All That Glitters

by Margui

Story originally written for Hercules: the Legendary Journeys by: Craig Volk

In the small, behind-the-times village of Scyros, Iolaus practically lost his head after being unjustly accused for stealing the Dragon's Eye Ruby. The real culprit, Autolycus: the King of Thieves, cunningly had escaped justice.

Leaving Scyros and the unpleasant memories behind, Hercules and Iolaus began heading toward Corinth. But a morning spent walking in the sun and listening to the birds chatter and the gurgling effect of the river next to them, convinced Iolaus that he needed some intensive rest and relaxation - in other words, fishing.

"You know, Corinth can wait a day or two, can't it, Herc?" Iolaus asked.

"What did you have in mind?" Hercules asked casually.

"A little fishing?" Iolaus coaxed, knowing it was not his best buddy's favorite pastime.

"Fishing, huh?" Hercules mulled it over. Since the demigod had promised King Midas a visit, and his pledge had been long overdue, Hercules suggested that the pastoral kingdom might fit the bill for his blonde partner's vacation. Besides, Midasius was not far from the kingdom of Corinth.

Autolycus was lost in thought as he headed back toward Scyros. He found himself intrigued by the demigod and the blonde runt Hercules called his best friend and partner. Autolycus had not spouted such a sappy tale about his brother, Malaegus, in over twenty years, and he wondered what it was about Hercules that made him maudlin and strive to ultimately set things right.

Then he recalled the conversations in the abandoned castle between himself and Hercules about Iolaus, and the undeniable friendship and loyalty that the two men obviously shared. Was his sudden act of decency a way to win the approval of Hercules and emulate the moral fiber of Iolaus that the demigod blathered about so incessantly?

Suddenly, Autolycus began to resent Iolaus because, he surmised, it was the small man's fault - or lack of fault actually - that prompted Autolycus to be the decent human-being he always found so insufferable. It smacked of weakness for the self-proclaimed King of Thieves to be so charitable and yet, he couldn't help himself. Something drove him to do the right thing.

Autolycus had originally fled the town of Scyros once he was able to escape the revolutionary head-chopping device by faking his own death. But he soon found himself back on the road to Scyros and eventually to Corinth, wanting to find answers to the futility he was now feeling. Autolycus saw Hercules and Iolaus rounding the bend as he hit a fork in the road.

The two heroes had just turned onto the path that lead to the Kingdom of Midas when Iolaus said, "King Midas? The one with the golden touch? That King Midas?"

"Yep, that's the one," Hercules said as they continued along the path.

The consummate thief and coward quickly hid in the bushes between the two roads. Soon he had forgotten about his misery and focused carefully to Iolaus' and the Hercules' conversation.

"Midas?" he said to himself, "Whoa, talk about your golden opportunities."

Although he knew it was a risky operation to rob King Midas when Hercules and Iolaus were about to visit, the thief's avarice seemed to win out against his good sense. The thief quickly sprinted off, concocting a plan to plunder the King Midas' vault before the demigod and his bothersome, blonde sidekick made themselves guests in the King's palace.

Hercules suddenly had an uneasy feeling and he stopped in the road, allowing Iolaus to get two steps ahead of him before he realized his partner was not at his side. Hercules looked toward the woods. He could see a shadowy figure dressed in a green tunic fleeing away from the two men.

"Something wrong?" Iolaus asked seeing his partner's vigilance.

"I thought I smelled trouble, but it seems to be gone now," Hercules frowned, worried about where Autolycus was heading.

"Good, because I need some real R & R."

"Ruckus and recuperation?" he asked Iolaus teasingly, knowing how most of their vacations usually began and ended. He didn't want to worry about the thief's whereabouts and spoil their journey.

The trip to King Midas' kingdom was an afternoon's journey away, and during a natural lull in the conversation, Iolaus decided to entertain his friend and partner with a series of badly told jokes.

Iolaus began, "What do you call a fish with no eye?"

"What?" Hercules asked absently listening to his somewhat loquacious friend.

"A fsh," Iolaus giggled. "Okay, how about this one, 'A sandwich walks into a bar. The barmaid says, 'Sorry, we don't serve food in here."

Hercules stopped when he noticed a large colorful tent set up along the side of the road. A large hand-painted sign announced, "Pick up your souvenirs and lucky charms, here."

"Hmm. That wasn't here before," Hercules said.

"What?" Iolaus asked, "The tent? Let's take a look." Iolaus crossed the path in front of his partner and walked toward the tent. Once he got to the tent, he pulled back the flap and was greeted by a tall, lanky, dark-haired man.

"Welcome, gentlemen." He said as Iolaus and then Hercules proceeded through the opening. He had the gifted tongue of a salesman. "What can I get you? We have all sorts of souvenirs here. How about."

Hercules interrupted him. "No, thank you."

A portly man, with gray hair and a colorful toga had been searching through a pile of old horseshoes on a table when he heard the sound of the demigod's voice. He turned around. "Hercules! Iolaus!" Salmoneus greeted as he walked up to the two men.

"Salmoneus! How.are you?" Hercules said, not able to take his eyes off of the meagerly successful entrepreneur's robes.

"Couldn't be better."

Iolaus, also noticing the colorful outfit pointed toward it and asked, "Uh.what's the occasion?"

Salmoneus showed off the purple and black, plaid toga with a contrasting green and purple tartan wrap across one shoulder. "Do you like it? I had it custom made for twelve dinars. Did I get a deal or what?"

"Or what." Iolaus said, "Are you colorblind?"

"Nah. Not in the least." Salmoneus answered, clueless.

Hercules noticed the horseshoe in Salmoneus' right hand. He said, "What's with the horseshoe?"

"Oh, it's for good luck. I'm on my way to Midasius. King Midas has built the largest gambling palace this side of the Aegean."

The salesman quickly interrupted.. He was hoping to close a sale. The lanky salesman held up two additional items for the heroes to consider, "I also have four leaf clovers and rabbits' feet, if you prefer."

"You call a rabbit's foot a good luck charm?" Iolaus asked.

"Of course." the salesman answered in annoyance, and then brightened, "Unless, of course, you're the rabbit."

Hercules was still talking to Salmoneus. "He built a gambling palace? King Midas?"

"He's is the one with the golden touch," Salmoneus said.

"Speaking of golden," the salesman interrupted again, "I have a beautiful golden bust of King Midas right over here." He moved to another table and be gan rifling through his souvenirs to find the gilded statue.

Hercules sighed, "That's too bad. He's an old friend and I would have thought he'd learn his lesson."

"Trouble?" Iolaus asked, his brow knotting in concern.

"What lesson is that?" Salmoneus asked.

"Something you wouldn't understand." Hercules said knowing Salmoneus' penchant for acquiring wealth. "Iolaus and I were planning on visiting King Midas, do you mind if we tag along?"

"You tag along with me?! That's a switch."

King Midas wandered alone in a barren field. He reflected on every plague and problem that had visited his kingdom. Years before, the field was golden, covered with the ripe stalks of wheat growing high against the backdrop of more fields teeming with grain. There was bounty in his land, more abundance than the kingdom of Midas could consume. But those days were all but gone.

A drought had settled in the kingdom of Midas. Rain refused to fall for months. Plants began to wither, as well as the spirits of his people. The stockpiles of food soon began to run out. His people were dying of hunger and starving for hope. They turned to him and Midas didn't want to let his kingdom down. He had made some careless mistakes.

Disheartened and desperate, he accepted an offer from some unscrupulous businessmen who promised an easy way for Midas' kingdom to prosper.

Flaxen, King Midas' daughter, saw her father in the field and slowly walked up. She stood next to her father as he stared toward his gambling palace. It replaced a barren field that had once belonged to a farmer and his family. He turned to her and tried to contain his worried countenance from Flaxen.

"Another year, and no crops," Flaxen said.

Midas looked at his daughter. She was a beautiful child, although a bit headstrong. he thought, and she was not afraid to speak her mind. He watched as Flaxen's long mane of golden-hued hair blew in the gentle wind.

"Nothing is planted. Nothing will grow," he said dismally.

"And why wasn't anything planted?" She asked him, but didn't wait for his answer, "Because your people are too busy trying to get rich at your gambling palace."

"So you blame me."

King Midas' mood was not new to Flaxen. She had watched her father becoming increasingly depressed, as the power of his kingdom was slowly being taken away by his so-called business partners. She didn't like them, and she didn' t like what her father was becoming.

"No, but you're the King. The people will listen to you."

Midas sighed. They had had this conversation before. "Flaxen, I can't force them to plant wheat when they might make a year's salary in a few hours."

"Or lose a year's salary," Flaxen argued. "Father, can't you see what's happening to your people. They've lost respect for the land. All they care about is the money."

"You seem to forget. Once the palace was built, no one in my kingdom has starved to death, even with the last drought."

Flaxen looked down at the parched land. It was now beginning to green with renewed rain. "I used to play in these fields when I was young. I was so hoping that someday my own children might inherit that joy. I don't see this happening anymore."

She left the barren field, angry and upset, leaving her father alone to contemplate her words. She hoped this time he had listened.

As Autolycus traveled toward Midasius, he thought better of robbing Midas of his gold, especially in the midst of Hercules and Iolaus' visit there. Both the demigod and sidekick had proven themselves to be a challenge for the King of Thieves. Because of this, Autolycus suddenly wished he had never met the demigod and his little buddy. He knew he should have run off with the Dragon's Eye Ruby when he had the chance. But his conscience got the best of him and in a momentary lapse of judgment, he faked paralysis and vindicated the shorter partner to Hercules. Now, he feared, they would be the bane to his existence.

Autolycus stopped on the road leading to King Midas' castle. He was distracted from his original nefariousness by the five glittering domes of the "Golden Touch Gambling Palace". Autolycus was immediately drawn to them and all they represented.

As a thief, Autolycus was a gambler by nature, but normally, he preferred to gamble with rusty locks, ineffectual guards, supposedly cursed gems and most recently, a sanctimonious demigod and his sidekick.

Entering the "Golden Touch Gambling Palace" was a safe way for the thief to kill a little time and avoid the likes of Hercules and Iolaus as he swindled the dealers and pilfered the gamblers' pockets. As righteous as both appeared to be, he didn't expect to find either in a bed of iniquity such as a gambling house. There, he would be safe, and then in a day or two after Hercules and Iolaus left, he would rob King Midas of his gold and continue on his thieving ways.

He quickly found himself wandering toward the gambling palace and soon found himself in the middle of the casino's main gaming pit.

He carefully studied the croupiers, dealers and gamblers there. He had thought about swindling the casino of its income in a game or two, but decided against it when he watched a dealer imperceptibly caressing the cards he was dealing. The dealer was feeling for the punctured surface of the card. The position of the bumps between his finger would give away the high card.

He turned around and watched another dealer idly thumbing the edge of the deck while he was shuffling. Autolycus knew the dealer was looking for the winning cards that were subtly trimmed to a wedge shape. When he found them, he adeptly placed them on the bottom of the deck to be dealt when he needed them.

In a corner of the gaming room, Segallus, a large and muscular man, reminiscent of a tavern bouncer, was speaking with a tall, dark-haired beauty when he noticed Autolycus walk in and survey the many different gaming tables in the room. The thief never lingered at any for very long. Segallus mistook the appraisal as uncertainty about the various games and decided Autolycus would be an easy mark.

He leaned over to the beautiful Voluptua, nodded toward Autolycus and said, "Over there. He's a new one. Looks like he doesn't know whether he's coming or going."

"Well, just ensure he's staying," she reminded him.

Segallus walked over to Autolycus as he stood in the middle of the room. In addition to several card games and games with die, one game struck Autolycus as being particularly easy to manipulate. It was a game played with a top. The sides of the top looked like a roulette wheel with black and red numbers on it. To win, the gambler would bet that a particular number would appear face up after the top was twirled.

Stepping up next to Autolycus, Segallus said, "What's your pleasure?"

"Huh? What?" The King of Thieves answered as if distracted.

"We have keno over there, and roulette over there. There's also craps and faro," Segallus said as he pointed to two different tables on one end of the casino and to two others on the other end.

Worried that Segallus was going to let the uncertain gambler get away, Voluptua sidled over in her form-fitting dress and stood next to the thief. She smiled seductively at Autolycus and then knowingly at Segallus.

"Or perhaps poker is more to your liking?" Segallus finished.

Autolycus looked over at the beauty with the long, dark mane. "Poke her? I don't even know her. Although I must admit." he said as he looked over every inch of her tall, leggy frame.

"Perhaps our guest would be more interested in cock fighting instead, Segallus?" Voluptua interrupted, "We have a separate room in the back."

Autolycus tried to hide his cringe. The thief found the idea of cock fighting abhorrent on two obvious fronts. "What do you suggest?" Autolycus asked Voluptua.

Voluptua made a quick examination of the thief's reaction to her womanly wiles. She began steering Autolycus toward a table, sensing his attraction towards her. "I'd say poker. Definitely poker."

Hercules, Iolaus and Salmoneus rounded a corner of the winding road that led to the small village of Midasius.

In the middle of the road was an old, decrepit man. Two other men, each wearing an iron helmet, held the old man up as they proceeded to pummel him in the midsection.

"Hey, what's going on?" Hercules asked. The two men stopped their beating just long enough to see who dared to question them.

"Who are you?" the bearded man asked.

"I'm Hercules, and you didn't answer my question."

"My business is with this old man, not you," he spat.

"What did he do to you that requires a beating?" Iolaus then asked and took a step forward.

"He owes King Midas money, lots of money."

"Well, you're not going to get it beating it out of him," Iolaus countered.

"Then, maybe I'll get it beating it out of you." The bearded man let go of the oldster and moved menacingly toward Iolaus.

Iolaus was ready for the fight.

The other man in the iron headdress, who was diligently holding the old-timer up so that the bearded man could beat on him, immediately dropped the man on the road and ran toward Hercules.

"I'll hang back in reserve, just in case you need me," Salmoneus said, fearful. He took a couple of steps back and then hid behind a tall bush.

Iolaus ran toward the man that was approaching him and when he got close enough, the smaller partner to Hercules took a flying leap, hitting the brute in the stomach with his head. The man doubled over in pain.

Hurriedly getting up and scrambling underneath the man's open legs, Iolaus quickly leapt onto his back and pounded the iron headdress with his closed fists. Finally, the brute collapsed to the ground.

As Iolaus fought the man with the beard, Hercules dealt the other man a hard blow to the jaw. The man stumbled back, and then sideways, and then back again. His iron-clad head hit a tree with a resounding thud before he collap sed into unconsciousness.

"Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?" Hercules said and then went to help the old gentleman up.

"You're going to be in real trouble, now," the old man said and then coughed.

"Why is that?" Hercules asked wondering why helping him would get the demigod into trouble.

"Nobody gets away with attacking King Midas' Iron Heads."

Iolaus walked up to the old man, "Iron Heads? How long have these Iron Heads been working for King Midas?"

"Since he opened 'The Golden Touch'. He sends his goons out when you don't pay the money you owe the casino back in time."

"Loan Sharks," Iolaus said distastefully.

"Something's not right here, Iolaus. This isn't the Midas I knew," Hercules said.

"People change," Salmoneus commented as he walked up to Hercules and Iolaus. He gave the two downed men a wide berth as he proceeded.

"No. Not that much. I mean, Midas may have been greedy and materialistic, but he was never mean or cruel. I just can't see him hiring thugs."

Salmoneus continued on the path ahead of Hercules and Iolaus. "I guess we'll find out when we get to Midasius, huh? Come on! Money's waiting! Let's go!"

Iolaus shrugged his shoulder at Hercules, surprised by Salmoneus' unconcerned attitude. "Will you be okay?" he asked the old man, who was still partially bent over in pain.

The old man nodded and waved them away. He was concerned he'd get even more of a beating if the Iron Heads woke up and found him in the company of the two men. Iron Heads did not like men that fought them back.

Understanding that their offer was refused, both Hercules and Iolaus stepped up their pace to follow Salmoneus to Midasius.

Later in the day, the three men walked into the small village of Midasius. They looked around. At one time it was a thriving marketplace, but most of the stores along the main road were in disrepair and seemed deserted. It appeared to be a ghost town.

A peddler, seeing three men entering the marketplace at the same time, a boon for any peddler in Midasius, came out and greeted the travelers. He was quick to notice they were traveling toward the gambling palace. "Here we go, travelers. Everything from cradle to cane, garments, jewelry. What's your pleasure?" He critically looked over the three gentlemen. "Or, are you selling something?"

"No," Hercules said, "We're looking for the old Midasius. This used to be a thriving marketplace. What happened to the rest of the shopkeepers?"

The peddler, known as Pawnicles said, "They're up at the gambling palace, either working for it, gambling at it, or owing money to it."

Salmoneus began pilfering through some of the offerings on the table. "Well, you seem to be doing all right for yourself, huh?"

"I found a nice little niche. I lend people money for their worldly possessions."

"So they can gamble at the palace," Hercules admonished.

"Exactly. And then when they can't afford to buy them back, I sell them off at a cut-rate price. Good for you. Good for me."

Salmoneus laughed at the ingenuity of the plan. "That's very creative, actually. I'm surprised I hadn't thought of it myself."

Iolaus turned to Salmoneus. "It's called a pawnshop. I've seen them before, in the poorer sections of towns. They take advantage of people's misfortune."

The peddler ignored Iolaus and continued to talk to Salmoneus, who, after Iolaus' admonishment, had lost some of his enthusiasm at the idea of a pawnshop. "Ideas are cheap. It's their proper execution that makes you a profit. By the way, I'll give you two dinars for that blanket," he said as he pointed to the robe hanging off Salmoneus' shoulder.

Salmoneus began to stutter, "B-b-b-bl-blanket?!" and then in righteous indignation he said, "Excuse me. It's a sports toga! And I paid twelve for it."

"You were robbed!" Pawnicles said, still trying to make a deal as well as point out the beauty to his type of operation, "I'll take it off your hands for two dinars. Then later, I'll only give you one."

Salmoneus, now incensed by being insulted, stormed out of the peddler's store without listening to the peddler's sales pitch.

Pawnicles shrugged his shoulders in dismay as Iolaus and Hercules turned to follow their friend out.

"Aaah! Do you believe that guy?" Salmoneus said as they left.

"I told you, Salmoneus," Iolaus warned.

"Well, he's got a good head for business, but no taste at all," Salmoneus answered as the three continued on the road toward the "Golden Touch Gambling Palace".

Arriving at the gambling palace, Hercules, Iolaus and Salmoneus stepped through the large oval threshold into the vast casino complex. King Midas sat on a gilded throne just inside the casino's door. Acting as somewhat of a barker, he merrily greeted guests as they walked in. Although at one time the King had a more active roll in running the casino, in recent months, Segallus and Voluptua had relegated his duties to only greeting guests.

"Step right in! Welcome to 'The Golden Touch Gambling Palace' where everyone has a chance to make their fortune."

King Midas quickly recognized Hercules, as the demigod and his friends cautiously walked in. "Hercules," he greeted.

"King Midas," Hercules said with a hint of disapproval in his voice.

"What a pleasant surprise!"

"Uh, yes, it is a surprise. This is quite an operation, but what are you doing out here? Don't you have a kingdom to run?" Hercules said.

"Oh, I am running a kingdom, my new kingdom," King Midas said as he pointed to the gambling pit just behind him.

The large, center room was filled with all sorts of gaming tables, in all sorts of sizes and shapes. Royal colors and gilded columns were everywhere. Flanked against the gilded columns and along the inside walls were small stages where various entertainer would perform. The wall just inside the entrance was filled with tables of exotic food and spirits.

Iolaus was carefully canvassing the ornately decorated room when his eyes lit upon the vast array of food lined up against the wall and the lovely woman stocking the buffet. She smiled at him but quickly left to continue her restocking.

Salmoneus stepped forward and presented his hand to the King. "I bet people travel from far and wide to shake the hand of the man with the golden touch," Salmoneus said.

"That's ex-golden touch."

"I'm so sorry about your loss," Salmoneus responded sympathetically.

"No, don't be. If I still had it, you'd be a golden statue and then how would you get to the gambling pits?"

Salmoneus laughed as King Midas began moving toward the gambling tables. The entrepreneur greedily followed the King into the pits. Hercules began to follow Salmoneus but Iolaus held him back for a moment.

"Hercules, if it's all the same to you," he said as he looked back at the delicious array of food, "I'll just hang back and take in the scenery for a while."

"You're hungry, aren't you?" Hercules asked.

Iolaus patted his stomach and said, "Famished. I haven't eaten since breakfast."

"Okay," Hercules sighed, smiled and then shrugged, "I'll.catch up to you later."

"Great! Want me to save you something?" Iolaus asked as he grabbed some sweet bread from the corner of the table and impatiently stuffed it into his mouth.

"Are you sure there'll be anything left?" Hercules asked, but didn't wait for an answer. He heard King Midas urging Salmoneus into the pits.

"Come on, come on! Let me show you the way," King Midas said.

Hercules caught up with Salmoneus and the King. "By the way, where is Flaxen?" he asked.

Looking toward one of the three stages, King Midas answered nervously, "Oh, she's - she's around." He turned back toward Salmoneus avoiding any more of the demigod's questions. "Besides the gambling, we also have performers, food and wine." King Midas said as he grabbed an empty goblet from a server.

"All manner of competitions and entertainments. Something for the whole family!" The woman Iolaus saw stocking the food table walked by carrying a pitcher. "Ah, my dear. Fill my goblet. Hercules?" King Midas proffered.

Hercules recognized the libation. "Lotus leaf nectar. Doesn't that make you forget?"

"Well, not everyone can win. This helps.deaden the pain of loss," the King answered.

"Or lets losers forget they're losing, so they can gamble more," Hercules added.

"Uh, that too."

Salmoneus looked over to a performer on stage. The performer, dressed in colorful garb, had a small torch clutched in each hand. Standing with his feet slightly apart, the performer looked toward the left torch. Dramatically, he lifted his head toward the ceiling and raised the torch slowly. With a cautious and steady hand, he guided the flambeau into his mouth and then closed his lips around the flaming cotton wad at the end. A puff of smoke escaped from his lips as they parted and he pulled the torch from his mouth.

Surprised by the fire eater's antics, Salmoneus yelped in amusement, "Ooh. Whatever he had.I prefer something less spicy."

Leaning casually against the table, Iolaus grabbed a persimmon from the buffet as he watched the waitress stock. "All you can eat for a dinar and a half? How do they do it?"

"They import their food," the serving wench said. She had lived through the drought when Midas' kingdom had little food for its citizens. When the gambling palace moved into the village, the citizens were too busy to farm and out of expediency continued to import their food.

"Uh, no. I meant the price," Iolaus said.

"Oh. They figure anything that can keep you inside the palace will keep you gambling."

Iolaus turned toward the gambling pit. He watched the throng of players at the gaming tables and knew some were gambling away the last of their dinars. From the back of the crowd, he saw a tall, dark man in a green tunic weave his way into the inner tables of the gambling pit. His body moved with ease between the crowd, probably stealing away what the gamblers weren't wagering away.

Iolaus immediately recognized the King of Thieves and summarily remembered his dislike for him. Autolycus had left Iolaus in Scyros to pay for the crime he had committed: stealing the stone from King Menalaus' scepter.

Iolaus could almost forgive Autolycus for leaving him to suffer the archaic and cruel statutes administered by King Menelaus. He was forgiving man by nature, but there was something else about the thief that contributed to Iolaus' vexation. Iolaus realized, if things had been different, it could just as easily have been him instead of Autolycus weaving his way through the crowd and pilfering whatever he could. He was on a path of crime very much like the King of Thieves before Hercules' influence changed his life. And although Iolaus wanted to change, Autolycus seemed proud of his status as King of Thieves.

Once Autolycus was convinced to stay, he found the players in the casino easy prey. He wandered through the gaming pit, squeezing in between the crowd and sidling up to the players crammed at a table.

The King of Thieves had several ways of pilfering items from the gamblers. He began simply. Carrying a goblet of wine, Autolycus would then squeeze into the middle of a gaming table. He would choose his victim carefully. It was usually a male that had built up a large fortune of dinars next to him. Seriously into betting on the game, the winning gambler would often be more interested in the spin of a top or the roll of a die then he was in the stack of coins next to him.

As the player concentrated on the game, Autolycus nonchalantly placed the goblet above the stack of dinars. On the bottom of the goblet, the thief had placed a wad of gummy tree sap. The tacky substance stuck to the coin as he tapped the goblet to the stack of money. Autolycus then walked away with the money stuck to the bottom of the goblet until he could safely secure it elsewhere.

"Coming through. Oh, how clumsy of me. Whoa ho.was that your money bag or were you just happy to see me?" he would apologize as he would bump into a gambler to purposefully steal something from his money bag. As he traveled by, he lifted the players' money bags or pick-pocketed items off their person.

As the afternoon drew longer, Autolycus had collected several bags and loose coins, a curious set of dice, as well as a set of golden goblets the casino used to serve their patrons beverages.

"Autolycus!" Iolaus shouted when he saw the thief.

The King of Thieves, startled that he was discovered, looked toward the hue and cry and recognized the blonde man he had wronged. "Hey! What's Shorty doing here?" he said, "He's supposed to be schmoozing with King Midas." He then looked around for Iolaus' partner, Hercules. He didn't immediately see the demigod.

Autolycus, seemingly ignorant of his transgression against Iolaus, pointed to himself and with a surprised look, mouthed, baiting the demigod's sidekick, "Who? Me?"

Irritated by the thief, Iolaus pushed his way toward the crowd, intent on catching Autolycus. "Oh no you don't. You don't get away this time."

As King Midas was giving Salmoneus and Hercules the royal tour, he stopped at a door next to the last stage. He greeted the burly man standing by the door. The imposing figure had both arms crossed over his barrel chest and a noticeable scowl on his face.

"Ah, Cretus. Would you tell my partners that I'd like a moment with them?" the King requested.

"I have orders not to disturb them."

"Nonsense," Midas said, "Tell them that I."

Segallus, hearing the King's voice from outside the door, opened it and stepped out, quickly shutting the door behind him. "What's going on out here," he asked.

"Nothing Segallus." Cretus said.

"Why aren't you at your throne, shaking hands?" Segallus asked, although to Hercules it sounded more like an denunciation than a question.

"Segallus, is Voluptua in? Uh, tell her I'd like to." King Midas paused as he looked at Hercules. ".introduce her to some of my friends."

"Who told you to quit your post?" Segallus asked again.

"But, this is Hercules!" Midas said.

"I don't care who it is, old man. You don't leave unless we say you leave."

Hercules incensed at the lack of respect Segallus was showing to King Midas, stepped between them. "Excuse me, but this is your king. I think a little courtesy is in order."

Salmoneus, fearing a confrontation, stepped back and away from the men.

"It's all right, Hercules. We don't stand much on formality around here. I' ll.catch up with you later." King Midas said and then turned to leave.

"Hercules, huh?" Segallus questioned, softening his approach a bit, "Wait here." With the same care he stepped out of the room, Segallus walked back in.

Salmoneus let out an audible sigh, relieved that the altercation he had expected didn't come to fruition. "Who's working for whom, here?"

"Friendly, isn't he?" Hercules said to Salmoneus as they waited outside the room.

"Extremely," Salmoneus drolly agreed.

Hercules was about to leave, when a few moments later, Segallus ushered the demigod and Salmoneus into the room. Voluptua rose from a large desk and walked seductively toward Hercules.

"This man claims to be Hercules," Segallus said in distain.

Walking within a hairs-breath of Hercules, Voluptua ran her long finger down the demigod's exposed chest and challenged, "So prove it. Do something strong."

"I don't have to prove anything," Hercules said.

"Well, you certainly have the self-confidence of a Hercules," Voluptua said and slowly turned around.

Salmoneus moved from behind the safety of Hercules to stand in front of Voluptua. "Salmoneus, the younger." Salmoneus introduced himself, "and may I say, in my vast travels, I have never come across such a fabulous undertaking. This is a monument to human initiative and ingenuity. It, and you, are quite simply marvels to behold."

Ignoring Salmoneus, Voluptua turned back toward Hercules. "Hmm, and what does the great Hercules think of our little enterprise?"

"I'm not big on places that separate poor people from their money."

"No one forces them to come," Voluptua said.

"The human spirit can't always be strong. I don't appreciate those who take advantage of it when it's weak."

Voluptua turned from the demigod and sashayed back to her desk. She sat down, letting her dress fall to expose her perfectly formed leg. She said, "We clearly don't see this place in the same light."

"Clearly," Hercules agreed.

"Stick around." Voluptua challenged, "You may change your mind after you've been here a while."

"I seriously doubt it." Hercules said and then turned to leave.

Salmoneus, still obsequious to Voluptua and astounded over the ingenuity of the gambling palace said, "Um, again, my pleasure, my compliments, my best wishes and that's a terrific dress."

Once outside the door, Salmoneus said to Hercules, "Ooh, what I could do with a partner like her."

Shaking his head incredulously at Salmoneus' covetousness, "Don't be fooled by her. A snake can still hide behind a beautiful flower," .The demigod decided he needed to confront the King about his partners, "I need to talk to Midas. Think you can keep yourself busy for a while?"

"It'll be a challenge, but I'll try. Ah, Miss," Salmoneus said as a woman serving Lotus Leaf nectar walked by. He quickly grabbed a goblet of the liquid and drank. "Luck be a lady, tonight," he said as he wandered toward the closest gaming table.

Another player turned toward Salmoneus as he joined the table. The entrepreneur was concentrating on the game in front of him and didn't notice the stranger's stares.

"I like your toga," Hispides said with a kind, gentle voice.

Salmoneus took another drink as he turned to thank the attentive player. He quickly spit the drink out, almost spraying the player when he saw the neatly trimmed beard on the face of what would normally have been a pretty woman.

"Uh," Salmoneus began and then cleared his throat in awkwardness, "Uh, new shooter here!" Nervously, Salmoneus cleared his throat again and said, "Salmoneus needs a new pair of sandals."

The bearded woman looked lovingly at Salmoneus. "Ah, Salmoneus. I once knew a Salmoneus!"

Salmoneus laughed, although the laugh that came from his throat was false and strained.

"Waiting on them bones down here," Salmoneus interrupted nervously. The croupier handed Salmoneus the dice. Focused on the dice, which he tumbled around in the palm of his hand, Salmoneus quickly and recklessly threw them onto the table.

After playing a few games with Hispides covetously by his side, Salmoneus found the bearded woman to be generally good company. Hispides, wanting to show her newest friend a good time and to make an old boyfriend jealous, escorted Salmoneus to another table. Instead of dice, the game was played with a deck of cards.

The dealer at the table had been watching Hispides as she was escorting Salmoneus around to the various areas in the gambling palace. And as Hispides expected, he was jealous. The dealer had always had a crush on the hairy lady, and was not the least bit appreciative of the attention Hispides was paying to Salmoneus.

"I want to show you how much fun this game can be." Salmoneus said, having played a game similar to the game at the table before. It was black jack.

"Fun," Hispides finished with a salacious drop in her voice.

"Yeah, fun! Now watch closely," Salmoneus said as he looked at the three cards laid face down on the table. The cards had numbers one through ten printed on them. The object of the game was to draw up to the number 21 but not go over before the dealer did. If the player went over 21, the game was lost.

"This is how it's done," Salmoneus said, deciding that he needed another card, "Hit me!"

The dealer, finding an opportunity to really lay into Salmoneus, obliged the bearded man. He slugged Salmoneus in the jaw and the plump man toppled off the barstool and onto the floor.

Hispides rushed to Salmoneus' rescue and helped him up. The surprised look on the entrepreneur's face told the story. "Well, you did.ask for it," Hispides said.

"That's not how we play where I come from!" Salmoneus said in righteous indignation as he settled back down on the stool.

"House rules," The dealer caustically replied as he went back to dealing the last round of cards.

Salmoneus turned to Hispides and said, "I would hate to think what they would do if I were to yell 'craps' around here," then he turned to the dealer and requested in annoyance, "Another card?"

Autolycus watched as Iolaus approached. But even after their previous encounter, the thief was surprised at the quickness and agility of the shorter partner to Hercules. And by the way Iolaus forced his way through the crowd and toward the thief, it was clear he would catch Autolycus if the thief did not make a hasty exit.

"Uh oh," Autolycus said as he looked around for the best way to retreat. But the room was too crowded to make an efficient escape on two legs. Dropping his goblet on the floor, Autolycus then ducked behind the crowd in front of him, and got down on his hands and knees. Weaving his way between the legs of the gamblers, Autolycus crawled under the table in front of him to decide how he was going to escape the determined man.

"Talk about your dicey situation," Autolycus said under the table, "I've heard of begging on hands and knees, but never escaping on them." On the contrary, the maneuver had gotten the thief that far, so he decided to go all the way. Autolycus continued to make his escape by crawling on his hands and knees, however demeaning it appeared to be.

Iolaus doggedly continued to weave his way through the crowd and finally made it to the last place he saw the thief. "Where'd he go?" Iolaus said turning around, but his short stature was a disadvantage in a crowd of taller men. This time, Autolycus had the advantage, and the thief had gotten away.

Asking a man at a table playing a game, Iolaus said, "Did you see a tall, dark-haired man in a green tunic? He.he may have stolen something from you."

"I didn't see no one, and the only one stealing anything around here is the King - -lining his coffers with our money."

"You lose," the croupier said as the man who had spun the unlucky top lost the last of his money.

"See, what did I tell you," the man said, got up from his seat and then solemnly walked away.

Iolaus watched the man walk away and then his attention turned to the croupier as he scooped up the top in his hand. Although skilled, Iolaus watched the croupier, almost imperceptibly, manipulate the stem of the top turning it slightly counter-clockwise.

The stem of a legitimate top should not move, so Iolaus was sure that the top was fixed. Generally, tops with movable stems housed a tiny weight which, by twisting the stem, would cause a prearranged number to land face up when the top ceased its spinning. This would essentially take the luck out of the hands of the gambler and put the advantage back to the casino. The croupier was cheating and Iolaus immediately wondered if Midas was behind the trickery.

The partner to Hercules decided he needed to tell the demigod of his findings.

Voluptua was sitting at her desk carefully counting the profits when Segallus walked in. "Four hundred and ninety-eight, four hundred and ninety-nine, fiv."

"We have a problem," Segallus said as he rushed in.

"What is it?" Voluptua asked clearly irritated. She put the stack of money down and pulled her chair away from the desk.

"Many of the gamblers are reporting their moneybags missing."

"So? Don't we have a lost and found? Tell them to go there," Voluptua answered still annoyed. She couldn't believe Segallus would disturb her for such a petty event. The gamblers were always inventing wild stories, probably as an excuse to explain their losses to their wives or girlfriends.

"You don't understand. If they don't have money, they can't gamble. Cretus thinks it's the work of a real thief. Besides, he found this." Segallus showed Voluptua a gilded goblet with a coin conveniently stuck to the bottom of it.

Voluptua rose from her chair and walked over to Segallus. This was new. The "Golden Touch Gambling Palace" rarely had the occasion to deal with thieves. After all, the reputation the gambling palace had for dealing with cheaters was severe enough, and far harsher than the Iron Heads sent out to retrieve a gambler's debt. She grabbed the goblet from Segallus and inspected it carefully. "A thief? And a very clever thief. Oh, that is a problem."

She turned away from Segallus deciding on how she wanted to handle the thief when he was caught. She turned back to Segallus and said, "Find him, but quietly. We don't want Hercules to get involved, and possibly find out about our other little enterprise."

"I tell you, Hercules is going to be trouble," Segallus said.

Smiling maliciously Voluptua said, "I'm sure it won't be anything you can't handle."

"This isn't any man; this is Hercules." Segallus said. He didn't like the idea of tangling with the demigod.

"Take care of this thief first, then take care of Hercules." Voluptua smiled again, finally deciding on an appropriate punishment for the thief. "Use the Wheel of Fortune on the thief when you find him."

Hercules left to find King Midas. Walking through the gaming pit, the demigod was momentarily distracted from his mission by a blonde woman, dancing seductively on one of the stages. She was performing a veil dance, and was teasing the audience by promising to disrobe herself of another diaphanous veil. Her back was turned to the audience, as she dropped the thin veil on the stage. When she turned around, Hercules recognized the woman. "Flaxen?" he questioned.

The demigod's inclination was to drag the young woman off the stage but Hercules resisted the urge.

Flaxen saw Hercules' disapproving frown as he stood next to the stage. Abruptly, she stopped the dance. Moans and boos from the male audience followed as Flaxen stepped off the stage, ready to test the tall and handsome demigod about her current profession. Ignoring the men, she walked immediately over to Hercules.

"Hercules?" the young blonde questioned, "What are you doing here?"

"I heard there was trouble. Flaxen, I'd like to talk to you."

"About what?" Flaxen asked, suddenly defensive. She knew Hercules would not have approved of her dancing.

Hercules hesitated, "I didn't know you"

The blonde daughter of Midas laughed superficially, "Dance, right. Voluptua taught me. She's very good at getting people to do what she wants."

"I'm becoming aware of that, yes." he said.

Flaxen looked into the blue eyes of the demigod. She saw his disappointment. "It's not the end of the world. My father shakes hands, and I shake." she turned around, coyly looked at Hercules and wiggled her derriere.

"I.get.the picture," Hercules answered.

"Do you?" she questioned.

"I want to talk to you about your father and these partner's he's associated himself with."

Flaxen sighed. She also was worried about her father, but worried more about what Voluptua and Segallus would do to them if she got Hercules involved. "My father spent the best years of his life trying to keep this kingdom solvent and at peace. He even sold off all his gold. And then these plunderers came in and took everything he did, and turned it upside down. The sad part is, most people think he's responsible."

"We can change that. We can show them the truth."

"They don't want the truth," Flaxen said, "Haven't you seen the lines at the gambling pits? Go back home, Hercules. You're stirring up things that will only put us in more danger."

Finishing what she needed to say, Flaxen hurriedly left the gambling pits.

Hercules wanted to go after Flaxen but his need to talk to King Midas superceded his concern for the blonde daughter of the King. Hercules renewed his search for King Midas. He finally found the King obediently sitting on his throne, greeting guests as they walked into the gambling palace.

"We need to discuss your partners," the demigod said.

"But I'm not supposed to lea- "

Hercules interrupted the King. His voice deepened in irritation. "Now."

Trying to be conciliatory, Midas said, "I can't be gone long."

Hercules really didn't care, but didn't voice his lack of concern to Midas, Instead, he led the King to a quiet corner of the gambling complex.

Iolaus still kept a watchful eye for Autolycus as he left the gambling pits to find Hercules. Iolaus soon found his partner. Hercules was leading King Midas to a quiet corner of the gambling palace. Iolaus quickly caught up with the demigod.

"We've got problems," Iolaus said to Hercules as he fell in step next to the large man and King Midas.

"What kind of problems?" Hercules asked.

"Well, first of all Autolycus is here," Iolaus began.

"I see," Hercules responded as he mentally pondered the menace the King of Thieves could possibly create. "Unfortunately, right now we've got bigger problems than Autolycus."

Stopping, Hercules then turned to King Midas. "Just what kind of people have you hooked up with?"

"Look." King Midas said as he pointed his finger toward the demigod, "It's easy for you to point fingers. You weren't here during the last drought, when we.we lost a quarter of our population from starvation. Or five years earlier when the floods swept away a third."

"Midas, we can't control nature," Hercules said sympathetically.

"My point, exactly. But we can control this. No more worrying about plagues, or too much water, or not enough. It may be gambling, but at least, I'm in control."

"Are you?" Hercules said.

"You forget, I am still King here," Midas answered stubbornly.

"And a King should be wise enough to know when he needs help," Hercules gently admonished.

Iolaus listened to the conversation. He had seen the casino employee manipulate the gambling top so that he could pre-determine which color and number would land face up. Listening to the conversation between Hercules and Midas, and hearing the King's compassion for the people of his kingdom, Iolaus was certain that King Midas was not responsible for the cheating croupier. Interrupting, Iolaus said, "Midas, are you aware that one of your employees is cheating?"

King Midas was surprised. Through all the floods and droughts his Kingdom had experienced, he could not believe one of his citizens would cheat another out of his earnings. "No, I don't believe it. Who told you these lies?"

"King Midas, I saw it for myself," Iolaus said.

"Voluptua," Hercules quietly commented, deciding the tall, female partner was responsible.

"Who's Voluptua?" Iolaus asked.

"King Midas' partner, along with a henchman named Segallus."

"Voluptua?" King Midas questioned, "You must have been mistaken, Iolaus. Why would Voluptua want to cheat?"

"Greed, Midas," Hercules said, "One thing you should still remember. From what I've seen, she's quite capable of it and much more. And if Voluptua is responsible for cheating the people of your kingdom then she should pay for her crime. But first, I think we should talk to this cheater."

Hercules turned to his partner and best friend, "Iolaus, can you show us who you caught cheating?"

"Uh, yeah, sure. What about Autolycus?" Iolaus said, still fixated on bringing the thief to justice.

"Ah, yes, Autolycus," Hercules said and then sighed. "I thought you'd seen enough of Autolycus for one lifetime. Let's talk to the cheater, and then if we have to, I'll deal with Voluptua while you deal with Autolycus."

"Are you sure you want to deal with Voluptua on your own?" Iolaus asked not willing to leave his partner if there was any chance of trouble, Autolycus or no Autolycus.

"I'll be fine." Hercules said, "Maybe you can get Salmoneus to help you find Autolycus."

"Salmoneus and Autolycus," Iolaus laughed, "Those two should get along famously." He then led Hercules and King Midas to the cheating croupier.

Autolycus crawled out from under one table and stood up, sure he had escaped from Iolaus. He looked around but didn't see the short man in the midst of all of the taller ones.

He was about to turn around and make a hasty retreat from the gambling palace when a large hand gripped his shoulder in a painful grasp. Autolycus froze.

"I believe you dropped this," Segallus said, holding up the goblet the thief had used to steal. A coin was still safely secured with the sap to the bottom of it. Remaining still, the thief's eyes shifted to Segallus. Next to Segallus was an Iron Head sporting a menacing scowl on his face.

Autolycus tried to squirm out of Segallus' insistent hold. "Nope, never seen it before," Autolycus said of the goblet.

"Then you're denying this is your goblet?" Segallus said.

"Wouldn't you?" Autolycus said as he pointed to the etched initials in the golden goblet, "Look here, GT, for 'Golden Touch'. Those don't even look like my initials, unless you can't read. Nope. Not mine," Autolycus said, but was secretly and boastfully thinking -- unless they stand for 'great thief'.

Segallus laughed dismissively, "Very funny. Hey, Romanus. The thief thinks he's a comedian. We should put him on stage."

Autolycus decided to try to charm his way out of his current predicament. Segallus' grip remained tight on the thief and Autolycus cringed in pain, "Listen, this has been a very gripping conversation, so to speak, but I just remembered someplace else I need to be."

"Take him into the store room," Segallus ordered, and then he turned to Autolycus, "Did you really think you could get away with stealing from the gambling palace?"

With a grip far stronger and more insistent than Segallus', Romanus pulled on the thief's arm. Pain, and the fear that the brute would pull his arm out of its socket forced Autolycus to follow the Iron Head into the store room.

Autolycus was a master escape artist and had no real fear that he couldn't escape the store room if given the opportunity. What concerned the thief more was the determined look on the face of Segallus. Autolycus feared he would not have an opportunity to escape from the store room. He worried Segallus was the kind of brute who would punish first and then ask questions last.

The thief was pushed toward a room in between two stages.

Unconsciously, the King of Thieves looked back, at the last place he saw Iolaus, wishing to endure the wrath of the short man to that of Segallus. At least Autolycus understood Iolaus' aversion toward him. He could contest that. Autolycus feared that only greed drove the temperament of Segallus, and he knew greed was a powerful enemy to fight.

Segallus opened the door and Autolycus saw a large, vertical wheeled game and the exotic Voluptua waiting in front of it.

"Well, well," Voluptua said as she approached the thief, "What have we here? Cretus says you're a common thief."

"A common thief? He doesn't know what he's talking about," Autolycus said, bristling at the comment.

"Really," Voluptua questioned.

Stroking his mustache, Autolycus then stupidly and boastfully announced, "Hardly a common thief, I am the King of Thieves."

"The King of Thieves?" Voluptua questioned and laughed, "Then the King of Thieves deserves the King of Torture devices."

Autolycus gulped and then watched as a short, dwarf-like man with one eye came shuffling into the room. "Who's the mean looking guy with the knives?" Autolycus asked.

"Zacharias is one of our entertainers and you will be his assistant in tonight's performance."

"Funny, I don't remember volunteering. Thanks, but no thanks." Autolycus said as he tried to break the grip that was still holding him firm, "I like working alone."

"I'm sorry you feel that way." Voluptua said, "Segallus, strap him to the wheel. Let's let the gamblers see how we handle thieves here."

Voluptua moved back to allow the Iron Head and Segallus to strap the now struggling King of Thieves to the large, wheeled gambling apparatus.

Suddenly, Autolycus had a real sense of what Voluptua had planned for the thief. The Knife Thrower flipped his knives up into the air as he watched the thief with eager anticipation. Occasionally, he would check his aim by squinting his one good eye and flicking his wrist with the tip of the knife firmly between his fingers. It did not bode well for the thief. Strapped to a wheel that turned in circles, Autolycus imagined Zacharias was bound to miss his mark at least once.

As the small man was playing with his knife set, he tossed one into the air. Voluptua caught it adeptly and then quietly inspected the edge. "Oh, no! These won't do, they are all rusted and way too small. Segallus, get that tiny scroll opener I use from the top of my desk. Zacharias can use that."

Autolycus gulped again in dreaded anticipation.

Hercules, Iolaus and King Midas wove their way through the crowds in the gambling pit and stood momentarily behind the croupier. King Midas recognized the croupier. His name was Thaddeus and he had been one of King Midas' strongest friends and supporters.

They watched as the croupier swooped up the gambling top from the table to prepare it for the next player. When his thumb and forefinger moved to manipulate the stem, Hercules grabbed his wrist.

Loud murmurs of concern came from the men around the table. Iolaus quickly tried to resolve the situation as best he could. "Okay men. Games over," Iolaus said, shooing the men around the table to leave. "New Gambling Commission in town. We're shutting it down. No more playing this game tonight."

Confused at the sudden interruption, the group began to wander off. "That's right. Go home. Go home to your families. That's where you should be, anyway," Iolaus urged. He followed the gamblers a bit, hoping they would go home to their families instead of finding another game to play.

Hercules grabbed the gambling top from the man's hand and squeezed the wooden toy until it disintegrated into nothing more than pulp. Inside the stem, Hercules found a small lead weight. This weight allowed the croupier to cheat.

"Thaddeus! I can't believe it," Midas exclaimed, "Why are you cheating your neighbors, your friends?"

"I.I didn't want to. I was just following orders," Thaddeus said cringing, as if he expected King Midas to strike him. Thaddeus had received that kind of abuse from Segallus for disobedience before.

"Whose orders," Midas spat.

"Voluptua and Segallus."

King Midas knew he finally had to do something to counteract the evil Voluptua and Segallus had perpetrated. He turned to the demigod. "Hercules, What should I do? I don't know how to fight Voluptua and Segallus." He looked around at the room full of gamblers, cheaters and thieves, "I don't know how to fight.this."

"Midas, this is your kingdom. I can't bring Voluptua and Segallus to justice myself. You have to stand up for your kingdom, for your land. You have to decided if you want to fight for it."

"Speaking of bringing someone to justice," Iolaus said, again renewing his search for the dark-haired thief. Hercules understood who he was looking for, but Iolaus unselfishly put his own considerations aside, "but maybe we should take care of Voluptua and Segallus, first. Autolycus can wait."

Once Salmoneus found out the black jack dealer was smitten with Hispides, Salmoneus quickly made his escape from her persistent attentions. He didn't want trouble. Salmoneus hated trouble.

Famished after his determined evasion, Salmoneus was dining at the buffet when he heard the lilting voice of the bearded woman.

"Salmoneus," she said as she made her way through the gambling pit.

When he heard her voice, the plump entrepreneur almost choked on a grape he had recently popped into his mouth. Quickly, he grabbed a bunch of grapes and proceeded into the crowd, hoping to lose the besotted woman.

As he was making his way through the crowd, Salmoneus saw the tall head of Hercules in the crowd. He called out, "Hercules. Help, please!"

Salmoneus could hear the determined Hispides ask the stocker at the buffet, "Where's Salmoneus? Has anyone seen him here?"

Salmoneus, wanting to remain undiscovered, reminded every person he saw as he weaved his way toward Hercules and Iolaus, "You haven't seen me. I wasn't here."

As Salmoneus made his way toward the center of the gambling pit, he had to continually apologize as his considerable frame bumped into the patrons of the casino, "Sorry. Sorry. Ah, coming through. Coming through. Ah, Ah. You haven't seen me."

Finally, Salmoneus was within feet of Hercules and Iolaus.

"Hercules, Iolaus," Salmoneus yelled.

"What is it?" Hercules asked taking his attention off of Thaddeus and King Midas.

Rushing toward them to avoid Hispides, Salmoneus dropped some grapes from his plate. He watched as several rolled on the floor and away from his grasp. Then, to his amazement, he watched as a gambler slipped on the slimy fruit. "Wait! Look out!" he said, but it was too late.

Salmoneus shielded his eyes from the man's fall and said quietly to himself, "Sorry."

When the fallen gambler growled and looked around for the initiator of his calamity, Salmoneus fearfully shrugged his shoulder and denied innocently, "Wasn't me," before he scampered closer to Hercules and Iolaus.

Hercules had already heard Salmoneus' cry for help, and was already rushing to the entrepreneur with following Iolaus behind. He had hoped nothing serious had befallen Salmoneus.

Flaxen was worried about her father. Voluptua and Segallus were cruel, and in addition to threatening her and forcing her to dance provocatively on stage, she knew they had also made threats against her father.

King Midas was getting older and more frail, and Flaxen was concerned that her father couldn't stand up to Voluptua and Segallus as he once had. Considering his kingdom cared more about gambling than farming, she was also worried that King Midas no longer had any influence over his subjects and couldn't turn them back to their farming ways.

She had hoped her father would have sought the counsel of Hercules, but King Midas was a proud man; too proud to ask for the demigod's help.

When Flaxen saw her father and Thaddeus in an intense conversation, she walked over. Once the two men were best of friends and confidants, but that had changed when "Golden Touch" came into being. It was good to see them talking again.

As she approached, she heard Midas say, "Hercules and Iolaus were right. We fooled ourselves. All we've done is trade in misfortune."

"It's not your fault," Flaxen said and assured him when she arrived. She put a loving arm around Midas. "Your intentions were good. I know we argue and fight but we respect what you tried to do. Don't we Thaddeus?"

"The people are ripe for change, King Midas," Thaddeus agreed.

"But I was all wrong," Midas said.

"Father, they need your leadership, that's all. They should be taking orders from you, not Voluptua or Segallus," Flaxen said.

King Midas smiled at his daughter. "Then, I'll give it to them!" he said with resolve.

It had been a long time since he felt his daughter's respect. He needed her reassurance, and that of Thaddeus. He needed the support of someone with powerful convictions like Hercules and Iolaus in order to lead his people again. He knew it would not be easy, and Voluptua and Segallus would not give up the control they had on him or his people easily. King Midas knew he needed to take action, while he still had the confidence to do so, but if he didn't succeed, he wanted to make certain that the new vision for his kingdom would be realized by his daughter.

Grabbing Flaxen's shoulders firmly, and looking into his eyes, King Midas said, "Promise me one thing. If something should happen to me, you'll get Hercules and Iolaus to help set this kingdom back on the right path."

With worry thick in her voice, Flaxen asked, "You're not going to do anything foolish, are you?"

"Foolish? No. Smart? Yes. Something I should have done a long time ago." Quickly King Midas turned and walked directly toward the office that Voluptua and Segallus kept.

Flaxen tried to hang onto her father, but only grabbed the air. Turning to see Hercules talking to Salmoneus she rushed toward the demigod. He had offered his help once before, and the daughter to King Midas was still disturbed by her father's ominous words.

"Salmoneus, what's going on?" Hercules inquired, "What happened?"

"I was trying to get out of a hairy situation?"

"More trouble?" Iolaus asked. He had already seen his share of trouble on this trip. He really wasn't surprised when Salmoneus suggested more.

"Salmoneus, there you are." Hispides cooed as she located the plump man in the crowd. "Where did you run off to?"

"Trouble? I'll say," Salmoneus answered to Iolaus' question. He pointed to the bearded lady coming toward him through the crowd.

"Ah," Iolaus nodded, regarding the hairy woman, "But Salmoneus, can your love life wait. We're dealing with a little crisis here."

" love life," Salmoneus sputtered.

"Just deal with it, Salmoneus," Hercules said feeling somewhat irritated that Salmoneus unnecessarily called for his help. Hercules turned back toward Thaddeus and King Midas to finish their conversation. Thaddeus still stood by the gambling table, but King Midas was gone. Flaxen was moving toward the demigod with a troubled look on her face.

"Salmoneus?" Hispides questioned.

Salmoneus grabbed the bearded lady by the arm and moved to the side, away from Iolaus. Salmoneus was not interested in the woman in that way and wanted to let the her down gently, "Hispides. I like you, I really do. But call me old-fashioned. I think that that only one person in a relationship should wear a beard."

"I see," Hispides said. She lowered her head in disappointment.

When Flaxen finally reached the demigod, she said, "Hercules, I'm worried about my father. I think he's going to confront Voluptua and Segallus. They' ve threatened us before; that's why he never stood up for himself."

"He's the King. He should stand up to them, and his subjects should stand up with him."

Hercules sighed with Flaxen's worried look, "Where did he go?"

"To their office," Flaxen said as she pointed toward the room in the corner of the "Golden Touch". It was the same room Hercules had visited before.

Hercules walked toward the office, leaving the upset daughter of the King with Iolaus. Disconcerted and at a loss for words, Iolaus brushed a lock of blonde hair from his cheek and said, "Hi, I'm Iolaus, Hercules' best friend and partner. Maybe Herc's talked about me?"

Segallus walked out of the office, carefully tucking a jeweled-handled knife into his waistband. He pulled his tunic over it as King Midas caught up to Voluptua's partner.

"I quit," Midas said, storming up to Segallus as he stepped toward the store room. "You're going to have to find yourself another cat's-paw for this ente rprise."

Segallus looked critically at King Midas. "You're serious?"

"Never more serious in all my life," Midas said.

The statement concerned Segallus. Many of the citizens of Midasius were still loyal to the King and if he quit, he might takes the palace's patrons with him. "I'd say, this begs for further discussion. Perhaps I can convince you differently," Segallus said as he opened the store room door and rashly pushed the King in.

Two Iron Heads were about to strap the thief onto the Wheel of Fortune when Segallus forced the King into the room. They abruptly stopped in the King's presence but continued to hold the thief firm.

Autolycus hadn't noticed it before, but the Wheel of Fortune was on four caster legs. This made sense to him, as the gambling casino probably changed out games from time to time to keep things interesting. Well, Autolycus thought, things were going to get really interesting if he didn't find a way to avoid the Torture Wheel.

"The King wants to quit glad-handing," Segallus informed Voluptua.

"So let him," Voluptua said.

In a quiet though angry voice, Segallus tried to reason with his headstrong partner. She never saw the importance of the King's roll in the gambling palace's ability to attract patrons. "He still has loyal followers. He'll take them with him if he quits."

"Not if he's totally humiliated and broken. Besides, we don't need him anymore."

"No, you're wrong." King Midas said with bravado, "We don't need you anymore. I made the mistake of letting you into my kingdom. But I'll make a bigger mistake if I let you take over."

"That's Hercules talking, not you." Voluptua said, "Although I must admit, you are like Hercules in one way. You are both so bothersome."

Pacing around the room, Voluptua began tapping her index finger on her bottom lip. Finally, she decided on a plan that would destroy the King . "But not to worry. We can eliminate both you and Hercules very conveniently."

She turned to her partner, "Segallus, did you get what I asked for?"

Segallus pulled out the jeweled-handled knife and handed it to Voluptua. She, in turn gave it to Zacharias, "You know what to do with it," she said to the knife thrower.

"Hercules won't know what hit him," Voluptua spoke and then laughed wickedly.

Zacharias returned the evil smile and then nodded obediently.

Autolycus realized that Voluptua had just arranged to have Hercules conveniently killed; before or after the thief was going to be tortured was not certain. His only saving grace was that Voluptua seemed more concerned with revenging Hercules and King Midas than the misaligned justice she thought up for Autolycus.

"Kill the thief and strap the King to the Wheel of Fortune," Voluptua commanded.

Fearing for his life then more than ever, Autolycus broke free from the firm grasp of one of the Iron Heads. Spinning around he hit the other Iron Head with enough brute force to break his hold on the thief and send him reeling to the ground. A third Iron Head rushed toward Autolycus.

Quickly grabbing the Wheel of Fortune, the thief pushed the large gambling apparatus toward the Iron Head. The Wheel of Fortune missed the swift servant to Segallus and crashed through the door.

The Wheel of Fortune tore a large hole where the door used to be and then broke apart just outside the door. Hercules turned to see the melee. Through the gaping hole, he could see Autolycus fighting one of the Iron Heads as another struggled to get up. He rushed into the room.

Segallus grabbed King Midas when Hercules ran into the room. He held the King in a choke hold. His grip was so tight, the King was sputtering and his lips were turning blue.

"You do not want to do that. Let him go," Hercules warned.

The crashing of the wheel against the door brought Iolaus' attention toward his partner. He watched as Hercules quickly disappeared inside the small room.

"Stay here," Iolaus told Flaxen as he rushed over to aid his partner.

Iolaus quickly stepped over part of the Wheel of Fortune and proceeded into the room. He saw the Iron Head, knocked out by the blow that Autolycus had given him, quickly coming to his senses. The other Iron Head was about to strike a blow to the thief's head when Iolaus rushed the brute.

Seeing Iolaus enter the room and the thief aptly fighting the Iron Head, Segallus suddenly let Midas go, and pushed him toward Hercules. He was going to make his escape.

Hercules caught the King as he stumbled toward the demigod. "Midas, get out of here. We can handle this," Hercules said.

King Midas nodded and ran out of the room to the welcoming and worried arms of his daughter.

"Are you alright?" Flaxen said.

"I'm fine, my princess," Midas answered as he patted her arm affectionately. "I should go back in and help them."

"No, let me do that," Thaddeus said as he stood next to the King's side.

By this time, all the patrons in the gambling palace had heard the ruckus and began gathering outside the door.

"Well, aren't you going to help?" Hispides asked Salmoneus.

"Are you kidding?" Salmoneus said incredulous, "Besides, Hercules and Iolaus can handle it themselves."

One particularly industrious croupier watched the fight between the heroes, the thief and the Iron Heads. Deciding he could make money on the battle, he grabbed the dinars left in his coffer and said, "Get your money down, folks! This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!"

Loyalty was mixed with the patrons of the gambling palace. Some of the folks were still loyal to King Midas and his friends, others were loyal to Voluptua and Segallus. This made for an exciting bidding war.

A man in the background was watching the fighting and felt the heroes would be a sure victor. He stepped up and placed the bet in the croupier's hand. "Ten dinars on Hercules and Iolaus."

"Odds are five-to-one! Five-to-one on Hercules and Iolaus!" the croupier announced.

Salmoneus began to think, He knew the strength of Hercules and the craftiness of Iolaus. "Five-to-one odds! Not bad, huh? I can bet five dinars on Hercules and Iolaus to win."

Leaving Hispides behind, Salmoneus dug into his money bag as he continued to talk to himself. "That a twenty per cent return. I can't pass that up!" He placed the money in the croupier's hand.

"Put it all on Hercules and Iolaus." Salmoneus said as he looked in the window to see Iolaus fighting an Iron Head.

The head-butt Iolaus gave the Iron Head threw him into the back wall, but he recovered quickly and was moving forward again toward the partner of Hercules. As he approached, Iolaus swept the legs of the Iron Head with his foot and the man fell to the floor. He was knocked unconscious as his head hit the floor.

Iolaus turned to fight another Iron Head when Thaddeus came into the room. With a quick one-two punch, Thaddeus began beating back the Iron Head.

His escape blocked by Thaddeus, Segallus, picked up a roulette wheel that was sitting on a table behind him. He flung it at Hercules, who adeptly caught the projectile. Using the very weapon Segallus had used on him, only in a different way, Hercules approached Segallus, holding the roulette wheel as if it were a shield. He was planning on pummeling Segallus with it, but as he brought it up, Segallus countered the move with a dice cage. The force of the blow however caused the bully to stumble backward and lose his balance.

Outside the room, the croupier continued his barking. He saw how the fight was progressing and continued to change the odds. What was once a sure bet against the heroes was now turning into a loosing proposition. He changed his strategy. "Here you go, folks! Bet on Segallus and Voluptua! One dinar will win you fifteen! Place your bets and make your fortune! Or you can bet against them, Fifteen dinars will win you one!"

Voluptua had escaped the melee in the store room by weaving her way through the gambling devices and supplies looking for Zacharias. The knife thrower had somehow found a place to hide when the fighting began. The little man was skilled at throwing a knife, but he was not a fighter.

"Where are you, you little pipsqueak?" Voluptua said as she bent down behind boxes and amphoras looking for the little man in every nook and cranny. "You promised to kill Hercules."

Outside the room, Flaxen determinedly watched the fighting but diverted her eyes every time it appeared Iolaus or Hercules was going to come out the loser, "Come on, Hercules. Come on, Iolaus," she encouraged quietly. She turned to watch the dark-haired thief fight one of Segallus' Iron Heads.

The Iron Head battling Autolycus was slowly beating the thief backward, into a corner of the storage room. Although the thief got in a few lucky blows, he knew he would lose the fight if he retreated much farther. Stepping back once more, Autolycus saw a small machine on a table. The size of a bread box, with a handle protruding on one side, the rudimentary slot machine was also called a one-armed bandit. Picking it up, Autolycus threw it at the Iron Head. It smashed into his face, breaking several bones.

"A one-armed bandit beat a dimwitted Iron Head. Bet you're not liking those odds right about now," Autolycus then turned to see if anyone else needed his help. By then, the fighting had all but ceased.

Voluptua peeked out from behind two amphoras as Zacharias finally came out of his hiding place between two large trunks. The jeweled-handled knife he was holding was perfectly balanced. It was poised and ready, aimed right at the heart of Hercules. As the knife flew, both Autolycus and Iolaus shouted a warning, "Hercules, watch out!"

Hercules turned and the reaction of the demigod was swift. Hercules was able to catch the blade of the knife between his two palms, just millimeters before it entered his chest.

Realizing that Autolycus and Iolaus saved his life with the warning, Hercules let the jeweled-handled knife fall to the ground, and taking a deep breath said, "That was close."

"You alright?" Iolaus asked as he walked toward Hercules.

Autolycus still felt uncomfortable in the company of Hercules and Iolaus and considered he had done enough in aiding the demigod and his partner was ready to leave. The King of Thieves quickly tried to sneak out before anyone caught him.

But Iolaus turned away from Hercules and caught him sneaking off, "Autolycus!" Iolaus shouted.

Autolycus stopped. He turned to Iolaus. Fingering his mustache and smiling slightly, Autolycus said, "Well, it would be nice to say it's been good to see the both of you again, but I can't. So with that...."

Then in a sudden burst of energy, the thief flipped backward toward the wall and using his feet on the vertical surface and he pushed off the wall, flipped in the air twice, propelled himself over Iolaus and then landed on to the ground behind him, yodeling "yodel-eh-he-hoo" in midair.

Turning around once more, Autolycus said, "Until we meet again," before he made his ultimate escape from the "Golden Touch Gambling Palace".

"You win some, you lose some," Hercules said quietly to himself of Autolycus' opportunistic flight. He was not surprised that the thief had made another escape.

Hercules took two steps and picked up Segallus by the back of his tunic. He hauled him up and said, "The games over for you, Segallus. Now, where's your partner?"

Voluptua recognized her venture had been destroyed by the proud king, Midas, and the powerful Hercules. Once realized, she decided to make her expeditious escape, much like Autolycus, by sneaking out. She hoped to find another dupe in another province to swindle.

Voluptua made a run for the door, but Iolaus, seeing the escape quickly blocked her exit. He stood in the opening of the door with his arms stretched between the two door jambs.

"Get out of my way, Shorty," Voluptua said with her hands on her well-rounded hips. "You can't stop me," she warned again.

"We're in a gambling palace, wanna bet?" Iolaus answered seriously.

Once it was determined that Hercules and Iolaus won the fight, Midas rallied the patrons around him. "From this day forward, let it be known that the citizens of Midasius will return to their farming traditions."

Voices in the gambling pit began to yell out, "All Right!" or "It's about time." Like Thaddeus had said, they were ready for the change.

Feeling empowered, Midas added, "All gambling indebtedness will be forgiven, with. uh, two exceptions. Voluptua and Segallus will pay for the cheating they have perpetrated on the citizens of Midasius."

More cheers were heard in the gaming pit.

Iolaus, Hercules and Salmoneus stepped toward the exit to the "Golden Touch Gambling Palace".

King Midas had decreed that the gambling casino would be closed and the building would be demolished. It was the only way the King could think of to ensure his people that he was earnest about the change.

As the trio were leaving, Hispides walked up to Salmoneus and grabbed his arm. Looking over to her, he screamed. Hispides was clean-shaven. "Hispides? You've changed," he said in astonishment.

Hispides looked at Salmoneus, "Uh, you like it?" She said as she turned around to show the entrepreneur her whole new look.

"Uh, yeah."

"Sal," Hispides began, "So, I've been wanting to talk to you about this idea I had. I.I.I know some traders who would be interesting in recycling building products, and since the 'Golden Touch Gambling Palace' is going to be torn down by order of King Midas, we could make a killing."

"You mean all these beautiful furnishings and decorations?" Salmoneus asked.

"Yeah, yeah," she nodded agreeably.

Salmoneus led the beautiful woman to a corner. He didn't want any one snooping and stealing his ideas. "I want to know more about this. Cut rate prices?" he questioned.

Hercules looked at Iolaus and then King Midas, "Well, it looks like Salmoneus hit the jackpot."

Midas squeezed the waist of his daughter who was standing beside him, "He's not the only one to hit the jackpot. I have my daughter's respect again, and the citizens of Midasius will be building farms and families, not tearing them down. Hercules and Iolaus, I can't begin to thank you." "Well, I can," Flaxen said as she placed a tender kiss on the cheek of the demigod.

Hercules almost smiled, and Iolaus could almost detect a slight blush of his cheeks. Grinning with slight awkwardness himself, Iolaus turned around and watched Salmoneus and Hispides.

"Thank you," Hercules said to Flaxen of the kiss, then he turned to the King. "King Midas, promise me one thing."

"What would that be?" Midas asked.

"That you will never gamble with your blessings."

Flaxen was the first to speak, "We promise," she said looking at her father with the love she felt and had always felt in her heart.

"Oh, we promise," Midas agreed.

Hercules, smiling once again said, "Good, then you'll always be rich."

Turning to his partner, Hercules asked, "You ready to go?"

"Yeah, sure," Iolaus answered.

The two men then walked out of the 'Golden Touch Gambling Palace'.

"Are you okay about Autolycus getting away?" Hercules asked the blonde as they began to travel down a small trail that took them toward another city.

"No," Iolaus answered honestly.

Hercules laughed. He knew it was going to be a long time before Iolaus got over the likes of Autolycus. But he hoped one day Iolaus would see that Autolycus could be a trusted ally when the chips were down.


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