“Do you have to go back to Corinth tonight?”
“No,” he replied. “I’ve cleared my schedule through tomorrow.”
“Good.” She gave him a soft smile as she reached out to clear his plate from the table. But he caught her hand in his and stopped her.
“I’ll help you do that later. It’s a beautiful evening. Too nice to stay inside.”
So they went out into the garden, strolling among the pink roses which were in full bloom and perfuming the air with an intoxicating scent. Arm in arm they walked in silence, until she finally turned to him and spoke.
“Whatever it is, you can tell me.”
“I should have guessed that you’d know I had something on my mind,” he laughed.
“Years of practice,” she stated airily. “With Hercules and Iolaus conspiring together, I had to learn to be a mind reader.”
“I’ll bet,” he grinned.
“So,” she prodded, growing serious. “What is it you’re so reluctant to tell me?”
“I’m not reluctant,” he argued, turning away from her and taking a step. “I was just waiting for the right moment. But the gods know, there will never be a more perfect moment than this, so maybe I am hesitating.” He turned back toward her, sighing as he drank in the sight of the beautiful woman, the moonlight haloing her curls and reflecting back from her sparkling eyes. “It’s just that... Well, as a king, I’m used to commanding, rather than asking. And I don’t know what I’ll do if you turn me down.” Jason dropped to one knee before her, taking her hands in his. “Alcmene,” he said humbly. “Will you do me the honor of becoming my wife?”
Alcmene of Thebes, who was always the first one to speak out against injustice, the first to stand up for those who couldn’t fight for themselves, and the first to offer the right words of comfort and wisdom to any troubled soul that crossed her path, was rendered utterly speechless. A small squeak came out of her mouth, much to the amusement of the king kneeling at her feet.
“Was that a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’?” he teased, his easy manner disguising the fact that his heart was hammering wildly in his chest. His whole life hinged on her reply, and if she refused him, he wasn’t sure he would be able to go on.
Alcmene instantly thought of twenty reasons why she should decline. But as she looked down at the brave, handsome, compassionate, charming man who had stolen her heart, she knew it was not the time to be practical. Following her heart had gotten her in trouble before, but this time she was certain it was the right path to take. And as much as her mind warned her of problems and complications and obstacles and gossip, her heart wanted nothing more than to spend the rest of her life looking into those warm brown eyes.
“Yes,” she whispered, squeezing his hands.
“Really?” he whispered back, for it had seemed almost too much to hope for.
“Well, if you ever plan on getting up off the ground, I will,” she told him, trying for levity even as the tears began to fall. Jason laughed in his joy and stood up, pulling her into his arms and hugging her tightly to him. He wiped her tears away, and then he leaned in closer, his lips inching toward hers...
“You’d have been a lot better off going straight to Corinth.”
“What?” Alcmene asked, startled out of her daydream. “Oh, there’s no need to worry, young man,” she quickly assured the kind fellow who had given her a ride as she reoriented herself to the present. “You can let me off anywhere that suits you.”
“Sure I can’t change your mind?” he frowned, not comfortable with abandoning a classy lady in a town with such a rough reputation.
“Please, I’ll be fine,” she scoffed, brushing his concerns aside.
“I wouldn’t be so sure,” he muttered.
“Don’t worry. Hercules is here.”
“Whoa.” He pulled on the reigns, stopping the horse to let her climb down from the wagon. “You have that on good authority, do you?”
“I certainly do,” Alcmene said loftily. “I’m his mother.”
She thanked him as he handed her traveling bag down to her and he drove off, shaking his head slightly. Maybe not so classy as crazy, he thought to himself as he slapped the reigns against the horse’s back and set off at a trot toward Corinth.
Alcmene started down the road that led into town, realizing that perhaps she should have heeded the driver’s words a little more as two unsavory looking characters coming the opposite direction began leering at her. “Ah, what do we have, here? Let’s find out.” The creep lunged slightly at her, laughing as she gasped and jumped back, but he fortunately was content just to scare her and he and his pal continued on their way.
Alcmene also continued on, hoping to meet a respectable person that she could talk to and inquire after her son. But before she got much further, a man came soaring out of a window to land in a heap at her feet. He struggled briefly, then collapsed.
“I wonder,” she mused as she studied the unconscious man, well familiar with her son’s handiwork. Alcmene moved toward the window to peek in, but found the shutters unceremoniously slammed in her face. Undaunted, she marched straight for the door of the establishment and entered. “Hercules?”
“Mother?” The demigod was shocked to see her standing there and paused, leaving some poor sap helplessly hoisted above his head.
“Alcmene?” Iolaus was equally surprised and likewise froze, with his opponent flailing as he hopped on one foot and desperately tried to keep from falling as the hunter had his other leg in his grasp.
“Does this happen often?” she inquired, waving at the chaos of the tavern as Iolaus recovered and dispatched his foe with a hard backhand.
“Well, sometimes, it, uh, can’t be avoided,” Hercules told her, tossing his opponent away with a casual shrug as Iolaus caught another thug with a vicious kick.
“Yeah, it keeps us young!” the hunter called out, obviously enjoying himself.
“Ah, speak for yourself,” the demigod tossed over his shoulder. “I hope you didn’t come all this way just because you’re worried about me.” He ducked an attack from behind, the first goon sailing over top of his broad shoulders even as he kicked out and knocked down the second.
“No, no,” Alcmene demurred. “There’s something I have to tell you.”
“Well, this really isn’t the time!” Hercules growled as he struggled to break the grip of the man with the arm across his throat.
“I’m sorry, Hercules, but it can’t wait,” she said, deciding to just plunge ahead and suddenly grateful for the distraction of the fight. “I’m getting married.”
“What?!” the demigod shouted. Iolaus had been keeping one eye on the action around him and one eye on the action in the foreground, but Alcmene’s declaration had captured his full attention and he took a step forward, stunned as he quietly echoed his friend’s sentiment.
Hercules just stared at her, until she pointed to something behind him, reminding him that there was still a fight going on. He turned, unprepared and catching a fist to his jaw that sent him reeling to the ground as his mother winced in sympathy. The demigod kicked out, sending his foe sailing into the wall as he stared up at his mother.
“You’re getting married?” he demanded, not sure that he’d heard right.
“Yes,” Alcmene replied with a happy smile, for just the mere thought of it seemed to make her as giggly as a schoolgirl.
Hercules got up and escorted his mother to a seat out of the way, plunking her bag into her lap.
“Stay here,” he commanded. “I’ll be right back.” He turned back to the handful of thugs that were still standing, all traces of good humor gone. “Let’s get this over with.”
“Yeah,” Iolaus enthused from his seat on the shoulders of one of the men. But as he sent the guy crashing to the ground, rolling with the fall and bounding back to his feet, it quickly became apparent to him that his assistance was no longer needed. Hercules was agitated and no longer pulling his punches. One after another met his iron fist or his boot heel and went spinning off into oblivion. So the hunter ambled to the bar and grabbed his mug of ale, moving back to the far wall to have a drink and catch his breath and watch his friend finish off the last of the thugs in true Herculean style. Alcmene also watched, beaming with pride, but as the last thug was dispatched the demigod approached her, in no mood for praise.
“Mother, I’m a little confused, here,” he began. “It’s just...”
They were interrupted by the innkeeper, who came forward to pressed a few dinars into Hercules’ hand.
“Here. Thank you for risking your lives for me,” he said gratefully, giving Iolaus his share.
The demigod protested, handing the coins back to the man.
“Here, keep your money and use it to get your business going again,” he told him distractedly. Iolaus chuckled and likewise refused his reward.
“You raised a very good boy, my dear,” the innkeeper complemented Alcmene. “Very noble. And his friend, too.”
She smiled her thanks for his kind words, proud of her son and also thankful that the man had thought to include the often overlooked Iolaus in his praise. The innkeeper walked off and the hunter followed him, at least until Hercules turned to him with a scowl.
“Where are you going?”
“You know, you two have to talk,” Iolaus protested, not wanting to get caught in the middle of the storm that was brewing.
“Please,” Hercules snorted, knowing exactly why his friend was so desperately trying to escape and not about to let him have the luxury of objectivity.
“Come on, it’s a mother-son... ”
“Get over here.”
Iolaus usually knew how to manipulate the demigod, but when Hercules busted out that tone, he knew he was trapped. Meekly he obeyed and returned to his friend’s side, bouncing slightly on the balls of his feet and leaning on his sword as the demigod crossed his arms over his chest and stared expectantly at his mother.
“So, uh, who’s the lucky guy, Alcmene?” the hunter asked, although he had a feeling he already knew the answer.
“Yeah, who is he?” Hercules demanded brusquely.
“Jason,” Alcmene answered brightly.
“Jason....who?” the demigod inquired, confused.
“Jason,” she repeated, indicating that no explanation was needed.
Hercules’ jaw dropped as the realization sunk in. He turned to Iolaus, trying to make some sense of what he was being told, before turning back to his mother.
“Jason?” he murmured.
“Jason,” she confirmed with a smile brighter than the sun. “And he’s waiting for us back in Corinth. Are you two ready?”
She turned and headed for the door, leaving the two partners no choice but to follow. They fell in step on either side of her, with Iolaus automatically taking Alcmene’s bag and slinging it over his shoulder to rest against his back. Hercules glanced at his friend, who was obviously taking the situation in stride. He wished he could be so nonchalant, but at that moment he was feeling far from carefree.
“Mother, you’re going to have to start at the beginning,” he ordered as they made their way down the street toward the road leading to Corinth. “Since when have you and Jason been...? I mean, you’ve never mentioned him before. And he never mentioned you.”
“It’s been slowly coming on over the last few months,” Alcmene explained. “Jason came to the house looking for you after they found Medea. He was in rough shape and desperately needed a friend to talk to. I didn’t know where you were, so he confided in me. And gradually, he started coming more and more often. It helped him to have someone outside the castle to talk to, where he didn’t have to keep up his royal pretenses. And he felt he owed it to you to check on me, and make sure I was ok. We didn’t plan for this to happen, Hercules. But the more we saw of each other, the stronger the attraction grew. Until finally, neither of us could deny our feelings anymore.”
“So why didn’t you tell me about this?”
“Well, you were gone so much, and the times you were home, you were so rushed... The timing was always wrong, Hercules.”
“What timing?” he yelped, gesturing in emphasis. “I mean, if you’re seeing him, you’re seeing him. Am I right, Iolaus?”
“I guess it’s gonna be ‘Queen Alcmene’ from now on, huh?” the hunter said, quickly changing the subject and giving his friend a stern ‘leave me out of this’ look.
“Not exactly,” she hedged. “By order of Corinthian law, if we marry, Jason forfeits his crown.”
“Let me get this straight,” Hercules seethed, stopping her in her tracks. “Jason is willing to give up his kingdom, and you’re just going to sit back and let him? Have you two given ANY thought to this at all? Have you even bothered to stop and consider the consequences?”
“Yes, we have,” Alcmene told him quietly, but firmly. “And we both decided it’s all worth it. This is what we want, Hercules. It feels right. I do understand why you’re upset. We should have said something to you before. But I love Jason, and he loves me. And we’re both too old to waste time worrying about what other people think.”
“Does Iphicles know?” the demigod asked, looking away.
“Uh, no. He’s been really busy, and I...”
“Mother, how could you...?!”
“I guess it’s time we got you to Corinth, so you can be with Jason, huh?” Iolaus interrupted, shooting an annoyed glare over his shoulder at his partner.
“Yeah.” Alcmene took the hunter’s arm and beamed at him in thanks for his understanding as they resumed walking. She could only hope that Jason was having a better time with the announcement than she was.
“Please, your Highness, tell us more about Alcmene so my fellow regents and I will be better able to conduct a royal wedding.”
“Well, I’m surprised your spies haven’t found out, already,” Jason replied, not bothering to hide his contempt for the slimy little weasel. “Alcmene is a widow. She has two sons, Hercules and Iphicles.”
“Hercules?” he drawled. “So, SHE’S the one who had the fling with Zeus.” The regents seated around the table chuckled, and the king’s lips tightened in anger. Patronius assumed an insincere air of humbleness. “Oh, not fair, I apologize. I DO apologize. But one thing does trouble me deeply. You haven’t mentioned the source of her royal blood.”
“She has none,” Jason informed him.
“A commoner?” the regent asked with mock surprise.
“There’s nothing common about the woman who owns my heart,” the king insisted, letting just the trace of a threat into his tone.
“Truly a noble sentiment,” Patronius said mournfully as he flipped through the pages of the Corinthian charter. “Bad news, I’m afraid, your Highness. If you marry this, forgive my using the word again, this commoner, you cannot reign as king. It’s the law of the land.”
“I’m aware of the law,” Jason bristled. “I don’t need the likes of you to read it to me.”
“Sad to say, you cannot have your wedding ceremony in the castle, either. Such a pity.”
“And I can see that you’re just broken up about that, Patronius. So upset, I wonder how you’ll ever be able to take my place.”
“I think I’ll be able to pull myself together, your Highness. After all, as chief regent, it is my civic duty to take over in your absence.”
“And you’re an idiot if you think for a minute that I would ever stand by and watch you seize power and run Corinth into the ground,” Jason snarled as he rose from his throne, nodding toward the charter as he passed by the long table. “You’d better keep reading that thing. The law of the land also states that if I marry Alcmene before the next full moon, I can name my successor.”
“Three days isn’t very long,” Patronius snarled, angry over having been outfoxed.
“Then the race is on,” the king announced confidently as he strode regally out of the room.
As they reached the outskirts of the city, Alcmene was the first to notice the rider as he appeared over the crest of the hill.
“Oh, look, there’s Jason,” she exclaimed happily, waving and bounding ahead to meet him.
“Look at him go!” Iolaus chuckled, nudging an unamused Hercules as the king came galloping toward his fair maiden.
“Don’t I know you from someplace?” he teased as he reigned his stallion up beside her.
“You better!” Alcmene laughed as he dismounted and swept her into his arms, giving her a welcoming kiss.
“Well, looks like love agrees with you, Jason,” the hunter said fondly.
“I’m just glad I had the sense to realize it,” the king murmured, releasing his future bride and moving forward to clasp his old friend’s hand. “Iolaus!” He glanced over the hunter’s shoulder at the sullen demigod. “I guess Hercules hasn’t decided if he wants to shake my hand.”
“That much I can do,” he conceded.
“We need to talk,” Jason stated as they gripped forearms.
“Yes, we do,” the demigod agreed, fighting back the urge to make the handshake a crushing one.
“Walk on ahead with Alcmene, would you, Iolaus?” the king requested as he handed him the reigns.
“Sure,” the hunter said, just as happy not to be a part of that conversation. He took Alcmene’s arm and wrapped the stallion’s reigns around his free hand, leading them both toward the city as quickly as he could.
“I think I know what’s bothering you.”
“No, I really don’t think you do,” Hercules told him. “Jason, she’s my mother.”
“And I love her,” the king promised him.
“It’s not that simple,” the demigod argued. “You are supposed to be my friend, and you never even breathed a word of this to me!”
“Well, exactly how should I have brought up the subject to you?” Jason asked, growing exasperated at the hostile belligerence in his friend’s tone.
“Well, that’s something you should have figured out,” Hercules said haughtily. “Why don’t we talk about this later, when you’re feeling a little less petulant.” Keeping his royal temper under wraps, the king turned his back on his friend and walked off, a model of dignity.
“‘Petulant’?” the demigod repeated. He sighed, shaking his head as he started to follow. “He’s acting like he’s my father already.”
Patronius was so entranced by the wealth of jewels and treasure all around him, he never realized he was not alone until he heard the deep voice.
“Such glittering foolishness.”
“Who are you?” he demanded as he spun around guiltily and spied the cloaked figure. “How did you get in here?”
“I go where Hera commands,” came the ominous answer.
“Hera sent you.” The regent quickly scooped up a pitiful handful of gems from the vast treasury. “Here, an offering to the greatest goddess of them all.”
“Trinkets hold no more worth to Hera than a leaf in the wind,” the figure sneered. “Ah, but Jason and Alcmene’s wedding, that’s something else. Provided it leads to the death of Hercules.”
“The legends say he’s impossible to kill.”
“Fool! How dare you underestimate Hera’s power?” Skeletal fingers reached up to push the hood of the cloak back, revealing a ghoulish face that was not human. Patronius gaped at the unnatural being, obviously a creation of Hera, herself. For whatever reason, the queen of the gods had chosen him. And the regent’s beady eyes gleamed with pleasure as he realized the seat of power in Corinth was nothing compared to what he could do with her help.
“Then I must serve you,” he oozed, bowing before his new master.
The Blue Priest smiled cruelly, nodding a head that visibly pulsed with unholy life.
“Of course you must.”
It had been a long walk back to Corinth, but Alcmene still needed a gown and time was growing short, so since they were passing through the marketplace she decided she might as well cross that item off her “to do” list before continuing on to the castle. She soon found herself alone, as the merest threat of shopping had sent her boys scattering to the winds. At first she didn’t mind, but as she walked up and down the tables of the exotic silk fabrics, Alcmene decided it would have been nice to have gotten a second opinion.
“They’re all so lovely,” she murmured.
“How is anyone ever supposed to choose?”
“Well, I haven’t the slightest idea,” she replied, looking up and smiling at the pretty young girl across the table from her. “But I just got it into head to make my own dress.”
“Special occasion?” the brunette inquired.
“Yes, I’m getting married,” she answered, feeling a flutter of excitement just saying the words.
“It’s you who’s marrying King Jason, isn’t it?” the girl cried out, running around the table to take her hands. “Alcmene, mother of Hercules. It is an honor.”
“Oh, well, you’re very kind,” Alcmene stated humbly.
“Well, Sera, people get married every day,” she continued dismissively.
“Oh, not to royalty.” The girl leaned in confidentially. “Um, excuse me, but everybody I talk to says your wedding can’t be held in the castle because of some legal rubbish.”
“Don’t worry about the wedding, my dear. We’ll find a place for it.”
“Oh, but I’ve got one for you,” Sera exclaimed. “I mean, if you like the gardens on the estate of my Uncle Procas. They’re beautiful. You and the king have to see it for yourselves.”
“I’ll mention it to Jason,” Alcmene promised her.
“Great.” The girl beamed and skipped off, but then she turned back. “I think the ivory would look best.”
Alcmene ran a hand over the delicate ivory silk and smiled, putting her trust in her second opinion.
“Herc, you’ve got to get over this,” Iolaus complained as they strolled along the city streets. “I mean, we’ve been having this same discussion ever since we were kids and frankly, I’m getting tired of it.”
“I know,” the demigod muttered darkly, not in the mood to be lectured. But they had been in this same scenario before, back in their Academy days with Capanius, and most recently with the Demetrius debacle, and this time the hunter was determined he was not going to let his friend spoil things for Jason and Alcmene.
“I thought you had gotten past these issues with your mom dating after what happened last time.”
“I did,” Hercules protested. “But this time it’s different.”
“Because it’s Jason,” the demigod explained. “He’s been one of my best friends for longer than I care to think about. And I can’t help feeling like he betrayed me.”
“There’s always a reason, isn’t there, Herc?” Iolaus sighed in annoyance. “Look, they are two, consenting, single adults. They didn’t betray anyone. You want to throw your little tantrum, fine. Just admit that you’re being selfish and stop using Jason as an excuse.”
“It’s easy for you to say,” Hercules snarled. “It wasn’t your mother and your hero who had an affair.”
“Hey,” the hunter said sharply. “Jason is my hero, too. And Alcmene may not be my mother, but I love her as much as any son could.”
“Now I suppose you think that you know my own mother better than I do,” Hercules sniffed, crossing his arms over his chest and glaring down at his friend. “Come to think of it, you didn’t seem all that surprised when Mother told us who she was marrying. Did you know about this?”
“No. No,” Iolaus repeated when the piercing gaze never wavered. “I saw the way they acted around each other while you were in the underworld trying to rescue Persephone. I could tell that they really cared about each other, but no, I had no idea this would be the result.”
“And this,” the demigod growled, waving his hands to indicate the whole disastrous mess, “doesn’t bother you? Not even a little?”
“No.” The hunter sighed again, running a hand through his unruly curls. “Look, Herc, I know you’re upset because it’s Jason. But you should be glad because it’s JASON. I dare you to look me in the eye and tell me there’s a man in Greece who will take better care of your mother than he will.”
“That’s not the point,” Hercules argued uncomfortably.
“No, the point is that you have two people you love that have both had a lifetime of heartache. Now they’ve found happiness with each other, and you want to deny them that.”
“No, I don’t.”
“You don’t?” Iolaus clarified, arching an eyebrow.
“Ok, you’re right,” the demigod finally admitted grudgingly.
“Don’t sound so surprised,” the hunter said wryly. “It does happen from time to time.”
“Speaking of ‘surprised’,” Hercules grinned as a crumpled heap landed at their feet. “Does this surprise us?”
“Not really,” Iolaus replied, taking in the sight of the Argonauts brawling in the square.
They watched in amusement as Phoebe and Domesticles aptly took out a handful of thugs, until only one was left standing. That one became the unfortunate victim of a pen between the eyes.
“And the most vicious of the brigands,” Archivus declared, retrieving his artistic weapon, “was dispatched by the noble Archivus.”
“He’s at it again,” the demigod announced, alerting the Argonauts to the fact that they had an audience. Instantly, fierce scowls were replaced with smiles, and a hearty round of greetings were exchanged amongst the group of heroes. “So, you mind telling us what that was all about?”
“Well, it’s Jason again,” Domesticles answered. “Only this time he’s not drinking.”
“Yeah, he’s getting married!” Phoebe chimed in.
“Oh, we know. To Hercules’ mother. That’s why we’re here,” the hunter relayed.
“Obviously, she’s quite a woman,” Archivus said. “See, this rabble that I have just vanquished...”
“Hey!” Phoebe smacked him lightly as Domesticles also took offense at being left out of the tale.
“Says Jason is giving up his crown for her,” the scribe continued.
“It’s true,” the demigod confirmed.
“Well, who has he chosen to be his successor?” Domesticles wondered.
“We don’t know,” Hercules told him, sharing a glance with Iolaus. He’d been so wrapped up in his own problems, he hadn’t bothered to give a second thought to Jason’s. “But I think it’s time we found out.”
Jason welcomed the Argonauts warmly, but there was no time for catching up.
“My friends,” he began humbly. “I know you’ve just arrived, but time is running short and you are the only ones I can rely on. Some very important guests need to be invited and escorted to Corinth to ensure they make it in time...”
“Say no more, Jason,” Domesticles interrupted. “You can count on us.”
“Thank you,” the king told him, giving him a smile of gratitude. “The stables are yours for the choosing. But first, go down to the kitchen and get something to eat before you go.”
As they trooped good naturedly out of the room, Jason turned to the hunter.
“Iolaus, I’m afraid I have to ask for your help as well. I need you to organize the others, and to pick up the most important guest of all.”
“Sure, Jase,” the hunter agreed, proud to have been trusted with such responsibility. “Whatever you need.”
“Good.” The king squeezed his shoulder in thanks and turned back to Hercules. “And now, you want to know who will succeed me. Well, I’m sure that’s a conversation that Alcmene would like to be a part of.”
“I’ll go get her,” Iolaus volunteered, picking up on the pointed look that his partner shot him and knowing he wanted to speak with Jason alone.
“I just can’t believe you’re giving up your crown,” Hercules murmured as his friend scurried out of the room.
“I would have thought that you of all people would have agreed Alcmene is worth it,” the king said with a grin.
“But have either of you stopped long enough to think this through?” the demigod argued. “I mean, this is your father’s kingdom...”
“Yes, it is,” Jason told him. “And I admit, that’s a hard thing to just give up. But the decision to do so was easy, Hercules. I haven’t been happy here for a long time. There’s no peace for me here anymore. But your mother gave that back to me. And her happiness is worth more to me than this kingdom. I’m tired of all the royal pomp and circumstance. Don’t get me wrong, I look back with joy on the years I ruled here. But a king isn’t allowed to be a real person, and I’m tired of always living up to someone else’s expectations. I’m ready to just be a man, and the best thing I can do for the Corinthians is to step down and let someone that has the heart and the passion to rule take my place. Can you understand that?”
“Yeah,” Hercules replied, meeting his friend’s gaze. “I think I can.” “We’ve known each other for a long time,” the king continued, putting a hand on his arm. “And believe me, I DO understand why you’re upset, and I know I have to make up for the mistakes of my past. But I love Alcmene with all my heart, and I promise you that I will devote the rest of my days to proving that to you.”
“Jason,” the demigod said quietly, finally getting what Iolaus had been trying to tell him. “There’s nothing to prove.”
“So, we’re ok?” Jason asked hopefully, searching his friend’s blue eyes for acceptance.
“As long as I don’t have to call you ‘dad’,” Hercules teased, leaning in for a hug and feeling ashamed for the childish way he’d been behaving.
“No,” the king laughed, hugging him back. “That would just be weird.”
“Now there’s an encouraging sight,” Iolaus sang out from the doorway, startling the pair and causing them to pull apart quickly. The hunter entered the room, escorting Alcmene to the table and pulling out a chair for her before hopping up to sit on the table itself. “We were taking bets on the way down here as to whether or not we’d find you two in a fistfight.”
“No,” Hercules said, shaking his head slightly. “Mother, Jason, I owe you an apology. If you’re both happy, then I’m happy. I just hope you can forgive me for being... petulant.”
“Of course we can,” Alcmene told him, a hint of amusement in her smile.
“Of course,” Jason echoed dismissively. “But now that we’re all here, back to the matter at hand. Hercules, I want you to take my place as the king of Corinth.”
The demigod was shocked, not having had the faintest idea that he would be Jason’s choice as successor. He shot a stunned glance to Iolaus, then looked back at the waiting king.
“I don’t know what to say.”
“You can say whatever you like,” the hunter encouraged, already having a pretty good idea what the answer would be. “You know you’ll have our support.”
“Just do what your heart tells you, Hercules,” Alcmene added.
“Hercules, you’re not making this decision for me,” Jason reminded him. “You’re making it for yourself.”
“Yeah. Um, Jason, I... I am honored,” the demigod began. “But I can help more people doing what I do now than I ever could as a king. So I guess that means no. I’m sorry.”
“Oh, why be sorry? You’re right,” the king agreed. He left Alcmene’s side and walked around the table, putting a hand on Iolaus’ shoulder. “And I suppose I can expect the same answer out of you?”
“What?” the hunter asked, not sure he was understanding. “You’re asking me now?”
“You do have royal ties to Attica,” Jason pointed out. “And from what I hear, Attica never had a better king than when you were on the throne.”
It was Iolaus’ turn to be shocked, almost not believing that his old friend was serious. But as he slid off the table and faced him, the hunter saw that he was speaking sincerely and it touched him deeply.
“Jason,” he said quietly. “The fact that you think I’m worthy to succeed you... I can’t tell you what that means to me.” He heaved a sigh, glancing over to his partner. “But my place is out there with Hercules.”
“I understand,” the king told him.
“But you still have to find a successor,” Hercules frowned.
“Oh, I think I’m capable of doing that, and getting married at the same time,” Jason assured them. “Now, better get those invitations out, Iolaus, before it’s too late.”
“Through rain, sleet, or snow, I’m your man,” the hunter vowed, giving his old friend a salute before he left the room to round up the Argonauts.
“Every one of them has tasted blood,” Patronius declared gleefully. “Jermiad here actually stabbed a man, just to watch him die. And all they care about is killing Hercules. No meaner mercenaries exist unless Hera herself created them”
“They’ll do,” the Blue Priest allowed after he had inspected the row of scruffy soldiers.
“You make them sound like table scraps,” the regent said in annoyance, having expected his kudos for a job well done.
“Let them accomplish their mission if they wish to earn praise.”
“They’ll succeed,” Patronius promised. “And when Jason finds no successor, nothing will stop them marching north with me to conquer Phlegra.”
“Where Iphicles, brother of Hercules, rules? Your ambition is admirable, Patronius. Don’t let it interfere with killing Hercules,” Hera’s servant threatened ominously.
The Argonauts waited at the castle gates with their handpicked horses until Iolaus and Jason arrived. Taking the bag of scrolls from the king, the hunter dutifully passed them out, assigning each of the heroes a cluster of guests to invite.
“And now for your part, Iolaus,” Jason said when he was done. “There’s someone very special you have to find.” Realizing that the Argonauts were all ears, he pulled the hunter aside and whispered a name to him.
“He’s going to be king?!” Iolaus laughed and took off, vaulting over the edge of his waiting chariot and grasping the reigns, slapping them down against the horse’s back and speeding off toward the north in a cloud of dust.
“Who?” the Argonauts all demanded in turn.
“Oh, no, it wouldn’t be fair if you knew before the man himself. Now, go! All of you. Bring back old friends who can share the joy with Alcmene and me.” Jason waved as the Argonauts all mounted and galloped out of the city. He watched them go, smiling to himself. “I just hope my next choice doesn’t turn me down.”
Iolaus handled the chariot as if he had been born to it. His balance was perfect and he had a natural control of the reigns, which allowed him to give the horse it’s freedom to run. They flew down the open road with the hunter in his element, wind in his hair and his blue eyes sparkling with the simple joy of being alive. However, he reigned in the magnificent stallion, slowing him down to a trot when his keen gaze detected people on the road ahead.
“Taco, my friend?!”
“Falafel?” he asked, identifying the man working the small roadside stand.
“No, I said, ‘Taco’!” the chef clarified, desperately hawking his new venture.
“Uh, no thanks. I’m in a hurry,” the hunter said as he passed, thinking that if he hadn’t been in a hurry before, the threat of Falafel’s cooking was enough to put him in one.
“Dirce?” The hunter turned around, identifying the woman who was seemingly becoming Falafel’s latest victim. He pulled on the reigns to stop the horse and leapt out of the chariot. Dirce came running to meet him, but their hug was thwarted by the taco in her hands.
“Ha-ha, a little difficult to eat, but very tasty, right?” Falafel called out. “Oh, they’re very good!” Dirce enthused.
“Wait a second. You’re eating this?” Iolaus demanded. When she nodded, he groaned slightly, remembering his one and only encounter with fast food. “Don’t.”
But as Dirce licked her lips, her mind was no longer on food. She stared at Iolaus hungrily, and he returned her gaze with equal longing. As Falafel chattered on about the ingredients of his tacos, they leaned in closer to each other, both remembering the explosive parting kiss they’d shared in Scyros.
“I haven’t got time for this,” the hunter declared suddenly, remembering he was on a mission and taking a step back as Dirce sighed in disappointment.
“That’s the beauty of these babies,” Falafel droned on. “They’re so fast!”
“Dirce,” Iolaus began, not wanting to end the reunion with the young woman he’d always wanted to get to know better. Outside of dungeons and courtrooms and barbaric tests of innocence. “King Jason is marrying Alcmene, Hercules’ mother. The wedding is in Corinth tomorrow. Would you like to go?”
“Like a date?” the young woman murmured seductively.
“Yeah,” the hunter assured her, arching his eyebrows with a grin.
In answer, she leaned in again and Iolaus responding in kind, their lips inching closer and closer together... Until a loud bell ringing startled them apart.
“Wedding?” Falafel cried out, totally unaware of the romantic moment he had just ruined. “I cater weddings. Best buffet dinner you ever ate. Cake, 8 feet tall minimum. Ambrosia...”
“Oh, you mean the food of the gods?” the hunter asked skeptically.
“No, a salad with many marshmallows.”
“Ew.” Iolaus made a face, then turned back to his companion. “Dirce, we have to pick up someone on the way. A very important guest.” She squealed in excitement, tossing the taco over her shoulder and holding out a hand. The hunter helped her climb into the chariot, then leapt in after her. He slapped the reigns gently, turning to call over his shoulder as they rocketed off down the road, “Hey, take it easy on those marshmallows!”
“What’s he got against marshmallows?” Falafel wondered sullenly, taking a huge bite out of one of his tacos.
Alcmene gasped slightly as she took in the sight before her. Beautifully landscaped gardens lay in the valley below, surrounding a tall obelisk that sat before a quiet reflecting pool.
“Oh, Sera, it’s lovely.”
“Well, I’m happy you like it,” the girl said proudly.
“I do,” Alcmene told her genuinely.
“My uncle had the garden built on the cliff overlooking the sea.”
“I can see the island.”
“Yes, it’s even prettier at night,” Sera murmured, following Alcmene’s gaze. “I was just thinking, maybe we can have the ceremony right here, at the bottom of the stairs.”
“This is so pretty!” the bride to be sighed. “It looks like something the gods always promise, but never deliver.”
“I hope that means you’ll use it for your wedding.”
“Oh, I don’t see how we couldn’t,” Alcmene told her. “Do you, Jason?”
“Well, you’re not giving me much chance to turn it down,” the king teased.
“Oh, Hercules, beat some sense into him, will you?”
“Hercules?” Sera gasped, looking back and forth from the demigod to Alcmene. “You mean, he’s Hercules? I can’t believe it. Hercules. See, he’s...he’s...”
“He’s my son,” Alcmene supplied, holding back a hint of laughter stemming from the young woman’s exuberance. As soon as they had arrived, Sera had launched excitedly into the tour, giving them no time for introductions, and Alcmene had wondered when it would dawn on her just who the tall, dark, and handsome stranger with them was.
“He’s the son of a god,” the girl babbled on. “Did you know that?! He’s... he’s standing right here on my uncle’s properties. He’s just a little bigger... bigger than I thought, but he’s... ”
“Sera. Sera?” Jason interrupted.
“Yes,” she replied, getting a grip on herself.
“We’d like to take you up on your very kind offer.”
“That is such good news,” Sera said happily. “I’m very, very excited. Everything will be just right for the ceremony. I promise you.”
“Uh, you know, Sera, I’m not doing anything,” Hercules called out after her. “I could give you a hand.”
But she was already halfway down the stone steps leading to the grounds and just waved back at him.
“Oh, don’t be silly! Just relax and enjoy yourself.”
“What?” the demigod demanded as he caught the knowing look Alcmene was giving him and blushed slightly. “Mom, I mean, it’s...”
Alcmene refused to let up as they left the grand estate and headed back to the castle.
“She’s a lovely young woman, Hercules.”
“Yes, she is,” he agreed.
“And it would be so nice to have you living close by for a change.”
“Are you saying what I think you’re saying?”
“I’m your mother,” Alcmene laughed. “I can’t help myself.” And she secretly felt he deserved a little torment for the grief he’d given her over the last two days.
“I don’t believe it,” the demigod groused. “You’ve got me marrying Sera and we just met.”
“Well, the two of you look so wonderful together,” she continued. “Don’t they, Jason?”
But the king froze, his body tense as he quickly drew his sword.
“Trouble,” he warned them.
He’d barely gotten the word out when group of masked men descended upon them from the trees. Alcmene stepped back as Jason and Hercules eyed them up, assessing the danger, but before they could move another wave of hostiles came pouring over the crest of the hill. The majority of them fell upon Hercules, and the demigod disappeared under a mob of attackers. But only for a moment. With a mighty show of strength, he shrugged off his many opponents as if they were no more than ants. They came at him again, and he rolled out of the way, grabbing up a stout tree branch to deflect their swords. He fought like a whirlwind, blocking their blows and landing quite a few of his own, spinning and twisting and lunging, appearing to have eyes in the back of his head. Jason was also deep in the fray, using his sword to counter their blades and lashing out with fists and feet. He took out quite a few of the men, until a lucky shot blind sided him and knocked him off his feet. Hercules finished with his initial onslaught and turned in time to see Jason about to be skewered. He dove and caught the sword wielder in a flying tackle, sending him crashing to the ground.
Springing to their feet, Hercules and Jason scrambled to guard each other’s backs as they resumed fighting. Only a few of the attackers remained, and the two heroes made short work of them, restoring the peace and quiet to the afternoon.
“Thanks,” the king told his friend. “I owe you one.”
“Consider it my first wedding gift to you and Mother,” Hercules said. But as he looked around, he failed to spot Alcmene. “Where is she?”
“I thought she was right behind us,” Jason murmured, worry thick in his voice.
“Mother!” the demigod shouted. But there was no answering reply. His blue eyes scanned the area, taking in only the fallen bodies of their attackers, and his voice took on an edge of panic. “Mother! Mother!”
Not knowing what else to do, the two warriors began sprinting down the road, each praying that if Alcmene had been kidnaped, she was at least unharmed.
“Oh, if something happened to her...”
“We’ll find her, Jason,” Hercules told him with a confidence he didn’t feel. But just then they both spotted the feisty woman, and she was definitely not harmed. As they watched in disbelief, Alcmene lit into one of the soldiers, blocking his sword arm with her hands before punching him hard in the gut.
“Take that,” she cried triumphantly. As the thug bent over in pain, she grabbed his arm, flipping him easily over her shoulder where he crashed to the ground and rolled off down the hill with an agonized screech. “Coward!”
“Uh, Mother,” Hercules began, exchanging an amused look with Jason. “What are you doing?”
“Oh! I haven’t had this much fun in years!” she laughed breathlessly.
“I was so worried about you!” the king told her as he took her in his arms and kissed her gently.
“Now you know how I felt when I was watching the two of you,” Alcmene stated defiantly before pushing her fiancé away. “I’ve got to get back to Corinth. I’ve got to finish sewing my wedding dress.”
“Now I know who have you your fighting heart,” Jason grinned as she turned and began marching off down the road toward the castle. He started to follow her, but Hercules held him back.
“Jason, those guys weren’t your ordinary everyday bandits,” he said in a low voice. “I’d say that someone doesn’t want this wedding to happen.”
“Or doesn’t want me to name my successor,” the king replied. “And I have a good idea who that someone could be. But he is going to be sorely disappointed. I’m marrying Alcmene tomorrow, and Corinth will have her new king. I’ve never bowed down to threats before, and I don’t intend to start now.”
Hercules just sighed, knowing that his old friend was more than capable of handling a mortal trying to take his crown, but the incident with the mercenaries had left him with a bad feeling, which usually meant that one of the gods was involved. In which case, he was going to have to keep both eyes on his mother and Jason until the ceremony was over and the new king was crowned, and hope that he could ward off any trouble before it started.
Iolaus halted the chariot, cursing Falafel’s name as Dirce staggered off to the bushes along the side of the road. He sympathized with her pain, but they were cutting it close to begin with and there was no time for delays. Certainly there was no time for comfort, so all he could do was help her climb back up into the chariot and keep a steady arm around her waist as he urged the stallion back into a run. They would be hard pressed to make it back to Corinth in time, and he could only hope that his quarry would not need much convincing.
“Here he is.”
“Uh-oh,” Hercules muttered as he entered the room and found himself instantly surrounded by a horde of eager young women.
“Glad to see us?” King Thespius’ oldest daughter asked him with a wink.
“I...well...yeah, of course,” he stammered. “I just didn’t think you’d be here this... early.”
“We always move fast when there’s a royal wedding to attend. It’s the least we can do for Dad.”
“Yeah, well, how is King Thespius?” the demigod’s voice squeaked on the last word as a wandering hand caught him unawares.
“Still yearning for more grandchildren,” the woman told him. “Interested in helping out, yet?”
“This really isn’t the time,” he protested, trying to delicately squirm away from the groping. “That’s not a ‘No,’ girls.”
“Uh, you know? Salmoneus has been invited,” Hercules announced hopefully. “I understand you’re all pretty friendly with him.”
“Yeah, but he drools too much,” she said dismissively, stroking the demigod’s broad chest. “My sisters and I prefer someone...friendlier...tidier.”
A scream of surprise saved the flustered demigod as Alcmene came rushing around the corner.
“Oh, Hercules, there’s a very strange man in the kitchen.”
“Oh. Excuse me,” he told the girls as he thanked the Fates for the intervention. But his thanks were short lived as the mob of them quickly followed him to the kitchen, not willing to let him out of their sight.
“Ahhh! Ha! Oh, my friend!” Falafel called out as Hercules arrived on the scene.
“Yeah, he’s all right,” the demigod grinned, taking in the sight of the hygienically challenged chef beating at a mound of dough that covered the entire table.
“What a feast I am making!” he declared proudly.
“As long as there’s no falafels, or hot dogs,” Hercules murmured, sure that the greeters would be able to warn the guests to steer clear of any food item they couldn’t identify.
“But tacos... yes!” the chef chortled. “And ambrosia.”
“Food of the gods?” Hercules asked in disbelief.
“Yes....But with marshmallows,” Falafel explained, picking up a handful of them for emphasis.
“Marshmallows,” the demigod repeated cynically, shoving a possessive female arm off his shoulders.
“You know him,” Alcmene clarified, not understanding but willing to go along with it if her son said it was all right.
“Yeah,” Hercules admitted with a sigh.
“And?” She waved a hand to indicate the gaggle of women behind him.
“It’s a long story,” he told her wearily.
“We’re the daughters of King Thespius,” the eldest chimed in boldly. “I’m so glad we finally get to meet you, because we’re dying to ask you about your son. He’s so shy around us, and we just can’t understand why. Is there anything you can suggest to bring him out of his shell?”
Alcmene hesitated, not sure what to do. She looked after Hercules, but he had been trying to make an escape and had become swallowed up in a sea of lusty females amid a lot of giggling and the sound of ripping fabric.
The Blue Priest stood on the cliff overlooking the beautiful gardens, but his focus was not on the scenery below. Instead, he concentrated on the calm sea as he stretched out his arms and closed his eyes. Invoking the power of Hera, he began to chant, murmuring the words that would summon the creature that was to be the death of Hercules. Then deep below the water’s surface, a giant awoke, ready to do it’s master’s bidding. And it awoke hungry.
“Deric,” the demigod called out in greeting as he turned and spied the centaur approaching. “I’m glad you could make it.” They exchanged a warrior shake and then he peered around his friend. “Did you bring Lyla and Kefor with you?”
“No, no,” Deric replied, a bit wistfully. “They’re back home, waiting for my cousin, Phantes. He promised he’d visit, and...”
“Hercules,” Sera interrupted, coming forward to join them. “I heard there was an ambush. Is that true?”
“I’m afraid so, but Jason doesn’t seem to think there’ll be any more trouble.” The demigod wasn’t as convinced, but he chose to keep his doubts to himself.
“I hope it won’t spoil the wedding.”
“Oh, no. Don’t worry,” Hercules assured her. “The wedding will go on as planned.”
“That’s a relief,” she sighed.
“Excuse me,” the centaur cut in. “But, have we met? My name’s Deric. I’m an old friend of Hercules’.”
“Well, maybe you’re mistaken,” she answered. “But, I’m glad to meet you.”
“This is Sera,” Hercules introduced her.
“Hope to see you at the wedding, Deric. I better get back out there. I want everything to be perfect.”
“All right,” the demigod said amiably as she scampered off. “See you later.”
“Sera,” Deric mused, missing the eye rolling his companion shot him.
“‘Have we met?’” Hercules teased him slyly. “What will Lyla think if she heard that?”
“Uh, no, no,” the centaur protested quickly. “I didn’t mean it to sound like a pick-up line in a tavern. It’s just that I...” He turned, watching the retreating figure of the pretty woman for a moment before turning back to his friend with a shrug. “Ahh, I guess my memory’s playing tricks on me.”
“Oh. Well, I suppose the man who sent it meant well,” Alcmene said, striving for politeness.
“Hmm. Just the same, I wouldn’t want to know what he does in his spare time.” Jason circled the object warily, reaching out and pulling a long skewer out of the rim for closer inspection.
“Let me guess,” Hercules grinned as he entered the room and spied the monstrosity. “Salmoneus sent you a wedding present.”
“Oh, is that how you pronounce his name?” Alcmene asked. “I thought it was, ‘Salmonella’.”
“Elegant,” the demigod declared sarcastically. “Subdued, yet practical. This would be him in a nutshell.”
“Yes, his taste certainly is different, isn’t it?”
“Wait till you meet him,” Hercules told his mother.
“Oh, I don’t believe we’re going to,” Jason informed him. “His delivery girls said he was at Athens, closing a major deal.”
“Delivery girls. Major deal?” the demigod muttered, well familiar with his friend’s penchant for getting himself into trouble. “Salmoneus, what are you up to now?”
“A beautiful location, all right,” the Blue Priest announced. “For a funeral.”
“Well, I still don’t understand how you’re going to make it happen,” Patronius whined as he walked with Hera’s servant along the reflecting pool. “I mean, we have no weapons, no warriors, no..”
“We have Hera,” Sera interrupted as she came down the stairs to join them. “And Hera will provide.”
“But how? And who?”
“Is that good enough for you?” the girl asked the regent, waving a hand behind her. On cue, the sea began to boil and the massive creature rose up to tower over them.
“Run, before it kills us all!” Patronius shrieked as he turned and started sprinting away.
“Stop!” the Blue Priest commanded. “You’re not going anywhere.”
“All we have to do is wait until tomorrow,” Sera said confidently. “And then we get to see the wedding of Alcmene turn into the death of Hercules.”
The sun was shining brightly out of the clear, blue sky, but a gentle breeze drifting in from the ocean kept it from being too hot. All in all, it was a beautiful day for a wedding. Guests gathered from near and far, mingling in small clusters as they sampled appetizers and drinks while waiting for the ceremony to begin.
“H’ors d’oeuvres, my friend.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Hercules told Falafel, giving the tray the chef carried a wide berth. Looking around the crowd of guests, the demigod spotted Deric and called out a greeting.
The centaur waved back, but he became distracted as he saw Sera gushing over the wedding cake. He frowned, wishing he could remember where he’d seen her before. Something was nagging at him, telling him that it was important.
Hercules was about to go over and talk to Deric, but he once again found himself surrounded by a bevy of nubile maidens.
“Uh, ladies. No, look,” he sputtered, squirming free of their wandering, and persistent hands. “Please, don’t you have anything better to do?”
Evidently they didn’t, but fortunately the mighty Argonauts arrived to save the day.
“Hercules, Echidna can’t come,” Phoebe announced. “She’s pregnant.”
“Again?” the demigod demanded.
“It’s scary,” Archivus declared. “She’s the mother of all monsters. I’m going to write about it.”
“Well?” Hercules demanded of Domesticles as he entered behind the others and struggled to catch his breath.
“Yeah, they’re coming,” he assured him, distracted by the sight of the daughters of King Thespius. “They’re coming. Hi, ladies! How are you?”
Phoebe just shrugged and patted the demigod on the arm as she followed her fellow Argonauts.
“See ya,” he told her, turning to watch the girls retreat in an attempt to guard his assets. It was a valiant try, but Hercules fell victim to an ambush, almost jumping out of his skin when two fists of steel clamped down onto his butt.
“Mica! Heliotrope!” he squeaked out, identifying the two women who each had him in a vice-like grip.
“Surprised to see us?” Mica asked.
“Uh, you could say that, yes,” the demigod muttered, trying and failing to free himself.
“Falafel’s agreed to teach us catering, ” Heliotrope exclaimed. “After we taught him ‘Salmoneus shake’.”
“Well, that’s...very, very nice, ladies,” Hercules told them, thinking that a collaboration of Falafel and Salmoneus could very well signify the destruction of the known world. He finally managed to wrench himself loose, clasping the women’s hands together to avoid recapture. “But, if you can excuse me, I’m looking for someone.”
“Who isn’t?” Mica sighed as he walked off. But she perked up as she spied a former client in the crowd, calling out a hello and waving enthusiastically.
“Hercules, don’t look so concerned,” Sera counseled him, falling into step beside him. “Everything is ready.”
“I know, I know,” he answered. “I’m just looking for a friend of mine. He’s supposed to be performing the ceremony.”
“Amphion,” the girl nodded. “He’s right over there.”
Hercules followed her gaze and spied his old friend across the way with Leah on his arm. They exchanged a greeting as best they could over the crowd, then the demigod turned back to Sera.
“Iolaus.... Have you seen Iolaus? I’m really curious who this new king is supposed to be.”
“Relax,” she told him. “Just let yourself be surprised.”
“I know,” he sighed. “It’s just... ”
“Everything will work out just fine. There’s no need to worry. You know? Why don’t you just...?”
Their conversation was cut short by a murmur going up from the crowd. Alcmene and Jason had appeared, and all eyes were on the handsome couple as they began to move forward.
“Come on, everybody,” Sera called out. “I’ll lead you to the wedding site.” She turned, but Hercules was blocking the way, entranced by his mother’s radiant beauty. Sera gave him a playful shove to bring him to his senses. “Come on.”
“Oh, yeah,” Hercules grinned, taking her arm as they led the way, followed closely by Alcmene and Jason.
“Until Perfidia attacks Hercules, you are servants, nothing else,” the Blue Priest commanded. “Then everybody, save the son of Alcmene, is yours for the killing.”
“Marvelous,” Patronius breathed as the disguised mercenaries began filing down to the gardens. “Simply marvelous.”
“Hera wouldn’t stand for anything less,” the Blue Priest told him, settling back to watch the action unfold from his vantage point in the bushes.
The wedding party and the guests began arriving, arranging themselves around the reflecting pool as Sera escorted Jason and Alcmene to the steps at the front. Hercules joined the Argonauts after taking a careful look around the crowd.
“Have any of you seen Iolaus?”
“Uh, not since we left. Sorry,” Archivus replied.
“Hercules, it’s time,” Domesticles whispered, pointing to where Jason was ascending the stairs to address the people.
“Thank you, Amphion,” he began as the man announced him. “I know many of you have wondered who will succeed me as king. To tell you the truth, I’ve wondered, myself. But now, at last, there is an answer to our questions.”
Heads turned, following Jason’s gaze to where a striking man was approaching with a beautiful woman on his arm. They were followed by Iolaus and Dirce. “Who is he?” Sera asked quietly.
“He’s my brother,” Hercules told her, a smile creeping across his face. “Iphicles.” He stepped forward to greet him, and they clasped forearms in a warrior’s shake.
“Not at all,” the demigod said warmly, clapping his brother on the shoulder. “Jason made a wise choice.”
Iphicles didn’t reply, but Hercules saw the appreciation in his eyes before he moved on to hug Alcmene. Rena followed her husband, but she stopped to give her brother-in-law a kiss on the cheek.
“Good to see you.”
“You, too,” the demigod responded, before moving to join his partner.
“This is incredible!” Dirce exclaimed.
“This is great, but you could have told me,” Hercules said, pretending to be angry as he glared at his friend.
“Hey, what fun would that have been?!” Iolaus laughed.
Alcmene released her son, stepping back to look him in the eye.
“No matter what misunderstandings we’ve had,” she murmured quietly. “I’ve always been proud to call you my son. To think you’ll succeed Jason as well pleases me beyond words.”
“Thank you,” Iphicles whispered, his voice tight with emotion. The persuasive hunter hadn’t need to do any convincing at all, for he had been honored to have been asked to take the great Jason’s place and was eager to start rebuilding the bridges of his family.
“Step forward, Iphicles.”
He did, kneeling down before Jason as Amphion reached out, removing the king’s crown from his head and handing it to him. Jason crowned Iphicles before drawing his sword and gently tapping it one time on each of his shoulders.
“May you rule with all the wisdom and humanity passed on to you by your mother. I give you King Iphicles of Phlegra, and now of Corinth!”
The crowd erupted in cheers and applause. Deric was clapping just as hard as the rest, but suddenly he froze as the memory came back to him with the speed and the force of one of Zeus’ thunderbolts.
“The slaughter at Biblos!” he gasped. “I knew I’d seen her before. Hercules...”
“Hmmm,” the demigod replied, still fixated on the coronation as the centaur approached him.
“The girl,” Deric whispered desperately. “She’s a spy for Hera.”
“Sera?” Hercules questioned in disbelief. While he had been half-expecting one of the gods to try something, he had a hard time believing that it had come in the form of such a pretty, funny, charming, sweet young woman.
“Jason, Alcmene,” Amphion began. “We’ve come to the moment that brought us here today...”
Just then Perfidia surfaced, rising out of the water with a terrible roar and looming over the wedding with palpable malice. People began running and screaming, and the chaos was magnified by the sudden assault of the mercenaries as they revealed themselves, pulling curved blades out of their serving trays and brandishing the trays themselves as shields. Jason pulled Alcmene behind him and met the onslaught with his own steel as Hercules tried his best to herd the people out of the reach of sea monster.
“Jason! Your sword!” the demigod shouted. Jason tossed him the blade and Hercules caught it, throwing it at Perfidia with divine force and spearing the beast in the eye. The creature retreated behind the obelisk, roaring in pain as the demigod joined Iphicles and the Argonauts in the battle with the mercenaries and Falafel put his life on the line to protect his wedding cake.
“I want to savor this,” the Blue Priest growled triumphantly. Pushing through the bushes, he began the descent to the battle below to get a first hand look, with Patronius hesitantly following.
Perfidia recovered quickly from the shock of the wound and advanced again, lunging at the one who had hurt it with crushing jaws. Hercules just barely managed to dive out of the way in time, and the beast smashed a table laden with gifts in a crushing bite. It turned with a roar, it’s good eye focusing on Jason this time. He tried to run, but the creature’s tongue shot out and wrapped itself securely around it’s prey. Alcmene saw and cried out, watching in horror as the man who’d been moments away from becoming her husband was sucked into the gaping maw of the sea monster. He called out for Hercules, knowing that if anyone could help him, he could. Left with no other options, the demigod ran and leapt into straight into Perfidia’s mouth.
“No, Hercules!” Alcmene sobbed, afraid that her son’s sacrifice would be in vain.
Having fulfilled Hera’s commands, the creature turned and dove back into the sea, disappearing under the blue-green waves.
The force and speed of Hercules’ jump caused him to sail right past Jason, a flume of slimy water accelerating him down the beast’s gullet. In the debris surrounding him, he recognized Salmoneus’ wedding gift, which the creature had swallowed when it had attacked the table. Somehow the demigod managed to grab two of the skewers just before his wild ride came to an abrupt climax. Shooting across the yawning void of the stomach, Hercules hit the far wall and used the skewers to halt his descent. Jason had not been far behind him, but he was able to stop himself before he dropped down into the stomach.
“This isn’t good,” the demigod muttered to himself, surveying the situation.
“What are we going to do?” Jason asked despairingly. “We’ll never get out!”
“You act like you’ve never been inside a giant sea monster before,” Hercules joked, knowing that it often helped to find levity in the gravest of situations. A little lesson he learned from Iolaus.
“This is my first time,” the former king admitted dryly.
“Probably the same as any other creature,” the demigod mused to himself, working on a plan as he worked to pull himself up to the chamber just above his head. “Except this one’s a lot bigger.”
The wedding grounds had become a battleground, and the fighting was fast and fierce. Argonauts, warriors, centaur and civilian all teamed up to repel the mercenaries. Sera stalked through it all, oblivious to the brawling around her as she focused on her sole purpose. The will of Hera must be done. Raising a knife high in the air, she approached her target, her gaze fixed on the back of Corinth’s new king. She would have to strike hard, but if she hit the right spot, nothing would be able to save Iphicles and Hera would triumph.
A hand seized her wrist, yanking her off balance and spinning her around. Before she could react, a fist to the jaw sent her flying toward the buffet table where she landed face first in the magnificent wedding cake, causing Falafel to collapse in tears.
“Treacherous little witch!” Alcmene spat, shaking her hand to alleviate the sting. “I wish that would bring back Hercules and Jason.”
“Think positive, Mother,” Iphicles told her, squeezing her shoulder in comfort before dashing off to confront the next mercenary.
There was a loud rumbling noise, and Jason looked down into the churning gut of the beast, making a face of utter disgust.
“What has this thing been eating?”
“Tacos,” Hercules grunted, finally managing to pull himself up. He stared off down the cavernous tunnel, getting a very good idea just where it led. “You think it’s bad in here?”
Something began moving, a giant worm like being with a gaping mouth framed by tentacles. Jason watched in horrific fascination as it picked it’s head up and appeared to hone in on him.
“What is that thing?” he asked in revulsion.
“Does it matter?!”
“Well, maybe I could go back this way,” Jason suggested wryly. “We could meet up in the lungs.”
“No!” the demigod told him. “Meet me over here!”
“I think I’ve got a plan. Come on, friend. You want a leg, huh?! You want a leg?!” He dangled his limb out temptingly, catching the attention of the parasite. It moved closer to investigate, and when it was in rage, Hercules kicked it with all his force. Instantly, it went limp. “All right! Now, grab it!”
Jason did so automatically, then realized he had his arms wrapped snugly around a giant tapeworm.
“Are you crazy?!” Jason demanded.
“No!” Hercules replied cheerfully. “Swing across!”
Wondering how he ever got himself into these things, the former king left the safety of his perch with a yell and sailed across the boiling stomach of a sea monster while clinging to a dead parasite. His first attempt fell short, and he had to kick off the far wall to try and increase his momentum.
“Come on!” Hercules encouraged him.
He felt the demigod grasp his hand on the second pass, but they were both covered in slime and Hercules couldn’t hang on. On the third swing, Jason reached out and breathed a sigh of relief as his friend caught his arm. Just in time, as the parasite lost it’s hold on it’s host and fell into the stomach below, leaving a stream of ichor trailing after it.
“Come on!” Jason barked, not bothering to hide the desperation in his voice. “Get me out of here!”
Hercules dug in and pulled, and with a mighty heave he managed to drag his old friend up to the tunnel. Once he caught his breath, Jason surveyed their destination and decided he might have been better off taking his chances with the stomach acid.
“I know what I’m doing,” the demigod assured him as he broke through a membrane and poked his head through. Jason followed suit, not seeing anything that looked vaguely familiar. “This is the right way,” Hercules insisted.
The creature lurched suddenly, as if it rolled on it’s side, and the two warriors lost their balance and went sliding forward until they crashed face first into another membrane further down.
“Jason?” Hercules asked, his voice muffled.
“Yeah?” The former king replied, equally muffled.
“You sure know how to throw a wedding.”
They got up, and Hercules ripped through the membrane with the skewer that he had brought along.
“That’s what I was looking for,” he declared proudly as they peered through. “The spinal column.”
“So what’s the plan?” Jason asked as his friend began slogging toward the long structure.
“Short-circuit it’s nervous system.”
“This really isn’t what my stomach needed,” Jason grumbled as a sudden onslaught of turbulence had him grabbing on to a giant vessel for support.
“Well, we won’t be staying long,” Hercules assured him, struggling to keep his balance in the slippery footing. Grabbing up the skewer, he ripped through the outer membrane of the spinal column.
“Watch out!” the former king cautioned as a ripple of electricity crackled through the column.
“We must have hit a nerve,” the demigod muttered, reaching in and pulling out a handful of slimy tissue. “Uhhhhh! I am NOT enjoying this!”
“Who’s going to save you, now?” the Blue Priest cackled triumphantly, relishing in the fact that Hercules was gone.
“The real question is, who’s going to save you?” Iolaus snarled, heading for the creep who was obviously behind all the mayhem. His faith in his friend was absolute, and though he was worried sick, he refused to believe that getting swallowed up by a sea monster was enough to kill his partner. But Hercules or no Hercules, he was determined to beat the stuffing out of the one who had ruined Alcmene’s wedding.
A mercenary attacked him, and the hunter took him out easily. But while he was distracted, Iphicles rushed Hera’s emissary, only to find himself pounced upon by two more mercenaries. They held his arms securely, and the Blue Priest took great delight in kicking the new king savagely in the gut. But after three blows, Iphicles surprised him with a hard boot to the stomach, which sent him staggering back. Wrenching free of the mercenaries, he made short work of them before turning back to the villain with a murderous glare.
“Save me!” Patronius shrieked, clinging to the arm of the Blue Priest as he realized everything was suddenly going terribly wrong.
“Save yourself!” Hera’s servant roared, his anger rising as he realized his mercenaries were dropping like flies and he now had two ticked off warriors with vengeance in their eyes staring him down. He shoved the reagent away, straight into Iphicles’ arms. With a look of disgust, the king pushed him away and began tearing after Iolaus, who was already tearing after the fleeing Blue Priest. Patronius turned to run, but collided with a mercenary and gasped in shock to feel the curved end of a sharp blade slice through his gut. He collapsed to the ground, and within moments the traitorous regent was dead.
“I never thought that wedding gift would be good for anything,” Jason teased as his friend used the skewer to cut through a tough sheath.
“You can always count on Salmoneus!” Hercules responded dryly as he exposed the sensitive nerves. He tucked the skewer into his belt, deciding the forthcoming damage needed to result from the brute force of his bare hands.
The Blue Priest reached the top of the stairs, realizing that he was trapped. He spared a glance over his shoulder, seeing that Iolaus was bearing down on him quickly and Iphicles was not far behind. With no other option, he decided to take his chances and put his trust in the goddess he served.
“Hera, protect me.” With a deep breath, he took his leap of faith just as the hunter reached him. But the fickle goddess did not intervene, and the Blue Priest screamed in terror as the ground rapidly rushed to meet him.
“Lets hope he stays dead,” Iolaus murmured as Iphicles joined him. Alcmene joined them, looking down at the broken body lying pitifully among the rocks. But then her gaze drifted out to the calm sea, and she refused to have any sympathy for the creature that had caused two people she loved to be taken from her.
“Let’s worry about Hercules and Jason instead,” she said softly, sending a small prayer to the Fates to ask for their safe return.
“I don’t think he likes that very much!” Hercules exclaimed as the beast writhed violently.
“I’m not too crazy about it, myself!” Jason called out, desperately trying to keep his footing and very glad that he hadn’t had a chance to sample the wedding feast beforehand. The turbulence was far worse than any storm the Argo had ever weathered.
The demigod went back to work, shredding the creature’s spinal column piece by piece. Electricity sparked and crackled all around him as the monster pitched and spasmed in agony. Finally, he got his hands on the thick spinal cord, and with a mighty flexing of his divine muscles, he snapped it cleanly in half. The beast contorted wildly, and then everything went still.
“It worked,” Jason murmured, almost in awe.
“Well, yeah,” Hercules grinned. “You sound like you’re surprised.”
“Nope. Nope. Nope,” the former king quickly assured him.
They were silent for a moment, just appreciating the calmness after the wild ride. But both men quickly felt their ears begin to pop.
“Going up fast,” the demigod commented, thankful the creature was buoyant. He looked around, then nodded to his friend. “This way.”
“Now, what?” Jason asked, following his lead without question since he’d so aptly proven himself to be the ‘A’ student in sea monster anatomy.
“Well, I want to make sure my mother didn’t marry somebody else,” Hercules chuckled. Then he sobered, turning to his old friend. “And she better not have, because I know nobody could ever take better care of her than you, Jason.”
“Thank you, Hercules,” the former king told him, grateful for the demigod’s approval.
And as the sea monster rose to the surface, the hatchet between them was finally buried, once and for all.
Hercules and Jason arrived back at the garden to a thunderous welcome. Once it was established that they were safe and sound, everyone pitched in enthusiastically to restore the wedding site to it’s former beauty. It didn’t take long at all, and by the time the two heroes had cleaned up, the ceremony was ready to commence. The guests all gathered around the stairs, their appreciation for the event magnified as they all realized how close it had come to being sabotaged. Amphion stood before them, speaking of the love between them, shortening his sermon as he realized he didn’t need to lecture these particular people on the responsibilities of nurturing that love, or remind them to always be grateful for the blessings they had been given.
“Their devotion to each other has joined two families and created a bond which is sure to glow brightly into the future,” Amphion concluded, reaching the part that everyone was waiting for. “Jason, Alcmene, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Jason, you may kiss the bride.”
They exchanged a sweet, gentle kiss as the crowed “awwwed” and clapped politely. But then with a devilish grin, Jason swept his bride into his arms and dipped her down for a second kiss that was exploding with passion. Iolaus let out a whoop, encouraging the rest of the guests to respond with cheers and whistles. Hercules stiffened slightly, but as he glanced at Iphicles, he saw that his brother was applauding with an amused smile. Forcing himself to relax, he turned back to his mother and his old friend, and when he saw the look of radiant joy on their faces, he knew he could no longer begrudge them their happiness. With a genuine smile, the demigod finally gave in and began to clap for the elated couple.
“Hercules! This is sensational!” Iolaus exclaimed, almost as euphoric as the newlyweds.
A hand tapping on his shoulder made the demigod turn, and he was surprised to see Salmoneus standing before him.
“I didn’t miss anything, did I?” the salesman asked brightly, becoming confused as his two warrior friends dissolved into nearly hysterical laughter. “What? What?! Was it my gift?”
“Come on, Salmoneus,” Hercules told him, looping an arm around him and leading him toward the buffet table. The cake had been unsalvageable, but there were still plenty of tacos and ambrosia left. “Let’s eat, and you can tell us what kept you. I can’t wait to hear about this major deal of yours.”
“Are you feeling ok?” the salesman inquired as they walked off, not used to the demigod being so receptive to his schemes.
Iolaus followed them, still chuckling to himself as the stress of the battle worked it’s way out in the form of mirth, knowing that his partner’s good mood was due to relief that everything turned out ok. The day could have ended in tragedy, but thanks to the combined bravery and heart of everyone there, the day had been saved and love had prevailed. And both Iolaus and Hercules, with scores of good deeds between them, ranked it as their single most satisfying adventure. Though the celebration was only just beginning, the wedding of Alcmene had been blessed with the most happiest of endings.
Some images, characters and other things used in these works are the property of others, including but not limited to Renaissance Pictures and Universal Studios. Everything else remains the property of the artist or author. No money will be made on anything appearing on this webpage and no copyright infringement is intended. This site was created by fans for the enjoyment of other fans.
For information on reprinting text and/or artwork (including privately owned photos, photo manipulations, and other images) from this website, please contact IolausianLibrarians , who will assist you in contacting the original creator of the piece. Do NOT reprint, republish, or in any way link to items on these pages without obtaining permission from either the original creator of the piece or the webpage owner. A written one-time use statement may be issued to you at the discretion of the artist or the author. Please respect the legal and artistic rights of our contributors.