The group of seven came to the deserted village of Parthus after a long and exhausting search. Each had come from different parts of the province and each looking for a place to call their own. They were outcasts from their respective villages, dispossessed and banished for their human frailties. When they had all met on the road aimlessly searching for another place to call home, they decided to travel together.
As the caravan of outcasts traveled down the worn and overgrown path toward nowhere in particular, Broteas was the first to spot Parthus. The small, dilapidated village was set off from the path amid the large trees. The vegetation almost engulfed the rusted metal gate and stoned wall that protected the village from intruders.
Broteas stopped when he saw the village, as did those behind him in an almost domino effect. “It’s a gift from the gods,” Broteas said when he saw the obscured village.
For most, Broteas was considered the leader of the group and they were content to let him continue to lead. He pointed toward the village, “Listen up, everybody. This is our reward for traveling so far…and suffering so much. This …is our new home.”
“Thank the gods,” Leucosia answered as she dropped her backpack on the ground and plopped herself on a large stone at the edge of the path. “I’m tired of traveling.”
“You’re always tired. And lazy,” Hesame argued. Indeed, the woman had spent a large amount of their journey slowly plodding along and avoiding any physical activity whenever she could.
“And you’re always angry. Get over it. We’re all in the same boat.” Leucosia fired back.
Ixion, a young boy, stopped next to the two bickering ladies. He pulled a stone that had been bothered him out of his warn and ill-fitting shoe. “At least you had a home. I never did,” he said. He was a troubled orphan that was booted out of every home he had ever had.
“You had plenty of them, boy. You were just kicked out of them with all your fancy wants and wishes.”
“Enough,” Broteas announced with a palm up to stop the haranguing of the young boy. “Wait here while we inspect the village.“
He summoned Teles to follow him and both men went up the overgrown path toward the walled city.
From the outside gate, the village looked ancient, but Broteas thought that the stone structures inside had good bones. .
“It’s deserted,” Teles said as he walked into the gate. “Imagine that. A village all to our very own.”
Broteas laughed. “You’d like that wouldn’t you? A city just to call your own.”
Wild grape vines covered the columns of the gate and two trees ripened with meager fruit grew close to the entrance. While the others talked amongst themselves on the path, Ephadon, a short and portly man, quickly noticed the fruit-laden trees. Always hungry, he moved toward the trees, eagerly plucking the ripe fruit off, stuffing as much as he could in his mouth as he stuffed the others in his tunic. When he picked all the fruit off the one tree, he moved to the next.
Moments later Broteas walked out of the gate. “Come everyone. Our new home.” He called as he waved his arms in entreaty.
Ephadon, close to the gate quickly made his way into the walled village. He was followed by Hesame. Ixion, and Jana a licentious young woman followed behind Hesame. Leucosia, slowly but steadily followed behind the rest. Each looked around as they entered their new retreat.
Within minutes, the group of seven began setting up housekeeping with their meager belongings.
The small town consisted of four stone buildings and several timber ones too dilapidated to live in. The town was once a favorite of Hera, so in addition to the usual inn and tavern, there was a temple inside the fortress to honor the Queen of the Gods.
Teles quickly found his way to each of the buildings, trying to find one that would suit his particular lust for living. Most were too small or too dilapidated to his likings. His last stop was Hera’s temple. He was not an avid follower of the Queen of the Gods and thought her abandoned temple might suit him well as his new home.
The stone structure had surely seen better days. In fact, it had been robbed of all its finery, save one object: a small chalice still sat on the altar.
The building was too run down for Teles to make his home, but the materialistic Teles couldn’t help himself. He quickly grabbed the bowl and stuffed it into his tunic. Then, before leaving the building, he checked both sides of the structure for anyone witnessing his avidity. Finding the area clear, Teles quickly left the building.
Obscured from his human eyes, his thievery did not go unnoticed. Eyes as green as a peacock’s feather had watched with distain as the group entered the deserted village.
In the past, each had offended the Queen of the Gods. Their human frailties had kept them from paying homage to the spiteful goddess. She decided she would have none of that. To make an example of each of them, Hera demanded reparation from those villages devoted to her, but the villagers were too weak to sacrifice the offenders. Instead they banished them, hoping the goddess would be satisfied.
The vengeful goddess could have destroyed their village for not sacrificing the sinners, just like she had Parthus. But she didn’t. Her minions had diminished each time she destroyed a village, but still not satisfied, Hera cursed the reprobate villagers, making it impossible for them to settle anywhere.
Quickly, she grew bored with the pathetic group of seven so after months of searching, she was content to leave them alone in their newfound village. She was tending to other, more pressing matters, namely to rid the world of her husband’s bastard son, Hercules. Hera was content to leave them until she witnessed the theft of her favorite bowl.
With a blink of her wicked eyes, the earth rumbled beneath the villagers. She created an earthquake in which she would destroy their new home, forcing them to flee once again.
The earthquake forced the villagers out of their homes and into the unkempt street where the stones and timbers from the buildings rained down onto the group like hailstones.
It was midmorning when Hercules began to walk up the deserted path. It was the same path the new villagers had taken earlier in the morning and the same path that led to the deserted town of Parthus. As he moved along the path, a rumble began at the demigod’s feet and spread toward the small village.
The large trees of the forest began swaying in front of him. One fell in front of the demigod’s feet. Dodging the first tree that fell, Hercules decided that the abandoned town of Parthus would be safer than staying in the forest. He ran toward the town.
Even through the rumbling, Hercules heard a woman scream. The earthquake shook the foundation of the two stoned columns and gate of the village. The columns lost their footing and one tumbled toward Ixion who was trying valiantly to escape the crumpling village and shaky ground.
“Ixion!” Jana screamed. She watched in horror as the column begun to tumble onto him.
With one hand, Hercules rushed in and kept the column from crushing Ixion.
“Thank you,” Jana said, taking notice of the demigod’s long, muscled physique. She licked her lips with delight. “Who are you?” she asked as she watched Hercules help the young boy up with his free hand.
“I’m Hercules,” the demigod answered.
“Hercules?” the boy questioned enthusiastically. “The son of Zeus, that Hercules?”
“Uh, that would be me,” the demigod answered shrugging his shoulders in humility.
“Wow! You’re really strong.”
“And handsome,” Jana added.
"I bet it would be fun to be so strong like you. Boy, I wish I could be you, Hercules,” Ixion stated.
“No you don’t,” Hercules answered. He still felt the sting from the death of his wife and kids at the hands of a jealous Hera. He paid a high price for being Hercules, the son of Zeus. “No, no you don’t.”
“You’re not married, are you?” the young woman asked the demigod still eyeing him lasciviously.
“Uh, no. Not anymore.” the demigod answered with distraction.
Jana smiled absently, pleased with the answer.
“Do you have a home or are you homeless too? Ixion asked all the while wondering why the demigod would be traveling alone. If he were Hercules he would be traveling with a league of worshippers.
Hercules looked down at the young boy and recognized his questions as mere curiosity. “I had a home in Thebes, to the east of here, near Corinth. My mother and friends still live there.”
“Near Corinth? Do you know King Jason of the Argonauts?” Ixion asked. “He lives in Corinth. I wish I were a King like Jason, and had a big boat like the Argo.”
Hercules laughed. “I thought you wanted to be like me?”
“Don’t mind Ixion.” Jana dismissed, “He wishes he were everyone and had everything. I only want one thing,” Jana added licking her lips once more.
Hercules smiled disconcertedly as he put a hand on the young boy‘s shoulder. He did know Jason. They were good friends and right then he was missing his friends and family. In fact, he was returning back home. He didn‘t like how he had left things with his mother, Alcmene. “Yes, Ixion. As a matter of fact, I do know Jason. He is a close friend.”
“So then, what are you doing in these parts?” Ixion asked, “Why aren’t you with your family? You didn‘t get banished too did you?”
Jason, the King of Corinth walked up to the path that lead to Alcmene’s house. He had heard of the death of Deianeira and the kids, but at the time he was in the middle of one of numerous Corinthian emergencies and could do nothing about it. The best he could do at the moment was to send a runner to Hercules to express his sorrow for the loss, but the runner returned not able to find the grieving demigod.
Now that his sovereign duty was complete, Jason needed to see his friend to express his condolences.
He had stopped by the house that Hercules and Deianeira shared, but it was clear the demigod was not there. He decided to check at Alcmene’s.
It had been several years since he had been to Alcmene’s house and would have barely recognized the small cottage if it had not been for the half finished fence the demigod had always promised to finish.
The mother of Hercules, as beautiful as ever, was outside tending to her garden. Jason had always had a crush on the demigod’s mother but would have never have admitted his feeling for Alcmene to Hercules, because he would get severely ribbed from both Hercules and Iolaus for such thoughts.
She dug into the ground with a spade and her fore head was suddenly knotted with worried furrows. He watched her briefly as she wiped the sweat off of her brow, replacing the beads of perspiration with a smudge of dirt. “Alcmene,” Jason called as the woman got up to cut her roses.
Startled by the intrusion, Alcmene looked over to Jason. She stood up to greet her guest but stumbled as her back foot stepped on the rake laying on the ground.
Jason rushed to her and caught her as she tumbled back. His massive arms wrapped around her feminine waist for a moment longer than they had to.
He couldn’t help but notice that the Fates had been kind to her. Though older, her figure and complexion remained youthful with the exception of the delicate laugh lines around her delightfully blue eyes. He noticed that she smelled of roses and other exotic fragrances.
“Jason,” Alcmene said just a bit flustered as she looked into the face of the man that was now the King of Corinth. He looked different. He was just as handsome as before, but the strains of being the sovereign king was beginning to wear on his face. His brown hair showed the peppering of gray at the temples and his eyes were darkened by the wariness of being King.
She had known Jason for many years as he often tagged along with Hercules and Iolaus when they came to visit from Cheiron’s Academy. But, somehow, the way Jason held her close and protectively, it was difficult for her to see the young man that she remembered, but instead she saw the well-respected man and king that he had become.
“Are you alright?” he asked with deep concern.
“Yes, thank you for catching me.”
He continued to hold her hostage in his tight grip.
She looked down toward her waist and then asked, “Jason, why are you here?”
“You’re looking good, Alcmene,” Jason responded aware he was still holding her. He released his grip from her waist but not from her eyes.
Alcmene brushed a lock of her hair back behind her ear. “Thank you,” she answered.
Jason realized he was staring and diverted his eyes toward the half built fence. He then looked toward the house. “Actually, I was looking for Hercules. I heard about Deianeira and the kids.”
Broteas was forced out of the building by the earthquake and immediately noticed the tall stranger talking to Jana and the orphan. He quickly walked up to Hercules with the rest of the group following behind.
“Can I help you? The name is Broteas,” he said with boastful authority.
“Hercules,” the demigod answered. He reached his hand out for a warrior’s handshake. Broteas didn’t take it.
“The earthquake isn’t going to beat us if that’s what you’re thinking,” Broteas offered figuring the prominent hero was bound to usurp his authority as leader.
“I admire your courage,” Hercules responded. It was clear that Broteas wanted to be thought of as the leader of this homeless band.
“Yes, we’ve been through worse. Some of it together,” Broteas answered.
“I think you’re still going through it,” Hercules announced as another quake shook the ground underneath them. More of the stone structures crumbled to the ground.
Once the quaking stopped, Broteas added, “We’re stubborn. We’ll get through this.”
“No,” Hercules answered. “I don’t think you understand. This village is cursed.”
“Cursed? Pah! I don’t believe in such things,” Broteas said. “No curse has visited me.”
“He just wants the village and all its treasures as his own,” Teles interjected as he spoke about the demigod to Broteas. He accusing Hercules of the very same action he was guilty of himself.
“What treasures?” Hercules asked exasperated. He looked around at the ruins that were once Parthus. “How did you manage to find this place?”
Broteas answered. “It was a gift from the gods, I tell you. For all our pain and suffering after we were driven out of our homes.”
“You were banished?” Hercules asked repeating the words he had heard from Ixion.
“By our own villagers,” Teles responded.
Hercules masked a surprised expression as he thought, and you say you weren’t cursed? Finally, he spoke, “So… you’ve been wandering ever since?”
“Not wandering,” Leucosia answered. “Looking for a home.”
Hesame finished, “So she could plant her lazy butt down and do nothing for the rest of her life.”
Leucosia returned the remark with a scowl.
Jana, still enamored with the half-god, all hunk Hercules, turned her mouth into a helpless pout and asked, “We have no home. What are we supposed to do, Hercules?”
“I’ll think of something,” he answered.
Jason had expected Hercules to be at Alcmene’s since he was not at his house.
“I’m sorry, Jason. He’s not here,” Alcmene answered pulling away from the King of Corinth, “He left. He needed to work through his grief.”
“I understand,” Jason nodded having lost Medea and his family too. Even years after the loss, the pain could be just as raw as the first day.
Alcmene could see the despair in Jason’s eyes, and knew he could imagine what Hercules must be going through. She had experienced loss, too. She had lost her husband to war and lost her grandchildren through Hera‘s merciless jealousy.
“I’m sorry he’s not here. Maybe you could have talked some sense into him. I’ve tried, but he’s too hurt to listen to me. I sent Iolaus to look for him, thinking he could talk some sense into him, but you know how stubborn and one-sided that son of mine can be when he isn‘t thinking rationally. I’m worried about him. I don’t know what he will do.
“Where’d he go?” Jason asked.
“He’s avenging Hera for sending a fireball to destroy his family,” Alcmene answered as she pointed toward the path away from her cottage. “He vowed to destroy each of her seven temples. Jason…Hera won’t stand for that, even with Zeus protecting Hercules.”
Jason scowled. He could count numerous times he had witnessed the brash young hero throw caution to the wind in the face of an injustice he felt the gods had perpetrated on their followers. Grief was probably only second to love to make humans do crazy things.
The concern on the King of Corinth’s face was evident. Alcmene smiled at him. She could see why they had remained friends for so long. She had finished her gardening and with the topic of conversation, she was suddenly feeling lonely and once again afraid for her son. She welcomed Jason’s company. “Jason, you’ve traveled so far. Would you like to come in and have some tea? I also have those honey cakes you always liked, too.”
“The ones with the almond slivers on top?” he asked. The smile on Alcmene’s face told him they were.
Falling beside Alcmene and walking into the small cottage, Jason begun, “You know, Alcmene, to spite the way it seems now, he’ll get through this. The son of Alcmene and Zeus has always led a pretty charmed life. I’m sure Zeus will ensure his safety and this journey alone might just be good for him. Besides, if I know Hercules, he won’t be alone for long. If he’s not with Iolaus then he’s probably with someone else, helping him out of some impossible situation. You know Hercules. He can’t help it. He’s…” Jason shrugged his shoulders, “Hercules.”
Broteas didn’t like the succoring way Hercules came into the village and took over. Now he was set to lead his group. “Wait,” Broteas protested loudly, “Who died and made you leader? These are my people. If anyone is going to lead them, then it will be me.”
“Fine. We‘ll think of something,” Hercules restated trying hard to keep his patience amid this group of disagreeable villagers.
“Hey, Hercules,” Ixion asked as he tugged on the demigod’s vest “Why do you think the village is cursed?”
Broteas heard the young boy’s question and announced with indignation, “A curse, huh? You expect me to believe that?”
Yes, Hercules expected Broteas to believe that. He had seen the temple dedicated to Hera in the village and had remembered the stories of the abandoned town. A young woman, a favorite of Parthus had fallen for the charms of his father. Zeus had given her a chalice as a token of his affection. But when Hera heard that the King of the Gods was cavorting with the woman and the town loyal to her was protecting their liaisons, she took it out on all the villagers and damned Parthus.
Hercules answered, “Think back to the earthquake. Think back to the condition this town was in when you got here. Hera has damned the place and you’ve only had a taste of the evil she can do. Now, let’s get everyone packing and get them out of here.”
“You’re the one who ought to get out of here,” Broteas protested. His pride notwithstanding, he was also stubborn and Broteas was bent on staying in the village that was reduced to rubble.
“I am trying…to help you,” Hercules hesitated and then answered in resignation.
“We don’t need your help. We’ve found a home and it’s here.” Broteas said as he waved his hands in a wild, exaggerated movement, ensuring that he covered every inch of the devastation.
“Listen, this place is cursed. I’m telling you the truth,” Hercules pleaded.
“Look around,” Broteas begged, “We’re on our last legs. Where do you expect us to go?”
Hercules thought it over, “Calydon,” he finally said.
There was a murmuring in the group as each person let the town’s name roll of their tongues.
“Calydon?” Broteas spit. “I’ve never even heard of it.”
“It’s a charmed city. It’s protected by Apollo. There will be no curses there.” Hercules turned to each of the seven, trying to persuade them with his pleading eyes. This was the solution to their problem.
Broteas continued, “Yeah? Probably not a city either. Where’s this place supposed to be?“
“It’s just beyond the Stymphalian Swamp.”
Broteas laughed in disbelief, “Haven’t you heard of the winged monster that lives there? It makes sure no one gets through the swamp alive.”
Hercules let out a sigh in exasperation. “I’ll lead you through the swamp.”
“No way,” Leucosia announced. Tired of standing, she found a downed pillar and sat on it as the others continued to argue.
“No it’s too dangerous for my people. They are not interested,” Broteas dismissed.
“Isn’t that their decision?” Hercules asked.
There was another murmuring in the group. Broteas expected his group of villagers to side with him but to be fair, he placed the decision upon a vote. “Fine. All those who want to go to Calydon, take your place next to Hercules. Those that want to stay and make their home here, stand by me.”
“I say we cast our lot with Hercules,” Hesame answered, “It’s a sure lot better than what he’s done for us,” she finished as she pointed to Broteas.
She would have been the first to have followed Hercules, but the lustful Jana beat her to it. Jana practically sprinted over to the demigod and quickly entangled her two arms around his powerful biceps.
Ixion idolizing the demigod followed Jana to Hercules’ side.
Teles, figuring he had done as much looting in the cursed village that he could do, imagined the kind of wealth a charmed city like Calydon could offer him. He had no loyalty to Broteas, so he quickly gathered by the demigod’s side.
Ephadon, well Ephadon was hungry. He had already scoped out and practically devoured the fruits from the trees at the gate to Parthus and as he searched for more consumables, he found little offerings in the cursed village. He suddenly imaged the sweet laden dishes that he could consume in Calydon.
Leucosia, still sitting in her makeshift stoop announced without budging, “Count me in too.”
The only one left was Broteas.
“So Broteas,” Hercules asked, “Are you coming with us or not?”
Hercules stood for a moment hoping Broteas would see the foolishness in staying in Parthus. Finally deciding the man was too stubborn or too prideful to leave, Hercules finished, “Fine,” and then he turned to leave.
“Hercules,” Broteas answered as he pulled along the side of the demigod.
“Decided to come along after all, huh?” Hercules asked in expectation.
“Don’t do these people wrong, Hercules. I’ll be watching you.”
“Yeah, I bet you will, Broteas,” Hercules said.
Hercules ushered the group to gather their belongings and before long they were on the road to Calydon. But Broteas wasn’t the only one that was watching Hercules.
Hera had seen the demigod parade into Parthus and lend his hand to the ungrateful souls that were now living there. She might not have been able to stop her guests from leaving without the chalice, but Hera was not content to allow the villagers safe passage to Calydon, especially not since Hercules was helping them now. Besides, she had a grievance with Hercules that transcended all grievances she had with the villagers.
With a screech as high-pitched as that of a peacock, clouds began to build and Hera opened up the heavens. Stones of ice as big as pomegranates began to rain down on the group of eight.
The throng began to scatter looking for any shelter that would protect them from the violent pelting.
Hercules saw a cave and motioned the group in. The group ran to the shelter of the cave. Teles was the first one in, followed by Jana and Ixion, Hesame and then Ephadon. Broteas pushed himself in and Leucosia plodded in behind him. Hercules made sure everyone had made it in safely before he stepped into the cave.
As Hercules walked in Jana stopped him. “The curse can’t follow us, can it Hercules?” she asked.
“Only as far as the gates of Calydon. You’ll be safe once we’re inside.”
Broteas spoke up, “You better be right about that.”
Jana looked at Hercules and then batted her eyes, “I feel safe already, now that you’re around.”
“Good. Glad to hear it,” the demigod pronounced as he rolled his eyes to her advances. Then he moved farther into the cave. He knew he had to deal with Jana’s lust for him, but that moment was not the right time.
“Look at the way she’s fawning all over him. It’s disgraceful.” Hesame whispered to Leucosia eying the way Jana prostituted herself. She seemed to do that to all the men they had encountered.
“You’re just mad that he’s not fawning all over you, that’s all,” Leucosia commented.
Hesame answered her with an appropriate sneer.
“I’m hungry,” Ixion announced to the group. It had been early morning since the seven, save Ephadon, had eaten.
Hercules reached into his bag and pulled out a loaf of bread. “It’s not much, but it should hold you over until we can reach Calydon,” he answered.
Hercules passed around the loaf and each person tore a piece off. When the bread finally reached Ephadon, there was only one small piece left and Ixion had not been served. Ephadon was tempted to keep the piece of bread for himself, but saw the gaunt and hungry look on the young boy’s face. It had been a while since he saw Ixion eat.
Unlike the rest of the group, Ephadon had eaten that day, and probably more than his share on any other day. Making a conscious decision to share his food, Ephadon handed Ixion the last piece of bread. Then he reached into his pocket and pulled out his last pomegranate too, plucked from the trees outside of Parthus. “You need it more than me,” he announced.
Outside the cave, Hera fumed. The seven had managed to escape her wrath. She had forced nature’s fury on them to teach them a lesson and they had survived. With Hercules’ help, her chalice was now even farther from her temple. Unwilling to give it up, Hera was determined to teach these impudent followers the proper respect for the Queen of the Gods. Instantly, she conjured up her favorite assassin, an assassin that could take care of more than just the seven villagers.
He was a bad tempered, foul smelling brute, bent on destructing anything in his path, just the kind of follower Hera needed. His uniform consisted of souvenirs of his former victims: hair and teeth, even fur and flesh. His large protruding nose made it easy to sniff out those disloyal to Hera. And the first scent he got a whiff of was Hercules. He began following the trail.
It took little effort for Hera’s assassin to find the cave. As he entered, his heavy steps caused the ground inside the cave to shake.
Fearing it was another earthquake, Jana screamed.
Teles got up from his position next to Broteas and worriedly asked Hercules, “What’s happening?” Then he saw the assassin at the edge of the cave and pointed, “What’s that?”
Hercules turned around. He knew who must have sent the assassin and quickly stepped toward the brute, shielding the rest of the cave dwellers from the assassin. “Hmm…ugly…dresses funny…smells bad. You must work for Hera.” Then Hercules then tried to stop the brute with a powerful punch to the face.
This only incited the assassin into an attack. He looked at the demigod as a menacing smile crossed his face. Then the assassin reached up. With a powerful swipe of his arm, the assassin hit the demigod‘s jaw. The hero‘s head snapped to the left. That was the beginning of a fight of brute strength and determination.
Hercules and the assassin exchanged equally damaging blows, but the assassin was outmatched and he knew it. Blow by blow, the assassin was loosing his ground, his patience and a few teeth, to boot. Deciding that the attack would yield him nothing at the moment, he declared in a deep menacing voice, “This isn’t over. Hera won’t stop until she gets the chalice that was stolen from her…and you Hercules. I’ll be back.” Suddenly, he disappeared.
Teles looked around in fright. “He vanished. Where’d he go?”
“Probably to Calydon,” Broteas answered facetiously. He blamed Hercules for the assassins appearance.
“No one is keeping you here, Broteas,” Hercules finished in anger. “Okay, I want to know everything. Hera sent this assassin to retrieve her stolen chalice. Who has it?”
“There are no thieves here,” Broteas answered.
Eyes began darting around the dimly lit cave. Broteas’ eyes settled on Leucosia.
“Well, don’t look at me. I didn’t take it,” she answered defensively.
“That’s right. That would involve work, and we all know how you hate to do that,” Hesame finished.
Eyes began to shift toward Teles. Trying to divert attention from himself Telus added, “Ephadon was a prisoner in the Azanean salt mines.”
Ephadon replied in righteous indignation, “Hey, it wasn’t for stealing. It was for killing.”
Broteas sighed. He was tired of the bickering and especially the meddlesome nature of Hercules whom had started it all. “That’s enough. Stop it,” he said as he turned to his group. “You’re letting this outsider tear us apart.”
Then he turned to Hercules, “Look. What are you trying to do? Okay, they have their faults, but these are good people.”
“That’s why I’m trying to keep them alive.” Hercules answered in defense. “And your chances for living don’t get any better by standing here.”
“Yeah?” Broteas answered. “Well, it’s about time you made some sense.” He turned to take to his group. “Come on. Let’s get out of here. Let’s get as far away as we can, from here and from Hercules, before it gets dark.”
“But we need Hercules to lead us through the swamp. We can’t make it on our own.” Ephadon stated.
Broteas was tired of hearing about the demigod. “Oh…he’ll lead us in. But will he lead us out?”
“Well, how else do we get to Calydon and lose this curse?” Teles asked. He was not as much afraid of the curse as he was the assassin Hera sent to retrieve the chalice he had stolen.
“Maybe the cure isn’t ours. Maybe it’s his. Look. The earthquake hit just before Hercules arrived. Then the ice rocks falling from the sky. And then the attack today.”
Hesame spoke up, “Yeah. And everyone knows how much Hera hates him.”
Hercules, finally fed up with Broteas’ constant tirades left the group and walked toward the mouth of the cave. As he did, he bumped into Jana who conveniently got into his way.
“You’re not leaving, are you?” she asked with saccharine sweetness.
“No,” Hercules answered. “I promised I’d take you to Calydon and I mean it.”
Jana approached him and spoke as she drew a line down his chest with her finger. “I was hoping I could convince you to stay in Calydon with me.”
“Jana, I’m flattered, really,” he said as he took her hand and gently placed it to her side. “You’re a lovely woman, but I recently lost my wife and family. I’m traveling to escape those memories. So you see, I’m not ready to settle down.”
He continued, letting his blue eyes fall on her deep brown ones, “You are full of passion and life. You need to find a man who will care for only you and who will know how special you are. Don’t settle until you find that man and…” he concluded honestly, “I’m not that man.”
“And you think I’ll find this man in Calydon?”
“It is a charmed city,” Hercules responded with hope.
“What do you think our chances are?” Ixion asked the demigod as he walked by.
“Oh, you’ll make it,” Hercules assured the child and then turned to the worried and disconcerted face of Jana. “and you will, too.”
“Even if you don’t find the chalice?” Ixion continued to query.
“The chalice is my worry. I don‘t want you to worry about that.” Hercules answered roughing up the hair of the young boy.
Alcmene walked Jason to the front door. They had spent hours talking about husbands and wives, marriage and loss. The time seemed to fly by as each got reacquainted with the other. Over the years, King Jason had grown up and had experienced the love and loss of an adult. It was that which Alcmene had connected with and which they had talked endlessly about. As adults, the generation gap that had divided Alcmene from the young adult, Jason, had quickly disappeared.
“Jason,” Alcmene stated as she hung by the opening to the door. “Thank you for coming. And thank you for easing my worries about Hercules.”
A smile crossed the King’s face. He had enjoyed his time with Alcmene just as much as she seemed to enjoy his company.
“It was my pleasure,” he answered.
“You know you are welcome here anytime. I hope you drop by again, soon.”
“Is that an invitation?” he asked wickedly. Before he lost his nerve, Jason gently grabbed Alcmene’s arms just below the shoulders and leaned in, giving her a gentle kiss on the cheek.
Releasing her from his embrace, Jason turned around and walked a few steps. His gait appeared just a bit lighter than it had earlier. Then turning back around, Jason announced, “You know. I’ll be taking you up on that invitation.”
Without waiting for an answer, Jason left for home.
Hercules and the group of seven reached the Stymphalian Swamp by midmorning. The swamp was a dense forest, with low areas of wetlands, cypresses, carnivorous plants, exotic animals and quicksand.
“Be careful everyone,” Hercules warned as he stepped into the gloom of the swamp. “Watch where you walk. The Stymphalian Swamp is full of danger. There are sand pits everywhere.”
The group began to follow Hercules into the swamp. As they did, they followed each of his steps carefully. They believed his warnings, and they believed if they followed his steps they would be safe from the flesh eating plants, the strange animals and the sand pits.
As was usual, Leucosia was slowly following behind the others and was quickly loosing ground. As the group rounded a corner, she lost sight of them and then quickened her pace. As a result, she lost the trail and stepped into a sand pit.
“Help me! Save me!” she pleaded as she called out to the group in front of her.
Hercules quickly turned around and ran to her rescue. He cautioned the group to stay where they were. When he reached Leucosia, he easily pulled her out of the sand pit as she pawed at his arms and chest, nearly pulling off his vest in her panic.
“You okay?” the demigod asked.
“Yes, thank you,” Leucosia answered visibly shaken.
The group, not heeding the demigod’s warnings, gathered around Hercules and Leucosia, worried and afraid for her. “I told you to stay put,” he chastised then his voice softened, “no harm done,” Hercules said as he looked around to the group. “Just watch your step, everybody.”
They continued on their way through the swamp. Each person took careful and calculated steps. Leucosia, always the last one in the group picked up her steps to ensure she did not get left behind.
As they continued their travel, Hesame grumbled every time a gnat or mosquito bit her. She complained about the heat and she complained about the humidity. She complained about everything.
As they escaped a jungle of trees into a less densely forested patch, Ephadon turned around nervously. “What’s that noise? What is it?”
Hercules feared what it was. “Everybody! Quick! To the trees! Run!” Hercules shouted as he ushered everyone to the safety of the forest.
Broteas and Teles were the last of the group to enter the protection of the trees. “Get in here. Hurry up,” Hercules pressed.
The Stymphalian Bird was heading toward the group. It had swooped down from its perch on a tall tree above the swamp’s canopy. The bird was huge, over twice the size of Hercules. It had no feathers, but its skin was dark and leathery. Its talons were sharp and thick and its beak was pointed and serrated. It glided on massive wings. Intelligent, large yellow eyes kept watch on its prey, and it headed straight for Broteas and Teles.
Hercules rushed to the open area and stood boldly between the two men and the Stymphalian bird.
It landed in the glade just short of the demigod. The bird boldly approached Hercules on its two taloned legs, stretching his neck lower and snapping his powerful beak toward the demigod.
Hercules punched at the head of the predator, trying to beat the senses out of the bird. But the beating did little to deter the beast. It continued to advance on Hercules. He struck the bird again, but the Stymphalian bird took another step toward the demigod, driving the Hercules farther into the wooded area.
The group watched the fight and backed into the swamp even farther as Hercules and the Stymphalian bird continued their struggles.
“Hercules is going to get us all killed,” Broteas said as he watched the man fight against a bird twice his size. There was no way he could win the fight, Broteas thought.
Teles, fed up with Broteas’ over-abundant pride, turned and said, “Then take us to Calydon, yourself! That is, if you can.”
“Forget Calydon,” Broteas answered, “This bird’s a sign from the gods telling us to stay away!” He pushed Teles in an effort to get his argument heard.
By this time Hercules had beaten the bird into what he though was a retreat. The bird suddenly scrambled away from its prey. When Hercules heard the two men bickering he turned and approached them.
With Hercules’ back turned, Ephadon yelled a warning, “Look! It’s coming back!”
Broteas pushed Teles once more, trying desperately to get away from the winged beast. When he did, the chalice tumbled from Teles’ haversack.
“Look! Teles has the chalice,” Ephadon announced.
After retreating, the Stymphalian bird thought twice about pursuing the man with the wicked right hook. Instead, he went after the two youngest members of the group, finding them more vulnerable. Jana and Ixion had both separated from the crowd after the initial attack. Jana screamed when she saw the large bird advancing and realized the predicament they were in.
Hercules turned from the men and rushed to Jana’s and Ixion’s aid. Like he had done with Broteas and Teles, Hercules stood between the Stymphalian bird and its intended victim. “Here! Over here!” he cajoled, “Come and get me! Hey! Over here!”
His hands moved wildly to get the bird’s attention. “No. I’m the one you want! Over here!”
Frightened by the large bird and its relentless pursuit, Hesame, separated from the others, continued to move backward into the swamp. She wasn’t watching where she was going and soon found herself falling into a sand pit.
“Hercules, help. I’m in a sand pit,” she pleaded as Hercules continued his war with the bird.
Leucosia heard her friend’s plea and immediately ran toward Hesame.
“I’ll help you out, Hesame,” the lazy woman had promised.
“You will?” Hesame answered, not quite believing what she had heard.
But true to her word, Leucosia frantically began to look for a way to get her friend out of the quicksand. Spying long dead vines hanging from a tree, she pulled hard on the twine until it broke off of its tall branch. Luckily, the length of the vine was just long enough to reach Hesame.
“Hurry,” the usually angry woman pleaded, “I’m scared.”
“Here,” Leucosia said as she threw the rope toward the woman. The first throw was a little off the mark, so Leucosia had to throw it again. “Grab on.”
When Hesame grabbed the twine, Leucosia wrapped the remaining vine around her waist for extra leverage.
With powerful legs, Leucosia began pulling Hesame out of the quicksand. It was an effort indeed. Beads of sweat began rolling off the brow of the woman as she walked backward and continued to pull.
Leucosia slowly began pulling Hesame out of the quicksand. When her upper body reached the edge, she pulled herself out. Once free of the pit, Hesame breathed a heavy sigh of relief.
Leucosia breathed an equally heavy sigh, having had exerted herself to the point of exhaustion.
Hesame looked up at her from the edge of the quicksand’s pit. “Thank you,” she said, grateful and happy to be alive.
Hercules finally got the attention of the Stymphalian Bird and began leading the bird away from Jana and Ixion. He moved into the swamp, feeling the large bird would be at a disadvantage amidst the close-set trees. Taking advantage of the density, he weaved in and out of the trees until he could set his trap.
Hercules found a tree with a double trunk. He headed straight for the tree, ensuring the Stymphalian bird was following him. At a hurried pace, and with the Stymphalian bird uncomfortably close on his heels, Hercules jumped over the “V” shaped trunk, hoping the winged predator would follow him.
The large bird did, but his wing expanse could not escape through the narrow shape of the tree. The bird’s fight against the tree gave Hercules enough time to finally contain the bird. Using a vine as a lasso, Hercules hooked the rope around the bird’s strong neck and pulled.
As the noose around the Stymphalian bird’s neck tightened, it had more difficulty breathing. The large yellow eyes grew wide with the realization of its impending strangulation but the Stymphalian bird continued to struggle. The struggle got weaker as the breath was squeezed out. Finally, the bird’s eyes closed in death.
Jana and Ixion heard the plaintive cries of Hesame and as Hercules lead the Stymphalian bird away from them, they quickly ran to the aid of the woman.
They arrived to see Leucosia pulling Hesame out of the sand pit.
Ixion saw the frightened look on the face of the woman. “Boy, am I glad I didn’t get stuck in there,” he said candidly.
The child, usually envious of everything the adults had or experienced, wanted nothing to do with the sand pits.
In a sudden release of pent up emotions, Hesame, Leucosia and Jana couldn’t help but laugh at the young boy’s observation.
“Teles has the chalice!” Ephadon quickly reiterated to Broteas.
“You brought the curse down on us,” Broteas replied with acrimony. He had been blaming Hercules since the demigod’s arrival.
“It was him all along,” Ephadon said with equal enmity.
Teles looked at Broteas and then at Ephadon. “I didn’t know the chalice was cursed,” he defended.
Teles could see that the big man, who had spent time in the Azanean salt mines for murder was getting agitated. Deciding that lying about the theft was better than being caught downright stealing, so he stated, “I wanted to sell it in Calydon. Make enough money for us to build our own city.”
“You’re lying,” Broteas answered, “and to think I trusted you. You’re the one that wanted us to stay in Parthus. I was a fool. We’d still be in Parthus working to make us a home and you’d be off living like a king.”
“I say, kill him,” Ephadon suggested.
“No! No sacrifices,” Hercules interjected as he walked up to the three men.
“But he’s a greedy pig,” Ephadon countered, forgetting his greed for the pomegranates and bread only hours earlier.
“No!” Broteas agreed, “Hercules is right. There will be no sacrifices. We have suffered too much already.”
“Then what do we do with him?” Ephadon asked. “He brought the curse on us.”
“I told you,” Telus pleaded, “I didn’t know it was cursed.”
“Hercules,” Broteas asked as he turned to the demigod, “What do we do?”
“First, we return the chalice to its rightful owner. Hera will stop at nothing to see her chalice returned and Calydon is still half a day’s journey away.”
“Teles,” Broteas warned turning to the thief, “give the chalice to Hercules.”
Teles looked at Broteas. He could tell the leader of the group was not above using force to return the chalice back to the Queen of the Gods. The determination set in Broteas’ eyes spoke of his stewardship of the group.
“Mark my words, Teles. Hera won’t let you enter the city of Calydon with her chalice. It’s best if you just give it up.”
Teles thought about it and suddenly became afraid. He had witnessed the earthquake, the hailstorm and the assassin. He had seen the Stymphalian Bird, and although Broteas stated it was an inhabitant of the forest, Teles wasn‘t sure that Hera didn‘t sent it to collect the chalice, too. “Here. Take it,” he said in resolve.
Hercules took the chalice from Teles’ hands. Shouting into the air, he said, “Hera, here is your chalice. You got what you want, now leave these people alone.” Then with a powerful throw, Hercules hurled the chalice into the heavens.
“Come on. Let’s go to Calydon,” Hercules finished.
“This way,” Broteas said pointing the way out of the swamp and toward Calydon.
“Onward,” Ephadon eagerly concluded.
Half a day’s journey from the Stymphalian Swamp, the group of seven quietly talked to themselves. They shared their dreams and aspirations from their new home. Hercules stayed in front of the crowd listening to their quiet conversations as he continued to lead them to the charmed city.
Finally, as the sun began to set, they reached the rise of the last hill. Calydon was nestled in the valley, just over the rise. As the sun set behind the city, it illuminated Calydon in flecks of gold.
“It’s beautiful,” Jana said as Ixion stopped beside her to view the sight.
Hercules smiled. “This is where life starts all over for you. New people. Fresh chances, and no curses.”
“I’m ready for it, Hercules,” Jana stated.
Ixion took the demigod’s hand and pushed toward the charmed city. “Come on! We’ll be the first ones there,” he exclaimed in excitement.
“No. You can Ixion. You and Jana.” He looked back at the group as they had finally gotten a glimpse of Calydon, “and Broteas, and Leucosia, Heseme, Ephadon and Teles.”
He looked back at the boy and put his hand on Ixion’s shoulder. “This is the end of your journey, but it’s not the end of mine.”
Jana couldn’t help but reiterate a sentiment that she had voiced in the cave, “Oh, I wish it was.” She was concerned about the hero traveling alone, and could sense his pain and loneliness. She had experienced the same feelings a time or two.
“I’m afraid I still have too many places to go,” he answered her, “but first, I have to go home.”
“Well, if you decide to return…”
Leucosia and Heseme sprinted up toward the young woman.
“Wait,” Heseme said as she pulled at Leucosia’s arm and stopped her from her eager run to Calydon. “Come Jana. Let’s go to our new home.”
As the group of seven sprinted down the hill toward Calydon, Hercules watched. He gave the group one last wave before he turned around on the hill.
His journey, he decided, was just beginning and he looked forward to the new places and new people he would meet on the way.
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