy set me up. Livy and Hercules set me up."
You could hear the audible gasps from the villagers.
Livy shook her head slightly.
"You're right," Livy continued. "This is a setup. But Hercules had nothing to do with it. I am the one betraying you tonight, and I'm sure I will pay for it, but how long have you betrayed this village?"
Livy could contain her rage no longer. She didn't realize how angry she was until she started her tirade. "Look around you, Asclepius." She raised her voice so all could hear. "What do you see. These are the people that love you. They worship you as no other village has. I am standing on your emblem of healing." She pointed to the large stone serpent adorning the square."
"They've built this square to honor you. What have you done to honor them?"
Her rage was so out of control that she felt as if she was someone else. It was consuming her. She could no longer feel the pain in her leg. She could no longer feel the pain in her heart. She no longer cared about Zeus' retribution against her or his retribution against Asclepius. She couldn't think of anything but her rage.
"Look at them!" She yelled. "Look at the one you're holding hostage. All she's wanted to do was to honor you. She is healing the sick to honor you!"
"I did nothing wrong," he protested. "I did nothing wrong."
Hercules moved from the outside of the crowd to the inner circle. He could see that both Asclepius and Livy were out of control and that made for a dangerous situation. He thought he might be able to reason with Asclepius. He could see the trembling hand move closer to Liriope's neck.
"This is between Livy and myself, Hercules."
"Maybe. But you have taken a hostage from this village. I won't allow you to hurt her." Hercules could see Cepheus raise his sword in defense. he signaled Cepheus to remain still. Hercules hoped that this confrontation would not erupt in bloodshed.
"Asclepius. I'm sure we can talk about this. just let Liriope go."
"I did nothing wrong," he repeated. "I did nothing wrong, Hercules." There was anguish in the face of Asclepius. For a moment you could see his selfloathing.
Asclepius was for the most part kindhearted, but had lost sight of that through all of his years of self imposed confinement.
Asclepius looked around surveying the village. He could see many familiar faces. Other faces were gone.
The whole village seemed to be judging him.
Livy had managed to hurt him, but far more cruelly than he had hurt her. She could get over his abandonment, but Asclepius could never get over being ambushed in front of his adoring village. Her compassion for Asclepius returned. Her voice was no longer strident, and was calm and soothing. "Raising Hippolytes was not wrong. I could never condemn you for that. But letting the village suffer like this, that's wrong. These people needed your help, but you turned your back on them. That's wrong. You have ignored my pleas to help these people. That's wrong. I've put my fate in Zeus' hands to save this village. Can you say the same thing?"
He continued to survey the crowd. Carina was now standing by Hercules, her eyes hurt and pleading. The young man, Cepheus was standing behind her. his sword low but ready to strike. He saw the town bard. Mythopoeisis watched Asclepius' actions with quiet scrutiny. The young girl he held in his arms whimpered quietly.
Then he saw Zeus. Zeus had entered the circle from the path that lead to the stoa. Zeus was walking toward him. His walk was slow, deliberate, and meaningful.
Hercules also saw his father and recognized the bad omen. His father detested the mortal realm, and rarely mingled with the population. If he was here it is because he expected to take Asclepius.
It was bad enough that Livy chose to exploit him in front of his followers, but he could not deal with Zeus' condemnation in front of them.
Asclepius' rage finally had the force that it needed.
Livy could feel his muscles tighten and knew someone was about to die.
Livy knew she would be the one to die. She could see the total rage on the face of Asclepius. His rage had never had such power before. Her mind flashed back to the night years ago when she began the journey that led her here. As a kindly healer, he protected her then. Now, as the god of medicine he intended to destroy her. The cane that had been a gift from the man she loved was now going to be used to kill by the god she despised. Zeus' presence and Livy's betrayal sent him over the edge of sanity.
His anger manifested itself in power. He demonstrated the adrenaline of a man and the carelessness of a God. He released Liriope, propelling her with a shove toward Hercules. He caught Liriope before she fell into the crowd.
Asclepius then moved toward Livy with unbridled speed. He let out a primal scream of anger as the spear was raised and ready to strike. Livy's leg made it nearly impossible for her to move. Her only hope would be to roll out of the way as Asclepius plunged the cane toward her chest.
Cepheus tried to intercede. He moved between Livy and the fast approaching god of medicine. His sword was up and ready to strike but Asclepius still garnered too much power. The brash young swordsman was merely an object to be avoided. He held no real threat.
Asclepius was ready for him. He brought his short stick down and deflected the slashing motion of the swordsman, then he used the momentum of the man to disarm him. As Cepheus brought his arm around for the killing blow, Asclepius used the cane as a bludgeon and broke the young man's wrist. The sword went flying.
Asclepius merely pushed Cepheus out of the way. The strength of the shove forced Cepheus toward the well. He hit his head on the stone structure and fell into unconsciousness.
Liriope's clinging made it troublesome for Hercules to aid Livy or Cepheus. As Hercules watched Cepheus try to engage Asclepius, Liriope gripped his neck in consolation He forcibly removed her arms from around his neck, only to find them encircling his considerable chest.
She no longer whimpered, and her grasping seemed to be calculating and manipulative.
He had no time for her infatuation. He was needed elsewhere. Cepheus was not fighting a mortal, he was fighting a god; a very angry god. Hercules knew Cepheus could not win. He had to get to Asclepius and stop the fighting.
Hercules pried Liriope's hands off his chest, "Stay here. Don't move." He commanded in a voice that made Liriope sigh in utter delight. Hercules ran toward Cepheus.
Livy saw the god of medicine draw near her and in an act of desperation, she stretched to reach the sword which landed close by. She had to extend the length of her body which produced excruciating pain in her broken leg. She screamed with the effort but was able to grasp the handle.
Livy brought the hilt of the sword and held it perpendicular to her abdomen. She continued to lay on her side. At the precise moment, she would roll on her back carrying the sword with her.
When Asclepius was a breath away she closed her eyes and rolled. The sword was heavy and keeping it in an upright position was difficult in her weakened state.
Asclepius could not stop in time. The sword impaled him as he attempted to stop his forward momentum. There was a haunting look of surprise in his eyes as the sword easily slid between two ribs and lodged in his heart. His body convulsed in a sudden electrical surge as he could almost hear his blood gurgle as his heart abruptly stopped.
Livy kept her eyes closed and did not see what happened next. She didn't see the bright flash of electricity that came from the hand of Zeus. Zeus' patience for the impudent God finally wore off. He struck the god of medicine with a lightning bolt as the sword Livy was holding pierced his flesh.
"Buddy, hey, buddy." An old man said as he gently slapped Iolaus on the face.
"What. . . what happened?" he asked when he finally gained some senses. The old man had propped him up, but was still on the floor. He held is head with both hands. He feared that if he didn't it would fall off.
"Amnesia," The old man said matter of factly and nodded his diagnosis to the rest of the group huddled around Iolaus. He had been in the infirmary for two day's and fancied himself a healer.
"I thought the god of medicine vowed to do no harm." Iolaus mumbled to himself. His eyes wouldn't focus. He remembered being hit and he knew who had hit him. His anger for Asclepius was renewed.
"Tell me what happened." Iolaus demanded. He closed his eyes and then opened them forcing himself to see. The blurred vision eased and he attempted to get up.
"Asclepius forced her out of here." The old man offered.
"I think you need to lie down," he said concerned as he saw the blood drain from Iolaus' face.
"You didn't try to help her?" Iolaus asked. He looked at the old gentleman. He was extremely frail. His body was emaciated, and mummy like in appearance. His eyes were hollow, dark and sunk in. You could see the horrors of this illness in his eyes. His hands were trembling as he tried to help Iolaus. He barely had the strength to hold Iolaus up, much less to deal with an angry god.
He surveyed the group. All were extremely young or old and still suffering from the effects of the illness.
"He didn't hurt her, did he?" he asked nodding his head in hopes that the old man would agree with him. He saw the hatred on the face of Asclepius right before the god of medicine hit him. He knew that hatred was directed toward Livy.
"Well, he had a spear to her throat. I don't think they were going on a picnic, if that's what you mean." the old man said again.
"I've got to go find her." Iolaus said as a wave of dizziness and nausea consumed him. He fell back to the ground.
"But you know what the funny thing was," the old gentleman continued as Iolaus sat on the ground, "that unconscious girl that you brought in here a couple of days ago just suddenly woke up and followed them out. It was the strangest thing."
A young girl had a wet cloth and was dabbing Iolaus' wound, trying to stop the bleeding. He pushed her hand away. He couldn't think with all these people around him.
"Where'd they go?" He asked as he got up again.
"Dang if I know," the old gentleman said. "Do I look like Zeus?"
Iolaus staggered out of the stoa in search of Livy. He noticed the throng of villagers in the center of the square and proceeded toward them.
Livy opened her eyes when she felt the heavy burden on the sword. Asclepius' body was in the throes of a convulsion. If her plan was finally accomplished, her torment was just beginning. In horror, she let go of the sword. Asclepius fell to the ground.
Livy pulled herself up and dragged herself over to Asclepius. Spasms coursed through his body. She cradled him as best she could and tried to hold him down. Suddenly his body gave one final jerk and he was still.
Livy couldn't believe what she was seeing. She could not have killed the god of medicine. He was a god. It wasn't supposed to happen like this.
She decided it must be some cruel joke he was playing on her. A god playing possum. She almost laughed out loud with the absurdity of it.
"Come on Asclepius. Wake up." She said as she started shaking him.
She looked at the crowd that had gathered around her. Their look of panic contributed to her own. "Asclepius, come on. This village needs you. I need you." She said as she continued to shake him. She shook him harder as the desire to get a response from him consumed her.
"He won't wake up." Livy said to the crowd that was converging around her. Her tears began flowing freely. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew he was dead. She just couldn't accept it.
She looked up at the haunting eyes of the people around her. They knew the truth.
Carina's eyes held the horror of the death of their patron; the death at the hands of a healer. Livy was no better than Asclepius. She sacrificed Asclepius for herself, just as Asclepius sacrificed the village.
As a young woman Carina had the opportunity to work under Asclepius' instruction. He was a caring healer and she too had become infatuated with him. Livy was no less caring, and she realized the necessity to defend herself, but the horror of seeing the god of medicine murdered in front of her was too much for her to take. She had to turn away when she saw the beseeching eyes of Livy.
A crack of thunder shook the square. She watched as Zeus disappeared with the noise. Zeus seemed to be void of any emotion. He had promised to see the plan to its end. The end had indeed come. She wondered if she had pleased or disappointed the King of Gods. She would never know. It didn't surprise her that the King of Gods had no feelings. If he had, the outcome of this intervention would have been much different. With his disappearance, a cold rain began to fall on the village.
She didn't have to guess what Hercules was feeling. His eyes held shock and pain. She had just killed his cousin; a man she knew Hercules had come to respect and admire. His face showed a remarkable combination of forgiveness and worry. She wondered how she could elicit such a wondrous response in him.
Livy found Iolaus in the crowd. The sight of him caused her tears to start anew. She didn't understand why she was so relieved and yet so afraid to see him.
He had staggered up to the crowd just seconds after the god of medicine died. Her eyes held on his for as long as she dared. She glanced back at Asclepius.
"Iolaus." Her voice pleaded, barely audible.
He walked up to her. His legs still weak and rubbery.
"I told you I'd do something awful," she croaked. "By the gods, I never meant to hurt him," she defended.
Iolaus knelt down beside her and began stroking her hair. He could see she was on the verge of a breakdown. He didn't know what to say to console her and it made his heart ache.
Livy's voice no longer held the authority and self assuredness of a healer, it sounded frightened and totally lost. "He's dead. I killed him."
His voice was quiet and soothing. "Shh, no one believes it's your fault."
She wasn't ready to hear it.
"Yes it is." She said resolved. Her head was nodding agreement almost violently. Her tears started again. "I led him here. I wanted retribution. I wanted him to pay, but not like this." Her voice cracked as the realization came.
"Why does everyone I love, leave me?" she asked looking up and pulling away from his touch.
"I'm still here. I'm not going anywhere." Iolaus said trying to relieve some of her anguish. He really didn't know how she felt about him. Those words were never exchanged, but he knew he cared and hoped that would be enough. He wanted to touch her again, to hold her in his arms and absorb her pain, but she sunk closer to the god of medicine.
"Come on. Let's get you inside." he offered and took her shoulders.
"NO," she commanded vehemently, forcing herself from his grasp. "I'm not leaving him."
Iolaus, not sure what comfort she would accept, got up and backed away.
"He's so cold, Iolaus." She said almost in a whisper as she stroked the god's face. She spoke without looking at Iolaus. Her focus was only on Asclepius. She looked at the sword that was still impaled in his ribcage. "And he looks so uncomfortable."
Livy at this point, was in her own world consumed by the guilt of her actions. She continued to stroke the god's face. Her touch was loving and gentle, her voice soothing and endearing.
Iolaus walked over to Hercules.
"Is there anything we can do for her?"
"I'm fear only the gods can help her now." Hercules advised.
"He's so cold." Livy said again oblivious to all the activity around her. People were milling around, watching and judging her. Rain dripped off her soddened dress and hair.
Iolaus knew he had to do something.
"Carina, could you bring Livy's cloak and a blanket for Asclepius?" Iolaus asked.
She nodded, leaving the two warriors to talk alone. Iolaus looked back at Livy.
"What are you going to do." Hercules asked.
I'm going to make Livy and Asclepius as comfortable as possible."
Hercules could see the compassion in the eyes of his friend. Whatever personal and emotional harm Asclepius may have done to Iolaus, he had forgiven the god of medicine. He was now bound and determined to ease Livy's pain as much as he could.
Iolaus walked over to Asclepius and gently removed the sword buried deep in his torso. He threw it as far as he could. Livy didn't speak, but Iolaus could see the gratitude in her eyes. Those eyes created the bond between them the first time he gazed into the dark liquid pools. Now he wanted to reclaim that bond. He was having trouble keeping his empathy from consuming him.
Carina handed Iolaus her cloak. Iolaus bent down and hung the cloak over Livy's wet shoulders while Carina draped the blanket over Asclepius. Livy looked up at Iolaus and noticed the cut on the side of his head. Gently she reached up and touched it. "Have Carina look at that cut, will you?" she said hauntingly like herself. She looked down at Asclepius and was lost in her grief again. She began humming a death song.
"You can't reach her now. No one can reach her right now. Give her time. " Carina whispered gently to Iolaus.
"We need to get you inside to treat that cut," Carina said, leading Iolaus toward the stoa. The three walked back and let Livy to grieve in solitude.
Livy didn't care if she was alone, even if everything else was a blur. The night was quiet with the exception of the cacophony in her head. The rain beating on the stones in the square almost overpowered the noise. She welcomed the rain. It forced the villagers back into their homes. She no longer had to look at their frightened and disappointed faces.
Her hands were getting numb, she could no longer feel Asclepius' soft skin. She reached into her cloak to warm it up. Her hand brushed against the vial of Medusa's Blood. She had forgotten it was there.
She pulled it out and her fingers began exploring the vial. They touched the cool clay and played with the raindrops that fell on it. Her fingers moved to the stopper that kept the vial tightly sealed. She wasn't really thinking. It was almost as if her hand was working independently from her mind. She opened the vial.
"Forgive me." She said as she poured the contents of the vial onto the prone body of Asclepius and then gave into her pain and despair.
She no longer cared if she died in the street.
The vial of Medusa's blood was the reason for all her suffering. She let out scream and then threw the clay vial onto the well. It shattered. The shards of clay and the rufrescent contents were washed away with the rivulets of rain.
She closed her eyes and let unconsciousness claim her.
Iolaus paced through the infirmary. He could not stand being idle and watching Livy's self destruction. She continued to hold a vigil over Asclepius. Iolaus would walk out of the stoa and watch her every few minutes. Everyone advised against intervening but he had to do something, so when he couldn't bare to watch her anymore, he paced.
He approached Hercules as he was quietly talking with Carina.
"How long do you think she is going to be able to go on?" Hercules asked.
"I'm afraid if the grief doesn't kill her the fever, the broken leg and the rain will. She doesn't have the strength to fight this edict any longer."
"What are you saying?" Iolaus questioned. "What edict. She's going to be fine. She has a talisman from Asclepius."
"Iolaus." Hercules put his hands on his friends shoulders. "Livy doesn't have a talisman, and never did. There is no talisman that can protect her from Zeus' spell. That's why it is so dangerous. She made up the story so we wouldn't feel the need to worry about her."
"Like I could help myself?" Iolaus said rhetorically, "Why didn't you tell me."
"It wasn't my place to tell you. That was Livy's decision."
"Did she tell you?" Iolaus asked hurt all over again. He couldn't stand the idea that she might have confided in Hercules instead of him.
Hercules looked toward Carina. "I figured it out for myself. Even Livy doesn't know I know."
"You should have told me. You knew how I felt about her."
"That's exactly why I didn't tell you."
"You know, Hercules. If we could just get her in here, we could do something for her. I know we can. Inside, she's fighting this."
"You tried earlier, remember Iolaus. She won't leave Asclepius and trying may pull her deeper into her grief."
"Iolaus, she's in bad shape. It would take the god's intervention for her to survive this now."
The conversation stopped when they heard her scream. Iolaus' heart stopped. He, Hercules and Carina ran out of the stoa and toward the square.
Zeus stood in the square, holding Livy's unconscious form carefully in his arms. Asclepius' body was gone.
"Let go of her." Iolaus demanded addressing the King of Gods.
Iolaus was about to physically rip Livy from the arms of Zeus when Hercules held him back.
"Zeus, what are you doing?" Hercules asked. His was the voice of reason.
"I'm taking her away."
"Taking her where?" Iolaus asked.
Iolaus felt like his heart dropped into his belly. Asclepius was dead, if Livy was going to Asclepius, it meant she was dead too.
"What do you mean. Asclepius is dead." Iolaus argued the obvious.
"Was dead." Zeus answered.
"It seems that Livy decided to take matters in her own hands and try the Blood of Medusa on Asclepius. Much to my chagrin, it worked. It seems along with that miraculous feat, Livy has also fulfilled the terms of my agreement with Asclepius."
"What agreement?" Hercules asked.
"I promised Asclepius that I would no longer hold him responsible for Hippolytes, if he destroyed the vial. I'm afraid the unfortunate accident made it impossible for him to deliver, but it seems our little healer here fulfilled his promise by using the well as target practice. The vial was her chosen projectile."
Zeus started walking away, stopped and then turned around.
"Oh, and I feel the need to set the record straight," he said as he noticed more villagers converging on the scene.
"As for Livy's part in the plan. Livy only agreed out of compulsion. I promised to release the edict from all healers if she could deliver Asclepius. I knew she couldn't refuse. I certainly didn't expect that she would accomplish it. She dealt with her demons well, and I feel compelled to live up to my end of the bargain. My edict will be lifted. First, however, my daughter needs my attention."
With that statement, Zeus vanished in a shower of sparks. Livy was tucked safely in his arms.
Hercules and Iolaus talked throughout the night. Iolaus was subdued, and was reticent about discussing his feelings. He wasn't so sure he knew how he felt about Livy.
"You know, Herc. I feel bad that I spent all that effort trying to dislike Livy. It seems like such a waste of time."
"Anger and hatred often is, Iolaus. The important thing is you got through that, and Livy knew how you really felt."
"Yeah, she did."
He remained pensive, and Hercules was content to let him remain lost in his thoughts, when he spoke again.
"I still don't understand why Livy would put her life in jeopardy just to help perfect strangers."
"Oh, I think I can understand. I watch you do it every day, my friend."
Iolaus let out an uninhibited laugh. It was his first since they had arrived in Epidaurus.
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