He felt his lungs burning as he ran over the black sand. His breath coming in short, painful gasps he dared a quick look behind; they were out of sight, but for how much longer? He'd been running for what seemed like forever and he didn't know how much further he could go, his legs were growing heavy and painful and his lungs were burning. Where did they find the stamina from, or had he finally managed to lose them this time? He stumbled as he looked over his shoulder again.
Over the ridge of the black dune behind him they came. Standing briefly silhouetted on the top before slipping and sliding down the steep soft black dune of sand, the fifty daughters of King Thespius still had enough breath left to call out to him.
"There he is!"
"Come on girls."
Hercules gasped for breath and turned to continue his flight, how on earth could those, those .. Princesses still have the breath to call out to him? He was supposed to be the son of a god and they were the idle, spoilt daughters of a king! He suppressed the anger that he felt beginning to rise in him again, there was no use in bemoaning his fate; it was no use railing against the gods that his wife was dead, his children were dead! Why should he care about these women, why should he want to be a father ever again? Hera would surely take any children he sired from him - again. There was no use in thinking about his lost family now. It wouldn't bring them back - nothing would bring them back.
Iolaus walked along the road, bouncing nervously on the balls of his feet. It was too long since he had visited Alcmene, he kept meaning to but there was always something he had to do, some blacksmithing, or a field to plough. But this morning he had woken to the sound of birds and the scent of the rose that Alcmene had given to Ania as a wedding gift. It grew under his bedroom window and its white blooms tinged with a hint of pink were sweetly scented. Ania had treasured it and Iolaus had treasured her smiling face as she stood at the window breathing in its scent. Alcmene had always been good at finding the perfect gift.
It was one of the few reminders Iolaus had left of his old life, his wife and his children. He preferred it that way. Thinking of Ania, and the deep ache she had left in his heart had led to thinking about Hercules and his family, as it always did now. Iolaus worried about his friend, but there was little he could do until the demigod was ready to let him.
The waiting was getting harder as each week passed without word, which was why Iolaus was walking to Alcmene's this morning. If the waiting was bad for him what must it be like for her? She'd lost her grandchildren, her daughter-in-law, who was more like a daughter to her than most daughters were to their own mothers; and then she'd lost her son. He'd walked away without saying goodbye to her, and though she understood, it didn't stop the hurt. The scent of the rose that had awoken him that morning had turned Iolaus' thoughts to the woman who had been there for him during the darkest period of his life; he should be able to return the favour.
Iolaus sighed; he wasn't looking forward to this. It wasn't that he didn't want to see his friend's mother, but he wasn't good at this kind of thing. He didn't want to examine his feelings and he knew that however deeply Alcmene was hurting she would want to know how he was. He'd tell her that he was fine, and hope and pray that she left it at that. He didn't want to think about how much he missed his wife and children, he didn't want to think about how much he missed Deianeira or the children who had lovingly called him 'Uncle', and he most certainly didn't want to acknowledge how much he missed Hercules.
The morning was perfect for walking and it didn't take long for Iolaus to arrive at his destination. He admired Alcmene's garden as he always did, the roses were all blooming and the scent of the lavender below them mingled together with the other scents of the garden to make any visitor relax and feel welcome. Breathing deeply to enjoy the perfume Iolaus walked slowly down the path. He was trying to decide what to say and how to excuse himself for taking so long in making this visit, he should have known better.
He hadn't even raised his hand to knock when the door was flung open and Alcmene threw her arms around him. "Oh Iolaus! It's so good to see you. I thought you'd abandoned me too! Come in, come in."
Barely given a chance to reply Iolaus found himself being herded into the familiar and much loved house. Alcmene made him sit and started bustling about deciding that he needed breakfast.
"But I've eaten already."
Alcmene smiled indulgently and Iolaus grinned and shrugged letting her start creating some aromas even more enticing than the scents of the garden. He sat and watched her for a while before speaking,
"I'm sorry it took me so long to visit Alcmene. I've been."
"Don't explain! Please. It's all right; you're here now that's all that matters. So, how are you?"
Iolaus decided it was easier to give Alcmene an entertaining tale of the exciting life of a blacksmith-cum-farmer than to discuss what was really on both their minds, so he talked as she cooked, and anyone passing by would have heard laughter coming from the small house and never have guessed at the heartache that lived there.
Hercules wasn't concentrating on the conversation very hard, he was tired from all the running he'd been doing and he felt short-tempered and out of sorts, which wasn't especially unusual these days. He couldn't seem to remember how to be that nice, helpful polite demigod he'd always been before: before his family had been taken from him, before he'd decided that it was safer for everyone if he travelled alone.
Hercules dragged his attention back to the Innkeeper, who was leaning on the bar and in a conspirational whisper had just asked how many daughters King Thespius had. When Hercules told him he laughed and winked at his companion. "You'll take care of them, easy!"
Hercules wanted to get away but couldn't think of a polite way to escape so he made some neutral comment and willed the man to leave him alone. Instead another man joined them.
"Hey, Hercules, what are you going to do about the Cyclops in Trachis?" he asked, moving close to him apparently not frightened by the demigod's size or reputation, and obviously expecting a reply.
The Innkeeper was intent on getting rid of the other man, "Leave him alone, Androcles." he said, trying to push him away, but Hercules saw a way out of the embarrassing conversation and jumped at it.
"Let him speak." he said in his best 'heroic' voice, all the time feeling as if he were playing a part instead of being it. Maybe this Cyclops would give him a good work out at least.
"This Cyclops has been chasing people out of their homes-- hurting them, too. All to protect Hera's sacred vineyards."
Hercules narrowed his eyes as he looked at Androcles, the smaller man standing his ground under the fiery gaze of the son of Zeus.
"Hera?" Suddenly Hercules felt his heart beating faster, pumping the blood through his veins with renewed passion. Hera, again it was Hera, maybe this time he'd get his revenge. He turned to the Innkeeper to gain confirmation and was given it with a regretful nod. To the Innkeeper, Hercules was a six-foot high dinar sign that was about to walk out of his door, he knew that the prospect of a dangerous Cyclops would entice his meal ticket out of there.
Hercules didn't disappoint him.
"Then I'd better go see for myself." ~~~~~
Salmoneus was feeling very pleased with himself. His latest plan to sell togas was a brilliant one, and he just knew that the burghers of Trachis would flock to purchase his wares. It was a pleasant day and he was walking through a picturesque vineyard, if he started getting peckish the vines were heavy with ripe, succulent red grapes, the owner could hardly begrudge him one or two to keep the hunger pangs at bay. Salmoneus started whistling, things were finally on the upturn.
On the upturn that was, until the big voice from the sky said, "Far enough little man."
Salmoneus stopped walking and fearfully looked up, even as a small part of him smiled at being called 'little'. Even his ego stopped its self-preening though when he saw where the voice had come from. Salmoneus remembered his teachings; he was face to face, or rather face to shin, with a Cyclops. He tried desperately to remember anything that would be of use in this encounter but all he could come up with was something about strapping himself to a sheep and eyeing the Cyclops he didn't think that would do the trick this time.
Fear took his tongue as it always did, "Okay. B-b-but I'm just a, ah-- a-a pumble heddler-- a-a humble peddl-- I'm on my way to Trachis."
The Cyclops eyed Salmoneus and his colourful toga with distain, "Not this way."
Salmoneus felt like sitting down and having a good cry, it wasn't fair that a grown man wasn't allowed to have a full blown tantrum every now and then, he couldn't keep the child from his voice when he wailed, "But it's the only way!"
The Cyclops smiled, his teeth showing through his dark beard, and Salmoneus had a moment to wonder at the whiteness of them before he felt himself flying through the air, the vineyard suddenly a very, very long way below him. The air whistled past his ears and he had enough time to admire the patchwork view of vineyard, woods and distant fields. He wondered if there might be any money in Cyclops rides, 'Fly by Cyclops - the scenic way!' It was certainly a good feeling to be flying through the air. Then Salmoneus forgot all about making dinars and lost all power of thought as the woods that bordered the vineyard suddenly came up to meet him.
Iolaus and Alcmene has spent a pleasant morning chatting and laughing, neither of them had mentioned Hercules or his family, neither of them had mentioned the fireball that Hera had sent to kill Deianeira and the children. There had been a silent agreement between them to avoid all troubling subjects; they weren't ready to talk about them yet.
Alcmene had told Iolaus that she was going into town to visit the market, there were a few things she needed to pick up and he had happily agreed to go with her. They arrived in a bustling marketplace in the middle of the afternoon. The stalls were doing a brisk trade and the sounds of cheerful banter and children's laughter filled the air. Leaving the wagon Iolaus and Alcmene separated agreeing to meet up an hour later.
Iolaus spent his time wandering around the stalls, chatting with old friends and flirting with the women that he met. It felt good to relax for a while, it made him realise that he'd been throwing himself into his work recently, never stopping to enjoy himself. He walked slowly, nibbling on a honey cake and taking in the sights and sounds of the marketplace. It brought back memories of his childhood and the times he'd come here with his mother, it also brought back less welcome memories of learning how to steal from the merchants and running from them, usually too quick to be caught. He suppressed the memories of Ania fussing over bolts of cloth or haggling with the stall-holders.
Iolaus slowly made his way back to meet up with Alcmene, he was a little early but he thought that he might be able to help her carry her purchases. If he knew Alcmene there would be plenty to carry. As he walked he heard some children jeering and laughing and looked to see what was going on. In a corner of the market place, out of the way of the hustle and bustle, some children were playing. Four or five boys between the ages of about nine and twelve were pointing at another boy, poking at him and calling him names. The other boy just stood there with his head hanging down, not answering back, and not retaliating.
Iolaus couldn't stop himself, he walked over to the boys and stood with his arms folded over his chest and looked down at them with his sternest expression. He waited until he was noticed and then asked them what they were doing.
"Nothing sir." Two of them mumbled, shuffling their feet. It was all Iolaus could do to keep himself from grinning, he remembered doing that often enough when his mother had caught him doing something he wasn't supposed to.
"It doesn't look like nothing to me. What's this boy done to you that you want to call him names? Huh?"
The boys just muttered and looked at their shuffling feet. Iolaus prompted them again, "Huh?"
Finally one boy bravely looked up into Iolaus' eyes and said, "He's different. He doesn't belong with us. We don't want him around here."
"Why not, because he's different? That's not a very good reason."
Iolaus was about to say more but the boy in question chose that moment to speak, "I don't want your help, mister. I don't need anybody to help me. Leave me alone." he said, turning and running through the crowded market place.
"He doesn't need my help. Does anyone?" Iolaus muttered under his breath before turning back to the boys. "All right boys, but try to think about how it'll make the other person feel before you start making fun of them."
The boys ran off in five different directions and Iolaus sighed, he knew that they'd heard his words but they hadn't understood the meaning. They'd be back to jeering and laughing at some poor unfortunate before the day was over.
Alcmene spoke softly in his ear, "You tried Iolaus, they'll remember what you said one day."
"You're right, I'm sure you're right. After all, I wasn't any better than them at their age."
Alcmene smiled as she handed off some of her numerous packages to Iolaus, "You might have been a little thoughtless at times Iolaus, but you had a good heart."
"Thanks Alcmene. So, anything to eat in all these parcels of yours?"
Salmoneus swung gently in the breeze wondering if he'd have to remain hanging from a tree forever. The ground looked particularly hard and uninviting from where he was standing, well, swinging actually. Perhaps togas weren't as practical as he'd been led to believe, but then, if he hadn 't been wearing a toga he'd probably have landed on that hard and uninviting ground from a very great height instead of from a very little height. He pondered the selling power of this new knowledge until he heard someone say 'hello'.
'Sounds friendly enough' he thought to himself as he looked the newcomer over, but it wasn't without some trepidation that he said, "All right, I admit it, I look like a stuffed owl." Here he gave a sarcastic laugh; he had definitely been hanging around too long. Trying to smile nicely at the stranger he started to ask for help but before he could finish the sentence the bough that he had been precariously balancing from finally gave up under the strain and broke.
Salmoneus fell face first into the muddiest part of the forest, giving himself a very fetching impromptu face pack.
With some concern Hercules stepped forward, "Are you all right?"
"I just fell out of a tree, and landed on my nose - what do you think?"
'Not the brightest of fellas this guy is he?' Salmoneus was exasperated and irritated, falling out of a tree does that to a guy he supposed.
"Yes, but are you going to live?"
'Not the brightest of men, but I suppose he has just fallen out of a tree. I really don't need this.' Hercules really didn't need this added delay; all he wanted to do was to find the Cyclops and thumb his nose at Hera once more.
"It's too early to tell, I don't think I've broken anything, but I could be bleeding inside somewhere, where it doesn't show, and then in a few hours I could just go. 'Poof' and keel over." Salmoneus was beginning to frighten himself so he bit his tongue and stopped talking.
"How did you get up there?"
That was the question Salmoneus had been waiting for and he launched into a description of all that had happened to him. The bitterness against the Cyclops showing through all too clearly in his voice when he realised that his supposed saviour was still standing over him, "You gonna help me up here?"
Hercules knew that not so long ago he wouldn't have forgotten something so obvious; not so long ago he would have known how to talk to this strange rotund man in a purple robe.
Once Salmoneus was on his feet again Hercules asked, "Where can I find this Cyclops?"
"You a friend of his?" Salmoneus asked warily.
"No, but I'm planning on looking him up."
"Do tell. Who do you think you are? Hercules!" Salmoneus stared up at his companion with his eyebrows raised, but even as Hercules smiled wryly and started to reply the toga salesman's eyes took in the other man's musculature and calm façade.
"Wait a minute! Wait a minute! It is you! I should have recognized you! I'm Salmoneus, the travelling toga salesman. Ha-ha-ha! I can't wait to see this."
"See you put your fist in that big freak's eye."Hercules reacted badly to this; he had just about had enough of people watching him as if he were taking part in a wrestling match instead of fighting evil.They endangered their lives, the lives of their children and sometimes his life. They were just ghouls thriving on a little blood, just so long as it wasn't theirs. "What I do isn't a spectator sport." Salmoneus seemed completely unfazed. "Oh? Then how about this? You take me along-- and I make you a sweet deal on a new toga." Hercules was having trouble keeping up with this man, briefly he wished Iolaus was there. "What's a toga?" "'What's a toga?' My boy-- fashion is passing you by. I'll explain it on the way. Come on." It wasn't every day that a humble toga salesman got to meet the great Hercules, and there could be a few dinars in it for him if he was seen with the big guy. It didn't hurt that he'd get a front row seat when Hercules knocked that Cyclops into the middle of next week!
The three men put their shoulders to the huge boulder once again and pushed, it rocked slightly before falling back into place. The youngest of the three sighed and turning away from the boulder sat on a nearby log.
"It's no good Atreus; this is a fool's errand. We'll never get it done."
Atreus wiped his brow and shook his head, "How else can we get the river back? Come on Volus put your back into it, we will succeed in the end."
Volus looked up at that moment and saw the Cyclops moving toward them, he pointed skyward and in a trembling voice said, "It's him."
Atreus and their other companion had turned back to the boulder and were again pushing against it.
"Come on Volus get back to work, this thing won't move itself."
Volus, still looking up at the angry face of the Cyclops, shook his head and standing backed away, "I don't want to die."
The third member of the group spoke up now, looking briefly at the Cyclops and with disdain back at Volus, "You pathetic coward. Come back here and push or I'll drag you back to your family by the ear and push you face first into the pigsty."
Atreus was wondering why he'd ever brought this hothead Evander on the job with him, and as for Volus, who'd have known he'd be such a coward. "Come on Evander use you anger where it'll do most good. Move this rock!"
Evander wasn't listening but the Cyclops was. His deep voice was loud enough to make the earth tremble, and Volus found his knees going weak with fear.
"You should listen to your friend, get away from the river. Or perhaps you want to die today?"
Evander, still angry turned on the Cyclops, "You wouldn't kill me you're just a one-eyed freak!"
Atreus and Volus both cringed at this, they knew that the Cyclops hadn't been particularly violent in the past but now that he was working for Hera it was a different matter. "Evander," Atreus called, "Calm down, lets go home."
But it was too late, Evander was seeing red and he had to say something more, moving even closer to the big feet of the Cyclops he looked up to jeer at him, "You one-eyed son of a ." but all he could see was the sole of a huge boot filling his sky. He screamed but it was already too late. The boot 's weight pushed him deep into the ground and he knew no more.
The Cyclops laughed as he turned back to the others, their fleeing backs all he could see. "Yeah! Run back to the village where you belong. With all the other women! Hah!"
Salmoneus' mind was running through all the plentiful possibilities for money-making as he jogged along beside Hercules. The demigod was walking briskly and Salmoneus was having a hard time keeping up, but he was determined that he wouldn't miss out on this great opportunity. He started to voice his thoughts, "I could name a toga after you, 'The Hercules Deluxe' or maybe 'The Hercules Heroic Toga' what d'you think? You just tell me which one you want to buy and I'll do the rest."
Hercules had been thinking about the coming confrontation with the Cyclops and really wasn't interested in the incoherent ramblings of this strange man who had latched on to him. "I don't want to buy any of them." Irritated by the interruption to his thoughts Hercules picked up his pace a little.
Once upon a time he would have welcomed some cheerful banter on he journeys, he had always missed Iolaus' prattling on about this that and the other when his friend hadn't been able to accompany him, but now he just wanted silence. He couldn't seem to cope with other people's pleasure these days. Salmoneus hadn't got the hint, he'd spoken again, Hercules sighed and turned his full attention to the irritating rotund man.
"I don't want your togas, I don't want any of your togas."
"You really need to get up to date Hercules, the world is leaving you behind. See, leather weave pants and that yellow thing that you wear aren't exactly the last word."
"The last word in what?"
"Fashion! Boy oh boy, we've got our work cut out with you."
Luckily for Salmoneus Hercules didn't get a chance to reply, two men were running up the slope in front of them, breathlessly calling out a warning.
"Ah, potential customers." Hercules threw Salmoneus a disbelieving look before holding his hands up to stop the men from running into him.
"What's the trouble?" he asked.
Catching his breath Atreus replied, "It's the Cyclops, he's just killed a man."
Hercules scanned the slope and clapped a hand on Atreus' shoulder, "It's all right friend. He's not following you now."
Atreus and Volus relaxed a little and took a moment to recover from their headlong flight from the Cyclops. Hercules waited patiently before asking for more information. Between them the two men managed to give an explanation of what had happened.
Hercules looked around him at the lush green landscape, he couldn't understand this desperate need for one particular river, "But there must be other rivers in the area."
Atreus brushed the idea off. "None are near enough. Please you must keep away from Trachis."
Salmoneus had remained quiet but couldn't resist a little showing off. "We' ll be fine; don't you know who this is? It's Hercules himself. He'll sort the Cyclops out once and for all." He chose to ignore the glare that Hercules gave him as he spoke; there was no harm in a little advertising.
Hercules said, "Look, let me get this right. You just want to put the river back where it was before Hera came along but the Cyclops is killing people to stop you."
Atreus and Volus both nodded. "Well lead the way to Trachis then."
"You'll help us?" Volus asked.
"Against Hera?" Atreus added.
"Hera is my specialty."
The Cyclops was sitting in the dim and gloomy cave that he called home. He was still angry with the villagers for calling him names. It had always been that way; he never had been able to understand why they had to be so unpleasant to him. He couldn't help being so big, or having only one eye. His single eye gazed down at the earth between his feet; it's depths like the shifting shades of the sea on a sunny day. His long dark lashes brushed his cheek as he blinked and sighed.
Just then a familiar and welcome voice greeted him, now here was someone that respected him, a man that didn't resort to rude jibes to get his fun. The Cyclops looked up and smiled a greeting, "Castor! It's good to see you."
Castor stood before the Cyclops and smiled, the smile didn't reach his eyes, which glinted in the darkness, "I hear you worked up an appetite today."
"They were fools."
"They were but I'm not. I'm too smart to go up against you."
The Cyclops gave a small knowing grin, "While it suits you." He knew that Castor's friendship was only because of Hera, and if the Cyclops stopped being useful . well that would be the end of their friendship.
Castor looked put out by the suggestion and said, "Hey! Don't mistake me for those guys. I've been good to you - I've gotten you work, I've paid you a good wage. No one has been as good to you as I am."
The Cyclops agreed but he didn't say anything, if it hadn't been for the job protecting Hera's vineyard he didn't know what he would have done.
Iolaus sighed in contentment as he settled himself into a more comfortable position on the garden bench, "Are you sure I can't help you Alcmene? No walls that need fixing, no tree stumps to dig up?"
Alcmene was kneeling by Iolaus' feet weeding underneath her roses. "No Iolaus, I'd rather have your company."
There was a long silence then, both of them thinking of the missing other, remembering past visits when the whole family had been together, laughing and happy. Iolaus finally found his voice and changed the unspoken subject, "Who was that boy the others were bullying today? I've never seen him before."
Alcmene sighed and sank back onto her heels for a moment, "He doesn't come in to town very much. He lives with his mother on the other side of town. Did you not see?"
"His face, Iolaus, he has a birthmark covering half of his face."
Iolaus frowned trying to remember, the sun had been bright and they'd been in a shadowy corner, "His hair was all over his face, I didn't notice it."
"Well most people do. They stare at him and cross the street so that they don't have to walk too close - as if he'll contaminate them."
"Oh, Iolaus, I know that and you know that but try telling the townsfolk. There've been stories about the mark, telling that it is a sign of evil. There's even been talk that he was marked by Zeus himself to warn humanity to keep away from him."
Iolaus shook his head in amazement, "Zeus wouldn't do that, would he?"
"It doesn't matter if he 'would' do it Iolaus, he didn't. It's just another story started by gossip. It's only gotten this bad recently because he's started coming in to town. He never needed to before but his father died and so he has to make the trip himself now. I don't know Iolaus, sometimes I wish that Hercules were here because he'd be able to make the people see the truth." Alcmene sighed and gave Iolaus a long sad look, "But he's so changed, I'm not sure he'd care enough anymore."
Iolaus stood up indignantly, "He would care. He would. And he'd know exactly what to do and say, unlike me. I have no idea how to help the boy, he doesn' t even seem to want help." He threw his hands up in frustration and started pacing up and down the path.
Alcmene slowly stood up and brushed her skirts free of earth, "Iolaus? Do you miss them?" She already knew the answer to her question but was hoping that it would get him to talk about Hercules.
"Who?" Iolaus pretended not to know what Alcmene meant, but he did. He just wanted to put off the inevitable a little longer.
Alcmene simply waited, standing close to her son's best friend, a man that understood Hercules' grief better than anyone else could because he held the same grief deep within his own heart. Alcmene had often wondered in the time since Hera had sent the fireball, why two men, like brothers, courageous, selfless, loving and kind, should be made to suffer so terribly in their lives. The worst of men didn't deserve it, the best of men most certainly didn't.
Iolaus sighed and smiled at his best friend's mother. "Yes, Alcmene, I do. It's getting chilly, let's go inside."
The flowers were always abundant just by the bend in the river, and Scilla thought that it would be safe to collect some to brighten the villagers' homes, with all the worry over the river and the Cyclops they all needed some cheering up. She bent to her task and hummed a tune softly as she gathered the sweet scented blooms not noticing the small vibrations in the earth beneath her.
The Cyclops liked to walk sometimes, he had a lot on his mind and his anger at the villagers hadn't completely dissipated yet. He would calm himself before going back to check on the river and ensure everything was all right at the vineyard. He didn't notice the flowers until he spotted the blonde girl bent over them, gathering some and placing them in her basket. He shouted at her, mostly because he didn't want to acknowledge his first reaction on seeing her. She was very beautiful.
Unlike the men he'd been able to terrorise or kill Scilla looked calmly up at him with her lovely blue eyes. Concentrate, thought the Cyclops, this will never do.
"Go! Get out of here!"
Unfazed by the angry monster standing over her, Scilla tossed her long curly hair and said, "But I'm nowhere near the vineyard. I'm just picking some flowers, see?" she lifted the basket for the Cyclops to see and he thought that he'd never seen such a beautiful sight.
He stamped his foot, as much to concentrate his mind as frighten her, but as he stomped towards her she decided that discretion was the order of the day and turned to run. He followed for a few paces but his heart really wasn't in it. He stopped and noticed one of the flowers that she had picked by his foot. She must have dropped it as she fled.
He bent and carefully picked the tiny thing up in his fingers. Putting it under his nose he gently sniffed in the sweetness. He turned to go back to his cave and unconsciously placed the flower carefully in a pocket. He walked with a smile on his face as he left.
Hercules felt as if he'd been swept up by a tidal wave and had lost control of everything. His whole life felt that way now, once again he found himself wishing that Iolaus was with him. Iolaus would understand what was going on, he'd be able to talk to Salmoneus and explain to Hercules why these people were insisting on putting on a celebration before the Cyclops had been bested. There was nothing to celebrate yet - was there? Feeling completely out of his depth and, for the first time in a long time, more than a little homesick, Hercules tried to concentrate on what Salmoneus was saying to him, the noise of the party making him lean in close to hear.
"So, you can leave the whole thing up to me, big guy. You don't mind if I call you that? No of course you don't, after all you are! As I was saying, you'll be the silent partner, all you have to do is let me use your name, and I'll deal with the production, and of course, the takings! But as I will be doing all the work I think it's only fair that I get the larger slice of the cake, I was thinking seventy - thirty? What d'you say?"
Hercules shook his head in amazement, 'At least the guy is focused.' he thought wryly before yet again trying to explain to Salmoneus that he wasn't interested in a partnership, but Salmoneus wasn't listening, he was looking mouth agape at some newcomers to the party. Hercules turned to see what was so interesting, and groaned, they'd found him here too. They must have been getting some inside information, how else could the fifty daughters of Thespius know where he was?
He really didn't want a confrontation and these women just couldn't seem to take no for an answer so the son of Zeus did the only thing that came to mind, he ducked. 'Iolaus would think that I'm totally pathetic if he could see me now. If he ever gets to hear of this...' He mumbled to himself as he crawled on hands and knees, hoping to escape without being seen. Glancing up he saw Salmoneus' surprised face looking down at him and tried to convey his desperation in a harried frown. Praying that Salmoneus wouldn't give him away the demigod shuffled his knees and moved quickly through the unsuspecting throng.
Salmoneus, always one to step into the breech, smiled winningly at the beautiful women that stood before him. The one that seemed to be in charge asked him, "Where's Hercules?" Continuing to smile whilst his brain tried desperately to start functioning, Salmoneus stalled as best he could. "And what would such beautiful ladies want with him?"
"We want to have his children."
"Most noble, most noble, um, he, I mean to say, um." The princesses' patience was fast wearing thin and the leader was tapping her toe impatiently. "He's on his way to Athens."
The princesses weren't happy with the answer and were still suspicious but Salmoneus, no longer thinking of Hercules, could see a golden opportunity here and he would make the most of it.
"Ladies, you are so right, Athens is a long and dusty trip. What you need is the latest in travel wear. May I interest you in a Toga? Made of only the best materials, they won't crease - no need to take that pesky press along with you any more! I have many different colours - a nice blue to match your eyes perhaps, or violet ."
"Do you think he's all right?" Alcmene had finally voiced the fear that lay big in both their hearts.
Iolaus sighed and leaning forward in his chair by the fireside put his hand on Alcmene's arm. "Yes I do. He'll be fine Alcmene, he's strong and I don't mean the strength he inherited from his father, I'm talking about the strength he inherited from his mother. It'll take time but he 'will' be all right."
Alcmene looked deep and long into Iolaus' eyes searching for the truth of what he said there. Finally she nodded and found the courage to voice the other fear that had made her nights restless. "Will he come home?"
"Yes! Of course he will. You have to believe that. He'd never. he couldn' .." Iolaus found himself unable to voice his emotions and he took a deep breath and tried to gather his thoughts before continuing. "When I lost Ania and the boys it was like the world had ended, nothing mattered anymore. I was angry with everyone, I wanted to feel hate all the time because it gave me something to hide behind. Travelling in the East taught me a lot about myself and about life. I needed the time away from those that I loved to get some kind of. perspective; to find some peace. I think that it's the same for Hercules. He isn't himself right now and he doesn't want to hurt what's left of his family with misplaced anger. He'll come back when he's ready."
Alcmene smiled and pretended that she hadn't noticed the way Iolaus' eyes were sparkling with unshed tears. She spoke softly and grasped his hand briefly in hers, "And we'll be waiting for him."
"We'll be waiting for him." came Iolaus' quiet echo, "Why does she hurt innocents because of her hatred? Why kill little children who have done no harm to anyone - or Deianeira, she was such a good person."
Alcmene didn't need to ask who he meant, Hera had been the bane of her son's life ever since she had placed the serpent in his cradle - since before Alcmene had discovered to her horror that her precious son was not her husband's but the son of Zeus. She remembered the disgust she had felt at being used so badly and a momentary burst of hatred towards the tiny child, but he had gurgled at her and those blue eyes full of trust and love had banished the hatred for good.
Hercules was her son, no matter how he had come to be, and she loved him with a fierce pride. If only things hadn't been so difficult for her other son, Iphicles. It was her eternal hope that her two sons would find a way to overcome their differences. She'd been so proud of her youngest son when he' d brought Deianeira home and she'd seen them together. And when her first grand-child had been born . there could be no greater feeling than holding your grandchild in your arms.
Alcmene stopped the train of thought with a sob - there would be no more holding those children and kissing their bumps and bruises away, there would be no more teaching Ilea how to cook or watching the boys - all three of them - play together . Tears began to build and a lump that would not be denied grew in her throat. She didn't want to cry in front of Iolaus, but who better? There was no one, except Hercules himself, who could understand how she felt as well as Iolaus could.
Iolaus stood and moved to perch on the edge of Alcmene's armchair, he put an arm around her and bent his head over hers and let her cry. It was time to grieve for those that were lost and for those that had felt the loss; it was time to start healing the wounds. Iolaus allowed himself a few silent tears as he held the sobbing Alcmene. He wouldn't break down and sob, not in company, that wasn't his style, but the salty streaks on his cheeks were no less heartfelt.
Hercules had managed to crawl his way outside, there had been some puzzled glances and a few well meaning offers of help, one or two people had been less than polite when they'd nearly tripped over him, but he'd reached the door relatively unscathed and now he unfolded himself and with a groan stood and stretched his protesting muscles.
Just as he'd finished two men approached him pulling a young woman between them. One of the men was Atreus and it was he who spoke first.
"He's attacking women now!"
That was enough to get Hercules' attention and he focused on the woman, she was young and, though it wasn't something he'd had much inclination to consider recently, beautiful, with long curly blonde hair and blue eyes that weren't afraid to look at him directly.
She pulled herself free of the men accompanying her with a huff and a toss of her head. "I wouldn't call it attacking exactly."
Hercules couldn't help but smile at her feisty attitude. "What would you call it . sorry I don't know your name?"
"Scilla. I was picking these flowers at a spot just past the bend in the river. It's nowhere near the vineyard so I thought it would be safe. I was wrong, the Cyclops came stomping up and shouting at me. It didn't seem to matter that I wasn't posing a threat to his precious vineyard or river."
"Is that all he did, shout at you?"
"Well, when he started coming closer to me I turned and ran, I heard him start after me, but I think he gave up pretty fast."
Atreus couldn't keep quiet a moment longer, he asked, "What are you going to do about it Hercules?" Other villagers who had gathered round to listen added their thoughts in a cacophony of shouts. Hercules thinned his lips in irritation, what was wrong with these people, always baying for blood? He shouted over the noise, "I'll pay the Cyclops a visit now." And not letting anyone say anything further he briskly walked away, pushing through the crowd.
He sighed in relief as he cleared the crowd and turned his thoughts to Hera and her Cyclops. Soft footsteps warned him that he had company and he turned about to make an angry retort when he saw that it was Scilla. "What do you want?" it wasn't angry but it wasn't particularly friendly either.
"I'm sorry Hercules, I just wanted to tell you how to find the place I last saw the Cyclops, you didn't ask for directions."
Hercules stopped walking and gave Scilla a small smile, "I'm sorry, I shouldn't have snapped at you."
"It must be difficult being on the road, alone all the time."
Hercules' thoughts turned to home briefly and in his mind's eye he saw Alcmene and Iolaus together in her kitchen. "Yes," he said, "Even demigods get homesick."
"Maybe you should go home more often then."
"There's." Hercules stopped himself, he'd been about to say that there was nothing there for him, but it wasn't true, he knew that now. The longer he spent away the more his mother and best friend intruded on his thoughts. He missed them, and now, finally, he worried about them too. They had suffered loss just as he had, they hadn't run away from it, they'd stayed to face it together. He smiled at Scilla who was waiting patiently, "Wish me luck?"
She returned his smile, "Luck." She gave him the directions he needed and watched as he walked away from her, she wasn't watching a son of Zeus, a hero to the whole of Greece; she was watching a man who seemed to be carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.
The Cyclops walked back to his cave holding the wilting flower carefully in his hand. It was so delicate and already it was fading, it would be the same with the girl if he. but he couldn't think that. He couldn't let his mind stray to things that he knew would never happen. What woman would want a giant Cyclops for a husband, or even as a friend? No one would. They all hat ed him, even she hated him, the way she'd defiantly tossed her head at him and the way she'd turned and run.
The Cyclops hung his head for a moment but when he raised it again his single eye shone brightly with anger. He didn't deserve their disdain, he didn't deserve their hatred but he'd make damn sure that he deserved their fear!
He knew that however much his heart had begun to feel for the girl it would come to nothing because the villagers wouldn't let it, the girl herself would, more than likely, be repulsed by the thought of him. The Cyclops allowed the anger that always burned deep within him to come to the surface. He turned away from the sweet beauty of the flower, throwing it to the ground and stamping down on it, twisting his foot viciously. There was no room in the Cyclops' life for sentiment, no room for love or affection, no room for anything but anger.
Hercules was following the path along the heavily wooded valley when he heard a twig breaking behind him. Someone was following him. Sidestepping behind a tree he waited a moment before jumping the man.
"Oooff! Hey, you're too heavy, get off me you great lummox."
Hercules leaned back in surprise, it was Salmoneus. "What are you doing here?" he asked as he got to his feet and held out a hand to help the rotund Toga salesman up.
"I want to see you do cruel and unusual things to that monster!" He paused a moment and then stepped closer to Hercules and in a conspirational whisper said, "What are you going to do to him?"
"Never you mind, what happened to selling togas?"
"I'll get back to that. But first." Salmoneus rubbed his hands together in anticipation of witnessing his revenge.
"Oh no, you're not coming with me. You are going back to Trachis!"
"But. but. it's dangerous out there. You wouldn't send an unsuspecting and innocent toga salesman out into these woods on his own would you? Please!" Salmoneus was wailing miserably and, exasperated, Hercules put his hands on his hips and sighed. He really didn't want anyone with him right now, and if he had wanted company it wouldn't be this strange bearded man standing before him. An image of Iolaus; purple shirted, with his blond hair unruly around his face, looking up at him with a cheeky grin and his sword in hand and at the ready, came to the demigod's mind. A pang of homesickness ran through him and he realised that he was homesick for his old friend. Sighing again Hercules said, "All right. But keep out of the way and if things get ugly you're on your own." His thoughts he kept to himself. 'Iolaus could have helped me; he'd have been able to look after himself without me having to play babysitter.'
Salmoneus eagerly nodded but he was suddenly facing empty air as Hercules had already moved on with his long strides. Salmoneus, puffing, ran to catch up.
Iolaus and Alcmene had talked late into the night, telling stories of the children's escapades, remembering Deianeira. Following the age old tradition of honouring the dead by remembering them, and by doing this they began to find some measure of comfort. Their only regret being that Hercules wasn't there to share in that comfort.
As it was so late Alcmene invited Iolaus to stay and he slept in Hercules' bed. He hadn't expected to sleep at all so the few hours he did manage were welcome, but he couldn't avoid the dreams - not nightmares exactly, just disturbing dreams of Hercules travelling alone, facing bandits and warlords and hydras alone, with nobody at his back. Iolaus fretted in his sleep, tossing and turning, muttering sometimes. 'Look out! Behind you! Duck! Damn it Herc, use the sword.' But Iolaus wasn't there to look out for his friend so instead he had to look on helplessly in his dreams.
In the morning Iolaus remembered enough of his dreams to know that once Hercules returned they would have to have a long talk, the next time his friend left to save a village from angry gods Iolaus would be right there with him. He had no family to provide for now, and if he was being honest his heart had never really been in the Smithing as a business, it was more a thing to lose himself in when he wanted an escape; and the farming. well. He wasn't a farmer, he was a warrior and a hunter, born, created, trained. Whenever he turned to something else his heart was heavy, whenever he returned to the hunt and the fight his heart sang out. He would not let Hercules leave him behind next time.
In the meantime, while he waited for Hercules to return, there was some unfinished business for Iolaus to attend to in the village.
Castor knelt and bowed his head before the altar, the eyes of the peacock feathers looking down on him. Without raising his head he said, "Oh great Hera, it is I, your faithful servant, Castor. I bring you the greatest gift I know. Your treacherous step-son Hercules is even now approaching his doom; my spies tell me that he left Trachis not an hour ago in readiness to attack your sacred vineyards. My Cyclops will destroy him in your honour and you will finally be avenged."
Castor risked a quick glance up but to his disappointment there were no glowing eyes looking down in approval. Instead he realised that he was no longer alone. Slowly he turned his head and groaned. Getting to his feet, with knees knocking, he faced Hera's Executioners.
"What are you doing here?"
He was facing a wall of men, soldiers, but like none you could find on any earthly battlefield. They wore armour forged by Hephaestus himself, and wielded blades bathed in the blood of the damned. Their eyes burned with a smoky brilliance and no mortal could face up to their stare without spending every night left in their lives waking screaming from nightmares. Helmets obscured the executioners' faces, only their baleful eyes showing above the faceplates. They gave off an otherworldly heat and small tendrils of steam seemed to reach skyward from their armour.
The Executioner in the middle of the group seemed to smile, Castor couldn't see his mouth but his expression changed imperceptibly and Castor assumed that it was smiling. Its voice was deep and enough to make Castor wish for his mother for the first time in many years.
"Just making sure."
"Hera sent you?"
"Let's just say she wants things to go. well."
Castor paled at the implication. "You really don't need to stick around. The Cyclops will pull Hercules apart; he'll eat him for breakfast. It'll be a piece of cake for him. Really, you can go . um. home?"
"We'll stick around."
Castor felt as if his legs had turned to water, "Please, no." he whispered as he watched the Executioners turn as one, and troop out of the temple.
Hercules was beginning to think that Salmoneus was made of glue and that he' d be stuck with him for life when a familiar sound brought him skidding to a halt.
"Cooey! There he is girls."
Salmoneus' face was a picture and probably reflected his own expression, Hercules thought ruefully to himself. Would they never give up?
Next to him Salmoneus pulled himself to his full height and stage-whispered, "Leave them to me Hercules."
Hercules needed no further urging and without looking back, he ran.
Salmoneus groaned, "You weren't supposed to actually do it, you idiot. You' re a hero; you're supposed to actually be . y'know. heroic. Not run away!" Taking a deep breath Salmoneus turned to the predatory women and gave them his best salesman's smile, and praying fervently to the god of toga salesmen that his patter would work its magic this one time, he began his work.
The Cyclops was just standing there as if he were waiting for Hercules to arrive. His one eyebrow was pulled into a frown and it was obvious to anyone that the giant was not having a good day.
Hercules looked his opponent up and down, impressed by the sheer bulk of the man as much as his height. He'd fought giants before, bigger than this, but he was still surprised by this one's solidity. "Hi, you must be the Cyclops. I'm Hercules."
"Am I supposed to be impressed? I'm not. I hope you're impressed, Hercules, 'cause I'm gonna be the last thing you see."
Hercules moved at the same moment as the Cyclops and twisted easily out of his bending grasp. "Ha, don't be so sure of that."
The Cyclops growled in irritation and turned to see if he could find anything to use as a weapon, this man was too quick for his usual style. He could stomp all day but he'd never stomp on Hercules' head. Grabbing hold of a small tree the Cyclops pulled it from the ground, roots and all. He swung it in a big curve, clods of earth dropping from it as it cut through the air, and gave a satisfied grin when it made contact with Hercules' midriff.
"Ooof!" All the air was pushed out of him as he fell but Hercules was quick to recover and as the Cyclops bent down to see what damage he'd inflicted Hercules put all his weight behind a roundhouse punch right to the jaw. The Cyclops went flying back through the air and landed with a ground jarring thud. He was dazed and lay back unable to get up, gingerly rubbing his jaw he muttered, "Well, who knew, a glass jaw."
Hercules had picked up the discarded tree and stood beside the Cyclops' head. He wearily turned his one eye on the demigod and blinked at him slowly, trying to reduce the number of Hercules' standing before him. "Kill me now, Hercules. Get it over with."
Hercules dropped the tree trunk and tilted his head to one side as if he were considering the proposition. "Nah, I don't think so. I'd far rather find out why you're such a grouse all the time."
The Marketplace was quiet this time of day; the hustle and bustle of daily life was yet to get started. At this time of the morning only a few of the early risers were about, setting up stalls and arranging their wares as enticingly as possible.
Iolaus had left Alcmene as soon as breakfast was over, only telling her that he had an errand to run in town and that he'd drop by to visit on his way home later on. She hadn't questioned him just smiling and telling him not to be a stranger. He vowed that he wouldn't be, and this time he had meant it. When you are caught up in your own misery it is far too easy to forget that other people hurt too, he had no intention of doing that again.
Iolaus didn't even know the name of the boy but he had a feeling that he'd be in town early today to avoid the other kids. It was what Iolaus would have done. He was right. It didn't take him long to spot the boy bartering with one of the stallholders, whose produce was still half unpacked and Iolaus walked nonchalantly towards them, not wanting to make his purpose obvious.
The Merchant looked up and recognised the blond hunter, with a smile and a cheery wave he invited Iolaus over. "Hello stranger, it's been too long my friend."
"Yeah, well. Sorry about that Pylades, you know what it's like." Iolaus shrugged his shoulders, abashed. He may not have left town like Hercules but he had been cutting himself off and neglecting his friends all the same.
Pylades' bearded face wore an understanding smile as he replied, "It's all right son, I understand." He turned back to his neglected customer, "I don't suppose you've met the famous Iolaus, friend to Hercules, before, have you? Let me introduce you."
The boy glanced up at Iolaus and scowled, "We've met." He muttered, "Can we finish this I'm in a hurry."
The Merchant was taken aback by the unexpected reaction, most people showed a little more enthusiasm when meeting an actual, live hero. He bristled and said, "You'd better get some manners into that head of yours boy or you'll be getting into more trouble than you can handle. Now say hello, and be friendly." In a softer tone he said, "I know you can."
The boy heaved a dramatic sigh and for the benefit of Pylades he turned towards Iolaus and nodded his head slightly, "Pleasure to meet you." he said, "Now can we get on with it?"
'Well this is going well.' Iolaus took a deep breath and keeping the thought that Hercules wouldn't give up firmly in his mind he smiled again at the boy. "Good idea getting into town before all the crowds - you get the best deals that way."
Being ignored wasn't something that Iolaus was good at and he had to curb his irritation when the boy determinedly turned his back on the warrior and started haggling with Pylades. 'Take a deep breath Iolaus, Gods!' Feigning nonchalance Iolaus leaned on the counter and tried again, this time using a less direct method. "So, Pylades, got time to hang out with an old friend and tell some tall tales later?"
Pylades, happy to break off his negotiations with the rude child, turned a warm smile on his old friend and laughed, "The only one with the tall tales is you Iolaus! What was it last time? Oh, that's right." He turned to the silent boy and waggled a thumb in Iolaus' direction. "This one was only telling everyone that he'd taken on a dozen barbarians single handed."
Iolaus laughed, "Well, that's not quite what I said, it was at least thirty barbarians but Hercules was there too."
Pylades laughed again, "Oh yes, that's right, he gave you a helping hand."
Iolaus' eyes danced as he answered, "That's about right."
Both men noticed that the boy's interest had been piqued at the mention of Hercules but neither one mentioned it. "So, Iolaus, what's your friend Hercules up to these days? We haven't seen anything of him for a while now."
Iolaus' mood darkened at the question, "He's been travelling. "
Pylades nodded in understanding and leant over the counter between them clapping Iolaus on the shoulder, "He'll be back, Iolaus, never you fear. He' d never leave you alone for too long, with the way you tell all those tales of yours. You keep forgetting his part in the action!"
Pylades turned to their companion after giving Iolaus a sly wink, "So, Telemon, have you ever met Hercules?"
Telemon keeping his head lowered shook it vigorously, he wanted so badly to hear more stories about the great Hercules, and he could hardly believe that this small blond man could be his friend. But he knew Pylades to be an honest and upright merchant; it was why his mother always took her business to him. This was one man that would not cheat a woman or a boy because there was no husband or father to protect them. He would not lie.
Glancing up he saw only encouragement and interest on the faces of his companions and Telemon took a breath and plunged in, "I've never seen him, or you Iolaus. That's why I didn't realise. yesterday when I . I mean . I'm sorry."
Iolaus grinned and said, "No problem Telemon. Hey, what do you say you and I kill some time whilst this fat cat makes his dinars? I've nothing else to do in town today and I don't think I should spend the whole time in the tavern telling those tall tales of mine. I prefer a more appreciative audience!"
Telemon, torn between the desire to hear more about Hercules and the need to get away from the prying eyes of the townsfolk, stood silently unable to make his decision. Iolaus had to do it for him. "I tell you what, why don't you finish up here and I'll help you get your stuff home. Would you like some company, it's quite a trek all by yourself isn't it?"
Telemon managed to nod his head, still at a loss for words, and so it was agreed.
Hercules looked at the cup in his hand and then glanced up at the Cyclops who was sitting beside him, leaning back on a boulder. It felt good to be sitting here; this morning he'd thought that what he really needed was a good fight, but it wasn't. Fighting the Cyclops hadn't made him feel any better, it hadn't taken away any of the hurt or the anger and it hadn't filled the hole in his heart. But sitting here, companionably, with a stranger felt right somehow. It eased his heart's aching, even though his anger at Hera couldn't be pushed too far from his mind.
The Cyclops nodded towards the cup, "The drinks are on the loser Hercules. The water is from the river I guard."
Hercules took a sip and his eyebrows raised in surprise, the water tasted like nectar. "No wonder the villagers want their river back."
The Cyclops frowned at the mention of the villagers, "It isn't their river."
"Neither is it Hera's. She had no right to divert it."
"And I suppose you'll say that those gutless people of Trachis deserve your help and that they need that particular river."
Hercules put the cup down beside him; he didn't feel much like drinking this water anymore. "Why do you hate them so much?" Before the Cyclops had a chance to answer Hercules exclaimed, "Gods! What is wrong with me? My mother would have my hide for being rude. You know my name but I don't know yours."
The Cyclops' eye opened wide in surprise and he leaned forward, looking intently into Hercules' eyes. "Thank you," he said, "You don't know what that means to me."
"I'm sorry. I don't understand."
The Cyclops sighed, "Nobody has ever bothered asking me that before, nobody' s cared. I've always just been 'The Cyclops' to them, never a person."
Hercules patted the big man's thumb, his own hand still dwarfed by it. "So, you gonna tell me or do I have to guess?"
The two men grinned at each other and there was easy laughter before the Cyclops answered. "I was named Tollan, but it's so long since anyone has called me that."
"Tollan, it's a good name. It's good to know you Tollan, but you haven't answered my question."
Tollan put his head on one side and regarded Hercules, "I think I just did. They've hated me my whole life, just because I'm different. I didn't do anything to them, but that didn't seem to matter. They still thought of me as a freak and a monster. Admit it, you did too."
Hercules hated to remember his thoughts on hearing of the Cyclops, it had just been another monster to vanquish, another of Hera's flunkies to dispose of to annoy her. He nodded in agreement. "Yes I did, but I know better now, so can the people of Trachis. You can't work for Hera anymore."
Tollan snorted, "I don't work for Hera I work for Castor. He runs the vineyard. He's always treated me decent enough."
"You know that's finished now don't you. You didn't kill me Tollan that puts you on Hera's hit list too."
The Cyclops stood up quickly and turned away from Hercules, "I'm not helping the villagers! If that's what you think then." he stomped in a circle too angry to think but not angry enough to leave his new friend so readily.
Hercules stood up too, wanting to make sure that he could avoid his angry companion if he should happen to forget where the demigod was. "Why don't you just give them a chance Tollan? Can't you at least do that much?"
Hercules spotted Salmoneus sitting on a fallen tree trunk at the side of the road before Salmoneus knew that he was there. A small part of him told him to turn aside, avoid the pesky salesman, have a bit of peace in his life, but he couldn't do that. Smiling to himself at the realisation that he seemed to have remembered how to be Hercules again, the demigod greeted Salmoneus with a cheerful hello.
Salmoneus jumped several inches into the air before landing in a heap on the ground. "Wha. who? Oh Hercules! You shouldn't creep up on a fella like that, it's bad for the heart. So, you wiped the floor with him huh? I wish I could have seen it." He gave an exaggerated sigh, but then brightened up, "Come on then big guy I want to hear all the gory details, the gorier the better."
Hercules just shook his head and held out a hand to help Salmoneus to his feet. "I take it you dealt with the princesses all right?"
Salmoneus winced and looked queasy for a minute before shrugging, "You know how it is Hercules, you're good with monsters but it takes my finesse to handle women right."
"Sure, Salmoneus, whatever you say."
The two men walked companionably towards Trachis and Hercules marvelled at the fact that he was becoming quite fond of this strange man, he missed having a companion to enjoy the road with and if Iolaus couldn't be there to cheer him up then Salmoneus wasn't a bad substitute. He just had to remember not to take anything he said seriously.
Castor walked into the Cyclops' cave with a jaunty swagger, fully expecting to see Hercules' dismembered body parts strewn around the place. But there was nothing there, and he looked expectantly at the Cyclops waiting for his report. Tollan remained silent, and eventually an impatient Castor said, "Well? Where's Hercules?"
Castor couldn't believe what he was hearing and seeing, the Cyclops looked positively peaceful. "What?"
"He left, we talked and then he left."
Castor's face turned a deep shade of red as he tried valiantly to form words, "You, you, you . he . he . you talked! You were supposed to tear him limb from limb. You were supposed to rip his head off and throw it into next week. He left?"
"Well I couldn't kill him, he beat me."
"He beat you! He beat you and then you talked!" Castor threw his hands up and not quite knowing how to cope with all the tension this news was causing in him he started to pace in tight little circles. Tollan calmly sat and watched as his companion muttered and grumbled.
"Now Hera's Executioner's will move in. She's gonna think I can't handle anything, and her Executioners will be roaming all over the place. Damn it, can't you do this one simple thing right? You talked. You let him beat you and then you talked! I don't get it, I just don't get it. We're doomed, we are all doomed!"
Iolaus had walked with Telemon quietly for some time, but now they were on the outskirts of the town and there was no one else around. It was time to try and get through to the boy. Normally he wouldn't have thought twice about his words he'd have just started talking and hoped that eventually he' d say the right thing, normally he wouldn't think it possible that he could fail, but this was different somehow. He wasn't even sure exactly why he was getting involved, but deep down he knew that it was because Hercules would have. Even if Iolaus had ignored what was going on, decided it was none of his business, Hercules would never have been able to. And if Hercules wasn't there and he was then he'd damn well have to do his best.
"So, what would you like to know about my friend Hercules?"
Telemon had been secretly glancing across at his companion ever since they'd left the market place. He was ashamed to remember how he'd treated this same man just the day before, if his mother ever found out about that she'd have his hide. He'd always been raised to be polite to his elders, but it all seemed so pointless when most of them spent their time crossing the street to avoid him and invoking Zeus' name when they saw him. He sighed as he thought of his mother, struggling to keep the farm going now that his father was dead. She had no idea what was going on, she didn't even see the mark on his face when she looked at him, of that he was sure. To his mother, Telemon was her son and she loved him with all her heart, nothing else existed.
Rousing himself from his reverie Telemon finally answered Iolaus' question. "I don't know - what's it like being his friend?"
Iolaus laughed, "Sure you don't want to ask me about the monsters he's fought or just how many bandits he can dispatch with a single blow?"
Telemon shrugged and grinned shyly, "Well that too . but really . what is it like?"
"It can be difficult. He's 'Hercules' you know? Everyone sees him as the son of Zeus, a hero. Slayer of the Nemean Lion, saviour of the known universe, and there am I, the tag-along."
"You don't really think that do you?"
"Nah, not most of the time, but it's hard. I'm a warrior and I'm often there with Hercules when he performs these heroic feats, at his back or by his side. We're partners, but sometimes it's only me and him that know that."
"And that isn't enough?"
"Oh yeah, it's enough. But we all have our ego days don't we. We all want people to look at us and think we're something special. I'll bet you do."
Telemon mumbled something that Iolaus couldn't quite hear. "It's all right to want that Telemon, the way the people treat you isn't your fault. It isn' t really theirs either. They fear the unknown, they fear anything different. Some towns we've gone to have feared Hercules, some have even feared me!"
Iolaus paused to make sure that he had the boy's attention before continuing, "We went to this small village up on the slopes of Mount Olympus, they thought they were pretty special up there, living just below the gods like that. Personally, I think they were right under the gods for a reason! Anyway, they were all dark, black hair, brown eyes. They could forgive Hercules because he was half-god but me, I was just a mortal. What was I doing with fair hair and blue eyes, and to top it off I was a couple of heads shorter than the shortest of them. Weird thing is, because I was so different they didn't know what to make of me. They didn't wait to see how I acted or hear what I had to say, they treated me coldly and with mistrust. They believed each others gossip about me being some kind of evil sprite or demon sent to harm their children."
Telemon stopped walking and turned to Iolaus completely entranced by his story. "But you'd never hurt a child."
"Very perceptive of you. No, of course I wouldn't. But it was their fear speaking, and fear is a very strange thing. It causes anger and hatred and people are often willing to believe anything that will justify how they feel."
"Like Zeus marking me as a demon."
"Yes, just like that. Don't hate them Telemon, they don't know any better. Look, I know it's tough, but you've got to be yourself, like you are now with me. Try to keep in your mind that they don't know any better and be nice to them always. It'll take time but it will work. They'll forget their fear and once they've done that they'll forget the silly stories that have been going around."
Telemon wanted so badly to believe his new friend's words, but he wasn't sure he could. Iolaus could see it in his face and smiled softly, "I promise. If they don't come around in the next few months tell me and I'll make the whole town see the light!"
This was enough to surprise a laugh out of Telemon and he and Iolaus spent the rest of the walk chattering about Iolaus' many adventures and how Hercules had occasionally lent him a helping hand.
A large crowd had quickly gathered when Hercules was spotted returning to the village. The demigod stood uncomfortably in the midst of the people who were all listening with rapt attention to Salmoneus who was telling even taller tales than those Iolaus usually regaled his friends with. "And then he went in with a quick left and Kapow! In went the right, bang smack on the jaw and the Cyclops went flying into the air."
Atreus was once again the one standing closest to Hercules and he spoke to the demigod even as Salmoneus continued to illustrate his tale with gestures. "Sounds like you were pretty impressive Hercules."
"Yeah, it does, doesn't it? Shame I can't remember any of this stuff."
Atreus allowed himself a grin before continuing his thought, "Well, at least now that the Cyclops is dead we can."
Hercules held up a hand to stop Atreus' words, "He's not dead."
That statement was enough to silence Salmoneus and turn everyone's attention towards Hercules. For a moment there was silence and then several people started questioning the demigod.
"What do you mean, not dead?"
"But you promised you'd sort things out for us!"
"Some hero you are!"
Hercules raised his voice to be heard over the clamour. "I never said I was going to kill him. That's only ever a last resort never a first choice."
Atreus shook his head in dismay as he said, "But Hercules. Killing the Cyclops is the only option. You don't understand."
Several people shouted their agreement and Hercules felt as if he were hitting his head against a pillar in one of Hera's temples. Why were these people so blinkered? Just then another voice joined the argument and it was a most welcome sound for Hercules. "I'd have thought that Hercules would know a lot more about it than you Atreus."
Scilla moved to stand beside Hercules and stared defiantly at the other villagers; she was sick and tired of all their griping and turning the blame on others instead of taking responsibility for once.
Atreus couldn't believe his ears, why did this stupid son of a god have to go and make things so complicated, and what was Scilla thinking taking his side? "You keep out of this girl. That Cyclops has been an evil influence on this village all his life."
Hercules smiled grimly, "The only ones influencing the village have been yourselves; the Cyclops, and by the way he has a name, has only been responding to your actions. Stop hating him for long enough to notice what he's really like, you might be pleasantly surprised."
Atreus spluttered in anger at this but before he could reply Scilla spoke again, "He's right. I know how you treated him when he was a child. You were cruel, it's no wonder he's never been friendly to the village."
"Be quiet you ungrateful creature. Don't you understand that we were doing it to protect you from that monster?"
Hercules could feel himself fast losing his temper and he wanted nothing more than to walk away from this village and let them suffer at the hand of Hera. If it hadn't been for the thought that he could beat the old witch for once and for the knowledge that at least two good people could get hurt, he would have left.
Stepping closer to Atreus, making him take a step back, Hercules spoke quietly but everyone there could hear his words, "Stop wasting your breath calling the lady names Atreus and start thinking about what you're going to do now."
Atreus' flare of anger hadn't died down yet and he said, "What does it matter? The second you leave the Cyclops is going to destroy all of us."
Scilla turned on him in a fury, "If you weren't so pigheaded maybe Hercules would want to stay and help us!"
Hercules, hardly able to believe that he was going to do this, but knowing that Deianeira would have been so proud of him in this moment, said, "What makes you think I'm leaving?"
He thought back to the conversation he'd had with Iolaus before they'd gone to Ister and Hercules had defeated the She-demon. His friend had been right and he felt it in this moment more powerfully than he ever had before. He understood the truth of the fact that he was honouring Deianeira and the children by helping people, and especially by helping people that irritated him. He chuckled to himself, Iolaus would have happily let these people rot but Deianeira would never have been able to turn her back on them, she would have said that they were misguided and that they needed help to find the right path again.
Whilst Hercules had been musing, Atreus had been organising a work party to start diverting the river the next day. He turned back to Hercules, wonder in his face, "You'll really stay?"
"Yes. The thought of turning Hera's wine sour has a certain appeal to me."
Hercules and Salmoneus were walking through the village heading for the tavern and their beds that evening when they were met with the all too familiar sight of fifty beautiful women standing impatiently waiting for them. Hercules whispered to Salmoneus, "I thought you said you'd deal with them!"
Salmoneus' eyes darted from side to side, looking for an escape but he knew he'd never outrun the demigod. "I thought you were brave! This was the only way I could escape intact!"
Salmoneus turned a deep shade of red that really didn't do much for the purple toga he was wearing. He cleared his throat several times before saying anything, "Yes, well, um, yes. You know. 'intact' . all my extremities still where they belong. Intact!"
Hercules had to smile at that, but it was time to face the women he wasn't prepared to run anymore. He'd run often enough recently, it wasn't his style; it was time to face his fears.
The princess closest to Hercules, who seemed to be in charge, spoke, "We have a proposition for you Hercules."
Hercules looked at all these beautiful women standing before him, wanting to bear his children, willing to be the mothers of his offspring and his heart felt as if it was tearing apart all over again. He'd had children, he'd loved his children with all his heart, Hera had taken them, she would always try to destroy the people he loved, but that wasn't the problem.
"Look, ladies. I. I'm sure it's very, ah, flattering, that you want me to father your children, but." Here he paused for a long moment, picturing his children, feeling them as he hugged them tightly to him, smelling their hair, hearing their giggling laughter. "I had a family, children, and a wife that I loved. It was all I could ever have wanted. That's all gone now but. if I could ever. if, if it were ever possible for me to. to start again. To have more children, it couldn't be like this. A child should be born of love, his parents should love each other and both be there for him. I can't. not like this. I'm sorry. You are all wonderful women in your own right, you don't need to chase me around Greece, you can find husband's for yourselves. Good men who will love you in the way that you deserve. You don' t need me."
The women's faces had all softened as Hercules had spoken, though his speech had been broken and halting or perhaps because of it, the princesses' hearts had been touched by his words. Deep down they knew the truth that he spoke too. Their father had wanted descendants with the blood of the gods in them, he'd thought that if his grandchildren were sired by Hercules they would be invincible, an army of little gods to protect his dynasty. His daughters had liked the idea of having godly blood running through their children's veins; they'd liked the idea of being with Hercules, handsome hero. None of them had been thinking about making a family or their future as parents. Now they were.
Castor was furious, mostly because he was petrified. He'd left the Cyclops having been unable to get under that damned calm exterior, and now he was slowly walking back to the vineyard. He was trying to think of a way to salvage something from all of this but his thoughts kept returning to the Executioners. He could almost hear them breathing down his neck.
And so when an Executioner whispered in his ear, Castor nearly died of fright. He'd known that they would come but he hadn't been prepared for it to be this fast, and he wasn't ready.
"I. I. didn't think you'd be here so soon. Do I really need to come with you?"
Gods! Even as he said the words Castor realised his mistake, but it was too late and the last thing he saw in his life were the smouldering inhuman eyes of an Executioner, the last thing he heard the otherworldly voice laughingly taunting him, "What a good idea. We'll do much better without you."
The next morning several of the villagers had gathered at the river, some ready to roll up their sleeves and work and others who were just there because they expected a good show. Atreus had been there from the break of dawn, pacing and placing boulders in his mind's eye. He had thought of nothing other than getting the river back for a long time now, some would call it an obsession and that was fine with him, just so long as it got the job done. Trachis needed the water to survive, and Atreus wasn't about to let his home be destroyed, even if some of the others didn't seem to care.
It was time and Atreus pushed his sleeves up and placed his hands on a large boulder - the first to be repositioned. "Come on everyone, let's get to work!"
Several people including Hercules stepped forward and put their shoulders to work. Hercules passed Salmoneus and gave him an amused glance, "You just going to stand there?"
Salmoneus was fiddling with the sleeves of his toga and looking very uncomfortable he said, "I refuse to compromise my integrity with physical toil."
Hercules laughed, he could tell that Salmoneus was feeling just a little bit guilty but not quite guilty enough to actually help. "Ah, well, then I refuse to compromise 'my' integrity by buying any of your togas."
Salmoneus' eyes lit up at the possibility that he'd finally sold Hercules on the idea of a toga. Just then Scilla stepped forward with a laugh and moved next to Hercules placing her hands on the boulder, "Need some help?"
Salmoneus felt about two inches tall as Hercules grinned back at him before pushing at the boulder again. It rocked slightly this time and Salmoneus could tell that it would only take a little more effort to get it out of the way. Pulling himself up with dignity and carefully rolling his sleeves up, Salmoneus stepped daintily into to the space next to Hercules and started pushing.
It was enough and the boulder finally came free, the mud of the riverbed sucking at it, desperate to keep it. They let the boulder roll out of the river bed and as it settled into its new home a big cheer went up.
"I helped. Without me they could never have done it." Salmoneus was feeling a little shell-shocked at his action and enjoying the moment. Hercules wasn' t about to let it go to his head though, "Well I guess that means that you' ll have to stay for the duration then Salmoneus."
The Cyclops had arrived unnoticed as the villagers toiled and he looked on with disdain. All this fuss over one lousy boulder, there were hundreds of the things blocking the river's natural path they shouldn't be celebrating just yet. He harrumphed in disgust at the stupidity of the villagers. Scilla heard him and turned to welcome the newcomer, unfortunately one of the other women who had come to cheer her husband on had also seen the Cyclops and she screamed.
Suddenly the mood of celebration changed to one of fear and anger. People were shouting and screaming, running from here to there and back again, unsure of what they should do. Before Hercules could open his mouth to say something, someone picked up a small rock and threw it at the Cyclops who growled his anger.
Suddenly furious with the villagers Hercules turned on them, standing between them and the Cyclops.
"Give him a chance! You don't know why he's here and already you yell at him and throw things."
The uproar didn't abate and threats and insults were hurled in the Cyclops' direction. Scilla had had enough, as far as she could see the man was just standing there, he was obviously angry but he hadn't done anything to warrant this reaction. She ran to stand beneath the Cyclops ignoring the horrified shouts of her neighbours. He looked down at her with a small smile and she said, "Hello. I'm Scilla, what's your name? I'm so sorry about them; they don't seem to want to learn."
The Cyclops could feel his face burn as the beautiful girl spoke to him. Scilla -that was a beautiful name. "Tollan, I'm Tollan. We should leave now. um, I mean, that's if you...?"
She just smiled up at him.
“Yes. Um, it's dangerous here for you. Hera's Executioners are on their way."
Hercules, who was still trying to calm the crowd, heard this and turned back to Tollan, "What? How do you know?"
"I saw them on my way over here. They'll be here any second now I reckon."
Scilla frowned and looked around her, there was no sign yet of the Executioners. "Will you help us?" She wasn't sure who she was asking, Hercules or Tollan, but it was Hercules that answered.
Tollan remained silent, watching the villagers who had quietened at this latest piece of news, too frightened to know what to do now.
Hercules turned to Atreus, "Well Atreus, what do you say? It's your choice, you can continue your prejudice against Tollan here, or you can apologise and ask for his help."
Atreus had enough standing in Trachis to know that the others would follow whatever he decided. He looked up at the Cyclops, for so long a figure of ridicule and hatred to him. He'd never been interested in the person, he'd never even thought of the creature . no, man, as a person. How could he now?
Taking a deep breath he stepped forward and looking up into the solitary eye of the Cyclops he was about to speak when Hercules spotted a less than welcome sight coming over the near horizon. The Executioners had arrived. "No time for niceties now. Get to safety everyone!" He glanced up at Tollan and grinned, "Care to join me?"
Tollan grinned back, he wasn't doing this for the people of Trachis, he wasn 't even doing it for Scilla though he hoped she'd think well of him, he was doing it because he'd found a friend in Hercules and because Hercules had shown him that sometimes it was worth doing the right thing even if it meant helping people that didn't like you.
Instead of returning directly home, Iolaus had decided to do a little hunting on the way back and he'd spent the night camped not far from Telemon 's farm. He remembered hunting here when he was young, learning some of those old hunter's tricks of his from his uncle - the 'old hunter' himself. Iolaus smiled at the memory of hours spent learning to be still, learning to listen to the air and the earth as it told of its secrets. He remembered the impatient child bouncing his feet up and down as he sat on a log, bored, unable to understand why he couldn't just set a trap and be done.
The lesson's he'd learnt in these woods, hunting deer and wild boar, had stayed with him for life; they'd saved his life more times than he could remember. Iolaus was trying to keep to those memories, the safe ones, the ones that didn't include Hercules. He missed his friend, he worried about him, but he didn't doubt that he would return and he didn't doubt that they would travel together. He had to have faith in his friend, if he lost that what was left?
Eventually, Iolaus strolled into the market place once more. It was late afternoon and the stalls were busy. The familiar sounds of cheerful bartering reached Iolaus' ears long before he arrived. Pylades noticed him, and the brace of rabbits slung over his shoulder and shouted a greeting. Iolaus grinned and waved but didn't stop; he was heading back to Alcmene's house. He thought that she would appreciate some fresh rabbit for a change.
Hearing a familiar voice though, Iolaus turned curious to see how Telemon had taken his advice. A group of boys were standing at the far corner of the square and it looked as though Telemon was trying to talk to them. They didn 't seem too interested so Iolaus strolled nonchalantly over and slapped Telemon on the back, "Telemon, my old friend. How's it going?"
Telemon's face lit up. "Hi Iolaus, I was just explaining what you'd told me - they didn't seem to believe me."
Iolaus grinned at the stunned faces of the other boys; he just bet they'd been giving Telemon a hard time for saying that he knew Iolaus. "Yeah, well. It's easy to take things at face value Telemon; it takes a true hero to see what lies beneath."
The words 'true hero' turned Iolaus' mind back to Hercules and his smile faded. "I'll see you again boys." And with that he turned and walked away, all the bounce in his step having disappeared.
Telemon knew what was bothering Iolaus and he shouted a quick farewell to the other boys and ran after him. "Hey Iolaus, wait up."
Iolaus shifted the rabbits to his other shoulder and sighed, it was selfish of him to want Hercules to come back, but it felt as if his life were on hold and he couldn't get on with it until his friend returned. He still didn 't know what Hercules had decided, whether he'd ever get the chance to be his partner again or if Hercules had closed the door on that part of his life forever. It was all very well promising that he wouldn't let Herc walk off on his own again but the demigod was almost as stubborn as he was and he had that god's blood thing going which always seemed to help him in arguments.
Telemon wasn't sure what he should say to Iolaus but he knew he should say something. The hunter had been kind to him, he hadn't needed to, but he had all the same. Telemon had not only learned something from the experience but he'd enjoyed it. If he should ever have children the boy knew that this would be the tale he told them most often. Iolaus may well have changed his life and now he wanted to give his thanks.
"Hercules won't leave you forever, Iolaus."
"How do you know that? I keep telling myself he'll come back, he couldn't abandon his family. But who am I kidding? I'm not family, and Alcmene . well if he could leave her without a word..." Iolaus had had enough of trying to rationalise things to himself, he'd had enough of ignoring the problem, pretending it didn't matter. He'd lost enough in his life; he didn't need to lose Hercules as well.
Telemon was scared, not of Iolaus but that he wouldn't say the right thing to make his new friend feel better. He wondered if Iolaus had ever felt the same fear and couldn't imagine it. "Iolaus, you have to believe. From everything you said to me yesterday . it was like - you weren't just telling me how great Hercules was, you were showing me your friendship, your partnership," he took a deep breath, this was kind of soppy but he had to say it, "your love." There, he'd said it. The ground hadn't swallowed him and Iolaus didn't seem to hate him for it, instead he gave him a small smile. Yes, Telemon thought, I think I said the right thing.
"Look, Iolaus. What I learnt from you yesterday wasn't just the stuff about being myself, it was that friendships last, and that the two of you, have this special thing going. The way you talk about him, the way he did things for you, it's obvious. You are family. Did he tell you that he was leaving?"
"Then he thought he was telling family and that was enough. He'll come home."
The boy sounded so sure of himself that it made Iolaus laugh. "You must be a very good listener to get all that from my ramblings!" Iolaus grinned and Telemon felt a huge weight lift off of his shoulders, he'd done the right thing, he'd helped Iolaus feel better and that made Telemon feel good.
Iolaus draped his arm around Telemon's shoulder and said, "I'm taking these rabbits to Alcmene, Hercules' mother. You haven't tasted Rabbit Stew until you've tasted her Rabbit Stew, would you like to come? Would it be okay with your mother?"
Telemon just nodded mutely. He was going to eat with Iolaus, and meet Hercules' mother. Wow.
Many of the villagers ran when they saw the Executioners, even Tollan felt a shiver of fear run up his spine. Hercules was the only one there that had faced anything this purely evil before. Their heavy armour clanking but not seeming to slow their movements down, the Executioners fell upon their prey with vicious accuracy.
The Cyclops yelled at Scilla to get out of the way before he picked up the two nearest and slamming them into each other threw them as far as he could. They landed heavily but were rising to their feet in moments, unearthly steam rising from the ground that they had impacted on.
Hercules wasn't faring any better, he had three Executioners surrounding him. His punches were hardly denting the armour and that stuff was hurting his hands. He'd have to think of something else; he twisted suddenly and fell to the ground rolling under the feet of the nearest man, bringing him down. Grabbing the ankles of the Executioner, Hercules stood and started turning faster and faster until the Executioner was spinning and hitting the others they fell like skittles. Giving one final turn Hercules released his grip, letting the Executioner fly like a discus.
Watching the curving arc of the thrown soldier, Hercules commented, "I'd say that was a gold medal contender."
But as many of the Executioners that Hercules and the Cyclops threw off, more would replace them, and they would never stay down. Short of tearing their heads off, and Hercules wasn't sure that would work either, they seemed unstoppable.
Salmoneus had wanted to run when the fighting had begun, but he couldn't. His feet seemed to be rooted to the spot, he couldn't leave Hercules like this, couldn't just run away without being sure that the big guy was okay. As he watched, and winced, Salmoneus came to realise that somewhere along the line he'd found a new friend in Hercules and that made him feel both proud and a little scared. How could he, humble, frightened, bargaining, Salmoneus live up to the friendship of Hercules?
Behind Salmoneus some of the other men were also watching, they'd stayed to see the fight, not because they were worried about Hercules or Tollan but because who didn't like to watch a good fight? They could see that the two men were having a hard time and starting to slow down with fatigue. One man said, "Shouldn't we help them?" The reply chilled Salmoneus' blood, "Die helping that freak and his friend? No way am I going like that!"
That was the final straw and Salmoneus forgetting his fear said, "It would be better to die with him than to stay here with eunuchs like you."
Picking up a rock he threw it with all his might, hitting an Executioner on the back of the head and bringing him to his knees, it was enough for Hercules to grab him and holding him up punched him in the stomach, having finally found a gap in the armour. The Executioner doubled over and when Hercules dropped him he curled into a ball on the ground and didn't get up again.
Salmoneus whooped feeling the adrenaline rush and forgetting all about his safely he ran into the fray with a stout branch in his hands, clubbing anyone who got too close.
Seeing this and that it had given Hercules and Tollan new breath, Atreus finally picked up his sword and raising it joined the fray. He would not just stand by and watch other people defend his village. He might not trust or like the Cyclops but he wouldn't let him do his dirty work for him either.
With Salmoneus and Atreus joining the fight others gave in to the need too and it gave Hercules the respite he needed to catch his breath. Thinking only of his hatred for Hera he attacked the Executioners with renewed vigour, and now when they fell it took them longer to rise. Some were limping away, defeated and seeing this gave the villagers the added incentive they needed. It wasn't long before the last Executioner had been defeated; not destroyed - they would probably be back, although Hera would be so angry with them that they may not survive her rage.
The villagers spent the next few minutes cheering and patting each other on the back in congratulations. Hercules mused that they seemed to have forgotten the help they had received from Tollan, but it takes a long time to change your worldview, it wasn't something that would happen overnight.
Finally Atreus remembered Hercules and held out his hand to shake it in the warrior style, "We owe you a debt of gratitude Hercules how can we ever repay you?"
"Well, you can start by being nice to the big guy. Tollan helped too."
Atreus looked up at the looming Cyclops; it was so hard to think of him as Tollan, instead of 'freak'. "We tried Hercules I just don't know."
Salmoneus gave a sarcastic laugh, "Yeah, calling a guy freak and monster is always a good way to begin a friendship!"
Scilla was standing beside the Cyclops and she looked up at him and said, "This man helped you today. He did something you'd never have done for him."
Atreus licked his lips uncomfortably, "But how do we know he'll never turn on us again?"
Tollan sighed, he wondered if these people were even worth it, but Scilla thought that they were and the slightest chance of getting them to understand would make it worthwhile. "I promise not to hurt anyone, just so long as you treat me with some respect. My name is Tollan."
Hercules was watching with interest, it was nice to have other people speaking up for what was right instead of having to do it with only Iolaus. or no Iolaus. He sighed; it was time to go home. Turning to Atreus he said, "That sounds fair to me, Atreus, what do you say?"
Atreus looked up at the Cyclops for a long time and then turned and stared at the boulders that were keeping their river from its correct path. They'd need all the friends they could get in the coming months. The Cyclops - Tollan - had proved himself today. Scilla trusted him, and Scilla was a good girl. "We'll try - Tollan."
On hearing his name being used the big Cyclops face broke out in a huge grin and several people laughed.
Atreus clapped his hands together, "So what do you say folks, time for a celebration?"
"So, where are we going now?" Salmoneus had to trot along to keep up with the taller man's long stride, so the words came out in a breathless puff.
"I don't know about you Salmoneus, but I'm going home." Hercules smiled that word, 'home' sounded so good to him, and now that he'd finally decided he couldn't wait to get there and see his mother and Iolaus again. They needed to talk, Hercules had to know if Iolaus was still willing to be his partner and face all the dangers that entailed.
Salmoneus suddenly stopped walking. He'd assumed, he'd thought that. okay; now then, a little rethink would have to happen now. "So, care for some company? I mean, we make a pretty good team you and I, don't we?"
Hercules turned back to the purple clad toga salesman, "Not bad Salmoneus, but I've already got a partner." 'At least I think I do - should I ask that of him? Should I take him away from the life he's made for himself?' Hercules shook his head to free himself of this new doubt and continued, "Anyway, I wouldn't want to cramp your style when you're selling those togas of yours."
Salmoneus had a sudden thought, fifty togas, maybe a hundred because they'd need a change; one for evening, one for day. Yes, that was it! They'd never actually said no. Forgetting all about his new friendship and his desire for Hercules' company Salmoneus busily planned just how he'd persuade the fifty daughters of Thespius that they needed their own personal fashion designer.
"Umm, okay then Hercules. It's been real, see ya around sometime."
Hercules grinned, "So you're off to be a hero on your own then Salmoneus?" he asked, crossing his arms in front of him and raising an eyebrow.
"What? Oh! Well, yes, I suppose you could say that I'll be heroically attempting to persuade the daughter's of King Thespius to get with the look of today."
Hercules held out his arm to the salesman who looked at it with a puzzled frown until he realised what he was supposed to do with it. Turning away after saying their farewells both men took their own paths; Salmoneus towards fame and fortune and Hercules towards home and family.
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